When you think of baseball, you probably think of America. Yet one fan strove to bring the game to Britain in the early 20th century - and as a result made the Oxfordshire market town of Chipping Norton the centre of British baseball, for a while.

Frederick John Lewis was born at 5 Market Street on July 10, 1879, the fourth child of Sidney and Grace Lewis. Sidney was a builder, and became town mayor at one time.

Fred grew up to first work for his father, and took over his building business after his death in 1929.

Fred was involved in the community from a young age. He was one of the first members of the Chipping Norton Golf Club and started the Chipping Norton Scout group in 1907.

It was through scouting that he introduced the game of baseball to Chipping Norton, and then the rest of the UK a year later.

He was looking for a game that scouts of mixed ages could play - a team game that did not take all day to complete, and gave everyone an equal amount of play.

As he later wrote: "In 1909 I was running a Scout camp. Boys were of different sizes and ages and of different social classes. None of our English games were suitable to combined play by big and little together, or even lads of the same age but different environments."

Fred had never visited America, so had never seen the game played there; but as he said: "I have met some of the greatest American players on their visits to England, and I have enjoyed watching their play; that is all."

He drew up a three page pamphlet explaining baseball, which was duly issued by Scout headquarters.

There were no strict rules or full equipment for Fred's baseball games until 1914, but from then, the popularity of the game soared.

Fred proudly stated that: "Ours was the first British club to adopt American rules and to maintain those rules strictly against opposition in the interests of the best qualities of the game, which are speed, team-work and an active part in every match for every player."

In 1917, the first organised baseball competition was held at Churchill. Eight scout teams from Chipping Norton and the surrounding area competed for the Spalding Silver Cup. The Chipping Norton Pioneers won, and the cup is on display in the town's museum.

The 1914-18 war failed to put a stop to the game's popularity, with soldiers, sailors and land girls playing games on Chipping Norton's common in 1917.

The town's baseball club was formed by Fred in 1920, complete with smart grey kit, and Chipping Norton was claimed to be the first town in the British Isles to play organised baseball.

Fred became a founder member of the National Baseball Association, and chairman of Chipping Norton Baseball Club.

The town's club was formed to administer the Chipping Norton and District League games, and matches were regularly held at the Banbury Road Diamond (now part of the Cromwell Park industrial estate) two or three times during the week and on Sunday afternoons, when the games attracted large crowds.

The town's prowess at baseball became headline news nationally. In 1926, the Daily Mail organised the British Baseball Championship at Stamford Bridge, London, between Chipping Norton and a team of London Americans. Chippy won 13-12.

The newspaper, startled that Fred had never visited America, despite importing an American game to Oxfordshire, was impressed that a crowd of some 700 fans "many of whom were American baseball fans" attended the match.

The Chippy team was reported as comprising "brawny Oxfordshire youths"!

The 1920s saw baseball really take hold in Chippy. The Oxfordshire Weekly News, in 1927, went as far as saying: "Chipping Norton is now practically as noted for its baseball as it formerly was for its Bliss Tweed. The fame of our baseball champions has even reached America, where articles about them have appeared in such great papers as the New York World and Evening World."

In the 1930s, the game took off nationally. Star Chipping Norton players were drafted to other areas, as far afield as Hull.

The Daily Mirror of August 15, 1938, included coverage of the National Juvenile Baseball trophy final - a match between the Pioneers and the Chipping Norton Brigands (the latter lost 9-2).

By this time, Chipping Norton had five baseball teams, and took part in many different tournaments. They even held a match against a team from the Royal Shakespeare Company, whose team included director Sam Wanamaker.

Fred continued to coach the Chippy teams - men and women. Talkative and with a good sense of humour, he inspired affection among his players and locals, who referred to him as Father' Lewis.

The name did not come from his age or demeanour; rather, legend says, it came from a bag of Fred's which had the mysterious initials FBB' on it.

Someone commented: "That must stand for Father of British Baseball", and the name stuck.

Scouting and baseball were two of Fred's passions, but it was only half of his life. He was not only a builder, funeral director and heating engineer, but also a society entertainer, remembered by many local children as the Punch and Judy man.

He was also the owner of an early bioscope and gave many film shows at local fetes. It is no wonder that a 1960 copy of the Chipping Norton Advertiser described him as having "a finger in practically everything that was going on in the district".

Fred died, aged 81, on November 18, 1960, at his daughter Kathleen's house in Over Norton.

Without him, Chipping Norton Baseball Club quickly faded away, but his legacy has been recognised in the town.

A road has been named after him and, more recently, a plaque was erected at his birthplace by the local history society and Chipping Norton Museum.