KEEPING LORD'S WORLD CLASS
Founded in 1787, Marylebone Cricket Club is the most active and famous cricket club in the world and owner of Lord's Cricket Ground - the Home of Cricket.
© Copyright 2014
My family's connection with this great Ground starts with my Grandfather, William Hartley Beton.
Born in 1872, having gone to sea as a young lad, he soon discovered that although he may have liked the sea, it did not like him - which was not good news as he was on a voyage to Australia.
He started working at Lord's in 1890, the year its iconic Pavilion was built. Known affectionately as 'Sam', a nickname he picked up when he was sent to The West Indies in 1905 as baggage handler for Lord Brackley's XI, he was to become part of the fabric of Lord's.
As a child I would be taken to see my Grandfather and Grandmother, a lady named Annie Maria, and was told I saw my first Test Match when I was a few months old.
During the summer months I would spend days in the garden of their home, part of a large house provided by MCC and shared with the tennis professional, at Number 6 Grove End Road. Thanks to the Blitz it has been converted into the Number 6 car park.
As Dressing Room Attendant 'Sam' would draw W. G. Grace's bath and give him massages, and would sell bats and organise nets for Members. He was part butler, part valet and confidant of sorts - how different from today.
However, what marked Grandfather out from other attendants, and I believe makes this story so interesting, is a scruffy old scrapbook that he started to keep during that tour to Trinidad with Lord Brackley.
It itemised the scores of that tour and became an autograph book that is a family treasure. Inside the pages are autographs of all those with whom he came into contact during his time at Lord's; quite simply it has signatures from a golden era. From W.G. Grace, Jessop and Ranjitsinhji to the Australian XIs of 1921 to 1933, the likes of Don Bradman, Fred Spofforth and C.B.Fry, also Members of Parliament, the then Prince of Wales and the Duke of York in 1906, and other notables of the time such as Arthur Conan Doyle and C. Aubrey Smith plus many other names and teams, all of whom are part of the history of the Pavilion and all gathered by 'Sam' of Lord's.
Another possession we have is a press photograph of Grandfather, holding a tray of drinks for the Gloucestershire players seated on the outfield during a break in play during their County Championship match against Middlesex in 1933. Orange-juices in a ring on the tray surrounding a pint of ale for the fast bowler, a glimpse into bygone days.
As a boy I was never allowed into the Pavilion, even though by this time my father George Hartley Beton was an MCC employee. The Stewards were noted for being extremely obstreperous and stubborn back then. Thankfully things have changed!
However one winter afternoon my father managed to persuade the steward on the Pavilion door to allow me in, not to be long, and on pain of death not to touch anything. I was then allowed a few precious moments to see the Long Room, the collection of caps and curved bats, the Sparrow and Ball. And of course The Ashes Urn.
Horse-drawn carriages were drawn up in front of the old Tavern
In those days the Museum did not exist and the artefacts held by MCC were on view only for Members. These days it is much better, the treasures are available for all to see.
By this time my Grandfather had passed away but my family's connection with Lord's was as strong as ever. George, my father, was a Tennis and Squash Attendant, in charge of the dressing rooms in what is I believe now the library and administration area, while my mother Norah worked in the Staff canteen, then situated in the clock tower at the back of the Compton and Edrich stand, known as 'the Free Seats'.
At that time staff tickets would allow a seat on the Clock Tower's roof and from which both my wife and I have enjoyed watching Test matches. With the new lights and big screens, this view has now gone.
One of the perks of my father's job was the use of the dressing rooms in the squash courts, with their Delft tiled fireplaces, the fires no longer needed but joy, large baths and hot running water. With no bathroom at home I would scurry up to the Ground to make use of what to me was one of the joys of my father's job.
Like my Grandfather, my father, 'George of Lord's' was part of the fabric, valued and like Grandfather a proud servant of the club.
George was noted for having a good fund of stories and was often sought out by Members in need of one for their after dinner speeches. During the War there was no squash professional so my father was allowed to play certain Members who would enjoy beating him in what was strangely always a closely fought match.
George was also a useful cricketer. He played for the Cross Arrows CC in his younger days and on one occasion was also amusingly required to appear for 'The Gentleman of the Clergy' when they were one short.
One other family connection with Lord's and in this case Middlesex, was my uncle Sydney Lionel Beton, who batted for them in the middle order from 1923 until 1928. Afterwards, he continued to play cricket at club level and made 100 centuries for Shepherd's Bush. He was named 'Sydney' after that ill fated trip to Australia by Grandfather!
Despite my family connections with Lord's and the fact that both my father and grandfather worked for MCC I have never been a Member of the Club.
Years ago my father told me that MCC were looking for new Members (how times have changed) and would I like to be put up for Membership? The answer of course was yes, but sadly for whatever reason he never got round to it.
I have however enjoyed Middlesex membership for over 32 years, and believe I know this wonderful Ground better than many. Remembering as a boy the Wartime Tests, P & Q stand full of Royal Australian Airforce watching Keith Miller coming in from The Pavilion End,
and after the War lacrosse being played at The Nursery End during the winter.
On Eton and Harrow match days, the horse-drawn carriages were drawn up in front of the old Tavern and the roofs were used as viewing points for the cricket. I remember the little mound behind A stand, where The Warner Stand is now, from which it was just possible to watch the game, also the printing press under the Grand Stand where scorecards were updated and could be purchased.
This year is MCC's Bicentenary of the Ground and also Middlesex's 150th anniversary. I take great pride in my family's long association with both, and think fondly of the fact that my Grandfather, 'Sam', was here in 1890 when the current Pavilion was erected, and can still see in my minds eye George, my father standing on its steps to see a few balls bowled.
In my lifetime the only two things that remain the same are the Real Tennis Court and of course the Pavilion.
The scoreboards have changed as have all the stands, lights have been installed, the Media Centre has itself become iconic, yes the ground has become modern, but to me it still has the same feel as it always did, I believe because the Pavilion has remained as it always was.
The Long Room's treasures may have been moved to the Museum, but it is still the Pavilion I knew and I always feel privileged to pass through its doors.