History or Folklaw?
It was July 1947 and 15-year-old Albert Boynton lay on his bed, hands clasped behind his head and dreamed of the evening to come. He opened his eyes, kissed the photograph of a topless Vera Lynn that he kept under his pillow and bounced downstairs, where his mother was arranging a vase of chrysanthemums she hoped would draw a compliment from the young parson after Sunday morning’s service. Their eyes met for a moment and a look of anxiety flashed between them, soon ended by a single bark from the family’s collie who could sense the unease in the cottage kitchen. “I’m away then” Albert stated in a volume and depth of voice that asserts the first footsteps of a boy into the shoes of a man. The sense of pride that shone in the maternal eyes was tempered with the worrying knowledge of the trials, pitfalls and dangers that he would be facing during his journey into manhood that night.
“Good luck Albey” she murmured to herself as he swung the wooden gate closed behind him, no tears, just a solitary sob and a lungful of the flowers subtle scent. Striding down the middle of the street into the small village that the family called home, neighbours and passers-by noticed that Albert looked good. His jet-black hair, cut with short back and sides in the style of the day, was heavy with brillo cream (greasy stuff made from a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax, a forerunner of hair gel) and his compact, sinewy frame, hardened by farm work after leaving school at the age of 9, moved easily under his father’s de-mob suit. Chin up and chest out, that was the way of the Boynton men and Albert was going to be a man tonight. He walked with a jerky movement as, if you watch any old films, everybody did in those days and although the sun had done its best to turn the earth into a scorched, barren tinderbox, the only colours to be seen were differing shades of black and white (it really was an awfully long time ago you know).
It was a short walk to the recreation ground which was at the back of the large manor house situated in the verdant, undulating landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds. After the pub, the sports ground was the focus of village life. Bowls, football, archery and cricket were the traditions that bound the village folk together and provided welcome respite from their daily toils, farming the fertile lands to feed the undernourished population of post-war Britain. Albert nodded to a flight of giddy young maidens who were seated under a swaying oak tree, saving a longer gaze for Mabel Cappleman whom he hoped to find in his arms before the clock struck 11 that night.
Standing, hands on hips, young Albey stared intently and with great pride at what must have been the most assiduously prepared field to be found in English village cricket. He had spent every spare moment that week, cutting, raking, rolling the grass in anticipation of that week’s grudge match against a full strength Driffield side. Even the stumps had been sharpened to points to ensure that they anchored strongly into the hard- baked earth. The sky was now an intimidating blanket of pulsating grey clouds and although a brief shower of cooling rain looked to halt proceedings, nothing was going to stop the assembled teams from doing battle with bat and ball.
As a player, this was to be Albert’s first opportunity to represent his village and the assembled crowd which included his proud parents knew that the team needed a first-class spin bowler if victory was to be had. The Agnes batsmen had played with venom, aiming to fire every ball to the thickly hedged boundary’s but their running had been lacklustre and with only 1 over remaining in the second innings, the Driffield chaps needed 5 runs to take the game. This was Albey’s moment, he was directed to bowl the last over by the Agnes skipper, Julius Norman, a renowned Bon Viveur with a shock of black hair and a habit of shooting his cuffs from the sleeves of his skippers jacket.
Albey stepped to the crease with a confidence and nonchalance that masked his quaking nerves. The first five balls were deliveries that the batsmen could get hold of, some fell short and rolled harmlessly away to the keepers waiting gloves and a couple were dabbed back towards the bowler. No runs were scored and no wickets were taken. The final ball of the match was a disaster for Agnes. Distracted by the sight of Mabel’s dress blowing up in the strengthening breeze, Albey sent a poor ball that was gleefully smashed for 6 to win the game for Driffield.
The Agnes supporters reaction to defeat was heart-breaking. The ladies cried, the men looked at the ground and then cried and Mabel ran, wailing back to the village. Albey knew that he and only he had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and his shame, humiliation and embarrassment was complete. The rest of the Agnes players returned to the pavilion, turning their backs on poor Albert who was dejectedly retrieving the stumps from the middle. Eventually, he too made his way back and was about to enter the changing room when he found an older man, hands in his pockets, blocking his path.
It was Jack Futter, an Agnes supporter from a nearby village who had a reputation as a drunkard and a womaniser. “tonight Albert, you bowled absolutely shite and Mabel Cappleman is coming back to Noth Botton with me”. Without pause or hesitation, Albey took one of the stumps he had just collected and drove it with every ounce of passion that he was feeling, into Futters eye, killing him stone dead.
Albey was most definitely not a model prisoner. Sentenced to 15 years in HMP Hull, his strong accent, peculiar to his village and sounding more like Danish than English meant that he could not be understood by the guards or his fellow prisoners. This led to many fights with both staff and lags and Albey soon earned a fearsome reputation. Whenever the sound “Naaw fella” left his lips, somebody would find themselves sweeping their teeth up with a dustpan and brush. His 15 years were mainly spent in solitary confinement, but the day eventually came when the gates opened, and our hero walked free.
On his return to Burton Agnes, Albert walked straight back into the team and his role as grounds-man. Nobody dare to oppose him or question him but once back in the arms of his kinfolk and community, he renounced his violent ways and became probably the nicest man in the village.
Roll the clock forward to 2018 and Albey is still a valued and admired stalwart of the Royal Burton Agnes Cricket Club and on Thursday the 26th of July, turned out to play against Driffield at the ripe old age of 102. The result of the match was unfortunately the same. The Driffield lot were a team of good cricketers and the Agnes lot struggled to match them with bat or ball. Richard Watts, a man who rarely takes to the field nowadays and when he does it is always under some duress, hit a lovely 4 which earned him a bottle of port. I think he quite enjoyed himself. And Albert Boynton? After all those years in solitary and with no female company, he developed an incredibly strong right arm with which he now puts to good use when bowling. He can turn the ball like a wizard, a sorcerer who takes wickets whenever he gets the opportunity. In this game he took two.
Driffield beat Agnes by some wickets and runs and things and Albert stopped for a kiss and a cuddle with Mabel who is 98 on the way home from The Manor.