Rob Boddie retires as curator of the Sussex Cricket Museum after 28 years

The architect of the Museum

After nearly 28 years associated with the Sussex Cricket Museum, Rob Boddie the curator of the Museum since its inception, has retired. In his various roles as assistant librarian, librarian, archivist and curator, Rob became the leading force in overseeing the transformation of a vacant space under the main pavilion from stables for the horses that used  to pull the mowers, to a wonderful museum of cricket. Not only did he manage  along the way to put together a collection of autographs, paintings, photos, scorecards, clothing as well as a first class collection of books on Sussex cricket, Rob created a family of supporters who helped him through what became a life-long project.

Rob first came to the County Ground in the 1960s when his father brought him to Hove on visits from their London home. Later his father retired to the Brighton area and although Rob was still in London with a young family he found time to continue his visits to Hove. He got to know the Librarian, Harold Osborne and when Ossie stood down in 1997, Rob was persuaded to take up the position.  The rest of the story is told by David Stoner, below, in an abbreviated version of his speech  at Rob’s farewell.

Rob, left, with Paul Hutson, who was retiring as a volunteer after 17 years.

David Stoner’s Tribute to Rob Boddie

I am very pleased and honoured to be given this opportunity to pay tribute to Rob Boddie for the incredible service he had given this club and the library/museum over the last twenty eight years.

Today we acknowledge with enormous gratitude an extraordinary period of dedicated service to the county by a man not native to Sussex. Rob has been a constant presence on this ground for almost thirty years and has now decided that this is the appropriate time  to retire. I am assured he is not going away and will be here regularly next season and for years to come. I am pleased to say that he has already deservedly been made a Club Vice President of Sussex Cricket for all his unstinting endeavours over the years.

I have personally known Rob since about 1994/95. He was at that time the unofficial assistant to the librarian, Harold Osborne. The library was housed in those days in the office building next to the current museum, a building which formerly was the dressing room of  the professionals and which is to be shortly demolished.

In September 1996 Rob was officially given the title of ‘Assistant Librarian’ by the then Sussex County Cricket Club  Secretary, Nigel Bett. Rob’s reward for the appointment was a complimentary membership for the 1997 season, at a time when Sussex played seventeen Championship matches. In 1997 the annual subscription was £55, so taking into account today’s soaring inflation, membership at that time was quite expensive.

Rob receiving a farewell gift from the Chair of the Museum Trustees, Jon Filby

Rob’s commitment to his post was crucial to the existence of the Museum as it exists today. In 1997 the club experienced a well-publicised revolution, the immediate result of which was the eviction of the old library from its home. I believe that Hugh Griffiths was delegated to impart the news to Harold Osborne, who was so devastated he immediately resigned. There was also a proposal that all the club’s books and artefacts should be sold or otherwise disposed of, and I recall some earnest discussions with a committee member about this, and the arguments for and against retaining historical ephemera. So, there was no library and no librarian. Rob was persuaded by certain friends, Norman Epps in particular, to accept the vacant position of Librarian which led to the offer of a very ill-equipped portacabin adjacent to the Gilligan Stand as a new library. Had Rob not accepted this position, it is doubtful that there would be a museum today.

The contents of the old library had to be boxed up and were either taken into storage, placed into the hands of the East Sussex Record Office, then at Lewes, or generously carted away by volunteers who took them home until such time as they could be returned to the ground.

Rob had to endure twelve years operating out of portacabins in all weathers and dreadful conditions. He did, however, have many loyal supporters including Norman Epps, Nick Sharp, Roger Packham and even the dad of the current Chair of Trustees of the Museum, the Revd. William Filby, who would wander down to the to the southern end of the ground at lunch times.

The club chairman, Don Trangmar, provided some much-needed shelving and a photocopier, which was possibly surplus to requirements at M&S. Rob was not just content to be an honorary librarian, but set about developing his role. He became proactive in tracking down pictures and artefacts, collecting scorecards, assembling statistical data, carrying out historical research, mounting exhibitions to mark anniversaries or specific visiting overseas teams. He created a major exhibition at Lord’s in 2004, following the club’s first County Championship title win the previous year.

Rob was well supported by the Club coach, Peter Moores and skipper Chris Adams, and with their help obtained, mounted and framed hundreds of player photographs which were then displayed in the Long Room in the Sussex members’ pavilion. Rob also found a major friend and champion in Chief Executive, David Gilbert who remains a close friend and strangely for an ex-Australian Test cricketer, was fascinated by the history of cricket in this country and especially in Sussex. Rob’s role was rapidly changing from something much more than a librarian and this was recognised when his title was changed to ‘Archivist’.

By 2008 it was clear that Rob presided over a museum to Sussex cricket and not a library. He was though concerned at the news from another county club whose chairman had announced that as everything at the club belonged to him, he was free to dispose of any of its assets should financial concerns deem it necessary to raise funds. This sent Rob into a tailspin as he could foresee the possibility that at sometime in the future there could be a situation where additional finance might be needed at Hove, and the Board could conceivably take a decision to sell off valuable items.

A working party  was quickly formed to investigate the possibility of forming an entirely independent body to control and look after the museum. As a result, with the Board’s agreement, in 2009 a separate company limited by guarantee was formed to own the museum and its contents. Charitable status was soon applied for and granted so that the museum is now totally independent from Sussex Cricket and is governed by its own trustees.

Had it not been for Rob’s appointment in 1997, the subsequent efforts to create the basis of a museum and then the move  to independence, we would not have the wonderful museum which we all currently enjoy. We cannot let today pass without thanking Rob for all he has done and for unconsciously becoming the original architect of this magnificent facility at the County Ground.