A History of Great Shelford Recreation Ground

Guest blog post by Duncan Grey

The Parish Council acquired the present recreation ground from the Macauley family of Southernwood in 1921. Before then the village had used various fields for their recreation. There was a field at the junction of Cambridge Road and Granhams – now Granham’s Close – and after that there was ground off Hinton Way, where Glebe Lane now stands, opposite Kash Stores. The Rugby Club played in what is now Leeway Avenue and cricket was played at the rear of the De Freville public house, now Sofa and Co. where the traditional Village Feast was also held.

Sport Clubs Emerge

On the recreation ground a Bowls Club was formed and a green laid in 1920. A tennis club was founded in 1935 when the King George V Jubilee committee allocated £20 towards the cost of courts. Grass courts opened in 1936, converted to hard courts in 1939.

Swimming in the river went on from the early days, with a diving board and, later, changing rooms and in 1926 the WI secretary requested a place be set aside for women and girls to bathe in the river, separately from men and boys. The foundations of the changing rooms eventually built are still visible today.

Philippa Pearce recorded how her father the miller owned a strip of land upstream from the mill to beyond the recreation ground and was able to create an artificial length with its left bank higher than the land below to enable regulation of the water level to the mill. So it may be described as a short length of canal.

During the War

The British Legion erected the original village hall in the 1920’s, together with (rather presciently) a car park, but with and immediately following the evacuation from Dunkirk in the second world war the rec was requisitioned and had wooden huts, and Nissen Huts, built on the field. The first unit to use these barracks was the Sussex regiment, later the Free Polish and others from Czechoslovakia and Belgium. They used the Village Hall as a canteen or mess.

New Buildings

After the war most of the huts were demolished, but one was used as a pavilion for the Bowls Club until 1980. It was agreed that the original Village Hall needed replacement and by the combined efforts of the community a new hall – The Memorial Hall – was completed in 1958. Scouts, Guides, Brownies and Cubs, who had first met in the school, then in a hut in the grounds of Southernwood, raised funds to build a new HQ on the back of the Hall and this was completed in 1967.

Rugby players moved from what is now Leeway Avenue to The Davey Field, while footballers stayed on the recreation ground, using “an old green shack with a thatched roof” as a dressing room until it was replaced much later by a brick building, and in 2015 a grand new pavilion.

Always Evolving

In “Great Shelford Remembered, 1894-1994” Ralph Rolph describes the way the recreation ground slowly changed from a simple field into a place of leisure:

“For a long time after it had been purchased the present recreation ground did not appear as the beautiful ten-acre green sward that it is now. The ground was little more than an ordinary grass field and in early summer produced a large crop of hay.”

It took several years before a football pitch was prepared and for a while an oval quarter mile running track was laid out, until eventually an area was cleared and levelled for a cricket pitch.

So the recreation ground is in constant change. From a plain field in 1921 it has gradually added sports facilities. In 1937 the WI suggested there should be facilities for “games for the elderly” though the hiatus for wartime army use seems to have prevented progress. The riverside, originally a tiny branch of the Cam or Granta has been a functional canal for the mill, a bathing place (later so polluted by industrial waste from upstream that it became unusable) and is now clean and more natural than it has been for many years.
In July “the rec” is the scene of the Shelford Feast, a traditional event once held off Granham’s Road, which paused during the war and was revived in 1994, first in the school grounds and now firmly established on the rec.

In the 1950’s an area was allocated as a playground for young children and in the 2000’s a skateboard ramp was added. Now the Playscape initiative, helped by the Youth Club, has plans to improve the playground and has started by clearing the nettles in the copse and plant wild flowers in the riverside area. In the same way that the community worked together post-war to improve the ground with a village hall, the community is coming together again to create a wonderfully inviting and inspiring outdoor space for everyone to enjoy.

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