“The bat and ball for me, For when we go to a match,

Oh don’t we go with glee.”

SO sang medium pace bowler Charlie Raine in his self-composed Cricketer’s Song, as he played his concertina on the stage at the Barnard Castle Music Hall in 1882 in a fund-raiser for the town’s cricket club.

Charlie was a grocer in the town, like his father, and he took bundles of wickets with his deceptive bowling in the 1870s. After a match, he’d entertain everyone in the pub with his concertina.

Charlie is one of the many stories which tumble out of an extraordinary book, just published, about Barney cricket club. The book, by Barney lad and former Independent cricket correspondent Stephen Brenkley and illustrated by local cartoonist Cluff, chronicles the history of the club since its formation in about 1832 in the days when the gambling mattered as much as the cricket.

The first match report is from 1840, when Barney lost to a Durham side and complained bitterly that Durham had made the wicket two yards too short and had appointed a biased umpire.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The earliest Barnard Castle team picture, from about 1906The earliest Barnard Castle team picture, from about 1906

Indeed, in those early days there was little of the spirit of cricket which is now associated with the game. For example, in 1849, when four Barney batsmen were run out as they lost to Brignall, the D&S Times expressed its dismay at the “coarse and offensive manner” in which the Barney players expressed their opinion of the umpire.

In all these 188 years of history, the club’s most successful period has been the last decade or so, in which it has won two North Yorkshire and South Durham League titles, four limited overs cups and enjoyed a huge update in facilities at the Baliol Street ground which it has occupied since 1863.

But beyond the cricket, the book tells great stories of so many of the cricketers, like Charlie Raine who, beyond the boundary, possessed a stopwatch.

“It registered to one twentieth of a second,” says the author, who started his journalistic career on the D&S Times. “Reputedly, there were only another four like it, the maker having died after completing the fifth.”

The watch made Charlie sought after as an athletics timekeeper. Indeed, in 1882 – the year he was singing to raise funds for the cricketers in the Witham Hall – he was in Sheffield clocking Harry Hutchens – the Usain Bolt of his generation – when he ran 131¾ yards (120 metres) in the sensational time of 12.2 seconds.

Or there’s the story of Lord Glamis, the elder brother of the lady we know as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. He moved into the family’s Streatlam Castle, between Barney and Staindrop, and scored 44 in his first match in 1912.

More importantly for a club that has regularly lifted its back foot out of the crease of financial stability, his lordship brought his aristocratic backing. When he opened the town’s first cinema, the Wycliffe Electric Picture Palace in an old Wesleyan chapel on The Bank, he told the patrons how the club had energetic players, a beautiful ground but no money, and so the proceeds from the first film went to Baliol Street.

Or there’s the story of George Barker, a cautious batsman as his eyesight deteriorated in his late teens but he was still capable of amassing half centuries. He’s perhaps the most important figure in the club’s history, ensuring that it was one of the founders of the Durham Challenge Cup in 1887.

In the early days of cycling, he is also credited with tying the North-East cyclists to the town so that the three-day Barney Meet, which attracted thousands of spectators every Whitsuntide, could be billed as “the premier cyclists’ meet of the world”.

After serving the club for 25 years as captain or secretary or both, he stood down when he became Master of the Teesdale workhouse with his wife, Margaret, as matron. But in May 1909, Margaret died suddenly, plunging George into depression.

He rallied enough to play his last game that August, against Spennymoor, before he was said to have become “deranged in his mind and was removed to the asylum” in Sedgefield.

He responded to treatment, and was allowed to return to live with friends in Barney. Tragically, he left the house one evening and killed himself on the railway line. The coroner said that, officially, he had been “temporarily insane” but that, unofficially, he had died of a broken heart.

The author Brenkley, who for many years was the club’s wicket keeper, argues that such was Barker’s impact on club and town, there’s a case for erecting a statue in his honour. Cartoonist Cluff, whose work regularly graces publications like Private Eye, draws one up as he brings the whole book to life.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Cluff cartoonCluff cartoon

Beyond the cricket and the cricketers, the book tells the story of the whole town. It talks of the cholera epidemic of the 1840s, the arrival of the railways in the 1850s, the opening of the Bowes Museum and the County School in the 1870s and 1880s, the election of the pioneering Labour MP Arthur Henderson in 1903, the closure of the huge Ullathorne’s mill in 1931 and the arrival of Glaxo in the 1940s.

And it closes with Barney in the spotlight like never before – and not just because of the all-conquering team of recent years.

At the start of lockdown, Bar-nard Castle was the most talked about, and most mispronounced, town in the country as the Prime Minister’s adviser, Dominic Cummings, journeyed there from his Durham hideaway to test his eyes.

“I had been worried by this L Cummings chap who I knew had set a club record in 1941 which had stood for 78 years, but I could find neither hide nor hair of him,” says Steve. “Then, as I read all the Dominic Cummings backgrounders, I realised his grandfather, Laurence Cummings, had gone to Barney school, and I was able to work from there.”

Laurie Cummings had grown up in the town and was at the school when his family fell on hard times, but one of the teachers, a cricketer, persuaded the school to waive the fees.

And so aged 17, L Cummings played for one full season for the club before joining the Durham Light Infantry. His highest score of 65 came when he opened the batting against Darlington RA with Allan White, a former county cricketer who was stationed in a Teesdale army camp. White scored 135 as they shared an opening partnership of 206, a record which stood until 2019.

Which just goes to show that it is not just the town which revolves around Barnard Castle Cricket Club, the whole country does, too, with great glee.

  • Small Town, Big Dreams: The Life and Times of Barnard Castle Cricket Club by Stephen Brenkley, with illustrations by Cluff, is a 272-page hardback for £25. For further details, phone 07801-183771 or email baliolbooks@gmail.com