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Trent Bridge Inn – a history combining food, drink, cricket and entrepreneurship

The Inn is very much a part of Nottinghamshire cricket.
The Inn is very much a part of Nottinghamshire cricket. Photo Courtesy: Arunabha Sengupta

The Trent Bridge Inn stands next to the cricket ground and is an important part of the history of the game. Arunabha Sengupta traces the rich past of this Wetherspoon owned pub.

Famished after a full day’s work, and also the curious obsession of the cricket tragic. These work in tandem as I leave the press box and walk around the ground, past the William Clark Stand and the Trent Bridge shop, and make my way out through the Bridgford Road gate.

It is a two minute walk to the entrance of the Trent Bridge Inn, where cricket, history, food and drink merge together into mouth-watering manna from the cricketing heaven.

In the current day, the name Wetherspoon is irrevocably attached to the inn.The five bars have made it a favoured watering hole of the area.

The interior is formed of a number of interconnected rooms, with heart-warming wood panelling, comfy nooks and booths and cosy sofas on either side of an open fireplace. The food is excellent as well, and 12 real ales and two real ciders are readily available, all that served with friendly smiles and quite a few pretty faces.

One can eat and drink with Nottinghamshire greats watching benevolently from imposing frames. There is Garry Sobers, Richard Hadlee, the overseas superstars who lent glamour to the county sides. There is Derek Randall as well, Nottinghamshire’s own home grown maverick. In one exquisite picture, Don Bradman walks out to toss with Wally Hammond.The clientele varies from local elders out for a quiet evening to suited businessmen discussing strategies over a glass of beer.

Trent Bridge Inn – a history combining food, drink, cricket and entrepreneurship
Photos show Don Bradman walking out for the toss with Wally Hammond while diners enjoy the cricketing ambiance. Photo Courtesy: Arunabha Sengupta

The Inn was built over four hundred years ago, at the southern end of the bridge across River Trent. Travellers making their way to Nottingham from the southern villages could rest there during the night before the walled town opened in the morning.Technically, it was just outside Nottingham, in an agricultural village called West Bradford.

By the late 18th century, cricket was gradually becoming popular in the area. Matches were played and wagered upon in an open area inside Nottingham’s race course, a mile towards the North.It was part of an expanse of land called ‘The Forest’, and it was there that Nottinghamshire played Sussex in 1835. And William Clarke was not happy with the way cricket was hosted in the city. The Forest was owned by the City Council and cricketers could not charge admission fees for the matches.

The Matrimonial Alliance
Clarke was a bricklayer by trade, and a great underarm leg-spinner of the era. He had lost an eye inn 1820, at the age of 23. But his cricket did not suffer. By the mid-1830s he was one of the foremost cricketers of England, and a natural leader of men. Not only was he the captain of Nottinghamshire, he also acted as the manager – one of the first men to take up the profession seriously.

At that time, the Trent Bridge Inn was owned by a lady named Mary Chapman. Clarke wooed and married her in 1837. By 1841, he had laid out a cricket square in the meadow attached to the Inn. On one side ran the road to Radcliffe on Trent. The lane to the West Bridgford church lay along another side. On the two other sides, hedges marked the border of the meadow from the land belonging to the West Bridgford Hall.

Clarke’s business acumen saw him market the Inn as accommodation for the travelling cricketers. Of course this made it simpler for the matches to be played at the ground, to save the cricketers the additional northbound travel to The Forest.Clarke built a fence around the playing area and charged admission. The response was not really encouraging.

Clarke also experimented with side-shows other than cricket, but it did not help. By 1845, he had lost his fascination for the venture and handed over the reins to step-son John Chapman. Clarke had more interesting ideas now. He wandered over Britain, organising matches for the famous travelling All England Eleven. His team included the supreme cricketers of the day of the stature of George Parr, Nicholas Felix, Alfred Mynn, George Caffyn and John Wisden. Taking full advantage of the newly laid railway lines, the side regaled spectators across the country and allowed Clarke to make a substantial profit.

The Inn in 1850 by Robert Bradley. Picture courtesy — Wikimedia Commons.
The Inn in 1850 by Robert Bradley. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Back in Trent Bridge, the business was carried on by Chapman, but the results remained unimpressive. It was only in 1859 that a local solicitor, John Johnson, provided the much needed shot in the arm by helping to set up a club committee and introduced a number of schemes for grooming cricketers. In 1861, the Easter Colts Trials were launched and 22 players were invited to take on the first eleven in competition.

George Parr, who took over from Clarke as the All England captain, was one of the best batsmen of the country and a major force in the Nottinghamshire side. A tree adjacent to the ground was dubbed Parr’s tree because of the supposed number of balls he sent thudding into it during his long career. There were plenty of other budding talents as well, and Nottinghamshire soon overtook Kent as the leading county side. The gates became considerably more profitable.

Gary Sobers square cuts as the pub goes about its business.
Gary Sobers square cuts as the pub goes about its business. Photo Courtesy: Arunabha Sengupta

By 1872, the club made enough money to erect a pavilion on the opposite side from the Inn. In 1890, the original Inn was replaced by a bigger building that stood behind it.

Down the years the management has changed hands. Richard Daft, one of the best batsmen of his day, ran the inn for a while. The Musters family took over, sold it to the County Club and later it was owned by a brewery.

In 2011, the JD Wetherspoon pub chain in vested £1.65 million for the refurbishment and reopening of the Inn. Five bars were installed, people flocked in and a CAMRA branch award was won in 2012.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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