It was 100 years ago this summer that a side representing Witney’s wool industry workers first took to the cricket field.

A century later, the town’s mills might have shut down, but the club is still going strong.

Over the course of those 100 years, Witney Mills Cricket Club has grown to three senior sides and now has almost 150 children attending weekly coaching sessions at its historic ground on Newland.

Last season, its men’s side won Oxfordshire’s Wilf Bennett Trophy 20-over competition, beating Thame in the final.

This season, for the first time in its history, the club ran a girls’ section that fielded teams in under 11 softball tournaments around Oxfordshire.

To mark the club’s centenary, a Witney Mills side took on a team brought together by Julian Lawton Smith, a cricket historian from Oxford.

The game took place on Sunday 22nd August – 100 years to the day since Mr Lawton Smith’s grandfather, Herbert Smith, had raised a team to play against the Mills in their inaugural season.

Herbert Smith was one of Witney’s most illustrious sportsmen. A footballer for Stoke, Derby County and Reading, he won four caps for the full England side and was part of the amateur football team that won gold for Great Britain at the 1908 Olympics.

The Witney Gazette report of the 1921 game reported that: “Mr Smith, living up to his reputation in sport, drew together a fine team to oppose Witney Mills.”

His side, with fellow Oxfordshire 1st XI players Aubrey Howells (27) and Frank Draper (32) opening the innings, scored 96 and then bowled out the Mills for 47 to win by 49 runs.

But the Mills gained their revenge – winning the centenary match, with club captain Mike Dove at the crease when the winning runs were hit.

Mr Dove, who has been the driving force behind an expansion of Witney Mills over the last decade, described the centenary as “a massive milestone for the club and the platform for a bright future”.

He added: “There’s no point getting to a hundred and getting out. Like all good cricketers we maintain our levels and go again once we have got to three figures.”

Witney Mills Cricket Club was formed in March 1921, at a meeting held in the canteen of blanket-maker Charles Early & Co.

Club chairman Andy Cannons explained: “The club was set up to provide cricket for Early’s employees and the company retained an interest in the club for over 50 years – we’ve been an independent club since the late seventies, but we’re proud to carry on the name and maintain a link with the town’s blanket-making past.

“It was great to welcome back so many former players and I’d like to thank them for supporting the day, and it was very fitting that we were able to play a centenary game against a side raised by Julian as his family has had a long and close association with the club, the ground, and Witney cricket in general.”

Club president Vernon Cannons, who has been involved with the club over eight decades and who umpired the first two overs of the centenary game, said: “It was great to see so many people watching. I think all the players from the club’s past would have been pleased to see it and would be thrilled to see so much energy in the club in its centenary year.”

Witney Mills currently fields three senior sides in the Cherwell League. It runs junior sides at under 9, 11 and 13, and last summer founded the West Oxfordshire Warriors in partnership with Freeland CC to provide cricket for local under 15s and under 19s.

In 2020, Witney Mills was Oxfordshire Coaching Club of the Year.