From the Archives: Sporting history across the decades

EJ Bass, from Eynesbury, pictured in 1899. 

EJ Bass, from Eynesbury, pictured in 1899. - Credit: St Neots Museum

St Neots has a proud sporting heritage that is celebrated in the St Neots Museum with displays about some of the town’s sporting heroes.

Until the industrial revolution of the early 1800s everyday life was strenuous enough to keep most working people fit. Many local men were farm workers and women’s lives before the invention of the washing machine and vacuum cleaner involved daily heavy labour. It was during the early Victorian period, as the population increased dramatically and people began to move away from the land and into towns that organised team games for men.

When the Reverend William Maule became the Rector of Eynesbury in 1851 a talented and experienced sportsman arrived in the town. He excelled at cricket and rowing, and while at Trinity College, Cambridge he had been president of the Trinity Boat Club.

By 1865 he had established St Neots Rowing Club which produced many fine rowers including Laurie Evans, who was a member of many winning crews in the 1920s and 1930s. As the enthusiasm for organised sports grew many new clubs were formed in the town.

Cycling also took off as a sport in the late Victorian period, after Dunlop patented the pneumatic tyre in 1888, and the St Neots Cycling Club formed as early as 1887. An early champion of the club was E. J. Bass of Eynesbury who was a rider of national importance.

Another talented sportsman who threw himself into the sporting life of the town was C.G. Tebbutt who moved to the town from Bluntisham in 1889. Not only was he a gifted skater and ice hockey (bandy) player he was also an outstanding speed skater holding three world speed skating records in 1891. At different times in the 1890s Tebbutt captained both the St Neots football club and the cricket club.

Another sportsman associated with the town was champion jockey Otto Madden, who was educated at the Eaton Socon Academy in Peppercorns Lane in the 1880s. He was the most successful British jockey between 1888 and 1918 and Champion Jockey in 1898, 1901 and 1903.

Most Read

Women were also keen sports players, but found it much harder to break into the world of organised sports. However, Eaton Socon Ladies’ Hockey Club formed in late 1898 and by 1894, St Neots Golf Club (founded 1890) was holding a Ladies Monthly Prize competition with a final in the April of the following year.

As football became an increasingly important part of national life in the 1950s and 1960s several local boys became professional players including, Chris Turner, Terry Oakley and Christopher Jones. The most well-known of our local footballing hero’s was John Gregory, of Longsands School, who played for England in the 1983 – 84 season and later went on to a successful career as a team coach and manager.

As the opportunities for ice hockey declined with warmer winters and the development of the Little Barford Power Station upstream of St Neots Common field hockey continued to be popular and the St Neots club had teams of both men and women players.

The town’s moment of glory in the hockey world came when local player, Anthony Ekins, was selected to play for both England and Great Britain between 1966 and 1972. He played for Great Britain in the 1968 Mexico Olympics and captained the British team at the Munich Olympics in 1972. 

Many other sports flourished in the post war period. Philip Cole, played table tennis at county level and was National Student Table Tennis Champion in 1982.

The St Neots Outdoor Bowls Club was formed in 1920 and member Joyce Brittain, nėe Hodson, was a very talented outdoor and indoor bowls player, reigning as the Cambridgeshire Ladies Singles Champion for most of the 1950s and playing outdoor bowls for England to International level, 1961 – 63.

Her son, Roger Brittain, was also an excellent bowls player at both club and county level. 

If you have any interesting photos or memorbilia, contact St Neots Museum curator Liz Davies at: photographs can be copied and returned.