Early Years of the War Memorial Playing Field, Failand
At the end of the Second World War the Old Bristolians, like all such institutions up and down the land, had lost large numbers during the fighting. The Old Bristolians Society, the Sports Sections and the School considered for some time what form a memorial to the 142 pupils from Bristol Grammar School should take. It was agreed that the School would have new gates and railings together with a Book of Remembrance for their Memorial. The Society, together with the Rugby, Hockey and Cricket Clubs agreed that they would come together to play their sport on a ground to be called ‘The Old Bristolians War Memorial Playing Field’. Before the War each club had played on separate grounds around Bristol, all of which had been rented. It was agreed that a Sports Club Management Committee would be set up and administer the ground on behalf of the Society and the clubs would together pay the running costs but would always use the ground rent-free.
It was not until November 1949 that seventeen acres of land in Longwood Lane, Failand, was finally purchased. A huge amount of preparatory work was required to turn this part of the Ashton Court Estate from a field into a sports ground. In the days of a car-less society it was even harder work cycling or walking there and then having the prospect of a day’s stone-picking. One very large hole in the field was filled with tons and tons of stone, brought to the surface as a result of ploughing in preparation for the grass seed. There was little money to spare for any professional assistance other than Charlie Arnell, our first groundsman, so most of the work fell on volunteers from the clubs.
The Pavilion building presented difficulties in those post-war years of austerity. The only affordable solution was a prefabricated Pratten building from Midsomer Norton which served all the clubs well far beyond its anticipated life of ten years. It was not until 1976 that the present Clubhouse was built and was opened by Michael Booker on 7th January, 1977. It was funded by the sale of three acres at the top of the ground to the Country Club who provided our present building on a Design and Build basis working to our specification. In addition we had to raise £20,000 to kit out our new building which was achieved before it was used for the first time. The Clubhouse was later extended in the Eighties to provide extra changing rooms for the newly formed Ladies section of the Hockey Club.
The ground provided three grass hockey pitches, two rugby pitches and two cricket squares. For many years the third hockey pitch was hired out to Long Ashton H.C. It was not until hockey required a non-grass surface in the early nineties that this arrangement altered. Hence the need for the Artificial Turf Pitch on the Grammar School ground which was first used in September 1999. The present ground has continued to produce much-needed additional income by converting redundant hockey pitches to Soccer whilst still enabling the Cricket and Rugby to flourish.
Other key moments during these years:-
June 1952 Official opening of the War Memorial Playing Field.
Summer 1956 Crash on the ground of a test plane whilst Grammar School boys were playing there. The pilot was killed but no one else was injured.
60’s & 70’s Six-a-Side cricket competitions on Sundays were regularly held before all the counties started league cricket on this day. Most counties have played at Failand and on one occasion the New Zealand Tourists put out a team. The City, the Rovers, Bristol Rugby and Gloucestershire CCC always put out sides usually as part of the benefit for a player. There was an estimated 6,000 crowd the year Yorkshire and Fred Trueman were involved.
Finding dates for all these events will need some research but George Hunt’s time as grounds man saw many improvements. He built the tractor shed with the proceeds of a bequest of £5,000 from Darryl and Godfrey Harris. George also removed the barrage balloon concrete shelter dating from the war and filled in the famous hole full of stones from the ploughed surface.
In the late eighties we had a most generous bequest from an anonymous cricket and hockey member which has enabled us to do an immense amount to both clubhouse and ground. There is no doubt that life at Failand would have been a huge struggle without this marvellous gift. Equally Leslie Morris, former teacher at BGS, had many years earlier bequeathed half the value of his house to Failand. He was an inspiration to us all and spent many hours helping there in his retirement. The son who he and his sister had fostered was an Old Bristolian killed in Normandy in 1944.
No brief account of Failand would be complete without mention of George Hunt’s tragic death on the ground in the Eighties. He devoted a huge amount of time to its care and maintenance working with very limited funds. John Trott was the man who later followed him and again dedicated himself to producing wickets and pitches of a quality which were good enough for County Second XI cricket matches and representative games for both Rugby and Hockey.
I’m sure there is much which I haven’t mentioned. The struggle over seven years to get an ATP at a cost of £312,000 and without Lottery Funding enabled the Hockey Club to remain as part of the threesome was key to the future of the Memorial Field. Of course we never had junior sections until the Cricket Club started theirs up possibly 20 years ago – now all sections have so many young players. Hockey when I started had two sides and an occasional third now there are over 200 adult members in one section. It really is quite a story and I am delighted to tell the members about the past. It all starts with that Memorial on the wall of the Clubhouse and there must be another hundred stories behind each of the names there.