This is a rare photo of a cricket game… in progress. I was going to say in action, but that is probably overstating the case. The game is being played on Cricket Field, and the photo is from a stereopticon slide that probably dates to about 1890-1900.
While much of Needham played baseball, the National Pastime in Needham Heights from about 1860 until the 1920s or so was cricket.
Starting in the 1850s, knitters from the English Midlands, displaced by the industrialization of the British textile industry, started arriving in Needham. Most settled in Needham Heights (then Highlandville), and in the years that followed, the Heights took on a distinctly English character when compared to the old Yankee ways of the Center. So, while the Center played baseball, the newly-arrived Englishmen in the Heights stuck with their own national game. The knitting mills had house teams; the lodges, fraternal organizations, and neighborhoods all had teams. Needham even had several competitive state League teams.
Cricket Field, on Hillside Avenue, was a pitch maintained by mill owners William Carter and Frank Gorse as a place for their workers and neighbors to play.
There were also pitches near the corner of Webster Street and Homestead Park, on High Street, and on what is now Avery Field. The Albion Cricket Club, one of the more successful of the town’s state-league teams, played (on and off) from 1867 to 1897. They even had two undefeated seasons. Several members had played team cricket in England before emigrating to the US.
The mill-owning families were well-represented: the Gorse brothers were both players, and Frank Gorse was a respected bowler.
William Henry Carter (son of William Carter) was an avid batsman, and appears in cricket team pictures for more than 30 years. All four Thorpe brothers were notable players, the more remarkable because one of them (Charles) was born with only one hand but was an impressive scorer nonetheless. By the late 1930s, the neighborhood was no longer playing cricket, and Carter and Gorse gave the field to the town for recreation. Over the years, the field has been the site of various popular community games, most recently as a location for youth soccer.
The game of Cricket has since receded so far from the town’s collective awareness that there are a significant number of people who think that Cricket Field is named after a bug. Jiminy Cricket, perhaps?
Gloria Polizzotti Greis is the Executive Director of the Needham History Center & Museum. For information, see our website at www.needhamhistory.org.