PETER FINCH, chairman of Horntye Park Management Company which acts as sole trustee of Hastings and Rother Sports Trust, explains the history of the former Central Cricket Ground at Priory Meadow, its replacement at Horntye Park, and why a further move to Claremont School is in the offing. 

Contrary to popular belief, the Central Cricket Ground at Priory Meadow was never owned by the town, nor was it gifted to the people of Hastings. The ground was purchased by a group of cricket lovers, who formed a club and worked to create it for the benefit of the Hastings and St. Leonards inhabitants and visitors to play cricket and other sports. 

The town’s cricketers had played on the East Hill until the early 1860s, when the Hastings United Cricket Club decided the ground was no longer adequate and looked for somewhere more accessible. Priory Meadow was considered a possible site, but there was a rumour that the land there was to be sold by the Cornwallis Estate for building. A public meeting was held, a committee formed, and within a fortnight it was agreed that the meadow could be available for hire at an annual rent of £25 per annum (£3,000 in today’s money). However, a capital sum of £300 (£35,000 in today’s money) was needed to level, drain and re-turf the two acres in the middle. Within a few months the club’s committee raised £610; work started immediately, and the first cricket matches took place in the summer of 1864.

CREDIT: Dave Young

The new ground was a great success and, at an AGM some five years later, it was agreed that an approach be made to the Cornwallis Estate to buy it for the club. A figure of £5,000 (£580,000 in today’s money) was agreed, and a scheme for management was included in the Cornwallis Estates Act of 1870. Fundraising and subscriptions reached £3,180; the Cornwallis Estate accepted a down payment of £3,000 with a balance of £2,000 to be left on mortgage at an interest rate of 4%. On August 7th 1872, 149 years ago this month, the Hastings and St. Leonards Central Cricket and Recreation Ground Trust came into being as a private concern. 

The mortgage remained outstanding until the 1950s but was eventually repaid following the sale of the Queens Road frontage for shops.

Priory Meadow to Horntye

The Central Cricket Ground, as it became known, enjoyed an illustrious sporting history for over a century, but struggled financially for many years, and in 1983 the idea of building a shopping centre on the site was raised. After many debates and meetings, the management committee of the Trust voted in 1986 to sell the land. When the original sale fell through, Hastings Borough Council compulsorily purchased it. In its place the Trust was offered 14 acres of land at Summerfields, together with £1,000,000 as compensation for lost facilities. The ground, styled Horntye Park, was prepared for cricket and, following a grant from Sport England, the overall current facilities were created.

Horntye Park Management Company became the trustee of the Hastings and St. Leonards Central Cricket and Recreation Ground Trust. Its elected committee were the company’s directors.

A condition of the new cricket ground was that it had to be suitable, and to the standard required, for first class cricket. Expectations were high but, through no fault of the town or board of directors, only three county cricket matches have been played on the ground in the past 21 years. Sussex County Cricket Club continued for a time to play inter-county matches at Horsham, Eastbourne and Arundel, but failed to support any county cricket for Hastings. The result was that the ground was a financial drain on the Trust: year on year, considerable financial losses accrued, and eventually a decision was made to sell part of the site to raise funds. 

The first scheme fell through, but a second joint venture with Hastings United Football Club to create a sports centre of excellence at Bulverhythe Recreation Ground promised a great future. Unfortunately this failed to secure the necessary financial backing, and the football club is now making its own arrangements to develop new facilities at Tilekiln Playing Fields.

Prospective closure

Horntye Park’s financial difficulties continued, and it looked as if the sports complex would have to close. To try to avoid this, the board of directors agreed to carry out a restructure. Two of the managerial staff were made redundant, and the centre was then managed by the directors themselves: I as chairman and other willing directors gave the required time and expertise, unpaid, to keep the centre open. Consequently we have managed to keep our heads above water and stemmed the huge losses that had previously occurred. But this is unsustainable in terms of the time required of us. 

Bowled out at Horntye
CREDIT: Reg Wood Event Photography

The ongoing problem is that no money was or is available to update the centre or, more urgently, to replace the all-weather pitch which is 21 years old (the normal life of the surface is 10-12 years). The cost of replacement would be a minimum of £550,000, and we had no way of funding such an expense. In my opinion it’s wrong to expect council tax payers to pay to maintain failing facilities, even if they were created with good intentions. And while the main Horntye building attracts plenty of bookings both days and evenings for weddings, wakes, meetings and parties, the outdoor grass areas are a financial burden. Cricket is a very expensive and space-consuming sport to run; at most venues it’s heavily subsidised. Midweek and Sunday cricket has reduced dramatically in the past ten years, but maintenance, staffing and upkeep costs continue to increase. 

Thus with the lack of funds to upgrade, repair and replace facilities, we had little choice but to look for alternatives to ensure that sporting facilities continue to be available to the many clubs and sporting groups that currently use them – in particular the town’s premier cricket team Hastings & St Leonards Priory and hockey club South Saxons.

Move to Claremont 

A great deal of money was spent investigating relocation to the Ark Academy schools in Parkstone Road and on the Ridge, but these sites could not be made cost effective. Instead we negotiated a move to Claremont School on Ebden’s Hill off the A21 road, where, with the support of Sport England, we will enter into a 50-year ‘Community Use Agreement’. This will guarantee to the community, including existing users of Horntye Park, use of both existing and new facilities out of school hours, during school holidays and at weekends. Planning permission was granted conditionally in June this year by Rother District Council to build a new sports centre with a full size cricket ground, floodlit sand-dressed hockey pitch, four floodlit all weather netball/short tennis courts and four new mini soccer football pitches there.

With the consent of the Charity Commission and Sport England, the Trust has changed its name to reflect the numerous sports and the geographical area that it supports. It is now called Hastings and Rother Sports Trust. Its financial future will be assured by sale of the outdoor areas at Horntye Park for housing development. A purchaser has been found, though detailed negotiations are still ongoing. 

The Horntye building itself, including the sports hall and other existing indoor facilities, will be retained and upgraded, with new community facilities added. There will be a new floodlit boules terrace laid in front of the building, and ample parking retained to service the centre.

We, the directors of the management company, feel that we have done the best we could over the years to assure the provision of community sports facilities in this town. We look forward to a brighter future at both Horntye and Claremont.

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