The cricket ground, known as "Cape Town's Mecca Of Cricket" was first owned by Lydia Corrina. She was the daughter of Jacob Letterstedt, a brewer to whom the title deed had been granted in 1845. The farm, Mariendal, was given to Lydia (Vicomtesse de Montmort), as a wedding present when she married the Vicompte.
A sub-committee of the Western Province Cricket Club (WPCC) heard that part of the farm, comprising large tracts of land adjacent to Newlands station on both sides of the railway line, might be available for renting or purchase. And so the Newlands Cricket Ground story began...
On inspection, the WPCC sub-committee decided that Lot 27, though part vlei (wetlands) and heavily wooded, was potentially an ideal cricket site. By an amazing coincidence, the Western Province Rugby Union also found Mariendal the solution to their search for a headquarters and a plot of 150 yards by 150 yards was leased - later to become famous internationally as a rugby test venue.
The Newlands ground was rented from the Vicomtesse for £50 in 1887. A long-term lease agreement for 25 years was concluded in 1888, with the fee increasing to £100. The financial problems experienced by the WPCC at the time were overcome by each of the Club's life members contributing £25 towards the costs. Further donations amounting to £350 were earmarked for the construction of a pavilion.
In August 1887 the work of levelling the ground was completed. On the 2nd of January 1888, Newlands was officially "opened" with a Mother Country vs Colonial Born two-day match - an event which was to become a regular feature. At the time, there was still a pond behind the present scoreboard and no pavilion existed.
Big changes were effected at Newlands in 1902 as they eagerly awaited the arrival of the touring Australian team. The large pine trees extending from the "B" field along Camp Ground Road and around the pavilion were replaced by oak trees. Their growth took many years, but today the Oaks Enclosure is one of the most popular vantage points for Newlands spectators, even if the play has to be watched side-on instead of, ideally, from behind the wickets.
The Australians' first visit to South Africa (1902 - 1903) was heralded by a historic six matches including three Test Matches at Newlands. The Australians, captained by Joe Darling, with the famous Victor Trumper, Clem Hill and Syd Gregory in their ranks, proved a big attraction at Newlands. The Test drew an estimated crowd of 10,000 - easily a record at the time!
In 1902, the WPCC had given the Union notice of its intention to charge a rental of £15 per day, plus Stand receipts, for the use of Newlands for the Australian games. The clubs, in those days had to bear the entire cost of all improvements to ground and spectator facilities and this issue down the years - right up to the present time in fact - has been the subject of recurring negotiations between WPCC, as owners of the ground, and the parent body.
At times, in fact, relations have become rather strained although, when it has come to the crunch, wise counsels have prevailed over what has been an anomalous situation. Nowhere in the country has cricket received such a miserly municipal financial assistance as in the Western Province. It is, incidentally, ironical that in 1908 when terms were offered to the Club by the Post Office for the installation of a much-needed telephone at Newlands, they had to be turned down because of a shortage of funds!
On the question of WPCC rental terms for Newlands ground in 1904 - 1905, on the motion of L. B. Smuts, seconded by S. E. Horwood, it was agreed to offer the WPCC £15 a day plus three eighths of the 40 per cent accruing to the Union from gross receipts (gates and stands).
The financial burden on the Western Province Cricket Club in maintaining Newlands was underlined when two Tests - the fourth and fifth - were staged in Cape Town during the Leveson-Gower MCC visit and the WPCC requested a lump sum of £350 or 20 per cent of the gross gate plus net stand receipts.
The war years brought about a crisis in the Western Province Cricket Club and at one stage the spectre of Newlands having to be sold to avoid bankruptcy loomed menacingly. From 1914, gate money from representative games had dried up, rates were overdue and interest on mortgage bonds unpaid. The situation was alleviated by according life membership status (at £10 a time), the Rhodes Trust waiving interest, mortgagees foregoing interest for the past two years and a drastic slashing of expenses. In 1918, too, the issuing of 600 debentures raised £6 000 and helped materially to save the day. Much credit was given at the time to stalwarts Artie Bisset, Jim Wiley and Wally Mars.
Terms for the hire of Newlands from the WPCC for the Aussie games were 15 per cent of gross gate receipts and 20 per cent of the Union's profits. Season tickets cost 5s 6d, seats in the public stands 1s 6d (reduced from 2s 6d) while bona fide club members also paid 1s 6d. The upshot of this however was that the WPCU, largely as a result of bad weather, showed a loss of £36-8-10, of which £26-8-1 was retrieved from the national body as its share of the tour profits.
Unquestionably the most important development in the next decade from this point was the switch in the Western Province cricket from matting to turf wickets. This had been advocated by famous players in overseas touring teams going back to Australia's Victor Trumper in 1902, and the poor results achieved by Herby Taylor's sixth South African team in England in 1924 contributed towards hastening the transition.
At the end of the 1926-27 season a special game on an experimental turf wicket prepared by J.J. Kotze and Frank Creese was played at Newlands. It took the form of the WPCC First Team against The Rest of Western Province. The club side which included Springboks Ken and Pam Hands, Denys Morkel and Norman Reid, defeated The Rest (including "Stodgy" Steyn, George Hearn, Jimmy Bolton and Pieter van der Bijl) by one wicket. The bowlers were on top through the ball keeping low.
It was not until the 1928-29 season, however that - thanks to Kotze's efforts - the centre wicket area was top-dressed with Natal Bulli soil and both the main and Newlands B grounds converted to turf. These pitches were, in fact, used for trials to select the 1929 Springbok side to tour England, and the way they stood up to nine consecutive days of wear and tear exceeded all expectations.
By the 4th of September 1933, following an executive meeting, the WPCU was able to reply to a SACA directive: "Turf wickets are now definitely established in the Western Province and have come to stay".
Accommodation for the public at Newlands was increased in time for the 1935-36 visit by Victor Richardson's powerful Australian team, in which interest had been heightened by Herby Wade's Springbok team winning a Test rubber in England for the first time in 1935. A new pavilion, with more seating and quipped with adequate dressing rooms - resulting in members having the exclusive use of the old wooden building - had been completed at a cost to the WPCC of £8 000.
Guarantees for a touring team's matches at Newlands in the early days were usually put up by lovers of the game who, alternately, took responsibility for bank overdrafts. Provincial players were, at times, called upon to make a small contribution for away matches. This in spite of players in those days being able to travel first-class by rail to Johannesburg for £8-6s return and hotel accommodation being available at 12s 6d per day.
A much-needed loan of £1 500 was granted by the Union to the WPCC at two per cent interest, but it was not until 1947-48 that building permits were obtained for the construction at Newlands of new cloakrooms for men and women spectators and a new public bar.
After a gap of ten years occasioned by the war, it was understandable that the MCC tour of South Africa in 1948-49 led by George Mann (son of F.T. Mann, captain of the 1922-23 team) should have aroused exceptional enthusiasm. For the first time in its history, the gates at Newlands had to be closed - on the second day of the third Test. This was hardly surprising as the touring party included big-name cricketers like Denis Compton, Len Hutton, Godfrey Evans, Cyril Washbrook, Alec Bedser and Doug Wright.
For some time it had been felt that a suitable memorial scoreboard should be erected at Newlands to honour the memory of Western Province cricketers who had lost their lives in World War II. The Transvaal Cricket Union, however, suggested that it should be a memorial to all South African cricketers who had made the supreme sacrifice, and to this end it presented the clock, plus a suitable tablet, which adorns the scoreboard.
The scoreboard project was authorised at the Union's AGM on August 27, 1948, and a sum of £1 000 voted towards the cost. Donations came in from all parts of the province, including one from the Bantu Cricket Union. On December 1, 1948, the memorial scoreboard, with its clock, was unveiled by the then Governor-General, Gideon Brand van Zyl, who himself was a very keen cricket follower connected with the Green Point CC.
The tablet, which bears no names, bears the following inscription in both English and Afrikaans: IN MEMORY OF CRICKETERS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR THEIR COUNTRY. THEY PLAYED THE GAME. TER GEDAGTENIS AAN DIE KRIEKETSPELERS VAN SUIDELIKE AFRIKA WAT HULLE LEWENS VIR HULLE LAND GEGEE HET.
In 1956, at a special general meeting, it was decided to expand an original plan providing for 500 more seats in a new stand to one seating 1 300 persons and incorporating separate accommodation for the Press and Broadcasters. The project, involving costs of about £22 000, was financed by a £3 000 loan from the WPCU at 3 per cent and the Southern Life Insurance Company making up the £15 000 available on mortgage. Credit was due to the architect, Brian Mansbergh, and the builders, Murray & Stewart, who often worked through the night by flood lamps in a successful race to complete the work in time for the first MCC game in mid-October, 1956. The building did not detract, aesthetically, from the charm of Newlands and the media were delighted with a perfect behind-the-wicket view of the play.
In addition, the grass ramps were extended and the Oaks and pavilion boundaries moved in to provide room for 1 000 scholars and junior club members. The famous Oaks were infected by red spider and mildew infestations but, happily, expert remedial treatment saved them. The picturesque tearoom under the Oaks was rebuilt and improved after being burnt down.
When the MCC played Western Province in their opening match at Newlands in October 1956, a crowd of 15 500 watched the second day's play. But with greater interest in the Test, a temporary tubular stand seating 5 000 (at 4s per spectator) was erected at a tendered cost of £1 600.
A residue of debris and broken bottles wisely prompted cartons to be substituted for bottles when a temporary stand was again erected for the second Test against the Australians a year later, when the official paid attendance on New Year's day was a record 18,100. The correct crowd figure was probably at least 20,000. Even with a temporary stand, the maximum capacity at Newlands has been about 20 000. In the light of subsequent events influenced by politics, with South Africa expelled from the International Cricket Council and losing official Tests since 1970, this has been adequate.
Terms for the rental of Newlands for big games were constantly being reviewed by the Union and WPCC, and the Union undertook to pay the club 50 per cent of revenue from the new stand for 15 years up to 1971. This in addition to 20 per cent of the gross gate.
A strong link with the past 35 years was broken when Frank Creese, the WPCC secretary-groundsman suffered a breakdown in health and retired at the end of June 1958. The name of Frank Creese had been synonymous with Newlands and the WPCC since 1925, when he took over as caterer from Stewart Neave. In 1938, he also succeeded A.V. Solomon as club secretary and all who had the privilege of knowing him, remember his courtesy at all times. He was also an expert on turf wickets.
The WPCU executive, in recognition of Frank Creese's services, presented him with a cheque for 100 guineas. Frank was succeeded as WPCC secretary by R.L. (Ron) Ainslie, a most competent person, while his son Ronnie Creese, took over the tasks of resident groundsman and caterer. He became a familiar figure scurrying across Newlands on a light motor cycle. His wife, Elsa, supervised the staff and both were extremely well liked.
Concern was expressed at this time over the slow nature of the Newlands pitch. Maurice Tate had described it as "like bowling on a featherbed" and, back in 1932, Aussie fast bowler Ernie McCormick had playfully laid a wreath on it. "Bochels" Mathews (the nickname dated from his school days at Rondebosch Boys' High) thought that the swampy nature of the ground on which the pitch had originally been laid might be responsible for the absence of springiness in the soil, and that relaying part of the wicket might quicken it. However, the WPCC, on the initiative of former chairman Jim Wiley, had already had the wicket dug up and taken the steps advocated - without any marked difference.
An intriguing development, involving a possible tour of South Africa by the West Indies, was a meeting held in the committee room of the Western Province Cricket Club on March 5, 1959. The meeting, presided over by Stewart West, of the Western Province Cricket Club, was attended by representatives of the WPCC, WP Cricket Union and the WP Cricket Board, namely: S.E.L. West (chairman), J. Passmore, H. Desebrock, W.J. Mathews, F. Reid, B. Wallace, R. Ainslie (secretary, WPCC) as well as six members of the WP Cricket Board; B. van Harte, A.W. le Roux, J. Freeman, A. Desai, H. Edross and M. Howard. It was actually proposed that a Test match be held at Newlands on December 31, January 1, 2, 3 and a game against WP early in December.
Mathews said that his union was very appreciative of the support given to cricket by the Coloured people and he was sympathetic towards the tour though he foresaw snags with the possible restrictions that would be imposed by the then "Group Areas Act". So did Passmore. An assurance was given that Newlands ground would be made available to the Board and Desai said the tour "would definitely take place". When one thinks of today's charges, the prices prevailing in those days for Currie Cup matches at Newlands seem ridiculously cheap, even allowing for inflation. Admission to the ground cost 3s, juveniles 1s 6d. A seat in the main stand was available at 4s, in the Railway Stand 3s and the Oaks enclosure 2s unreserved. Members' guests paid 4s.
Newlands, as usual, proved a bogey ground for the Springboks who lost by 72 runs with half an hour to spare. John Reid, who, personally had a great tour with the bat - as evidenced by his total of 1,915 runs - afterwards, in an interview with Louis Duffus, paid Newlands a compliment, stating that it was "the fairest wicket in the country". He always made a packet of runs there!
The Newlands Test attracted capacity crowds on three of the five days and was notable for a magnificent double-century (209) in South Africa's first innings by a severely handicapped Graeme Pollock, who had pulled a leg muscle and needed a runner. South Africa (353) could not avoid the follow-on against Australia's total of 542, to which Simpson contributed 153 and Stackpole 134.
The Eddie Barlow influence on Western Province cricket is reflected in these significant quotes: "The slow pitch at Newlands makes the players get on to the front foot all the time. It's safer. But it cuts down a player's scoring shots because there is a wealth of runs to be made from cuts, pulls and back-foot drives."
From the outset "Bunter" - so dubbed because of his spectacles, owlish look and facial resemblance to the fictional schoolboy character created by Frank Richards - made it clear that he would not tolerate defeatist talk. On an oft-heard remark: "This Newlands track is dead for the quickies - There's no future except for the spin boys", he retorted: "Rubbish! Bowling is what you put into it. If you really make an effort, you'll get your reward. Whether its Newlands, Wanderers, anywhere".
The presence of Barlow brought bigger crowds to Newlands, and thanks also to visits by the Natal and Transvaal A teams for three-day friendlies, a profit of R7 483 was shown on the five home provincial matches. Total income for the season was R11 554,72; and with expenses at R7 431,74 a satisfactory surplus of R4 122,98 was transferred to the capital account which now stood at R80 205. In addition, loans to the amount of R12 564 were out to clubs.
In March 1970, the prices to watch the last official Test match to be played at Newlands for goodness knows how long, had been increased compared to previous tours, although they were still comparatively cheap. Admission to the ground was 70 cents (juveniles 35c), a seat in the Main Stand cost R2,40, in the Railway Stand R1,80, Oaks Enclosure R1,60, Planes Enclosure R1,50 and Temporary Stand R1,40. Season tickets for the five days could be had for R10,50, R8, R7, R6,50 and R6 espectively. The so-called "Non-White" spectators paid 60c entrance (juveniles 30c) and R6 for season tickets. Currie Cup charges were much lower. Western Province (24 points) finished second to Transvaal (28) in the 1970-71 Currie Cup, with well over 100 000 spectators attending representative matches at Newlands during the season.
In 1973, a new formula was devised for hiring Newlands from the WPCC for representative matches, aimed at ensuring the club against a deficit (a sum of R2 500 was paid to the club as reimbursement for its loss in the 1971-72 season). In future the WPCC was to receive a minimum of R10 500 per season plus other concessions involving the COL index, a special contribution to the Planes Enclosure receipts and 10 per cent of the outer gate for Gillette Cup fixtures.
It was during this 1973-74 season that crowd behaviour at representative matches at Newlands first began to cause the Union some concern, with the term "Castle Corner" being applied to the area between the Cape Town end of the Oaks Enclosure and B ground boundary leading to the scoreboard - the term being derived from a well-known and popular local brand of beer. At the Union's request, Frank Rushton, a WPCC delegate, undertook to discuss with the club whether it could ensure that beer bought at the beer tents and in the public bars should be consumed on the spot - and not conveyed to other parts of the ground. This would also have the effect of reducing litter. Such a step, however, was not easy to implement and the popularity of night cricket was to exacerbate the problem in later years to the extent that the Union became in danger of losing its liquor licence!
The WPCC, on requesting a review of the basis for renting Newlands for representative matches in future seasons, was given this reply: "It is the Union's policy to ensure that the club is in no way out of pocket as a result of maintaining the grounds as a representative match venue".
Towards the end of 1976 work on the new Press Media Gallery and the new WPCU Suite and Offices - generously sponsored by the Protea Assurance Company - was nearing completion and a roof-wetting ceremony took place on November 19. It was attended by numerous media members, WPCC officials and the Union, represented by Boon Wallace, Selwyn Myers and Cyril Jaffe. The representation by The Argus (the local evening newspaper) of a number of striking action shots which were hung in the gallery lounge gave it a real cricketing atmosphere. And, similarly, the Protea Suite - named after the sponsors - was, in time, decorated with appropriate pictures, including those of past WPCU Presidents and Western Province captains of Springbok teams. A commemorative plaque at the entrance to the Press Gallery was unveiled by Dr Piet Koornhof, Minister of Sport and Recreation, on Saturday, February 26, 1977. The Union provided suitable furnishing of the Protea Suite, and a number of items were presented by well-wishers and cricket lovers.
Countless distinguished visitors have since been entertained in the Protea Suite and watched the cricket as guests in the President's Bay. This feature, in fact, is considered a showpiece in keeping with the special appeal of Newlands as a cricket venue. Newlands, incidentally, was the late Wally Hammond's favorite ground among those he played on world-wide.
During the 1977-78 season a new formula was agreed to between the Union and WPCC for rental of Newlands in respect of Currie Cup matches. The club was now to receive 20 per cent of the gross inner and outer gate receipts, with a minimum of R4 500 per match - less agreed match expenses and members' admission.
The Union moved to more spacious headquarters across from the WPCC in Camp Ground Road when an opportunity arose to lease the house, "Monorgan", from the Cape Provincial Administration. The first executive meeting was held there on April 14, 1983, but "Monorgan" remained HQ only for a year before it was sold. The WPCU, however, was able to purchase the front part of the property and it has come in useful as a private car-park for players and officials.
At the onset of the 1984-85 season it was ascertained that the Main Stand at Newlands was inadequate, and following agreement with the WPCC, the construction of a revamped stand at an estimated cost of R2 million - which would seat an additional 3 000 and improve office and Press facilities - was mooted in consultation with architects and the construction firm, Murray and Roberts. Ken Funston and Kevin Commins were appointed in a liaison capacity.
On the subject of night cricket, a generous offer of R250 000 conveyed to the WPCU by Mr Bruce Edmunds, MD of Benson and Hedges, to upgrade the floodlights at Green Point Stadium was turned down by the Cape Town Municipality. At the time this decision was received with disappointment, but, as things turned out, it was to pave the way for a much more suitable venue at Newlands.
Although no progress was made in respect of the proposed revamping of the Main Stand, it was decided to develop the area under the Union Offices into a new Media Lounge-Dining Room, thus restoring facilities denied the previous season.
Disenchantment was growing with Green Point Stadium as the venue for Benson and Hedges Night Matches and the installation of floodlights at Newlands became a top priority in talks involving the WPCU, WPCC, SACU, the Sponsors and the Cape Town City Council.
Administration director Kevin Commins had to interview and placate a number of folk living close to the Newlands ground who did not relish the prospect of noise and traffic at night cricket disturbing their peaceful existence. Eight protesting letters were received by the Union and one well-known Springbok cricketer who lived close to the field refused flatly to withdraw his opposition!
The enormous expense involved was the big obstacle, though the City Council approved a contribution of R100 000 towards the cost spread over five years, the last instalment of R20 000 to be paid in 1990. The Railways had to be consulted over the erection of a security fence (which was to cost R55 000).
Bruce Edmunds, MD of the United Tobacco Company, and the company's then Cape Town head, the late Rauch van Reenen, were obviously keen to conclude a deal on behalf of Benson and Hedges but legal aspects had to be sorted out and, inevitably, there were delays. Fritz Bing relates that he was reluctant, as president, to commit the Union without a definite word from the sponsors regarding their contribution. It was estimated that the WPCU would need bridging finance of R223 000. Fritz is grateful to Charles Fortune who advised him to be patient about signing a binding document. The reason, it turned out, was Charles' knowledge that B&H were intent on maintaining their sponsorship of a project generating exceptional popular support and media mileage, especially on television.
Charles' advice paid dividends. The eventual "go ahead" committed the tobacco company to a sum in the vicinity of R700 000. At a "tripartite" meeting (WPCU, WPCC and B&H) on October 8, 1986, an agreement was signed. Fritz Bing was able to disclose that the actual construction and installation of the floodlighting system would begin by November 1 and be completed in time for the first day-night match at Newlands - against Transvaal on December 3, 1986.
Robin Jackman, in charge of a projects portfolio, sent out 70 letters to business houses offering facilities in a new VIP Executive Suite and 22 favorable replies were soon received. The construction of chalets was also approved as a lucrative source of additional income.
Needless to say, the first B&H floodlit match between Western Province and Transvaal at Newlands on December 3, 1986, was quite an event. It attracted a near capacity crowd, many of whom came in curiosity. The sight of the two teams in their coloured outfits (Province in navy blue and Transvaal in canary yellow) was no novelty to most, and neither was the blaring recorded songs urging both teams on. After all, the "pyjama game" had been featured at Green Point since April, 1982. But somehow at hallowed Newlands, with night turned into day by four pylons equipped with powerful lamps it was different. Sacrilegious almost - so conservative traditionalists among WPCC members in the Long Room averred.
Apart from the cricket, 1986-87 had been an eventful season administratively, what with the installation of floodlights, the completion of the Protea Suite alterations, the building of a VIP Suite and five more chalets - plus the provision of a vibracrete wall around three-quarters of Newlands.
In respect of the chalets, exception was taken to the tone of the letter received from the Western Province Cricket Club intimating that the club's main committee was opposed to the project. At a preceding WPCU executive meeting, the WPCC chairman, Colin de Jager (whose presence was warmly welcomed) had stated that the club had appointed a planning committee to consider long and short term plans for the improvement of spectator facilities at Newlands. While these chalets were greatly in demand by business firms and represented a valuable source of revenue to the Union (and also to the club), the WPCC was concerned about the scenic charm of Newlands being spoilt. The issue in fact seemed likely to come to the boil as the WPCU's Centenary in 1990-91 approached.
At one time there had been a media report hinting at the possibility of the Western Province Cricket Union moving away from Newlands to establish headquarters in a proposed new sports complex in the Northern suburbs. This, understandably, had disturbed the Western Province Cricket Club, whose then chairman, Colin de Jager, raised the matter with Fritz Bing by way of a letter. The president explained that there was no intention to move away from Newlands as such, but added that in the long term it was important for the Union to look at a bigger venue that could accommodate larger crowds, particularly in the Benson and Hedges night series. He said that he had attended a meeting in Bellville on the subject on the strength of an invitation sent to him. Colin de Jager stressed that the club's letter on the subject was not to be seen as "confrontational" but as "in the interests of better relations".
This comment by president Fritz Bing in his annual report, under the heading, Development of Newlands, was therefore understandable: "Numerous meetings were held during the winter with the WPCC, and it is pleasing to advise that a new fence along Camp Ground Road and banks of turnstiles will be completed in time for this season. Five new chalets were erected last year and a request for a further five this year does not seem to be finding favour with the club. This is disappointing because we are so dependent upon this type of finance ... We have a waiting list for a further 20 chalets which would produce revenue of over R1 million up front".
Treasurer Eric van Vlaanderen informed the meeting that a "break even" financial result up to the 1990 financial year would be difficult to achieve. This, despite the fact that 102 000 had watched representative matches at Newlands - 1 000 more than expected. But the loss of an estimated R40 000 profit over the abandoned second leg of the Mike Gatting tour and a delay in the erection of eight more chalets were set-backs. These were subsequently approved by the WPCC, under the chairmanship of Desmond Cox.
The return of South Africa to the international arena meant that the capacity and standards of the facilities at Newlands were totally inadequate to meet modern demands, and so began the redevelopment of the ground in 1991. Between then and now, Newlands has been totally revamped, at a cost of approximately R85 million, almost all of which was raised before construction commenced by the leasing of suites and the sale of some 3 500 debenture seats in the public stands and the four corporate clubs. Apart from some chalets on the Railway side of the ground which are due for demolition in a few year's time, nothing at all remains of Newlands as it was four years ago. The last phase of the development, completed shortly before the Test against India in January 1997, saw the erection of an uncovered 2 600-seater Railway Stand to replace the old wooden benches of the Planes and Willows enclosures.
Whilst many people feel that the construction of new stands has detracted from the beauty of the stadium, Newlands is undoubtedly still one of the most picturesque places in the world to watch cricket.