Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Cricket, as it was and is


Once upon a time—that magic period of our childish romances and fairy tales—gentlemen attired in knee-breeches and cocked-hats, and ornamented about the head with pigtails, might have been seen dotting the surface of a village-green or heath, on which were placed two little skeleton hurdles of two feet wide and a foot high, at a distance of two-and-twenty yards asunder. The materials which were provided for their amusement were the skeleton hurdles aforesaid, two rude clubs of about the size and weight of the levers with which artillerymen work the heavy guns, and a small hard ball of a size and weight now unknown. This was the cricket of our forefathers about 120 years ago, and from this rude beginning of a sport which much depended on gambling for excitement, and which was by no means unmixed with quarrelling, our great national game has sprung up, and acquired not only a firm growth in every part of England, but has overrun our English possessions in all parts of the world.

When our troops were at Scutari, en route for the Crimea, we read with much amusement the remarks of the solemn Turks who, for the first time, witnessed an English cricket match. Of course they thought we were a nation of maniacs; but that impression is common amongst people who do not understand us. The wonder of the first batch of Russian prisoners, as we heard, was no less great at beholding two Elevens quietly playing a match in the English lines whilst the guns were booming in Sebastopol, though probably they are more accustomed to the sight now, as the English Cricket Club at St. Petersburg is under the especial patronage of the Grand Duke, and very popular with the Russian aristocracy.

Reverting to the cricketers of old, our attention has been called to cricket past and present by the publication of the first three volumes of Lillywhite’s “Cricket Scores and Biographies,” which contain the history of cricket and cricketers from the early days of Lord Sackville, Lord Tankerville, the Duke of Dorset, Sir Horace Mann, and many others of those brave men who lived before the Agamemnons of our times, down to 1848, when Pilch, and the Mynns, and old Lillywhite, Hillyer, Box, Guy, Mr. Felix, Mr. Taylor Wisden, J. Lillywhite, Hinkly, Dorrinton, Hawkins, Box, and the many other cricketers of that period, were in their prime, and the game was brought to a perfection which, in the opinion of many good judges, has never been excelled in quality, though it is an undoubted fact that we can count our good cricketers now by hundreds, instead of by the score.[1]

It is pleasant, in turning over the pages of Mr. Lillywhite’s book, to know that the first materials were collected by old Lillywhite, the celebrated bowler, who first brought round arm-bowling to perfection, and who, with the enthusiasm of a thorough cricketer, determined to bequeath a legacy to his successors, which would perpetuate the history of the game. Most worthily has the author of the book laboured to carry out his late father’s ideas. Mr. F. Lillywhite, in conjunction with his brothers,—all of whom gain their living in the cricket-field—appears to have ransacked all the reliable authorities, and to have received the assistance of all the best men in England in compiling the present work. The subject of cricket is so large, that anything like a critical review of the book would occupy far too great a space for this periodical, so we must content ourselves with harmlessly pirating a sketch of the game, principally from Mr. Lillywhite’s work.

As regards the origin of the game, there appear to be as many opinions as there are antiquarians; but the most generally received idea is, that the game of “tip-cat,” which children play in the streets of our towns, was the origin of cricket. Mr. Bolland, in his “Cricket Notes,” urges this theory with great zeal. He traces the game of “tip-cat” to a double game of “cat” played by eleven of a side and a notcher; and he argues that in the same way as the old puritanical sign of “God encompasseth us” has grown into the “Goat and compasses,” the “Bacchanals” into the “Bag o’ nails,” and the like, so the game of cross-wicket has grown into cricket.

So little was the game understood in the year 1743, that we find an article in the “Gentleman’s Magazine” (quoted by Mr. Lillywhite) abusing the game, as then played, on the ground of its taking men of low degree out of their regular calling to mix with people of quality, and making a business of the sport; drawing crowds together of people who could not afford the time; and denouncing the game as a notorious breach of the laws, as it openly encouraged gaming.

It is somewhat strange that a sport which was based on gaming should have acquired its present growth, on being divested of the gambling element; and so strong does the “anti-gambling feeling” now prevail, that the real supporters of the game of the present day, look with horror and dismay on the occasional single wicket matches which are got up by the betting Ring, for large wagers, between great players, and prophesy the fall of cricket unless these matches are stopped.

The first recorded score is of a match played on the Artillery Ground, Bunhill-fields, in the year 1746, between Kent and All England, Lord John Sackville being the challenger on the part of Kent; the result of which was that England lost by one wicket on that occasion; and, strange to say, they won by one wicket exactly a century later, in 1846, at Lord’s.

A good oil-painting of this match is to be seen at the Pavilion at Lord’s, in which three players are represented in pigtails and knee-breeches. The club-shaped bats which were used in that match are also preserved by the Marylebone Club.

From the date of this match there is a hiatus valdé deflendus till the year 1771, though before this date the celebrated Hambledon Club had sprung up. The little village of Hambledon, between Fareham and Southampton, was the nursery of cricket. The great supporters of cricket were Lord Tankerville, the Duke of Dorset, and Sir Horace Mann, and under their patronage the game made rapid strides in Middlesex, Kent, Surrey, and Hampshire. Matches were played for 500l. a side in those days, and from old ballads of the period we glean the fact that a good deal of betting used to take place as well.

John Nyren, the son of the celebrated Richard Nyren, who kept the house where the old Hambledon players first met, thus speaks of the old club (of which in his day he was a member), in his well-known little work of “Cricketers of My Time:”

There was great feasting held on Broadhalfpenny during the solemnity of one of our grand matches. * * Half the county would be present, and all their hearts with us. Little Hambledon pitted against All England was a proud thought for the Hampshire men. Defeat was glory in such a struggle. Victory, indeed, made us only a little lower than the angels.

Nyren speaks, too, of the drinks in which the spectators indulged:

What stuff they had to drink, too!—Punch—not your new Ponche à la Romaine, or, Ponche à la Groseille, or your modern catlap milk Punch—Punch bedevilled. but good unsophisticated John Bull stuff—stark—that would stand on end—Punch that would make a cat speak—sixpence a bottle. * * * The ale, too—not the beastliness of these days, which will make a fellow’s inside like a shaking bog, and as rotten: but barleycorn, such as would put the souls of three butchers into one weaver. Ale that would flare like turpentine—genuine Boniface. This immortal viand—for it was more than liquor—was vended at twopence per pint. * * How strongly are all these scenes of fifty years ago painted in my memory! and the smell of that ale comes upon me as freshly as the new May flowers!

The Hambledon Club by no means confined themselves to Hampshire men; several of them came from Surrey, and a few from Sussex; and it appears to have been the custom for the noble patrons of cricket to transplant good players from one part of England to another, and to make them dependents or retainers on their estates; and the players seem to have had the same position amongst the noblemen on whose estates they lived, as jockeys and trainers have amongst the leaders of the racing world in these days.

In 1774, cricket made a great start. Sir Horace Mann, who had promoted cricket in Kent, and the Duke of Dorset and Lord Tankerville, who seem to have been the leaders of the Surrey and Hants Eleven, conjointly with other noblemen and gentlemen, formed a committee under the presidency of Sir William Draper. They met at the Star and Garter, in Pall-mall, and laid down the first rules of cricket, which very rules form the basis of the laws of cricket of this day. The old skeleton hurdle was abolished, and wickets (two in number) 22 inches high and 6 inches wide, were substituted the weight of the ball was determined to be (as now) five ounces and a-half to five ounces and three-quarters. In the following year, 1775, a middle stump was added, and although the height and width of the wickets were twice increased subsequently, until they attained their present size, still, in all essential points—even allowing for the difference of cricket grounds, the comparatively rough materials for the game, and the changes in style—a cricket match in 1775 must have much resembled a cricket match in 1863. The next great step in cricket was the establishment of the White Conduit Club, in the year 1799; and amongst its members, in addition to the before-named patrons of the game, we find the names of Lord Winchelsea, Lord Strathnavon, and Sir P. Burrell. Their place of meeting was still the Star and Garter, and their ground was in White Conduit-fields. One of the attendants on this club, by the name of Lord, was persuaded to take a ground, which he did; and under the patronage of the old White Conduit Club, a new club, called the Marylebone Club, was formed at Lord’s ground, which was then situate on the site of the present Dorset-square. It would be superfluous to say anything about the Marylebone Club, as the fact is notorious that the rules of the Marylebone Club are the only rules recognised as authentic throughout the world, wherever cricket is played, and that the very mention of the name of the club in connection with any thing said or done in the cricketing world, is sufficient to stamp it as the right thing to say or do.

As to all the sayings and doings of cricketers, the songs they sang, and the tales they told, from the year 1746 till 1848 (to which date Mr. Lillywhite’s record at present extends), the reader must go to the text. There he will find the scores in full, and at the end of each match a faithful biography of the principal performers; and if in these days any old gentleman who played in a county match half a century ago, has been drawing the long bow about his score, he is safe to be caught out now, for there is the accurate record of his doings in black and white. Mr. Lillywhite tells us that he was fortunate enough to see in the flesh one of the crack players of the old Hambledon Club, William Beldham, whose first recorded match was a match played between All England and the White Conduit Club, in the year 1787. When Mr. Lillywhite paid Beldham a visit in April 1858, he found the old man, then in his ninety-second year, at work in his garden before eight o’clock in the morning. Beldham died at the beginning of the year 1862, in his ninety-seventh year, having laid aside his bat for forty-one years, at the termination of a career of thirty five years as a public player, his last recorded match being in 1821. In 1852, Beldham, then in his eighty-seventh year, walked seven miles to Godalming to see the All England Eleven play, and the old man’s intellect and memory were so unimpaired, that he could accurately remember any incident connected with cricket from the time when he was ten years old; and this power of memory continued up to the time of his death.

We cannot do better than conclude this article after old Beldham’s long innings. Perhaps at some future period, when Mr. Lillywhite’s four volumes are published, we may attempt to classify the players of the different periods of cricket.

From the rise of the Marylebone Club to the present date, Cricket has no particular history of its own which would interest the general reader who is not a cricketer. If he is a cricketer, Mr. Lillywhite has supplied him with a cricketing banquet, to which he can help himself at his leisure, and of which he will never tire.

Before leaving the subject of cricket for the present, we must not omit a few words about the “Cricketo-machia” (to coin a word) which will make the year 1863 celebrated in the annals of the game. For many years past, cricketers—although not exactly iron-plated—have been padded and guarded by numerous ingenious devices, in a manner which provided for safety of knuckles and shins, but of late years the bowling became dangerous to nose and eyes, owing to the windmill style of overhead bowling, which appeared much more like reckless throwing than fair bowling. All this wild artillery was in direct contravention of Law X. of the Marylebone Club, and a decision has been come to by the Marylebone Club that the unfair system of bowling shall be put down with a strong hand. This was not done without much opposition, as young England is very intrepid, but the fiat is against them, and the rising generation must be content to do as their former generation did, and bowl fair or not at all.

But the Marylebone Club, in a hurry to do too much, for once have overstepped their jurisdiction, and repealed a law of the game (Law XXIV.), in defiance of one of their standing orders. “Bell’s Life” was filled with correspondence on the advisability of making the law of “leg before wicket” more stringent, and more in favour of the bowler, and the Marylebone Club caught up the cry and amended the law as it formerly existed without notice to the members, and enacted that if any portion of the batsman’s person was in a straight line between the wickets, and the ball struck him, he should be given out.

The opposition party, however, demanded a re-hearing of the case on a technical ground, and carried the day, and the law was declared to remain as it was.

We all make mistakes sometimes, and the Marylebone Club are not infallible. They have done great things for our noblest national sport, so we may conclude this article by wishing them and all cricket-clubs an uninterrupted career of success in promoting a sport which is dear to rich and poor.

F. G.

  1. Frederick Lillywhite’s “Cricket Scores and Biographies,” published by the author, at Kennington Oral, Surrey, S.