SPOUT HOUSE, custodians of Christendom’s most vertiginous cricket ground – and one of its most magnificent – have resigned in mid-season from the Feversham League.

Though there’s talk of continuing in a couple of local cup competitions, the likelihood appears that stumps have finally been drawn at the hillside heaven, one-in-seven, where Prince Harry twice played.

Though sheep may safely graze, cricket worldwide will greatly be the loser.

Spout’s in Bilsdale, between Stokesley and Helmsley in North Yorkshire, the ground – a home of cricket for 170 years – long familiar to Backtrack readers. “Spout of this world,” said one headline, “Up and tundra” another.

“The slender television mast high across the moors could never have transmitted anything so improbable, or so glorious,” we wrote, “as cricket at Spout House.”

More conservative, the Darlington and Stockton Times once called the creel-cowping ground “unusual.” It was like calling Jos Buttler useful.

For almost all of the club’s existence, secretaries have been members of the Ainsley family, who ran the next door Sun Inn – “licensed to sell British and foreign wines, spirits, ale, porter and tobacco” – since 1823.

To the delightful William Ainsley, secretary for 62 years until his death two days after Christmas 2012, may be attributed the ultimate Spout House quote when defending the excrescent outfield: “People grumble a bit but it’s t’same for both teams,” said William.

“If it lands in’t cow clap for one, it lands in’t cow clap for t’other.”

The muck had its uses, though – particularly the ovine sort – when the wind got up and the bails kept blowing off.

Spout was also the sporting home of Harry Mead, long of this parish, who’d umpire when not in the team – and, frequently, when he was.

Once, Harry liked to recall, Robin Garbutt came out to open the batting but first checked his mole trap at square leg. Finding an unfortunate creature there ensnared, he handed both mole and mole trap to the umpire before taking guard.

Finally Harry gave him out – “and,” said the ump, “take your ruddy mole with you.”

REPLACED in 2009 by something a little more commodious, knocked down before it fell down, the little wooden hut which served as a pavilion had arrived in 1976, second-hand – possibly third – from a fertilizer factory in Thornton-le-Dale.

It had doubled as a birds’ nest. “If the sparrows had come back this summer, I think they’d have brought it down,” said Harry.

The midges were multitudinous though not, it was thought, as bad as Castleton’s. The crowd was very much fewer.

Frequently it was just Derek Rylander, up dale from Thornaby on his motor bike, though Mrs Rylander might join him if there weren’t a church jumble sale that night.

“We’re Sid and Doris Bonkers,” he’d observe.

On so unique a ground there were, of course, more local rules than the average Victorian pleasure park.

A shot over the hen house was four but they might make it five by keeping on running, clearing the dry stone wall at the top or hitting a passing motor cyclist at the bottom was six, though Bilsdale’s motor cyclists seemed to find abundant other ways of doing themselves a damage.

Hitting Madge Ainsley’s clothes line rather surprisingly counted for nothing at all, save for a sharp word from the chatelaine.

The outfield would seldom be mowed – nibbled, rather – the wicker, perhaps the only flattish 22 yards for many a rolling mile, could still, for want of a better word, be capricious.

William himself once spent three days in hospital after a ball flew from the edge of his Len Hutton bat, breaking his cheek bone before continuing its progress towards short leg, He never could remember if they’d manage to sneak a quick single.

“Not even Sir Leonard himself could have played that shot any different,” said William.

He also had several other hospital spells in later life, once asked by a student nurse at the Friarage in Northallerton how he felt she’d administered an injection.

“All right,” he said, “you’ll be able to give one to’t sheep soon.”

It was also the first ground on which I saw a woman in a men’s team – Rachel Godsthalk was a bovine inseminator from Greta Bridge, near Barnard Castle – but from which news of Prince Harry’s appearances took rather longer to disseminate down the dale.

He’d been a guest of the Earl of Mexborough, nearby, appeared in the scorebook as Spike W – a family nickname, apparently – managed 16 at his first bash before being bowled by a 12-year-old.

He’d also had a spell as umpire, as custom demands, the six pebbles used for counting still framed on the new hut wall.

Where was His Royal Highness when really they needed him, though, when a fortnight back they could muster just six men? Watching the World Cup, apparently.

In 2012 the club was even given a cup final – a cup final with sight screens, bed sheets ferried restlessly from Great Broughton – and in 2016 featured in Remarkable Cricket Grounds, a coffee table book showcasing 47 venues from across the world.

Included alphabetically, Spout found itself between the Spotless Stadium in Sydney and St Peter’s Cricket Club in Rome, author Brian Levison particularly taken by the Victorian sandstone roller – unique in cricket, he thought.

Elsewhere in the North-East, Bamburgh, Raby Castle and Scarborough were also alphabetically embraced.

The Guardian may have been mistaken, however – and on the front page, too – to suppose that W G Grace also played at Spout, bowled first ball by John Willie Miller, the 28-stone Fangdale blacksmith.

As William Ainsley could have told them, that was an exhibition match at Newburgh Priory. They were right about John Willie Miller, though, and about the fall from Grace.

On a roll no longer, Spout haven’t been able to raise 11 men all season and though sometimes supplemented by opponents feel unable to continue. Team secretary Tom Garbutt, alas, has been unavailable for comment.

FOR the Feversham League it means that five teams have again become four, its own survival in doubt. Realistically, says league secretary Charles Allenby, Spout’s departure is no great surprise.

“Active membership has seriously dwindled in recent years to a point where all efforts to arrest the decline have failed.

“The glamour of playing in the Castleton and Stokesley Cup competitions will, it’s understood, miraculously attract increased support.”

Even in the cups, of course, there’s no guarantee of a home draw or – subsequently – of victory. “It’s hard to see them being able to prepare a safe and playable pitch for one or two games a season,” says Charles. “A proud cricket history has virtually come to a end.”