Rounders, A Popular Game

Anyone living in or around Bolton in the 1930s and the 1940s knew, or was related to, someone who worked in the cotton industry.

The mill owners made sure that they got full value for money from their employees, but in many cases they provided recreational or sporting facilities for the workers to enjoy in their free time. The playing of sports was encouraged, teams and competitions received sponsorship, and some of the larger concerns provided playing fields for cricket, football, tennis, and bowls. I particularly recall Knowles’s splendid pavilion and playing fields between Church Road and Moss Bank Way, Tootal Broadhurst and Lee’s complex at Higher Swan Lane, Eagley Mills’ facilities in the village of the same name, and those of Barlow and Jones’ at Sharples Park.

One of the popular sports played around the district was Rounders. Children played the game at school and in the streets, but when boys were older they considered it a game for girls, and it was teams of young women who played for the town’s many rounders teams. Teams represented churches, businesses, and sports clubs, but the majority were sponsored by the cotton mills which provided their teams with sports kit and equipment, eager to acquire the kudos and beneficial publicity that came with a winning team.

League titles and cup competitions were fiercely contested, and the matches attracted considerable followings.At some of the more popular venues, like Holy Harbour, hundreds of spectators came to watch. On sports fields and on cricket grounds the matches were played on grass but many of the other open spaces, which were often pieces of ‘waste ground’, like ‘Lymefields’ on Chorley New Road, and the playground at Hatfield Road, and many others, the playing surface was of compacted earth, shale, or cinders.

The teams with generous sponsorship came to the field resplendent in colourful playing kits, at school the girls had worn black or navy-blue gym-slips, but those provided for the leading teams were red, blue, green, or gold, and their supporters wore their colours proudly.

Players made their names in the game; some of the bowlers, or ‘pitchers’, were considered almost ‘unplayable’, and those batters with a ‘good eye for a ball’ would regularly hit the ball to the boundary, or craftily turn their bat as the ball came to them and slice it behind them to surprise fielders and make for easier runs. Some of the games referees also made names for themselves, those respected and considered to be ‘good’ and ‘fair’ being in great demand for the top matches and cup finals.

By Ron Horsley