During yesterday’s glorious late afternoon sun, I was enjoying an after-work cycle around the country lanes of Bedfordshire. Before setting off I had studied my Ordnance Survey map (Explorer 193) on what I thought was a sufficient number of occasions for the twists and contours to have been etched into the inside layer of my skull. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that heading a football countless times, drinking beer on a barely countable number of occasions, and other crimes against my cranium had deprived me of a memory that had allowed me in childhood to recite capitals of the Polynesian archipelago and number of balls faced for each of the leading 50 scores in Test cricket (or something similarly repulsive in its precociousness).
What this all meant, other than learning that I’d need to keep a decent map of the South Seas and a copy of Wisden to hand in the future, was that I had to stop a few times to retrieve the carefully surveyed, but not so carefully folded, map from my backpack. On one such occasion, while I was “parked” on the side of the road in the village of Campton, I was more than a little surprised to find a nearby quadrant-shaped area with a 100-metre radius that could only be a baseball field (complete with a pair of peach-shaded rectangles suspiciously similar to dugouts). I’ve redrawn the shape below.
So what was it doing there? My eyes only needed to roll a fraction north to detect an answer for my poor brain: the place-name “Chicksands”. Back in 1993, the Chicksands Indians shared the British national title with Humberside Mets after poor weather at The Oval and a need to accommodate an exhibition between minor leaguers from the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets had prevented a deciding contest from being played in the best-of-three series that year. This was a rare flirtation with baseball for this quiet county (another had come a few years earlier, in 1989, when the town of Bedford fielded a team — the Dukes — in the Scottish Amicable semi-pro Saturday League).
But back to Chicksands. The team, and thus the diamond, was linked to the village’s RAF site, which was being used by a code-busting intelligence division of the United States Air Force at the time. However, the Americans moved out in 1995, presumably removing the desire to take up a large area of parkland for “glorified rounders”, and the base only lasted another couple of years in any case.
Nevertheless, on my 2006 edition of the Ordnance Survey mapping for the region, there the diamond clearly remained. But I had a train to catch and could not persuade my gasping lungs and protesting thighs that a diversion was justified. (Okay, I’m laying it on a bit thick here: at one point on the ride a kid still relying on stabilisers for balance had no problem in vaulting past me, but the bit about the train is true.) Plus, who needs to go and see anything with their own eyes when we have Google Maps? When I got home, I did my usual trick of hovering behind my wife to steal the computer off her without having to ask if I could steal the computer off her, and then hastened to type Chicksands into the search bar. To my dismay, the diamond had disappeared (see below, with the green arrow pointing roughly to where home plate once was).
I don’t know when a 2006 Ordnance Survey map would have been surveyed, but it seems odd that 5 years after the printing a stand of trees grows where once there were four bases and a humble mound. A more ghastly fate lay in store for a softball diamond at the southern edge of the map. The grass has been covered with the tarmacadam that you can now see offering proof of Newton’s second law of motion to a bunch of parked cars.
In this perplexed state of mind, all I can do is ask a series of questions in the hope that someone has answers…
- How long did the Chicksands Indians survive?
- Did any other teams use the diamond?
- When did the baseball field disappear?
- Do any other baseball fields show up on Ordnance Survey maps?
I wouldn’t be too surprised if the answers to the first three questions were to be found in one of the many old documents I’ve uploaded to the Project COBB archives, but — as I’ve tried to make clear — my brain is sore right now.