10th January 2015

 

Pitmore Lane to Cape Canaveral - the Peter Wright story

On talking to Peter Wright on the phone from his home in sunny Florida, the first thing that strikes you is that despite all the years in the USA, is the broad south New Forest accent. The story of this Sway sporting legend starts, however, in Gosport in 1932 when Peter was born. At the tender age of four, however, Peter moved with his parents to Sway, moving into a house in The Close - a house that retains strong connections to the Cricket Club to this day, but more of that later. The early days were spent happily at Sway school and like many locals Peter remembers the war years and the impact on the village - from where the bombs fell to having Canadian and other airman billeted throughout the village.

Aged 11, Peter started at Ashley County Secondary School, (merged with Arnwood in 1970, but the buildings still used as Ashley Junior School) and this is where his lifelong love of sports was first ignited. Peter excelled at many sports with football and cricket being his favorites. By the tender age of 16, Peter was playing football for Hampshire Schoolboys and had also made Sway FC's first team with the Club, as today playing in the highest divison of the Bournemouth Football League.  From Sway, Peter's football career took him next to Lymington Town FC where he played in the Pickford Cup Final and then onward and upwards to Brockenhurst FC where he was a regular fixture at Grigg Lane in the Hampshire League  - his team photos still hanging proudly in the clubhouse.

Summer was of course for cricket and in these pre -"'elf & safety" days Peter started turning out for Sway practically as soon as he was old enough to hold a bat in his hand. In the period after WW2, there were no local cricket leagues like we have now - the Bournemouth Cricket League was long-established but only made limited inroads into the Forest. Games were "friendly cricket", but the name however is very much a misnomer, as not only could standards be very high especially at the long established clubs, but games could also be ferocious with no shortage of short, aggressive bowling - and of course no helmets. At the time, Sway were playing cricket at a ground in a field immediately opposite Sway's current Jubilee Field ground (now housing) - Peter distinctly remembers the long single story pavilion building and some of the characters that played and umpired at the time. Towards the end of the 1940's, the decision was made to move the cricket club to Pitmore Lane and as ever Peter was at the centre of the action - the teenager barrowing the soil for the new square, and digging a trench for the water pipes to enable the square to be irrigated - imagine the look of the faces of the Verderers if you tried to do that these days! Peter also worked on the concrete footings of the "new" pavilion at Pitmore. By all accounts; with the field securely fenced off from animals the facilities were pretty decent and despite being out of use for over 13 years, Peter's handiwork is still clearly clearly visible from aerial photos.

Unlike many of his school friends, Peter decided to stay on at school after his O Levels and then went onto Southampton Technical College and after National Service in the RAF, he was awarded an apprenticeship with Woolston-based Hovermarine who at the time were at the leading edge of the nascent hovercraft industry in which Britian was a world leader.  The sport of course continued with Peter still playing football and cricket  - spending 20 years down the road at Balmer Lawn with Brockehurst CC.

In 1969 Howevermarine was taken over by an American company and this opened up a new exciting chapter in Peter's life. In 1977, now married and with two girls Peter, sold his house at the bottom of Church Lane and transferred to the company's base in Titusville, Florida. From there, his career in engineering took him all over the Europe, the Middle East and Asia. There was a further twist and turn when Peter's US employer went bust and he found himself and his family unemployed, homeless and with practically just the clothes he was standing in. He bounced back and re-built his "innings" finishing his career on a high note as self-employed consultant for none other than NASA at their Cape Canaveral base. After putting his two daughters through a top US college Peter is now retired and living north of Orlando, near to the world famous Daytona Beach.

Despite the passage of time and the 4,300 mile divide, Peter's Sway connections remain strong to this day. During some of his time in Sway he lived in the house now owned by the Clarks' - and is godfather to Adam and Ross' dad Steve. Peter is a Life President of Sway Football Club and enjoys Life Membership of Sway Social Club and of course follows the fortunes of Sway Cricket Club on the web. Of course there is one thing that Peter really misses and that is a pint or eight of decent British ale and misses his favourite watering hole, the Hare & Hounds where he even worked to convert the stables to what is now the lounge bar. Sway has of course changed a fair bit over the last 60 years but some things are just the same - Peter believes that to this day he could easily navigate his way around the Hare with a blindfold on! Sport in Sway and the surrounding villages remains as competitive as ever with many of the "old names" still going strong though the next generations - Elfords, Gates, Clark, Rickman, Drodge, Stride, Mantle, Etheridge, Crouch and many more.