irst of all I was born at a very early age, in fact a lot earlier than you would think. It was not till quite late on in my life that my son Alan discovered that I was a seven-month baby, or at least my parents legitimised me by getting married two months after I was conceived. However, I don’t hold it against them because in 1935 it would have been frowned upon to have a baby out of wedlock.
I was born in a house in a little village called Charcott which is about seven miles west of Tonbridge and the house is semi-detached and very old, getting on for 500 years, and I was born next door to where my parents moved and where I was brought up for near enough 21 years.
I attended the primary school at Chiddingstone Causeway,
which was a mixed school.
My mother worked on the local farm in the house doing housework and my father was a cricket ball maker working in a factory at Chiddingstone Causeway where there were many varied different sports equipment made. It was known as Dukes, then Wisdens and very late on became Tonbridge Sports Goods Industries. I can remember when I used to go to school I walked by my father’s workshop every day and can recollect Sid Gibb who was the man in charge of dying the leather cut from the belly of the hide, hanging up these strips to dry outside his small shed. They were deep red and so were his hands, apron, and everything around him. This was the leather used to make cricket balls. In the factory, downstairs, there was a section that made footballs and rugger balls, all from real leather and hand sewn, another part made hockey balls – about the same size as cricket balls but white – hockey sticks, cricket bats and tennis racquets, golf balls and other equipment was made in the factory on the other side of the road. One of my uncles used to work on the cricket bats, his job was to rub ammonia into the face of the bat (I don’t know what for) and this he did with a chamois leather pad and a bucket. The smell was awful and got down the throat and hurt. Cricket ball making was a family concern – my grandfather worked at the factory (he died when my father was only four so my father was not able to collect any tips) my father’s uncle also worked there, my Uncle Stan worked for the same firm but at Southborough and my Uncle Cecil worked at the Tonbridge Factory.
The cricket balls were made by hand on a sort of production line.
The first person had cork to cut up and bind together with hemp, and weighed until it was the correct size and weight, then another would be cutting up the leather into diamond shapes with round edges, another would sew these together and turn them inside out, two sections made half of the ball, and then they were put round the cork and hemp to be sewn together to form the ball. When they had been stitched they had to be seamed. This was my father’s job, his tools were an awl – a type of sharp needle with a wood handle and a bend at the end – for making the holes round the ball, a clamp held between his knees in which was placed the ball, a lump of beeswax, pig bristles, a leather strip attached to his side and balls of hemp.
Several lengths of hemp were put together, beeswax rubbed up and down the length and then rolled on the leather strip and finally a pig bristle was rolled into each end to use as a needle. When this had been prepared the awl was used to make the holes and the pig bristle was threaded through the hole till each end was about the same length and working round the ball both ends were passed through the holes to complete a seam. This had to be of an accurate number of stitches otherwise the ball was relegated to be a “second” and the seamer did not receive so much money for the work.
Sewing a Cricket Ball
Link to Cricket Ball Factory