Close of play - cricket at Bonfire Field, which could be a thing of the past now St James have moved


TOPSHAM St James CC are on the move for the summer ahead from their long-time home at Topsham Rugby Club.

St James, who have been based at Bonfire Field since 1989, will be playing their Tolchards Devon League home games at the University of Exeter cricket ground less than a mile away from their current home.

The rugby and cricket clubs have been talking to each other for more than three years about their continued joint use of the ground, of which the cricketers have had sole use for four months each summer.

A number of issues became apparent during the talks, which made a parting of the ways almost inevitable.

  • The rugby club introduced staged and agreed rent increase from £3,000 a year, which had been in place for more than a decade, to £6,000, £8,000 and a proposed £10,000
  • The cricket club had to budget for the cost of groundwork, maintenance of machinery and equipment as well as coaching costs on top of the rent
  • Both clubs need more space for their expanding playing strengths. The rugby players run sides from under-seven level to pensioner age as well as adult and ladies sides. The cricketers need more space for junior training and proper practice nets to replace those demolished by the rugby club last year

The parting of the way is amicable with fond farewells from both sides.

Sheila Harding, the secretary of Topsham St James CC, said: “We wish Topsham Rugby Football Club every success for the future and are grateful to them for hosting cricket for the past 30 years while looking forward to the exciting future at a new ground.

“The University facilities are excellent and cricket-orientated, so more suitable for the needs of the Topsham St James members.”

Richard Kenworthy, the chairman of Topsham RFC, said despite the best efforts of both clubs it had proved impossible to reach agreement on a joint way ahead.

“The model of shared use and the rent charged was no longer viable,” said Kenworthy.

“Giving the cricketers exclusive use of the ground for four months of the year does not work now as we have more demands on our ground and players want to start pre-season training earlier.

“We are sad it has ended this way and wish Topsham St James all the best. Hopefully, we will continue to have cricket at Bonfire Field, even if it is just social games.”

St James were first formed in 1875, reformed in 1887 as a bible study team playing at what became Exeter City's home ground at St James Park, and have played continuously at various venues around the city since 1896, when it was reconstituted for a third time.

The club has led a nomadic existence over the years. It started off at St James Park, which was sold to Exeter City for £7 10s in 1904, then played at Clifton Hill, Stoke Hill and Heavitree between 1905-1938.

From 1939 to 1966 St James played their games at Wonford House, the site of which was redeveloped as the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital. Digby mental hospital was the club's base from 1967-1986, followed by two seasons sharing with the now-defunct Exe Vale CC at Exminster Hospital.

St James joined the Devon League in 1984. They moved to Topsham in 1989 and played their home games there ever since. 

Cricket club members heard all about the moving plans at the recent annual meeting.

Richard Horne is the new club president, replacing the late John Evans, who died last year. Evans was a member of the cricket and rugby clubs and saved both thousands of pounds over the many years he was volunteer groundsman.

Horne, a life member, joined around 25 years ago.  He was previously a player then an umpire, was one of those instrumental in setting up the junior section in the late 1990s and was at one time vice-chairman.

Jonathan Sapwell has replaced Edd Kirby, who stood down as 1st XI captain after four years in the role. 

Stuart Thorn has stepped aside as head of colts cricket, but will remain on the committee.

Topsham SJ start indoor nets start at Exeter School on Sunday, March 8 between 10am-noon. Any potential players should visit the club website or contact Harding on 07816 665503 for additional details.