Norfolk County Cricket Club was set up in 1827 and soon became known as being “second only to the Marylebone club”. The industrial revolution and the mass exodus from country to town however altered many things and by the 1850s cricket was becoming more and more focused on the growing conurbations of London, Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester.
The present Norfolk County Cricket Club was constituted in 1877. The annual Norwich Cricket Week was first held in 1881 and in 1895 Norfolk was a founding member of the Minor Counties Cricket Championship; “Minor” being used to describe counties which did not qualify for the “First Class Championship”.
Both the Minor Counties Championship and The Norwich Cricket Week (now renamed the Norfolk Cricket Festival) continue to this day, with the Festival the focal point for all Norfolk’s cricket as well as remaining a near unique event in cricket whether at first or minor county level.
For more than 100 years Minor County cricket was played over two days (First-class matches lasting 3 days and Test Matches being scheduled for 4 or (since the Second World War) 5 days. For most of that period English cricket was renowned for the separation of amateur and professional (or Gentleman and Players as they were known) with the Norfolk side largely filled by ex-Public School Boys, University cricketers and those who played during their holidays from the “professions” such as the church, law and medicine. Playing with them would be the “County Pro” (or in some years the “County Pros”). Engaged for the summer, the “Pro” would often be an itinerant cricketer employed for a summer’s work of bowling at club members and appearing in County games in the hope of giving the team an “edge” over its opponents. The professional, even at minor counties level, though would have his own changing room, only mixing with the “gentleman cricketers” when they took to the field of play.
Charlie Shore, Norfolk’s professional for several seasons in the 1880s achieved the remarkable figures of 10 for 50 against Durham in 1897, while Albert Relf, scorer of 856 runs and taker of 65 wickets in just two seasons before moving onto Sussex and England, were two of the most successful Norfolk cricketers of the Victorian and Edwardian age. During the 1920s there was much talk of “Norfolk turning First Class” (something Glamorgan had achieved in 1921) but (just as today) the money was not there and the opportunity was lost. Nevertheless, Norfolk boasted one of the most talented XIs of the day with names like Barton, Balance, Walker, Rought-Rought (they were three Brandon brothers and all regular county cricketers) and by the mid-1930s a seemingly endless supply of Edrichs, including Bill who would find the greatest fame with Middlesex and England after World War Two.
Striding this period was the massive figure (both in character and achievement) of Michael Falcon. Captain from 1912 to 1946 Falcon was, as an all rounder, extremely close to selection for England against Australia in 1921 despite never having played First-class county cricket. A colossus in Norfolk cricket, he scored more than 11,000 runs and took over 700 wickets by the time he retired – to the county committee! – in 1947.
English cricket was slow to recover from the deprivations of the Second World War and Norfolk was no exception, though gradually new names replaced the familiar faces of the 1930s. Parfitt, Radley and John Edrich (three more England cricketers with Norfolk roots), the unrelated Moores (Tracey and Nigel), Walmsley, Corran and Jefferson with the ball and a string of long serving wicket-keepers including Bryan Stevens and Doug Mattocks all helped take the county into the modern era of limited overs cricket and latterly three-day Championship matches which have proved a real test for basically the club cricketers who make up most of today’s teams.
By the 1970s “one-day cricket” was growing in popularity and – despite being a bit slow off the mark (in the traditional Norfolk way of course) Norfolk have now won the Minor Counties Knockout on four occasions, including memorable trips to Lord’s in 1997, 2001 and 2005 and at the Riverside, Chester-le-Street in 2009.
After playing at the Colman’s Lakenham ground for nearly 125 year, Norfolk made the difficult decision to move to Horsford’s beautiful Manor Park ground in 2000. Since then the Festival has continued as before, with 3 games played over a three week period in July/August.