Elizabeth College Pavilion

Lookback    Guernsey Press     Friday 13th February 2015               Rob Batiste

‘Nice ground, love the pavilion …’

The pavilion when it opened when it possessed two flights of stairs, either side of the balcony. After the Second World War the nearer stairs were taken out to enable a home dressing room and toilet block extension.

WHEN the sun shines in summer and cricketers – preferably in whites – provide the central attraction on College Field’s seven acres on the outskirts of Town, your eyes, inadvertently or not, often turn towards one of Guernsey’s classical buildings. Other than a couple of heroic servicemen on the run from the Germans it has never housed a single soul, but the pavilion’s two floors, with upstairs dining area and balcony, remain as easy on the eye as when it was officially opened 91 years ago – a lasting tribute to those Old Elizabethans who gave their lives in the First World War. Whatever the season, its doors open to allow cricketers, footballers and, once upon a time, hockey players and track and field athletes, to enter what is arguably the island’s most beautiful sporting arena – bar none.

You have to have spent a summer’s afternoon at the cricket to appreciate its grandeur and get the full island-unique feel, but without the ‘pivvy’ on its southern boundary, College Field would be just that – a simple field, although a well-kept one, admittedly. And just fields is what it was until two Old Elizabethans and local power-brokers, brothers Frank Carey and Sir William Carey – the latter an early 20th-century Bailiff of Guernsey – intervened. Despite having raised the necessary funds in 1880, it seemed that the Elizabeth College board had failed to identify a potential area for its new sports field. It was the Careys who stepped in at the 11th hour and declared that it was unthinkable for this mighty and venerable educational establishment not to have its own sports fields.

Present day game against MCC at College Field

The duo took it on their own shoulders to find them, and it was they who discovered the three fields behind the King’s Road. But the truth is that the £450 raised to buy the fields in 1880 was very nearly spent on building a racquets court instead. When it opened in 1924, this paper described the pavilion as ‘appropriate and ornamental’. They might well have added, ‘destined to last’.

Nine decades later it may have lost one set of its original stairs to the balcony, but unlike many structures, it improves with age. The old floorboards and steps may have splintered in time, bombarded by studs and spikes, but outwardly it shows no sign of old age. The original lumpy ‘rough cast’ plaster is unusual and seemingly resistant to time, but for me it is that white wood-slatted balcony, the french windows and sloping red roof with central tower that make the pavilion so special, especially when the flags of Elizabeth College and the likes of the Marylebone Cricket Club flutter in the breeze. I feel cheated on behalf of the building that it does not rate one word in the otherwise outstanding National Trust book which, via the eyes and investigations of C. E. B. Brett, charts and describes the cream of buildings of St Peter Port parish. Perhaps he did not like sport, but it seems odd to omit a building that is unlike anything else locally. Yet he appraises the old Beehive pub in Rohais and St Peter Port Secondary School. Also, given that the pavilion’s architect was none other than W.V.Quilter, Brett should not have been sniffy as to who designed it. After all, among Quilter’s lasting and listed designs are Carteret House, the former home of Lord James St Vincent Saumarez, the former Grandes Rocques Hotel and the Carteret Bridge.

Before 1924, the pavilion had been a wooden structure serving mainly cricketers and, for a time, cyclists. For a few short years the ground’s periphery was let out as a cycling track, but when second cousin Cecil Carey was made aware of available fields at the bottom of Victoria Avenue, off the cyclists pedalled on their penny-farthings to race around the Track. Meanwhile, the monies for the College Field pavilion came from the Old Elizabethan Association and the school’s [First World] War Memorial and, it has to be said, it has proved money well spent. Certainly, Hubert Nicolle and Jim Symes were glad of it. When the two OEs were smuggled ashore on a secret mission in the early stages of the Occupation, they hid there. Their commando sortie having gone pear-shaped, the two Guernseymen were stranded and for five weeks were sheltered around and about the islands by relatives and friends. Four days were spent in the College Field pavilion, the men having been pointed to it by the school’s legendary old groundsman, Bill Allen, who made sure they did not go hungry. Nicolle, who a few years earlier had sprinted to glory on sports days, recalls the story in Bruce Parker’s history of the college. ‘Having been told that there was going to be a search [of our homes] the question was where should we go,’ said Nicolle. ‘My father arranged with Bill Allen that we should go to the pavilion and we went there after dark in my father’s car, which he was still, as a senior civil servant, allowed to use.

‘We spent four days in the pavilion. Bill brought us food and on occasions we went back to his house, Field Lodge, which was nearby, for a meal or a mug of Bovril. ‘Bill was the only one who visited us and he kept us informed as to what was going on.’ Now, anyone who has enjoyed lunch or tea in the pavilion, will know that on three of its four sides the room has windows. Because of that design the men on the run had to be careful not to be seen. ‘ … the windows extend to about 2ft 6in. from the floor and during the day while we were there, Symes and I used to crawl around the floor, keeping our heads down in case there was somebody outside,’ recalled Nicolle. ‘From our lowly position we were able to look up at the inscriptions on the [sports] plaques and shields that adorned the wall and ceiling. ‘That kept us occupied.’ Those same shields and the dozens of old sports team photographs have been an irresistible attraction for lunch-goers and tea drinkers for decades. And beyond the small-paned windows the sport goes on, year in, year out. Some of cricket’s finest-ever players have changed there, supped tea and walked down the four steps from the lower verandah and onto the playing field: true greats such as Sir Len Hutton, Garry Sobers and Barry Richards. You can bet all three thought ‘nice ground, love that pavilion’.

Two of the greats:

South Afrian Barry Richards (left) and West Indian Gordon Greenidge walk out to bat.
They both played for Hampshire CCC