Columbia Closings

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Reluctantly heading home on a warm, windy summer’s afternoon, I gaze once more across the first square, with its sharp sunlight and shadows, at the match now nearing its climax – half expecting Tom Brown himself to scurry across the sportsfield as he did in David Lean’s unforgettable film of those schooldays. Readying himself for the 2012 season, Paul recruited the services of Maxwell Amenity, which undertook the detailed soil analysis that has become so crucial to successful summer maintenance. Factors such as pH and nutrient levels were measured, alongside cation exchange and magnesium levels.

As school cricket squares go, Dulwich is one of the country’s top ten. Across the four sites, Paul and his ten-man team nurture eight cricket squares, and synthetic strips at three of them, sixteen on the perimeter of the first square alone. The first square, which takes pride of place in front of the school buildings and stately pavilion, was re-laid some twenty years ago, with no less a personage than Harry cricket news on site Brind hired to help lay the Gostd loam-based wickets. Encasing the school are immaculate lawns, ornamental gardens and as good a first cricket square as I’ve seen on my many visits reporting for Pitchcare. Little surprise then that sport is one of many pursuits that Dulwich College excels in, with cricket and rugby fighting for supremacy, but both wielding equally enviable reputations, as I’ll soon find out.

An ambitious refurbishment was still going on when the new site opened in September 2010 but, for the first time, the school had its own sportsground with a new cricket square and rugby pitches, as well as a small artificial hockey pitch. « In 2010 we began the process to dramatically reduce build-up of thatch on five cricket squares, » reports Paul. « We were quoted £5,000 for the job but, by doing it ourselves – koroing five squares, reseeding and topdressing – we kept costs to under £2,000. »

A viewing bank, some 4m high, runs along the entire eastern edge of the field. The work included a six-pitch cricket square in the middle of the ground. The square was constructed with 125mm of Surrey Loams’ GOSTD 125 and seeded with a perennial rye grass cricket mix. The rest of the field was sown with a bespoke seed mix containing 40% Perennial Ryegrass, 40% Smooth Stalked Meadow Grass, 15% Slender Creeping Fescue and 5% Browntop Bent. After several false starts, the school employed the services of Noel Mackenzie of Sportsturf Consulting Ltd to act as consultant on the project.

One of the first tasks when I arrived at the school in September 2010 was to reconstruct the cricket square. It had been laid a few months before, using a totally unsuitable soil and then turfed in order to make the grounds look better for an imminent wedding! We stripped the turf back, using a Koro Field Top Maker, and introduced thirty tonnes of Surrey Loams GOSTD 125 into the top 50mm before seeding. The work was carried out late in October, but we managed to play on the square the following season. We are a non-profit group that run this service to share documents.

« I never swear by these tests, but they do offer a good guide to work to and helps us buy in the right materials, » says Paul. « When I started at the school, we held about 100 sports fixtures a term. Now, we’re up past 300 for cricket and the same for rugby alone. Last season, we clocked up 305 official cricket fixtures, beating our previous record, and making us, officially, the site that plays more cricket than anywhere else in the UK. » The five-reel 7700 now takes care primarily of the second cricket square, with the daddy of the fleet – the Toro 6700 seven-reel mower occupying the most important job of all, the firsts cricket square. Paul has recently called in his longstanding weed management contractor ALS to quote for levelling the second square outfield by koroing, power harrowing and laser grading in a bid to create the level playing field that he so wants.

By 2009, pupil numbers had dwindled and the school was forced to close. At the same time, St James Senior Boys School had outgrown their riverside site in Twickenham and were only too pleased to move in.

Noel commissioned further surveys and soil testing to ascertain the extent of the problem and, eventually, agreement was reached between the school, the local authority and the Environment Agency on a scheme that involved importing 300mm of topsoil over the entire 2.2hectare site. The main change seems to have been warmer autumns, meaning an extended growing season. I think I cut the cricket square at least once every month last winter. I made a couple of applications of Primo Maxx in September this year to slow things down a bit.

« Whether we do the work in-house or contract it out, we have to finish it in the two months during the summer when the school is closed, so we have a tight timescale, » he explains. The Trevor Bailey Sports Grounds nearby are home to three more cricket squares and two rugby/football pitches. The new field will effectively double the turf area used for sports pitches at the school, with two full-size rugby pitches and some training areas in the winter and an eight-lane athletics track alongside the cricket ground in the summer term.

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The school was built in 1857 to house the Welsh Charitable School, becoming the Welsh Girls School in 1882. A further name change came in 1965 when it became St David’s Girls School.

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The autumn growth does mean that pitches are recovering extremely well after use. A premier guide to health and wellness practitioners, products and services in the Cayman Islands.