Cambridgeshire Sides 1857- 71

(A work in progress.)

I have not continued the match by match summaries beyond 1848 simply because of the sheer number of matches involved.  Instead this is an article on a period in which Cambridgeshire are now considered to have been a 1st-class county: 1857 – 1871.  (Mostly it looks at why the successful county side of the 1860s did not survive.  It needs more about the success.  I am working on it.)

This was a period in which Cambridgeshire cricket has come to be regarded as having been 1st class, stretching between two matches against Surrey – the first on the 18th and 19th of May 1857 at Fenner’s ground, Cambridge, and the last on the 22nd to 24th of June 1871 at the Kennington Oval. Much happened in between.

The first three  county matches, during this period, against Surrey in 1857/58, appear to be distinct from later ones – basically a Cambridge University side, plus a few of that club’s professionals.  The Cambridge Independent Press (CIP) called the May 1857 home side both “Cambridge” and “The University of Cambridge”.  Surrey, having initially advertised their opponents as the University, appear to have taken the initiative to change the name to “Cambridgeshire”.  Perhaps they saw the professionals’ names: Alfred “Ducky” Diver, a veteran all-rounder, just two years away from representing All England on the first tour to the U S and Canada; Fred Bell, already a stalwart of the United All England Eleven and thus known to cricket watchers around the country; Charles Arnold, coming to the end of his professional career but a veteran coach at Clubs such as Beverley and East Hants as well as the hero of the 1846 Cambridge defeat of the Gentlemen of England; and Fred Reynolds, destined to be professional and long-time groundsman, as well as chronicler of the Lancashire County Club at Old Trafford.  These were no makeweights.  If they were going to be beaten, perhaps Surrey wanted it to be seen as a dignified defeat to some of the best cricketers in the country, rather than to a bunch of students whom they would later be playing as 11 of Surrey v 16 undergraduates of Cambridge.  They needn’t have worried. Before the first match the local press thought both teams to be “excellent” but Surrey to be “on the probable side of victory”, and so it turned out as they won this match by 56 runs, the return in June by 36 runs and a third match, at the Oval a year later, by 13 runs.  Not easy victories maybe, but this particular model of Cambridgeshire  did not appear again.  Although I do not see this as the start of Cambridgeshire’s purple patch I do think it illustrates both the strength of the county’s professionals and thus the county’s potential.

As well as the defeat to Surrey, 1858 saw the foundation of a Cambridge County Club, which proceeded to play mainly against Cambridgeshire villages such as Ashley and Horseheath.  Unlike the Cambridge Town and County Club of the 1840s this was a genuine “county” club in geographical representation, but it was essentially a gentlemen’s club, with sides mostly excluding professionals, taking its lead from a sequence of gentlemen’s teams that had played University teams roughly once a year throughout the 50s.  Indeed, during its existence it would field the occasional “Gentlemen of Cambridgeshire” side against similar sides from Essex, Norfolk and Huntingdonshire.  The club President was H J Adeane of Babraham, and the first secretary was FP Fenner, a veteran player as well as secretary for various local clubs and founder of Fenner’s cricket ground.  Henry Perkins of Thriplow, Cambridge Blue and probably captain in the recent matches against Surrey as well as century maker for Royston, was also a significant presence.  This development did not satisfy everybody.  Letters in the Cambridge press made it clear that some, at least, wanted to see a side, representative of the county in terms of talent, which to them meant mostly professional and mostly from Cambridge town.

This debate came to a head in 1859 when a match intended to return top-class cricket to Parker’s Piece was made between 22 Amateurs of Cambridge (chosen from the Cambridge Victoria, Hope and Amateurs Clubs) and the All England Eleven.  Fred Bell was easily the most experienced member of the home side, possibly included alongside James Grundy of Notts, as a given professional bowler.  The cream of the Cambridge professionals, in the shape of Bob Carpenter, Thomas Hayward, Alfred Diver and Fred Reynolds, were actually playing for the All England side.  Whilst the presence of the England club provided good entertainment, the teams were ill matched, all England winning by 8 wickets. There was considerable argument as to the point of fielding a side that did not do justice to the Cambridgeshire born talent scattered around the country. In response, 1860 saw the formation of a new Cambridge Town Club, with Fenner yet again the secretary, but it was not until December of that year that Henry Perkins, Fenner’s replacement as secretary of the County Club, publicly declared his club’s intention to play Surrey twice during the next season.  Significantly, Perkins was already stating the difficulty of financing such a venture, recommending that the teams would need to contain no more than 7 professionals and rely either on subscriptions if playing on Parker’s Piece or the gate money that could be taken at Fenner’s if they were to balance the books.

So at last, in 1861, there was representative county side put out by a constitutionally created County Club.  The matches with Surrey went ahead with the second option of Fenner’s ground used for the opening fixture.  The announced teams reflected the County Club’s amateur origins, the four gentlemen being listed before the professionals.  Nevertheless this was a strong side, as was Surrey’s.  The first match, at the end of May was drawn and only played on the first and second of the three days planned due to players’ other engagements.  Surrey made 252 (Caffyn 103) and 74 for 1, while Cambridgeshire made 325.    Thomas Hayward made 112 with Carpenter, J H Marshall, John Perkins and Fred Bell each making substantial contributions in support.  The Prince of Wales was present on both days. One month later the return, in which three centuries (Caesar for Surrey, Carpenter and Hayward for Cambridgeshire) and 976 runs were scored, was won by Cambridge by 2 wickets. Bell and Hayward showed their all round credentials by taking 9  and  6  wickets respectively.  If you count this as the start of the purple patch then it was certainly a good one.

In between these two matches was a third, but not one arranged by the County Club.  After an uneventful first year, the new Cambridge Town Club, through their secretary F P Fenner, negotiated a match with Kent.  There is a fuller account of this match on “What’s in a Name?”. Suffice to say here that, due to a misunderstanding on the part of Kent’s officials, Kent realised too late that they had agreed to play the Town rather than County.  Scores and Biographies sympathised with Kent and subsequently it has always been considered an inter-county match, although it is quite clear from contemporary press coverage that this was a Cambridge Town Club team, albeit a very fine one, pretty well indistinguishable  from the county side.  Fenner had previous form in challenging Kent on behalf of a non-county side (1849 & 1855 on behalf of a proposed Town and Gown sides) and, in Cambridge at least, the prospect of seeing a reformed Town Club with its best players on their cherished Parker’s Piece seems to have been more important to many than having any sense of County pride. Kent lost by 72 runs and refused a return match.

The fourth Cambridgeshire match of this season was another oddity, against Yorkshire and Stockton-on Tees.  The proposed team for the match had included Henry Perkins and his brother John, which perhaps implies County Club involvement but no announcement had been made to that effect and the match was not listed amongst the club’s fixtures at the end of the season.  The eventual side was an all professional/all Cambridge affair, albeit one player short as Fred Bell failed to appear.  The key to the match’s origins may be in the title and venue, Stockton on Tees. Various Cambridge players, including Thomas Hayward and Charles Arnold, had been engaged by the Stockton Club in the 1850s and maybe this connection together with the fact that the majority of All England Eleven matches, involving  several Cambridge players, were now played mostly in the north of England, helped secure this match independently of the County Club. Towards the end of the season John Jackson, a well connected bookie, stud farmer and trainer, who would be involved in several betting promotions involving Cambridgeshire players, helped, alongside the president of the Stockton club, Dr Richardson, to set up a heavily staked and bet-upon single wicket match between Carpenter and Hayward and 3 Stockton players.  It seems plausible that Jackson and Richardson may have also had a hand in setting up the eleven-a-side match. Yorkshire and Stockton were too good, however, winning by 96 runs and skittling Cambridgeshire’s ten men out for 30 in the first innings.`

Thus, by the end of 1861, Cambridgeshire’s “first-class” county sides had already been the result of four different models of origin.

In 1862 the County Club appears to have financed five matches against Notts, Kent and Surrey and four all amateur matches with Norfolk and Huntingdonshire (2 each), providing an atypical consistency to the season.  In a relatively low scoring match at Fenner’s in early June, Nottinghamshire, batting second, took a four run lead on the first innings (100 to 96), John Jackson and Wooton bowling “extremely well” and Richard Daft and Jackson top scoring with 32 and 28 respectively, all for Notts. They then kept Cambridgeshire down to 148 despite 66 from Thomas Hayward, which Bell’s Life described as “a perfect masterpiece”, and finished on 145 for 7, Daft again top scoring (40) and securing a 3 wkt win in the two days play allowed by a rained off first day.

Cambridgeshire faired better against Kent at New Brompton and Surrey at Fenner’s.  Described by the Cambridge Chronicle as important, the match with Kent was easily won by nine wickets, Carpenter being praised for carrying his bat for 61.  “What an extraordinary batsman Carpenter is!” purred the Chronicle,”Within the last fortnight he has made three not-out innings of 67, 63 and 61 respectively. He has already made about 500 runs this season, and, according to the prevalent mode of computing innings averages at present 50 runs per innings.”  In an otherwise competitive match Surrey were undone by a first inning of only 88, George Tarrant taking eight for 45.   Cambridgeshire’s 309 was a solid performance, with Carpenter once again top scoring, with 80 and Surrey’s  second innings 294 was led by 95 from Mortlock, and the home team lost only four wickets in a successful chase.

The return with Nottinghamshire was greeted in the Notts Guardian thus: There cannot be any doubt, looking at the performances of these two great cricketing counties, that they are the first throughout the county to play.”  Fred Bell was again absent, having competing commitments at Eton School.  It is not clear why he was not replaced leaving Cambridgeshire, for the second year running to field only ten men in a match. Unfortunately Cambridgeshire did not live up to the promotion, losing by an innings and 39.  R C Tinley took fifteen wickets for Notts.  Tarrant bowled a string of maidens but only took four wickets.  Cambridgeshire were unable to repeat their earlier defeat of Surrey, losing the return by an innings and 60 runs.  Only Hayward with a second innings 84 offered any resistance to Surrey’s 277.

***To be continued***

The obvious question about Cambridgeshire’s time in first-class cricket is “why did it stop?” E V Lucas wanted to know why the tide turned. The answer is that there was no tide.

I think the reasons are various and found by looking at both the events of that period and their historical context.

University, county and town

The main roots of cricket in Cambridgeshire were threefold.

The first definite reference to the game being played in the county, albeit informally, referred to Cambridge University students enjoying the game in 1710. What little evidence there is suggests that the game continued to be played within the university and it is easy to imagine interest in the game spreading into the town and county from that example.

The second area of development was in the county town of Cambridge, where the game was firmly established by the beginning of the nineteenth century, and where it flourished the most.

As the eighteenth century proceeded, cricket appeared sporadically but increasingly around the county in its small towns and villages such as Wisbech, Chatteris, Newmarket, Royston and Manea.  Whilst Cambridge cricket might have had some influence on those teams it seems more likely that the game was developing more or less independently in different parts of the county.

Cambridgeshire of this period had a relatively small population, largely in the south of the county. Due in part to enclosure and other changes in agriculture by the early 19th century, the south Cambridgeshire population had congregated in the county town where the university and its supportive trades provided employment. Cambridgeshire did not, however, experience much in the way of industrialisation, so although there was an urban environment in Cambridge, ripe for developing a strong interest in cricket, possibly after the manner of the game’s growth in Sheffield, there was not the necessary combination of population expansion and new middle-class wealth to make that happen, despite reasonably good road and rail (from 1845) connections..

Cambridge town and university

Instead Cambridge town cricket seems to have developed alongside that of the university with some cross-influence both ways – some conflict and some co-operation. They shared the common ground of Parker’s Piece for two lengthy periods and  several university players turned out for the Cambridge Town and Cambridge Town and County Clubs of the 1830s and 40s. Co-operation was not necessarily on an equal basis however as four joint Town and Gown teams around 1840 are heavily weighted towards university players and look more like University and Ground (professionals) sides that genuinely joint teams.  There was a constant undercurrent of town/gown separation, conflict and competition. The latter affected cricket most when the university moved to private grounds. Both moves in 1821 and 1848 appear to have coincided with the collapse of the current town club, due possibly to the competition for financial support. It would seem that on both occasions what middle-class wealth there was followed the university to their new grounds, leaving the town cricketers to pick up the pieces of what had in both cases been highly successful clubs.

These events can also be seen as examples of a tendency for the university to operate in separation from the town. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the university was developing into an important player in English cricket and society. Although it continued to support county cricket at times, from around 1850 it increasingly established itself as a completely different entity from both town and county, both of which subsequently, and for well over a hundred years, were doomed to operate in its shadow.

For a while, however, this separation meant that the town’s cricket culture retained a pre-modern in style, with the gambling, stake money, commercial trappings, professionals, and community identity which that entailed. A workforce made up of college servants and independent tradesmen, both with relatively flexible leisure time was ideal for the development of semi-professional cricket of this kind. In addition it was largely removed from the upsurge of muscular Christianity and the developing amateur-led model of cricket’s administration, which was emerging through the public schools into the universities.  Thus, through a period of more than a hundred years, the game grew in numbers and skill involved from generation to generation.  The Cambridge Cricket Club of the early 19th century was one of the most esteemed clubs in the eastern part of the country.  The pub clubs of the 1830s developed into teams capable of taking on the like of Islington Albion of London and Swaffham of Norfolk.  The Cambridge town and County Club of the 1840s was rated one of the best provincial clubs in the Country.

F P Fenner

From the 1830s to the 50s Cambridge also had the county’s nearest example of an inspirational leader in Francis Fenner. A player for Cambridge Castle, Town, and Town and County Clubs, Fenner was an effective captain, a bullish club secretary and energetic campaigner for top-class cricket in the town and county. As a typical member of the Cambridge lower middle-class he was also a shrewd businessman and it is this quality that undermined his leadership at a crucial time for Cambridge and Cambridgeshire cricket. With the Town and County Club well established as a top provincial club Fenner, in the winter of 1847, developed and became manager of the University Club’s private ground. Contemporary reports make it quite clear that this move completely took the wind out of Cambridge Town  cricket’s sails, presumably as its financial support evaporated, Fenner’s leadership was not replaced, and most of the town’s top players looked further afield for opportunities. Thus the expected progression from the Town and County Club to a fully fledged County Club was stalled for at least a decade.

The Cambridge professionals

The concentration of cricket in Cambridge and its separation from direct amateur influence help explain the development in the town of an unusually large number of top-class professional cricketers from generation to generation. After the collapse of the Cambridge Town and County Cricket Club in 1848, however, several semi- professionals moved away from the county to take up engagements with other clubs, including the two professional touring sides of that time, the All, and United All, England Elevens (AEE & UAEE). These cricket caravans shared the Cambridge players’ approach to the game and helped to hone their skills so that come 1857 they were a county side in waiting. One tantalising thought is that if a town/university/ county model of collaboration had been adopted back in 1848 maybe the later problems of financing and administering the County Club might have been avoided.

Five of these players – Alfred Diver, Robert Carpenter, Thomas Hayward, George Tarrant and John Smith – went on to represent England on tours abroad and several others such as Fred Bell, Billy Buttress and Fred Reynolds held influential professional professional posts and played for the AEE and UAEE. As a result of this strength of talent from Cambridge, the county sides were often highly dependent on the players of just this one town which had financial and probably political repercussions.


As the competition for financial support within Cambridge illustrates, there had always been a relative lack of wealthy nobility or gentry in Cambridgeshire to offer patronage to cricket. Although, during the 1850s, there was evidence of gentlemen cricketers beginning to organise themselves and from 1858-63 and 1866-69 that formalised into the Cambridge County Club, there was never big money behind these ventures. It fell on a few individuals like Henry Perkins, a Cambridge blue and Norfolk circuit lawyer, and Henry Adeane, local MP, to bail the club out of debt, something they were not placed to do for long. Throughout the 1857-71 period cost was a restrictive factor limiting the number of professionals selected, the number of matches played, and twice, in 1862 and 1868, causing the county club to fold. Other matches were funded by the Cambridge Town Club, the opposition, public subscription, and possibly one-off benefactors such as John Jackson,  a Yorkshire bookmaker and stud farmer.

Lack of county identity

The concentration of cricket in Cambridge and the identification of the county with gentlemen amateurs need to be seen in the context of Cambridgeshire being a somewhat divided county between the sparsely populated north fenland and the agricultural south around Cambridge. There seems to have been little in the way of county identity. In the 1810s and -20s the Cambridge Cricket Club had played several teams from neighbouring counties but never with Chatteris, March or Wisbech who were playing in the north of the county. Although the Cambridge Town Club added “County” to its name in 1844, this seems largely to have been a ploy to attract more support and better opposition rather than a reflection of any united will to represent Cambridgeshire. When, in 1861, the Cambridge Town Club challenged, played and defeated Kent, the latter objected to playing a town club. It seems to me, however, that to the people of Cambridge the idea of a team of their town professionals taking on a county on the town’s Parker’s Piece was much more logical and exciting than a county side run by county gentlemen playing at Fenner’s.

Cambridgeshire by name

Partly because the County Club only survived a few years at a time (1858-63 and 1866-68), it was not solely responsible for teams that are now, though not always at the time, regarded as Cambridgeshire sides during this period. A look at the sides involved reveals a mixture of teams representing the county.

The first three matches in 1857/58, against Surrey, started out officially as a Cambridge University side bolstered with Cambridge professionals such as Diver, Fred Bell and Charles Arnold. Although all three came to be known as Cambridgeshire matches their origin was clearly that of the first match, a natural arrangement at the time, given both the recent history of town/university collaboration and the, by then, long tradition of local cricketers’ employment at the University for the early part of each season.

Alongside the County Club’s matches against Surrey in 1861, one match against Kent, already referred to, was actually played by the Cambridge Town Club and another, against Yorkshire and Durham (Stockton-on-Tees), was possibly promoted by John Jackson and Dr William Richardson, two northern England cricket enthusiasts and gamblers. Future matches with Yorkshire also appear to have been arranged independently of the County Club, two in 1864 being financed by public subscription in tribute to Hayward, Carpenter and Tarrant on their return from Australia and others possibly being arranged with Yorkshire professionals. Other clubs that appear to have helped finance matches with Cambridgeshire were Surrey, Kent and the MCC.

The inevitable decline

Thus we have a picture of a highly talented and successful county side that was poorly financed, lopsided towards the professionals of one town, poorly identified with and inconsistently administered. In addition, for much of this period the Cambridge professionals allied themselves with the northern counties professionals in the North-south split which dominated English cricket for a while. Reports of AGMs suggest this may have produced instability within the County club at least.

As the money ran out, the professionals became old or ill, and the ad hoc match arrangements became increasingly out of step with other better supported and run counties with influential amateurs to the fore, Cambridgeshire county cricket finally ran out of steam in 1871. The final match, versus Surrey, hardly got a mention in the Cambridge press. In the next few years several matches against touring England Elevens were held in an attempt to keep the spirit alive, but even these petered out, with Cambridgeshire having to wait till the 1890s for a new County Club, which competed at Minor Counties level. Over a period of just 25 years the county had gone from possessing one of England’s strongest provincial clubs, through a period of competing successfully as a county club, to being one of the game’s forgotten outposts as the frontiers changed and organised first-class county cricket became a reality in 1873.

It is important to remember that, although contemporary reports make it clear that Cambridgeshire were regarded as a top side, the matches they played between 1857 and 1871 were only called “first-class”, and in one case “Cambridgeshire”, in retrospect. It is evident that Cambridgeshire had a first-class side in terms of playing strength, but perhaps it never had a first-class circumstances in which to survive for long.