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Potters Bar to Codicote is twelve miles ‘as the crow flies’ but I am neither flying nor walking as the way is criss-crossed by a motorway, ‘A’ roads and train lines. In fact the traveller would be advised to go by train and alight at Welwyn then take the bus to Codicote.
Codicote is a large village of some 3 500 people and is set on a chalk ridge on the dip slope of the Chiltern Hills. It has grown as a commuter village being near several Hertfordshire towns including Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City and Hitchin. Codicote has marvellous sports facilities at a modern local sports centre where there is indoor provision for cricket, football and tennis plus indoor facilities for bowls, volleyball, gymnastics and table tennis. The quality of the facilities, unusual in a place of this size, is due to energetic fund raising on behalf of a charity set up in the name of a Codicote man, John Clements, a teacher who perished in Italy in 1976 helping save many pupils lives in a fire during a school ski-trip. The local sports clubs are taking full advantage of the excellent amenities with each section winning many promotions as they scale their respective leagues. Codicote CC, who were re-formed in 1983, joined the Hertfordshire League in 2007 and have won five successive promotions.
Codicote is an ancient settlement with some timber-framed and chequered brick houses and an historic church, St.Giles, which was built in the 13th century. The church, situated close to the modern sports facilities, was heavily restored in the 1850s a time that greatly interests me for the vicar then was the Rev. Thomas Sharpe whose third child, Charles Molesworth Sharpe, represented Cambridge University and Yorkshire. Charles Sharpe was born in the village in 1852, presumably in the vicarage - a large and impressive property built in the 17th century called which is now a residential home -, and became the first southern born cricketer to play for Yorkshire.
It seems that Sharpe was educated privately, perhaps even at home in the vicarage with tutors for himself and his siblings, for his first known formal education was when he went up to Jesus College, Cambridge University. He graduated in 1875 after a summer combining study and cricket. Sharpe must have played cricket locally in Hertfordshire since his teens for he is recorded as representing his native county against I Zingari in 1869. He was 5 foot 8 inches tall, batted right handed, bowled right arm round arm slows and span the ball.
Charles Sharpe’s connection with Yorkshire began in 1871 when the Rev. Thomas became vicar at Holy Trinty Church in Huddersfield. The family had a link with Hull but both the Reverand and his wife were from the east midlands, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, and they were moving to a new environment from rural southern England and its gentle hills to an industrial northern town in the Pennines.
The next reference to Charles is from 1874 when he played in three recorded matches at Cambridge for such sides as the Next Cambridge University XV v, the Gentlemen of Cambridgeshire and the curiously named Cambridge University Long Vacation Club. Sharpe had much success most notably in the final fixture when he dominated proceedings taking 15 wickets and scoring 44 runs for once out. His 15 wickets included 9 in the first innings.
Sharpe was an all-round sportsman and in the winter played both football codes for Cambridge. He was very unlucky regards ‘blues’ for he just missed his rugby ‘blue’ due to an accident and though he represented Cambridge against Oxford in the first association ‘varsity match, only half blues were given, a decision which rankled with him even in old age.
The following summer Sharpe made the step up to first-class cricket with remarkable success, taking 70 first-class wickets at a cost of 14, placing him 6th in the first-class bowling averages. His first-class debut was for Cambridge University against the MCC and Sharpe took 2 wickets, the first being the George Ulyett and the second WG Grace himself caught for 24. In the return game against the MCC at Lord’s Sharpe took eleven wickets taking full advantage of what Wisden described as, “...the last season before pitches began to improve “ and the last where there were “ decided shooters” at Lord’s.
Sharpe also took 5 wickets against the Gentlemen of England when he bowled well in tandem with a Yorkshire product Herbert Sims who bowled fast to fast medium. Sims had been born in Tavistock, Devon but had spent most of his youth in the North Riding where his father was a clergyman, probably around around Easingwold for he played for their cricket club. He was educated at St.Peters, York.
Cambridge, with Sharpe and Sims in the side, lost an memorable varsity match by just 6 runs. Sharpe took 11 wickets in the match including those of AJ Webbe and Vernon Royle, then - set 174 to win - went in first and made the second highest score of 29. Sims top scored with 39 but just failed to take Cambridge over the line.
Sharpe had made a name for himself and, the university season over, he was selected to play for the North versus the South at his new home town, Huddersfield. He took a wicket and a catch but mostly had to field out to two substantial knocks by WG and a century by GF Grace. Nevertheless the Yorkshire CCC commitee were interested in giving Sharpe some matches for he was qualified to play for the county by residence and he was selected to play against Gloucestershire, Grace again, at Bramall Lane. Grace top score in both innings and took most wickets but Yorkshire won. Sharpe was caught and bowled Grace for 15 but only sent down 12 overs and did not take a wicket. Allen Hill and Tom Emmett took 14 of the 20 wickets to fall whilst Ephraim Lockwood and Andrew Greenwood scored most of Yorkshire’s runs.
Sharpe was invited to play for Yorkshire for the rest of the season but felt he had to decline as he had already accepted a tutor’s position in Scotland, presumably not thinking Yorkshire would be interested. Sims also played for Yorkshire before the end of the season, though not in the same side as Sharpe, quickly becoming the second southern born cricketer to represent the county and he made important runs in both his matches.
The Yorkshire side which finished second to a strong Nottinghamshire team in the unofficial table, was usually an eleven made up of professionals including many of the best of the day, notably Ulyett, Emmett, Lockwood, Greenwood, Hill and Pinder. Six years later, another Cambridge educated cricketer who was resident in Yorkshire - but had been born and educated outside the county from a family involved in the church - the Hon. Martin Bladen Hawke, was to join an under achieving ‘professional’ eleven and eventually captain it, helping transform the club’s fortunes.
Sharpe, or Sims, might conceivably have been asked to do the same but both were intent on careers in the church. Sharpe, whose grandfather George Bugg has been a well known theologian, was ordained as a deacon in 1876 then as a priest a year later whilst he obtained curacies first at Sheffield then at Huddersfield Holy Trinity. He still played cricket, though perhaps only occasionally, and is known to have turned out for a number of teams including Leeds Clarence, Huddersfield, the Yorkshire Gentlemen, the Clergy and also the Quidnuncs, a side of Cambridge ‘blues’. Despite his Yorkshire residence Sharpe also maintained his connections with his native county and in I887 he is recorded as playing for Hertfordshire on three occasions.
The following year he became vicar at Elsecar, a village in the coal mining district in south Yorkshire, and this is where he made his greatest contribution to the church, serving the parish for over thirty years until his retirement in 1922. Initially he continued to play cricket and managed to represent Hertfordshire on a number of occasions, including four matches in a a week in 1889, presumably during his annual ‘leave’. He also assisted Elsecar CC up until 1895, as recorded in Jim Beachill’s history of the club, and therefore seems to have stopped playing in his mid forties. He remained as vicar at Elsecar for a further twenty seven years.
Sharpe’s three decades and more at Elsecar Parish Church left a deep impression on the congregation and a stained glass window was erected to him as a tribute, echoing the window at Willingham by Stow for Lord Hawke’s father. A smaller panel shows him baptising a baby. Sharpe retired to the village of Nesfield near Ilkley where he became a regular and important member of the local church, playing the organ and helping in communion services for over a decade before his death in 1935 at the age of eighty two, having lived and worked in Yorkshire for nigh on sixty four of those years. He was laid to rest in Ilkley, a Hertfordshire man who served Yorkshire congregations for most of his life and who might, had he not been so commited to his work, have played for and even captained Yorkshire.
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