This page contains draft articles for my current project – a history of 18th and 19th century Cambridgeshire cricket told through key events. Comments are very welcome.
1612/13 – A Special Piece of Cambridge
On 23rd March 1612 (or 13) a small ceremony was enacted that unwittingly set in motion a unique chapter in sporting history – the story of Cambridgeshire cricket in the 18th and 19th centuries, much of it focussed on a patch of common land in Cambridge called Parker’s Piece.
By 1600 there had been a gradually expanding university in Cambridge for around 400 years. In 1612 one of those colleges, Trinity, wanted to expand across the river Cam into Garret Hostel Green, part of the stretch of common land then known as Long Field. The land they desired, however, was owned by Cambridge town, so a deal was required. Following over 60 years of bargaining a deal was eventually struck. In exchange for the extension to the college grounds, the town would receive £50 and several portions of ground. One of these, about half a mile from the town centre by the side of the Colchester road, came in the shape of 25 acres of land previously worked by Edward Parker, a cook.
Thus, on 22nd March Thomas Neville, Master of Trinity College, and Edward Cropley, Mayor of Cambridge, sealed the fate of what would subsequently be known, both locally and even far afield to devotees of the game of cricket, as Parker’s Piece. It was to be:
“laid out from tillage unto sward ground, and remain and abide for ever common of pasture at all seasons of the year, for all such persons of the Town and University”.
Thus a new piece of common ground was established. Commons were to play a major part in the development of Cambridgeshire cricket. Jesus Green and Parker’s Piece in Cambridge, Newmarket Heath, Royston Heath, and March Common were all among venues used well into the 19th century. Before the days of enclosed grounds cricket was played publicly and free of charge and commons provided ideal spaces for this to happen.
Whilst its use for pasture lapsed over time, the ridge and furrow was to remain on Parker’s Piece well into the 19th century as a reminder of its earlier use. Gradually the local appetite for cricket would level progressively larger areas, as the Piece became increasingly central to the story of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire cricket. This was where the Cambridge and Cambridge University Clubs would begin their annual Town v Gown tussle in 1817 – where the Cambridge Union Club would ambitiously take on the Islington Albion in 1830 – where the Cambridge Town and County Club would defeat the Gentlemen of England in 1846 and where a by-then-famed Cambridgeshire would take on the might of Yorkshire in 1864. This was where Israel Haggis would offer instruction in the use of the Catapulta bowling machine in the 1840s – where university undergraduates would cite extortion and abuse from locals as a reason for moving to a private ground and where Ranji, Indian prince, university student and future England player, would be rumoured to have scored three centuries in three separate matches in one day.
Whilst the game was reported on Jesus Green earlier in the eighteenth century, there would be cricket where once Edward Parker had grown his cabbages from at least 1792 right up to the present day. There would also be football, election hustings, coronation celebrations and much else but they are other stories. Trinity’s newly acquired land became the Wren Library. Thus were two famous Cambridge institutions born and the link between town, university and cricket in Cambridge unwittingly forged.
1710 – “to make a match at Foot-ball or Cricket”
There was friction in Cambridge in 1710. The master and fellows of Trinity College were not getting along. Richard Bentley, the master, was, for a start, not a Trinity graduate. In his own words he had “leapt over a wall” from St John’s College. He was a renowned classical scholar, particularly for his “Dissertation on the Epistles of Phalaris”, and administrator, who, it had been hoped, would restore the reputation of Trinity. Unfortunately Bentley appears to have been something of a tyrant, instigating expensive alterations to the Master’s lodge, for example, and refusing scholarships to pupils of tutors who had opposed him. Thus in 1710 some of the college fellows appealed to the Bishop of Ely for him to be removed from his position.
The reason why this event is of interest here is that a contemporary written account of the fellows’ grievances referred to one of Bentley’s proposals — to allow the college undergraduates to leave dinner before Grace was said. With an air of some dismay the writer, one Thomas Blomer, declared:
“And the young lads are all declared to be perfectly at liberty to be absent from Grace without incurring Penalty prescribed by the Statutes: And because some of them, perhaps, might be impatient to run home to their studies, others to try a fair Fall upon the Grass, and others to make a Match at Foot-ball or Cricket; he alleges the Unreasonableness of the Founders, in requiring them to wait for saying Grace; especially considering, they dispatch their Meals with greater Expedition than the fellows do.”
This sounds a little less than tyrannical, but more to the point tells us for the first time in a contemporary record that cricket was being played in Cambridgeshire and, more specifically, by University students. 1710 is probably rather late for the game’s arrival at the university, however, as we also know that Oliver Cromwell was said to have played cricket whilst studying there in the early 1600s. An exact date of when cricket first appeared in Cambridgeshire is impossible to attain.
What evidence there is places the game in the university well before anywhere else in the county, but that may be a matter of recording. History is only what we know of the past. That knowledge is limited to known records. There would have been little need to record informal games between friends or local rivals. It is unlikely that participants would have thought the activity newsworthy in any case. At this early a stage in the game’s development records tended to be for formally organised matches or, if we are fortunate, from contemporary diaries, letters or reports of other events, such as Bentley’s row with the Trinity fellows, where cricket was relatively circumstantial to the event being recorded. Cricket may have been played in other parts of Cambridgeshire long before 1710, but we shall probably never know.
Even if the game was already in the county we are still left with a plausible scenario of Cambridge residents watching, joining in and learning cricket as played by the students. What is certain is that the university was to exert a considerable influence on the development of the game in the county. That the first reference to cricket in Cambridgeshire concerns the university is totally appropriate.
In the meantime, despite being sentenced to expulsion, Bentley was reprieved when the Bishop of Ely died and continued to tyrannise.
1744 – “…a very numerous meeting of the best fashion…”
“On Monday the 4th of June next a Cricket Match will be play’d on March Common, in the Isle of Ely, between the Gentlemen of March and the Gentlemen of Wisbeach, Eleven of a Side, for five Pounds a Man, when it is expected there will be a very numerous Meeting of the best Fashion.” Northampton Mercury, 28 May 1744.
Given the accidental nature of recording informal games of cricket in the early 18th century, it is no surprise that this particular cricket match was the first in Cambridgeshire to gain mention. Here was a formal contest clearly involving people wealthy enough to put up stake money and with time enough to plan ahead and enough contacts to gain attention in a newspaper.
The lack of any follow-up with the match result, together with the emphasis on the stake money and the social importance of the occasion, suggests that cricket alone was not yet considered newsworthy enough to merit reporting.
What details we do have, however, are still informative. The match was to be played on common ground – no entry charge and open to anyone to witness. The 22 cricketers were described as gentlemen, which suggests at least middles-class. The stake of £5 a man implies that the match was the subject of a challenge. Thus we have a reasonably typical match amongst those reported elsewhere in the country at around that time.
There is one intriguing question however. Why March and Wisbech and not closer to Cambridge? The fact is the Isle of Ely in the northern fens of Cambridgeshire was virtually a separate county. These two towns were in easier contact with each other than either was with south Cambridgeshire. There would not be a reported cricket match between teams from north and south of the county until 1827 and for over sixty years cricket would develop independently in the north and south of the county. It is perfectly feasible that cricket made its way into the north of the county by a completely different route from that in the south – visitors bringing the game with them or travellers bringing word home. It is also possible, on the other hand, that university graduates took up livings in the area and brought more than the word of God to their congregations.
This match, therefore, set several precedents in Cambridgeshire – stake money, local contests, matches on open public ground and independent progress north and south. Cricket in the county would continue along all those lines well into the next century.
1751 – High times at Newmarket – All England v Eton
Probably the most highly gambled upon, as well as the highest profile, cricket contest ever to take place in Cambridgeshire was played on Newmarket Heath on 25th, 26th, 27th, and 29th June 1751.
This was a three match contest, “the gainer of two games in three to be the winner”, between gentlemen educated at Eton School and the rest (called, for convenience or dramatic effect, All England), no “professed Match Players” [professionals] permitted. It was reportedly played for a stake of £1,500, although opinions differ on whether reports of such high stakes at cricket matches of that time were accurate or simply PR hype. In addition a contemporary report claimed: “Tis said that near [£20.000] [presumably in bets] is depending on this match.”
The Eton side was captained by the Earl of Sandwich, who, just a fortnight before, had been dismissed from his post as First Lord of the Admiralty. This gave him ample time to live out his reputation as “one of the most rakish men of his day”, said to have followed a “uniformly unblushing course of depravity and dissipation.” All England were led by the Earl of March. Although there is a slight possibility that the latter was the 16-year-old, newly created, Duke of Richmond, it is more likely to have been James Douglas, the Scottish Earl of March and Duke of Queensberry-to-be. Douglas was ten years the Englishman’s senior, with greater connections with horseracing than cricket, but, accordingly, close ties with Newmarket. Another nobleman renowned as a “rake”, this Earl of March was in good company with Lord Sandwich. It is no surprise that this contest was for such a high stake and heavily bet upon.
There was considerable pre-match publicity in the press including a 42-strong list of nominated players, a description of the players’ dress as “in the handsomest manner, in Silk Jackets, Trouzers, Velvet Caps &c” and an account of a practice match by “the Gentlemen of the Eton Society amongst themselves at Moulsey Hurst, for some hundred pounds by way of exercise.”
The first match took place on Tuesday 25th June. Reports of the scores vary slightly, but the result was a win for All England by around 37 runs, play having to be completed on a second day. One version adds: “We hear the odds ran very high on the England side in this and ensuing matches.” A letter from the Right Hon Richard Rigby to the Duke of Bedford on the 27th June states that the Eton players were “all sulky and out of humour with one another and the nobility play remarkably ill, particularly the Duke of Kingston and Lord Howe, who stopped behind [long stop or wicket-keeper] and missed catches and let balls pass by, &c.” Rigby also singles out “Dick” Leveson Gower as having won the first match, which might mean that he captained the All England team on the field on behalf of the Earl of March. The letter is a little confusing, however, saying that Leveson Gower “played himself on the other side”, although he was a Westminster scholar and rightfully in the All England side.
We have much more detail for the second match on Thursday 27th, with the London Daily Advertiser printing all the players’ names and individual scores. From this we know that Eton batted first, making 167(168), with Captain Draper “the bowler”, Lord Howe, Mr Smith and Mr Knightly top scoring with 32, 29, 25 and 22 respectively, all commendable scores on the inevitably rough surface of Newmarket Heath. All England replied with just 51. Eton’s second innings was 63(67) and All England, needing 180 to win, managed just 114, with Smith Esq and Mr Langford making 26 and 23. Thus the third match would be the decider.
Ponds Sporting Kalender recorded the scores of the third match as: All England 109 and 133; Eton 46 and 101, resulting in a win for All England by 95 notches and an overall win in the contest. Such was the attention being paid to this match, it was shortly followed by a challenge from cricketers of Dartford and Bromley in Kent. There is no record of either that match or one advertised for 9th July between the Gentlemen of Eton and a joint Ripley and Thursley side for £100 a side.
There were at least two advance notices of repeat fixtures, one at Woburn, home of the Duke of Bedford, an enthusiastic supporter of Lord Sandwich, and a second at Newmarket. It is not clear that these matches ever took place.
The record of the second match gives details of six of the players’ colleges. Mr Smith, Angel Silke, Mr Wickliffe, Mr Metcalf, Mr Humphreys and Lade Esq were all from Cambridge University, three from Trinity College, two from St John’s and one from Clare. In addition Lord Sandwich, Lord Howe, and Colonel Townshend were also educated at Cambridge. Only one player, Hon Richard Leveson Gower was definitely educated at Oxford, but others may have been. Several of the other players had names that occurred in other cricket matches at around the same time, suggesting that this was a gathering of competent cricketers as well as wealthy sportsmen and gamblers.
The Cambridge players provide a local context for the matches. It may have been that once the Newmarket venue was decided Cambridge students were easier to recruit. Alternatively their involvement could have influenced the choice of venue, although this seems more likely to have been due to gambling and horseracing connections. Newmarket had long established connections with nobility and royalty, including King Charles II, who is generally credited with establishing horseracing there. Lord March is said to have been an acclaimed amateur jockey and, together with Lord Sandwich, was a notorious gambler. Newmarket was an ideal venue for this match.
A letter referred to in contemporary newspapers gives some impression of the nature and scale of these matches as a social event:
“…there were above 6000 People to see a great Match at Foot-Ball, and that for the Diversion of the Populace, there was Cocking, Smock-Racing, Camping or Foot-ball, Wrestling and Cudgelling”.
One can readily imagine the excitement these events caused, played, as they were, on the open area of Newmarket Heath.
Matches being centred around gambling and the gradual movement of the game northwards were two of the main developments in 18th century cricket. Their significance to Cambridgeshire cricket’s history is:
a) The contrast of the Newmarket matches with the otherwise lack of big money in Cambridgeshire cricket throughout its history, and
b) The occasional recurrence within Cambridgeshire of this pre-modern style of cricket with its festival atmosphere, gambling, stakes, large crowds and the use of common ground.
There would not be another match in Cambridgeshire to quite equal the events of 1751 for grandeur and public excitement, although the Newmarket and Cambridge matches against Holt in 1818 and 1819 were reminiscent as were the descriptions of Cambridge v Biggleswade matches of the same period. In the mid-1800s the professional touring elevens would take this approach to the game around the country despite “matches for money” being frowned upon by the likes of Bell’s Life. Several Cambridgeshire professionals would be involved in those elevens as well as in single wicket matches that were heavily gambled on. Some of these would interestingly have a Newmarket and horse racing connection through bookmaker and stud farmer John Jackson, a fitting legacy for these matches of 1751.
“…Tuesday and Thursday last two Matches of Cricket were play’d betwixt the Gentlemen of Eton and the Gentlemen of the University, which were both decided in favour of the latter. The Gentlemen of the University won as easily as the Gentlemen of Eton did the last.” The Public Advertiser – 10th June 1755.
“On Saturday, while the Gentlemen of Eton were celebrating their anniversary in London, their School-fellows at Cambridge were gathering their laurels in the Field of Cricket. It is surprising with what success the gentlemen of that learned seminary have cultivated the science of this noble game; for notwithstanding that matches have been constantly played between them and the other part of the Undergraduates at Cambridge, there has not been one for these last thirty years, which has not terminated in their favour. The gentlemen of King’s College alone were last year superior to the whole University, though they had many excellent players to encounter on the opposite side.”The World – 17th May 1788.
The first of these reports would appear to be announcing the joint public debuts of Eton College and Cambridge University cricket clubs in 1754. However, although we know that cricket had been played at the university from at least the early part of the 18th century and almost certainly from long before that, and that the presence of the game there would imply its possible co- or pre-existence at Eton, which had a preference for sending its pupils on to Cambridge, actual evidence of public cricket being played by either establishment before this date is non-existent. The otherwise first known reference to the University playing external opposition comes from 1801, when the University of Cambridge was reported to have beaten Ipswich Town by 60 runs and the first for Eton was against Winchester School in 1796. In contrast, the above report from 1788 would appear to confirm a tradition of ex-Eton undergraduates playing the rest of the university, a fixture that would survive well into the next century. This together with the lack of contra-evidence makes it seem most likely that, rather than Eton v Cambridge University matches, the events of 1754/5 were actually internal university undergraduate matches.
Nevertheless, this does not make these matches insignificant. There are several references to cricket having played a part in the life of Cambridge University during the eighteenth century. Henry Venn, for example, was said, to have “won a considerable reputation as a batsman” while at Cambridge mid-century. The 1751 Newmarket matches, which had involved an ex-Eton side, had also included several former and contemporary Cambridge students such as Lord Sandwich, Angel Silke and Messrs Smith, Wickliffe, Metcalf and Humphreys. The matches of 1754 and ’55 would appear to confirm a lively presence of cricket at the university and to imply that the engine-room of that activity was the constant supply of ex-Eton scholars.
The overall impression, however, is of 18th century Cambridge University cricket developing, if not behind closed doors, then more or less in private and separate from the cricket of the town. Whilst individual university players may have played in English cricket at large, as in the 1751 Newmarket matches, the university game was to develop as a private pastime until, at the earliest, the beginning of the next century.
1757 – Cambridge Town cricket begins its journey
It does not require much imagination to see how the game could have spread from Cambridge University into the surrounding town and county – local townspeople, old and young, watching these, perhaps rather exotic, young aristocrats, gentry and future clerics at play. Maybe copying and playing amongst themselves. Maybe joining in with the students, some of whom, like Wickliffe and Lade in the Newmarket matches of 1751, would almost certainly have played the game in their home neighbourhoods, before helping to serving as an early model for Cambridgeshire cricket. Perhaps at first fielding to long hits, then being invited to have a bowl, and later even being allowed to bat. It would not have taken long for the novices to become dab hands.
At the same time it is quite possible that cricket was already being played in the county at least on an informal basis. Visitors from the cricketing counties of southern England could easily have imported it, although the lack of any known written reference in diaries, court reports, newspapers etc suggests against the game being common.
However the game came to be learnt, it is no surprise that, in 1757, Cambridge, presumed here to refer to the town rather than university, was reported to have played Saffron Walden, also making their recorded debut, from just over the Cambridgeshire/Essex border, on Jesus Green, Cambridge. On this occasion they lost, but soon made amends by winning both at Saffron Walden and Cambridge a year later. The exact scores are lost, but it is still possible to imagine the scene with the help of Louis Philippe Boitard’s picture, painted in 1760 – Eleven players-a-side, probably wearing regular clothes, maybe with caps, bowling under-arm along an alarmingly bumpy twenty two yard pitch, and batting with suitably club-shaped implements that could make optimum impact on the grounded ball.
We do not know much about the teams involved – only that they represented Cambridge and Saffron Walden. There is a remote possibility that the Cambridge side was drawn from or included university men, but the very omission of such an inference suggests otherwise. Beyond that we do not know if these were professional gentlemen, tradesmen, college servants or whatever. We have to wait nearly thirty years for that sort of information.
Over the next 40 years Cambridge is reported as playing just four further matches against their Essex neighbours, two of those in 1758, three against Huntingdonshire’s St Ives and two against Newmarket, whose cricket was played just inside the Cambridgeshire boundary which divided half the town from Suffolk. This is almost certainly not the full story but those matches illustrate a pattern repeated by the likes of Newmarket, Royston, Chatteris, March, Wisbech and Manea of teams playing relatively local opposition lying within a distance of up to about 20 miles, a couple of hours’ horse-drawn journey on roughish turnpike roads. Thus teams were more likely to play nearby opposition from other counties than they were teams in their own county that were too far away or unreachable by reasonably good roads.
Having the University in its midst also gave Cambridge the advantage of stable, but flexible employment, away from the exigencies of agricultural life, and more able to find time for leisure. With its larger population than neighbouring towns, especially as enclosure and changes in agriculture drove people to it, Cambridge increasingly had a ready supply of potential and available cricketers. Thus it was Cambridge that was to establish itself as the stronghold of Cambridgeshire cricket.
One further point of interest is that the match was played on Jesus Green. Cambridge was already well endowed with common ground and as yet there does not appear to have been much distinction between them. Jesus Green was marginally nearer the town centre and it is possible that Parker’s Piece was less suitable for cricket if it was still being used for agriculture.
Historically, the main significance of that single match played and lost in 1757 and its home and away successors a year later, is that we know that by that date Cambridge cricket had reached a recognisable level of maturity and was definitely on the road towards the success, agony and excitement of becoming an active cricketing town.
1764 – Royston joins the fray
“On Tuesday last a Cricket Match was played at Royston, between the gentlemen of that place and the gentlemen of Walden, which was won by the latter.” Cambridge Chronicle, 4th August 1764.
“Friday last was played, at Saffron-Walden, a cricket-match between eleven Gentlemen of that place, and the same number of out of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, for a considerable wager, which was won by the former.” Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 15th October 1864.
Following that first match in March and Cambridge’s first match in 1757 cricket was gradually spreading across the county. Royston straddled the Hertfordshire/ Cambridgeshire border in the extreme south and, in 1764 entered the cricket fray, losing home and away matches with Saffron Walden. The only away match report we know of reflects the town’s border position by calling the match Saffron Walden v Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Little is known about either match apart from who won and lost and that the return was played “for a considerable wager”.
This was the beginning of an interesting if generally low profile association of Royston with Cambridgeshire cricket. The game appears to have started a little earlier in Hertfordshire, although this is the first known reference to its appearance in the north of that county. Its heathland lent itself well to cricket and to large gatherings of spectators. Thus it would be used in the early 19th century as a neutral ground, sometimes for deciding matches. It would also compete on an equal level with both Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire towns as well as being the team for which Henry Perkins, the Cambridgeshire captain in the 1860s, would score a shed load of runs.
Royston’s other matches in the 18th century would again be with Saffron Walden, with honours even over two matches in 1793. Royston won its home match but in the return scored a relatively modest 75 and 50 compared to Saffron Walden’s 125 and 127. We do not know whether Walden’ challenge to a deciding match was taken up.
1771 – For the attention of Cambridgeshire cricketers
“ESSEX & CAMBRIDGESHIRE
NOTICE is hereby given,
THAT on FRIDAY the Nineteenth of this Instant July, will be a CRICKET MATCH on GREAT BENTLEY GREEN, ESSEX, for Eleven Men’s Hats of Fifteen Shillings Value each, by any twenty two Men, putting in Five Shillings and Threepence each Man. The Stumps to be pitched at Two o’ Clock. N.B. A Cold Ordinary will be provided by your humble Servant SARAH BLOWERS, at the sign of the PLOUGH at Great Bentley.”
In 18th century Cambridgeshire, with the notable exception of the 1751 matches at Newmarket, cricket appears to have been a relatively local affair – March v Wisbech / Cambridge v Saffron Walden etc. This pattern would continue well into the next century, which makes this advertisement in the Ipswich Journal of 6th July 1771, soliciting interest from fifty or more miles away, particularly intriguing.
Who organised this match? Possibly the landlady, seeing such a match purely as a business opportunity.
Was it really as speculative as it sounds? From the evidence of the 18th century Ipswich Journal alone, this advert represents an established way of setting up cricket matches in the area. Items played for included velvet caps, white Holland waistcoats and wash-leather gloves, alongside the many examples of hats. I have not found evidence of these matches having taken place, which suggests they were essentially pub entertainment rather than major local events, but my research has not been thorough and further looking might alter that impression.
Why was Cambridgeshire specified in the heading? Why not other counties such as Suffolk, which lies between Essex and Cambridgeshire?
One possible implication is that Cambridgeshire had a reputation for, at the very least, a particular interest in cricket. Existing reports, however, do not exactly illustrate a thriving game in the county – just 5 matches so far involving Cambridgeshire towns, the last in 1864, and there would be only 6 further matches reported over the next 15 years. On the other hand Cambridge University clearly did have cricketers within its ranks. Could this advertisement have been inspired by the knowledge that opportunities for playing competitive cricket in Cambridgeshire were few and far between? Perhaps the hope was that cricket-hungry gentleman students with the wherewithal, free time and enthusiasm to answer such a challenge, might be prepared to travel some distance for a chance to play?
These arguments, of course, assume intentionality. It is possible that the heading “Essex & Cambridgeshire” was purely arbitrary. Certainly there were other similar notices for matches at Great Bentley without any reference to Cambridgeshire.
Whatever the explanation, this is an intriguing item and does confirm a perceived association of Cambridgeshire with cricket in 1771.
1791 – The Chatteris lads to Manea came
” In seventeen hundred and ninety-one,
‘Twas on the twenty-first of June,
The Chatteris lads to Manea came,
All for to play the cricket game.”
Chatteris is in the peat fenland of the northern third of Cambridgeshire called the Isle of Ely. After March, Wisbech, Cambridge and Royston it was the fifth Cambridgeshire town or village known to have a cricket team. In around 1815 Chatteris was described as a “large and populous village”. As with Cambridge and Royston it played its first match against a locally accessible team, St Ives, from a neighbouring county, Huntingdonshire, rather than one from Cambridgeshire. Chatteris, was, in fact considerably nearer to March, but perhaps the road northwards was not as good or social connections with the Huntingdonshire town were stronger. Whatever the reason, on 25th May 1774 Chatteris played host to St Ives, winning a match “which was well contested, and decided with great difficulty”. There was notice of a return match “for a considerable sum”, but no known record of its being played exists.
The next match was not reported until 1791, when the sole evidence of two matches against nearby Manea, (a Cambridgeshire village this time) is the poem/song quoted from above and reproduced in full in the first volume of Scores and Biographies. The poem depicts the Chatteris players marching into Manea with “bats held up”, accompanied by fiddle playing, to contest “the blue cockade” on the afternoon of Tuesday 21st June. They were not successful, Manea winning with seven wickets to spare. Eight days later Manea won the return match as well, this time by 32 “notches”, despite Chatteris changing four players.
“Then up into the town they went,
All for a little merryment;
And at night came home with balls and bats,
With blue cockades upon their hats.”
Unlike the gloves or hats played for in Suffolk, cockades had no great function except to confirm victory. The poem gives the impression that this was a local contest, with the “bold young men” representing their respective town or village, but this was not an obviously even contest, Chatteris being considerably bigger than Manea. It may be that the “lads” of Manea were backed by local landlords such as Lord Rokeby, the Robinson family or Lord Hardwick, or, alternatively, that this was not such a local affair but one organised between the two places’ wealthier residents.
Both places continued to play, but were reported only sporadically. In 1794 Chatteris and St Ives managed a win each as they resumed their competition, but the two 1803 matches between Chatteris and Manea, this time played for 50 guineas, at least one match being won by Manea, would be the last reported matches for the town until 1815. Manea also played St Ives, winning one of three matches in 1797/8. After the 1803 contest their next, and last reported match for many years, would come in 1813, when defeated twice by March.
Given their size as a village, Manea, if represented by local men, would appear to have been punching above their weight in taking on the likes of Chatteris, St Ives and March. Over a period of 23 years they won four out of eight known results. Chatteris would go on to greater renown, but in June 1791, at least, Manea twice came away victorious and had their moment of triumph preserved in song.
1791 – ¨You take Suffolk I’ll take Cambridge”
“Bury, Sept. 21st...On Friday last a cricket-match was played at Newmarket between Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, which terminated in favour of the former, by a majority of 16 notches, Suffolk having gained in two innings 176, and Cambridgeshire 160.” (Norwich and Bury Post 21 Sept 1791)
Here we have the first known reference to a side playing as “Cambridgeshire” 22 years before the next possible reference and 41 years before the next reasonably verifiable one.
Firsts are very important to cricket statisticians, but they need to be placed in their historical context. There is a definite thrill in finding an earlier reference than previously known, be it of the game’s first appearance in a county, the first appearance of particular players and teams or even the first appearance of a particular type of dismissal. When you have calmed down, however, the next step is to assess the new reference’s significance, both contemporary and historically.
It is, of course, possible that these 22 cricketers in 1791 were considered the best in their respective counties, but somehow the absence of any report in the Cambridgeshire press or of any known advance publicity for what would, if a genuine inter-county match, have been a big draw, implies otherwise.
What we do know is that, on Friday 16th September 1791, a group of cricketers from Newmarket – maybe members of a club, maybe friends, maybe a one-off gathering – got together on Newmarket Heath for a game under the team titles of “Suffolk” and “Cambridgeshire” and that an advance noting was placed in the previous week’s paper.
One possible sequence of events is that this was an informal gathering and that the inevitable question arose of “How should we divide up?” If they were university educated gentlemen one option could have been Eton v the Rest as for their predecessors on the same heath forty years before. Married v Single? Left-handed v right-handed?
The advance notice gives the event an official feel, but being in Newmarket there was another option. The already famous horse racing town had the Suffolk/Cambridgeshire county border running right down its High St. Therefore “You take Suffolk I’ll take Cambridge” (as Cambridgeshire was commonly called) becomes a feasible explanation for how this match came to be the first contested by a team called Cambridgeshire. Some years before, in 1764, the Royston side playing its return match with Saffron Walden was reported as “Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire” because of its similar borderline location, but the evidence for its being simply a Royston side was strong.
Equally likely is that this was a match between town or village teams from the two counties and the county names were used simply to heighten the sense of competition. The fact that a year later there was a match in Cambridge billed as the return match between Cambridge and Newmarket strongly suggests that the two teams involved in 1791 were actually Newmarket and Cambridge. Whilst the names “Cambridge” and “Cambridgeshire” were often interchangeable, if these two matches were related, it would seem more likely that the 1792 billing was the correct one as a team representing Suffolk was hardly likely to be called Newmarket.
On balance, then, the most likely explanation of the 1791 match is that it was, in fact, a match between Newmarket and Cambridge.
County issues aside this match is also an indication of cricket’s almost parallel development in Newmarket and Cambridge, just fifteen miles apart and both unusually high profile towns, the one for its royal connections through horse racing and the other through the university. Despite cricket being brought to the town in such grand style in 1751. it had taken a while for reports of Newmarket’s home grown cricketers to appear. Not until 1788 did Newmarket play a combined Mildenhall and Worlington team, tying one match and losing the return to the rain. Two years later, however, the club lost heavily by eight wickets to another Suffolk side, Stowmarket, and in 1792 appear to have played Cambridge twice although no scores are known. In 1797 a repeat of the 1788 matches with Mildenhall and Worlington saw honours even. The 1791 match may reflect some depth in the town’s cricket and certainly, like Cambridge, Newmarket would go on to greater things in the early decades of the next century.
I am, of course, making educated guesses about this match and statistically it does certainly appear to be the first instance of a side calling itself “Cambridgeshire”. The answer to why must remain to large extent a mystery.
1795 – cricket morning and evening
“…a match at cricket was played between the Morning and Evening Clubs of this town, which was won in favour of the latter by 22 notches.” Cambridge Chronicle, 1st August 1795.
By 1795 Cambridge had played at least four different opponents – Saffron Walden, St Ives Haverhill and Newmarket, the latter match being the first reported as played on Parker’s Piece. Although they appear to have been in a quiet patch in which no match against another town was recorded between 1792 and 1801 there were two signs that the depth of cricket in the county town was increasing.
In 1794 a team of single cricketers beat their married counterparts by a comfortable 104 runs.
Then, a year later, came a curious fixture between two clubs not seen in reports before or since. A brief report on 25th July announced that the “Evening Club” had defeated the “Morning Club” “by an innings and 9 notches”. A week later the same result was achieved in the return fixture, this time by a closer margin of 22 runs.
The Evening Club seems to have taken it upon itself to send in a full list of players on both sides in the return match, presumably in order to back up its claim that three of the Morning Club’s players were “not members (but far preferable to the rest)” adding for effect that these interlopers “were not objected to by the Evening Club”. This is the first known instance, in Cambridge, of a publicly aired dispute between cricket clubs. Where, one wonders, were the Morning Club’s ringers drawn from? The Morning Club responded by accusing their opponents of an unfair victory, on the grounds that they arrived an hour late for the match, “thereby subjecting three members of the Morning Club to the inconvenience of playing in the dark”.
Most excitingly from an historian’s point of view, we have, for the first times, some names.
Morning Club Evening Club
Hankin W Swann
Attwood T Markham
Bradwell D Moredcai
Taylor J Paul
Stamford Sen R Paul
Stamford Jun S Luccock
Foster T Luccock
Brookfield O Scott
Barnes S Salmon
Finch W Hall
Smith P Nicholls
With C Eagle signing the notice.
In Bailey’s British Directory of 1784 we find several names that could be the men named in the above list. Corresponding to the Morning Club we have a John Barnes, grocer, of St Andrew’s St; Joshua and Joseph Finch, both Ironmongers and Braziers, of Market Hill and Bennet St respectively; Richard Foster, merchant(Market Hill in 1780); several Smiths trading in the town; Thomas Taylor a feltmonger and breeches-maker.
Corresponding to the Evening Club list we have John Paul, ironmonger and Brazier of Bridge St.
Thus one distinct possibility is that these cricketers were local tradesmen. The team titles have been explained to me in terms of their representing clubs that played their cricket before the start of the working day (Morning Club) and after it (Evening Club). I have seen other examples of cricket being played before work but not at this early a date. I f this is a correct interpretation it does back up the idea of these cricketers being tradesmen.
Overall there is a strong sense of permanence and formal organisation in these reports. Three of the players being accused of not being members, for example, suggests that these were indeed clubs in the formal sense. Furthermore, this and the team titles together suggest that these clubs played on a regular basis. The Morning Club’s response to their opponents’ accusation of unfair play included the comment: “for though the measure he has pursued, is contrary to all precedents on similar occasions”, which also implies that these matches are not unusual.
This image of two groups of Cambridge tradesmen, keen and organised enough to meet up before or after work to play cricket on a regular basis, in turn implies a considerable depth to Cambridge cricket. By the turn of the new century there was further evidence of this, with several single wicket matches being played in the town. Thus were the foundations laid for the subsequent successes of the town club and, indeed, for the pub clubs that followed it.
These matches would appear to be the first signs of a noticeable concentration of cricketers in Cambridge – a factor that would be of vital importance in future developments right through to the county sides of the 1860s.
1801 – the CU comes out
“IPSWICH….Tuesday last a cricket match was played between the University of Cambridge and the Town, when the latter was beat by 60 notches.” Ipswich Journal, Saturday May 30, 1801.
This report is a mystery.
Even disregarding the debate as to whether or not the 1754/55 Eton v CU matches actually involved Eton College pupils, this is still an isolated public match by the University. Nothing for at least 56 years before, and nothing more for another thirteen. Reports from the 18th and early 19th centuries give every impression that the university preferred to play its cricket in private. Not until 1816 would that impression begin to fade, with public reports of university cricket continuing uninterrupted up to the present day. Yet here is a match that, although reported in the Ipswich Journal at the time, appears to have gone unnoticed ever since despite its relative uniqueness. Lost reports or the lack of club secretaries would hardly account for such a long gap between matches. If this was a one-off event, why in 1801?
And why Ipswich? The 1771 advert of the Bentley Green match appeared to acknowledge some sort of cricketing connection between the Ipswich area and Cambridgeshire, but even that was 30 years earlier and there had been no further signs in the meantime. The most likely explanation is an Ipswich connection on the part of one or more of the University players leading to a friendly match which was never intended to be repeated. It is equally possible that this was not an official Cambridge University side, but a group of players with enough of a connection to adopt that title. Either way we are only guessing.
It would be nice to imagine that there are other similar matches waiting to be discovered, but for now this has to be seen as the archetypal exception that proves the rule. It may have been making tentative steps into the public arena but 18th century cricket at the university was essentially private and any radical change to that position was still some years away.
1801 – Wisbech in a flurry
Since that historic match with March in 1744 Wisbech appear to have played little in the way of public cricket matches. There was a second with March in 1777, two with Methwold in 1783 and two with Downham Market in 1893 – a total of six matches in 57 years. Even given the occasional lost report or unrecorded match this would not amount to Wisbech being a hotbed of the game. So, from a historical perspective, four matches in the single year of 1801 looks as uncommon as one of the fen islands which were scattered around the north Cambridgeshire landscape.
On the 28th July and 3rd of August Wisbech played Peterborough, of Northamptonshire. Wisbech won the first, together with £20, at home by an innings and 62 runs. For the return at Thorp Park, Peterborough featured Sir John Shelley Bart “of the Marylebone Club” and John Orby Hunter of Thorp Hall, but to no advantage, as the Cambridgeshire side won again “with great ease”.
Shelley and Hunter were amongst the opponents again just two days later, but this time accompanied by nine of the Hertfordshire Militia, who had played Peterborough earlier in the season. Perhaps this was seen as Sir John Shelley’s best chance of revenge. His side had a promising first innings lead of 45 (79 to 34), but with Wisbech adding 83 the second time out the Militia et al struggled to 38, thus tying the match. The atmosphere of the match is well captured by the report’s coda:
“A dispute afterwards arose whether two or only one notch was run for the last ball, and to prevent mischief that might probably have ensued from contesting it in such a multitude, the Wisbech players generously resigned the victory to Sir John Shelley.”
The Cambridgeshire side’s fourth match, played at home against Downham Market of Norfolk, for 11 guineas, with “considerable” side bets, was lost by an innings. Once again the crowd was large. On this occasion there were said to have been several disputes during Downham’s innings, but, in a phrase often used in reports of the time, the after-match dinner “finished with conviviality and friendship”.
The people of Wisbech had to wait another nine years for a reported match, but those of 1801 give a feel for their team’s level of skill, attitude, and enthusiasm for the game. Taken together with matches at Chatteris and Manea, it is clear that cricket was alive in the far north of the county.
1806 – public negotiations
“To the Printer of the Cambridge Chronicle
Anxious to play a friendly game of cricket, we at various time, In the summer made proposals to several neighbouring parties, all of which were rejected;… “
Thus began a letter from the “Cricket Players at Hitchin”of Hertfordshire, published on the 9th August 1806, which began an illuminating series of communications, some official some not, alluding to negotiations between the cricket clubs of Bedford, Cambridge, Hitchin and St Ives of Huntingdonshire. This is not the first times such letters of negotiation concerning Cambridgeshire cricket were aired in the press. A similar exchange between Cambridge and Haverhill of Suffolk was shared in 1786. These letters in 1806, however, involve several clubs and throw interesting light on the nature of competition between clubs at that time.
The core issue under discussion for much of the summer was how to make an equally matched game between any two of these clubs, although a subtext may have manipulation of such negotiations to gain advantage. This involved Hitchin pleading the need for two borrowed men in order to take on their opponents on the grounds that “this being one parish, and there being but few players, we can with difficulty raise but 9 at a time”.
Subsequent communications debated the fairness both of Hitchin’s proposals and the other clubs’ protests. St Ives felt Hitchin had an unfair advantage in choice of given men, a claim that the latter denied. They eventually agreed to play each other free of external assistance, Hitchin winning by 24 runs. Cambridge, who in the meantime had lost heavily to an augmented Hitchin side, were understandably aggrieved and demanded an unassisted replay for a stake of 50 guineas. Hitchin obliged and won again, but not before berating Cambridge for ignoring the chance to borrow two men themselves despite having “one of the first bowlers in the kingdom” as well as 14 parishes to draw from compared to Hitchin’s one. Hitchin thus manoeuvred and played themselves to three victories.
Most of the matches under consideration were to be played for stake money, which probably explains the air of exasperation in the negotiations, although the letters, especially those from Hitchin, abounded with accusations of haughtiness, officiousness, illiberality, unmanliness and lack of generosity. There is at least a hint of Hitchin standing on their own dignity. Overall, these events show quite an intense level of competitiveness, which the press both fuelled and gave space to. It is also notable that the distance between opposing towns is beginning to stretch.
As far as Cambridge were concerned, the two matches with Hitchin appear to have been their last defeats for ten years, building on their four wins from four known results since 1800 and further proof that their high reputation was deserved and enough to worry opponents into the sort of safety measures and machinations these letters allow us to witness.
1815 – “this Olympic game”
“On Monday last a cricket match was played at Royston for a purse of fifty guineas, between the gentlemen of the Cambridge and Biggleswade Clubs…..a great assemblage of the first [respectability] attended from adjacent parts to witness this Olympic Game…” Huntingdon Gazette and Advertiser, 15th July 1815.
In the previous five years up to 1815 Cambridge Cricket Club had played (and beaten) Royston twice in 1810 and Saffron Walden four times in 1812 and 1813. Over the same period Biggleswade had beaten St Ives and Hitchin.
So for these two clubs, 25 miles apart crossing the short Cambridgeshire/Bedfordshire border via the ancient Roman road of Akeman Street, this first match between them was something of a regional showdown. Held on 10th July 1815 on the neutral ground of Royston Heath for 50 or 100 guineas depending on which report you read, the match was said to have attracted the huge total of 10,000 spectators – “a great assemblage of the first respectably [respectability]……from adjacent parts”. Why this match was played at Royston is unknown. Maybe the anticipated crowd was deemed too large for Cambridge’s regular home ground on Parker’s Piece or for Biggleswade Common or perhaps with only one match planned a neutral ground seemed fairest.
The introduction into the newspaper world of the Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette and Advertiser Later to become the Cambridge Independent Press), in 1813, seems to have stimulated a more enthusiastic style of reporting. So we read in 1815 of “this Olympic game” and the ”Knights of bat and ball”. Whilst this may have just been poetic license at work, it nevertheless gave reports a heightened feel of the emotion surrounding matches. Crowd sizes and the class and gender of spectator sat alongside descriptions of an “excellent band of music” (Saffron Walden 1816), fliers advertising the stake money (Cambridge 1817), claims that “more money was won and lost, than ever may be remembered on a like occasion” (Biggleswade 1817) and this simple but effective evocation of pre-match anticipation:
“…every vehicle from the lowly fishcart, to the tandem, was in requisition at an early hour; expectation was at its highest stretch,” (Biggleswade 1817).
The 1751 Newmarket matches were too long ago for most memories to recall but there was certainly a feel of the same festive mix of high and low society, gambling and stake money. This was cricket of a distinctly pre-modern flavour. Although decorum, manly deportment and harmony were stressed, the underlying fervour was palpable.
Here is a good example of the official image of cricket being hyped as good wholesome entertainment whilst its traditional appeal remained intact. Cambridge town did not have the wealth, outside of the University, to take cricket away from public commons and heaths. Therefore it existed in its most populist form. The football and cock-fighting may not have remained from 1751 but much of the excitement did.
The stake money of this local showdown went to Cambridge, winning the match by four wickets, replying to Biggleswade’s 38 and 63 with 48 and 54 for 6. Cambridge proceeded to win the two matches between the two clubs the following year and the home match of 1817, the first of this series to be played on Parker’s Piece. Biggleswade would get its first reward by an emphatic 120 runs in the return, no Cambridge player getting into double figures.
This particular series of matches came to an end in 1818, with each side gaining an away win before a deciding match brought them back to where they had started on Royston Heath where Cambridge secured their sixth win in eight, this time by nine wickets. By then the verbose reports had given way to detailed scores, but a reference to “hundreds attending the match” suggests that both enthusiasm and Cambridge Cricket Club’s reputation were still high. By then Cambridge probably had bigger fish, like the university and Holt, to fry but its contests with Biggleswade had captured the local imagination and were a sign of significant progress in Cambridge and Cambridgeshire cricket.
1815 – The regular game of single cricket.
“The long-pending match between Kent and Cambridgeshire is to be decided on Saturday July 23rd in Mr Chamber’s grounds, of Ickleton Abbey.—Miller plays for Kent, and Mumford for Cambridgeshire. No doubt from the notoriety of the match and the superiority of play which these two men have shewn, will draw a great concourse of spectators.” Cambridge Chronicle 23 July, 1813.
What brief reference there has been to the above match has assumed it to be an eleven-a-side inter-county match. A less imaginative reading of the report would suggest this was in fact a single wicket match. There is no known report of the result and no record of it in the written history of Kent cricket, which suggests that this was not an official county match, but a less important match in need of promotion. If this had been an eleven-a-side match there would have been less reason to hype up the inter-county factor as matches between local villages were becoming more common and important enough to report in their own right. As it is there is nothing in the report to imply full teams. Two years later another contest at south Cambridgeshire Ickleton, reported as between Ickleton and Kingston, was clearly described as a single wicket match, adding to the impression that my instincts are correct.
The single wicket form of the game, between individuals, or teams of up to 5-a-side, had been a feature of the game from at least the 17th century. Laws dating from 1831, and reproduced by one of this form of the game’s renowned proponents in “Felix On The Bat” , included runs being achieved by running two lengths between the wickets, runs only being allowed for strokes in front of the wicket, and the batsmen needing to have one foot grounded behind the popping crease when striking the ball. No doubt there were variations in the laws between regions and even between matches, especially before 1831, but even then there does seem to have been considerable common ground. Scoring runs could clearly be a slow business. Nevertheless such matches did attract spectators, not least because they were usually subject to gambling.
In Cambridgeshire single wicket matches were reported from, at the latest, 1801, when Halls, a fishmonger, defeated Barron, a publican, on Parker’s Piece, with only three runs being scored in all. The newspaper report described this as a “curious match”, but one that was played “for a considerable sum” and which drew a large crowd. Another five such matches were considered significant enough to report to the papers before 1813.
The most intriguing single wicket matches of this period in Cambridgeshire cricket occurred in the same year of 1815 and at the same venue – John Carrington Dunn’s private grounds in Chatteris.
John Carrington Dunn was a Chatteris brewer, 30 years old at the time of these matches and destined at some point to emigrate to America, dying in New York in 1843. He was described as “well known for his dexterity” at cricket and on 15th June 1815 he teamed up with Joseph Mumby said to be “of the old school” and “belonging to the Horncastle Club” in Lincolnshire. This was possibly Joseph Mumby a grocer in Horncastle, born in around 1759, which by 1813 would make him “of the old school”. Their opponents were Cockey Brown, an apparently well known player formerly of Boston, Lincs, and Mr John Archer a surgeon, known as the “Mildenhall Hero” of Suffolk.
Brown and Archer won by 6 runs, but not before the betting odds had moved from 3 to 2 against them through being in their favour, then evens, “and at last, “Lombard St to a china orange” or, in other words, much in their favour.
On August the 2nd Dunn hosted a second match, this time between a John Smith Junior and eight gentlemen. Thus Smith had to cope with eight fielders while each of them had just the one to evade. Nevertheless Smith won by an innings and 31 runs having scored 34. The newspaper report refers both to “the regular game of single cricket” and to a slight customising of the rules. The match lasted two hours and fifty-five minutes and, as previously, the odds were given.
Haygarth described John Smith as an auctioneer, which makes a nice possible link with the future of Cambridgeshire cricket, as, in 1836 Francis P Fenner, the then leading light of Cambridge cricket, married Mary Williams Smith, eldest daughter of a John Smith “late of Chatteris, auctioneer.” This same John Smith, by then living in Cambridge also had a son who, in the 1871 census described himself as a cricketer. It would appear, however, that there was also a John Smith Junior living in Chatteris in 1784, who could plausibly have been the cricketer in 1815.
Smith’s opponents appear to have been local men, but not good cricketers, at least on this occasion.
John Smith Junior was again victor at the third match on Dunn’s ground a fortnight later. On this occasion he was accompanied by two bare knuckle fighters, Bob Gregson and William Fuller. The latter, is said not to have been a fighter of any great renown, but on moving to America he opened a boxing school and has been described as the father of American boxing. Bob Gregson on the other hand was known as the “Lancashire Giant” and fought for the British boxing championship four times. On this occasion he proved an able cricketer as well, “having scored his share of the runs”.
Single wicket would continue to be reported in the county over the years, especially at times when new clubs were being formed. It appears that when the appetite for cricket was heightened single wicket was an alternative way of feeding it. Most spectacularly Carpenter, Hayward and Tarrant would take advantage of the excitement surrounding Cambridgeshire Cricket Club in the early 1860s by playing for high stakes and with much publicity. These matches in 1813/15 did not match those for grandeur, but they were nevertheless a significant indication of the game’s popularity even if they did not include a genuine inter-county contest..
1816 – A most sumptuous dinner
CRICKET FETE.— On Thursday the 15th inst. The gentlemen belonging to the Cambridge Cricket Club, with their friends, were invited to a most sumptuous dinner at the Castle Inn, in St. Andrew St. by some of the respectable inhabitants of this town, in compliment to their superior skill as Cricketers. A table was spread in the Castle Inn yard with every delicacy of the season. To which the company (upwards of seventy) sat down, Mr, Medlicott in the Chair; over the entire, was a spacious canopy tastefully ornamented with figures emblematic of the game, and round which were displayed the most choice flowering shrubs and evergreens; a band of music was provided on the occasion, many appropriate and loyal toasts were drunk, and some excellent songs loudly encored; the utmost harmony and conviviality were conspicuous – after the tables were removed an elegant assemblage of females joined the party, and dancing commenced, in which about thirty couple engaged till daylight appeared.” Huntingdonshire and Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Gazette and Advertiser, 24 Aug 1816.
Enough said maybe, but perhaps a little detail on these “superior cricketers” is in order.
From 1801-21 Cambridge Cricket club played 43 matches, won 30 (2 against odds), lost 12 (2 against odds) and tied one. So this was a successful side with a well deserved reputation. Its main opponents were Saffron Walden, Biggleswade, Cambridge University and Newmarket, with other significant matches against St Ives, Royston, Hitchin, Bishop’s Stortford, Peterborough, Holt and Bury.
The first report to give names was for the Bishop’s Stortford match of 9th September 1816. The team on that day was H Page (probably Henry), Owen, Pryor (probably Stephen), Medlicott, Bell, W Martin, J Page (probably John), Bird (William or Henry), Scott (D or J), Robert Murcutt, and Baxter. This was presumably the core of the team celebrated at the dinner and, with the exception of Owen and Pryor and the addition of Martin Page, the core of the team during the better recorded and still prolific period 1816-21.
Medlicott, Martin Page and Baxter appear to have opened the batting most often, with Bell, one of the Birds, Henry Page, John Page, Martin and one of the Scotts making a solid and sometimes spectacular middle order, whilst Henry Page, Medlicott, like Henry Page a useful all rounder, and one of the Scotts appear to have shared most of the bowling. The main wicket keeper appears to have been D Scott, who took seven recorded stumpings, although he clearly could and did bowl as well. By far the most prolific catcher was John Page with 31, with Robert Murcutt, a regular tailender, also commended for his fielding.
At times, such as in the 1818 decider with Biggleswade – Henry Page 58, D Scott at least five first innings wickets and Robert Murcutt five second innings catches – this team was capable of a pretty irresistible collective effort. The two stand out players, however, were Henry Page and W Martin.
Henry Page represented Cambridge at least 20 times between 1816 and 1826, generally a middle order bat, scoring 497 runs at an average of 13.6 and opening bowler, taking at least 98 wickets. His top known scores were 72, 63 and 58. He made the 63, along with four catches and at least two wickets, for Biggleswade when he stood in for Lord Frederick Beauclerk against Newmarket in 1820.
“The match….. terminated on Saturday in favour of the former [Biggleswade], evidently by the powerful aid of their borrowed auxilliary, Mr H. Page, who was substituted for Lord F. Beauclerc; but it is doubtful whether his Lordship, in his best days, could have done more for them in the field, than their able coadjutor performed in the match in question”
Records for bowlers gave mostly only the wickets they bowled without the help of a fielder. Even with this limitation Page took 7 wickets in an eleven-a-side match on three occasions during the period recorded. He was some cricketer and clearly the key all-rounder in the side.
Page’s main rival in terms of spectacular performances was W Martin, ever present in the 18 published Cambridge CC teams of 1816-21. He usually batted at three, scoring 561 runs at an average of 16.6. Although it does not look that great, his record of 6 innings of over 30 runs from 35 innings is impressive in an era when reaching double figures was often seen as a significant achievement. The fact that he was more often caught or stumped than clean bowled suggests he may have been a risk-taker. If so those tactics paid off handsomely when he made 111 for the town against the university in 1820. This was the first recorded century for a Cambridgeshire side, still at that point in time a rare event in the game. The following year he made 54 in the same fixture and 90 against Bury St Edmunds. If we knew Page’s and Martin’s records for their whole careers they may well have made spectacular reading.
The Cambridge club’s advantage seems to have lay with its bowling, almost certainly underarm at that time, and possibly the quality of opposition, especially early on. Whilst Cambridge registered 13 completed innings of under 50 its opponents suffered 21. From 1816 onwards, with the standard of opposition, and possibly the state of pitches, improving, Cambridge scored 15 innings over 100 whilst its opponents were relatively even, making 13.
Cambridge Cricket Club had earned its reputation and deserved a tribute and although things were to get a little harder after 1816, would remain one of the region’s top clubs for a few years yet.
1816 – Clodhoppers in the Fens
THE Cricket Match advertized in your paper a fortnight since, which was played at Wisbech between eleven members of the club at that place and eleven of the Emneth club, (or Clod-hoppers, as they were called on the ground,) was not correctly given in that account:…” Cambridge Chronicle, 20th September 1816
Emneth is not in Cambridgeshire, but it is in the silt fenland that lies around the south west corner of the Wash in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and the far north of Cambridgeshire. Historically the silt fen villages, had been relatively well populated and prosperous with the land being higher and better drained than the neighbouring peat fen, and as suitable as the county’s southern uplands for use as rich pasture land. By 1800 the same villages remained dominant in the area, with Wisbech developing into Cambridgeshire’s second largest town. Emneth was one of several of these villages that formed cricket clubs in the early decades of the 19th century.
A few miles west of Emneth, beyond Wisbech, lay Parson Drove, a hamlet of about 600 people, the home of farmer John Peck who, fortunately for us, kept a diary detailing not only his business and family engagements but also various cricket matches in his local area. Peck’s diaries give an impression of a community of farmer’s throughout the area, his business journeys taking him into Lincolnshire around the various Sutton and Tydd villages, the surrounding villages of Wisbech like Gorefield, Leverington, and Newton, and often to Wisbech, his nearest town. Cricket is mentioned quite often, both as a casual after-dinner relaxation and, increasingly through time as a more formal public pastime.
In 1812, for example, Wisbech cricket club played 22 players from Newton (Peck’s childhood home), Leverington, Murrow and Parson Drove. Some years later he recalled the match with the remark: “and fun it was to see our party field.” In 1816 he watched cricket at Newton Fair and Gorefield as well as, on a slightly grander scale, a match between a combined side from Sutton and Tydd (just into Lincolnshire) and Wisbech, and the first of three matches that year between the latter and Emneth.
Played at Wisbech, this is the Emneth’s first known match and resulted in a win for the visitors by six wickets. After the return match “an inhabitant of Emneth” wrote the above quoted letter to the Cambridge Chronicle, correcting the result of the first match and going on to complain that Wisbech had won the return (by eight wickets) with the help of an interloper from nearby Walpole St Peter’s despite the village side being called “clodhoppers”. The writer, “an inhabitant of Emneth”, concluded by challenging Wisbech to a deciding match for £50. The “clodhoppers” won that by ten wickets.
Less formal references to cricket by Peck included, from 1820:
“Evening at Mr Ulyat’s; played at cricket”
and from 1836:
“John and Henry (had) a young party of friends to cricket etc.”
Peck continued to record local matches until his death in 1851, but also commented in 1842
“There is a little too much of this sport going on, I am sure of it – the young don’t think so, but will when they get older.”
The two most prolific teams in the region were Wisbech and Thorney, although the latter, the smaller of the two places, had the better record between 1810 and 1816, beating Peterborough three times out of five and Spalding of Lincolnshire twice. Its four defeats were to Peterborough, Downham Market and Oakham.
Wisbech, meanwhile, was playing villages rather than other towns, losing three times to Terrington of Norfolk in 1810 but managing two wins over Sutton & Tydd, from just over the Lincolnshire border in 1816, the same year as the Emneth matches.
Elsewhere in the region Cambridgeshire’s Leverington, Newton, Tholomas Drove, Wisbech St Mary’s, Thorney Fen (French Drove), Gorefield, Parson Drove and Upwell all fielded sides before 1825. They were joined by Terrington, and Emneth of Norfolk, and Sutton and Tydd, Sutton St Edmund, Spalding, Holbeach and Gedney Hill of Lincolnshire.
If we add the cricket teams of the Cambridgeshire peat fens such as March, Chatteris and Doddington we get a picture of a thriving game in the north of the county and its surrounds, in contrast to the south of the county where activity was confined to Cambridge, Royston and Newmarket. The cricket of the fens may not have attracted the same press attention and prestige given to the south, but from what reports there were and from John Peck’s diaries we get a picture of a more widespread and community based enthusiasm for the game in the far north of the county. This enthusiasm would continue and be expressed in later years when Wisbech became an alternative to Cambridge for county matches.
1817 – The university comes to town
“A cricket match was played on Parker’s Piece, last Friday, between eleven gentlemen of the university, (including King’s College,) and eleven members of the cricket club of this town….”Cambridge Chronicle, 6th June 1817.
As the 1817 season approached the players of Cambridge Cricket Club had good reason to be optimistic. They had, as far as we can tell, been undefeated since 1807’s lost grudge match with Hitchin. Even if some matches went unreported, their record had been impressive – six victories over Saffron Walden to the extent that the return victory in 1816 was said to have been “as usual”; two wins over Royston, and three over Biggleswade.
It would also appear that during those ten years, and for some years before, the Cambridge townsmen had Parker’s old allotment to themselves apart from couples “gathering may”. Not until the previous year had the university cricketers been reported as playing on Parker’s Piece, in a match between King’s College and the rest of the university. Although fixtures like that and other less formal ones connected with the university may have gone unnoticed by the press it would appear that generally the Cambridge Cricket Club dominated local cricket. And now they were to add a fixture against the university students to their season, thus unwittingly giving birth to a forty five year long series of Town v Gown contests.
Up until 1801 most, if not all, of Cambridge University’s cricket appears to have been played internally. Whilst they undoubtedly had top-class cricketers like Frederick Beauclerk in their ranks they did not attempt to flaunt such talent abroad. The match against Ipswich in 1801 and, thirteen years later, one match against St John’s Wood were given minimal attention and may not have been official university sides at all. Nevertheless they imply an increased self-awareness and a willingness to stand up and be counted. The match against St John’s Wood at Lord’s had been won by an innings and 11 runs. Taking that match together with the three King’s v the Rest matches of this year and last, the university cricketers had scored 1,831 runs at an average of 141 per innings and taken 119 wickets at 15.5 per wkt. Over the same period the town cricketers had made 666 runs at an average of 67 per innings and taken 110 wickets at 4.9 per wicket.. Thus the university cricketers had good reason, at least in their batting strength, to be as confident as their town rivals even if this was definitely a step up for them in terms of exposure and competitive intensity.
The match report in the Cambridge Chronicle gave only bare details – The University 128 and 76; the Town 91 and 76, giving the university a win by 37 runs. The unbeaten run had been broken.
But of course the social distinctions between Town and Gown were as important as, if not more than, purely cricket ones. A long history of Town/Gown rivalry seems to have settled into a relationship whereby the university considered itself superior to the town, whose leaders ingratiated themselves with the former and ruled the town with increasing corruption. The match report called the students “gentlemen” and the town players “members of the cricket club” thus illustrating both the perceived superiority of the university and the town’s collusion in it via, in this case, the press.
In due time the town’s cricket would reflect the differences more clearly but for now attention focussed the town’s loss of form, with further defeats to Biggleswade and Newmarket. Although the town cricketers were treated to a dinner for the second year running, the motivation this time was “in consequence of the ill luck in the play of the Old Cricket Club”.
Old it may have been but it was far from dead. The next four years saw its dominance reduced but it still managed 11 wins out of 17 matches including four wins over the university. In 1820 the town team beat its student rivals twice, including an unfinished match decided in their favour in which Martin scored his 111.
What was clear, however, was that the university was on the cricket scene to stay.
1818/19 – Newmarket ups the stakes
“Amongst the numerous cricket matches which are fixed to be played during the ensuing summer, one appears to have excited a great degree of interest, and which will be played at Newmarket in July next, between 11 of Holt and 11 of the Newmarket clubs, for 300 guineas a side.—Both parties are actively employed in training their forces for the approaching contest, and the amateurs are looking forward with anxiety to the success of their respective champions.—Bets to a large amount are already laid, but we understand the odds are rather inclining in favour of Newmarket.” Cambridge Chronicle, 5 June 1818.
By 17th July the stake money had risen to 330 guineas, possibly confusing guineas with pounds, but evidence nonetheless that “much sport is anticipated”. The Norwich Chronicle elaborated that
“The sides are supposed to be about equal, and from their well known science much fine play will most probably be exhibited.”
Curiously when the match took place on the 22nd and 23rd July the newspaper reports were rather muted – just the scores: Newmarket 84 and 90; Holt 114 and just one wicket lost in the 2nd innings, and the observation that “A very numerous company witnessed the game, and the clubs dined in a booth on the ground”.
Nevertheless this was a big event. Not since 1751 had this horse-racing town paid such attention to cricket. Nor had any Cambridgeshire side played opponents from so far away as north Norfolk. It would seem likely that this was a match put together by the racing fraternity – the Holt players would subsequently be referred to as jockeys – with it being seen essentially as a chance to make money.
As Haygarth pointed out, the Newmarket side did indeed contain several famous jockeys including Sam and William Chifney. An article in the New Sporting Magazine of November 1854 recalls the two Chifneys, sons of Samuel Chifney a famous rider in the late 18th century, and friends playing cricket on Bury Hill, Newmarket as youngsters:
“…a merry cricketting group, in which Will and Sam Chifney were bearing a hand. Frank Buckle was then in the very prime of manhood; Robinson and Harry Edwards were only teething, and Sam Chifney still wanted some months of eleven. Will Chifney, who was two years senior to his brother, was thrice as active in all his ways and movements; and even at cricket, while the former might be seen indefatigable and hot-faced in batting, bowling, and fielding, the latter stretched himself lazily on the grass till his innings came round, and then made the pace so bad between wickets, that his scorer had generally a sinecure.”
In four known matches with details, between 1817 and 1820, Will Chifney showed his talent at cricket with a top score of 51 not out and at least 31 wickets. In the Holt match W Weatherby and the Chifney’s childhood friend Robinson stood out with the bat, making 30 and 34 respectively while one or both of the Chifneys (probably William) took eight of Holt’s 10 wickets to fall.
We have to turn to a match the following year between Cambridge, with the assistance of J H Dark of Lord’s, and Holt, again on Newmarket Heath, for a fuller impression of the atmosphere around these fixtures. Again there was stake money, although notices vary between 88 and 200 guineas. Again this was new territory for the Cambridgeshire side. Whereas Newmarket’s match had probably owed much to contacts Cambridge probably secured this fixture on the back of its reputation. This being the era of colourful prose the two teams were playing “the manly and truly English game of cricket” and competing for the “laurel”. “A great assemblage” was anticipated and in the event, as with the Biggleswade v Cambridge match of 1817, “every gig and horse that could be procured in this place was put into requisition, and numerous persons walked to witness the eventful sport”.
“The Holt is very numerous, and comprises the most efficient players selected from the whole county of Norfolk, and the excellence of Cambridge Club is too well known within the circuit of our paper, to need any further panegyric.”
In the event Holt, with 93 and 57 beat Cambridge, 65 and 34, decisively by 51 runs. Nathaniel Pilch followed up his 25 against Newmarket with 41 in Holt’s first innings, but rain interrupted play on the first day so that “ the company retiring into the town in excessive crowds, put the innkeepers to an unexpected route” and prevented any play at all on the second. With an unprecedented amount of detail (for Cambridge matches), the third day was reported to have begun with both teams panting for the field and full of confidence, with the steady batting of Holt being more than matched by Cambridge’s fielding, the former making only 56. At this point the odds were 2 to 1 in favour of Cambridge but soon turned right around as the latter were bowled out for just 34, J R Brereton taking five wickets. Over Cambridge’s two innings only Dark, who played a few matches for the team this year, Medlicott, who also took nine wickets, and Baxter reached double figures, and then only just. One report felt compelled by the final innings to turn poetic and announced:
“There is a tide in the affairs of man”
– an appropriate summary of 18th and 19th century Cambridgeshire cricket altogether.
It is, I think, fair to assume that both matches created similar excitement. Certainly follow ups were planned, Cambridge challenging Holt to a return within a fortnight and announced a further match in 1821. Home and away matches between Newmarket and Holt were anticipated in 1820. None of these matches appear to have been played but nevertheless the two that were played were a considerable advance from previous matches this century in the money generated, the crowds attracted and the standard of opponent. The Huntingdon Gazette and advertiser had the final word on that with the plea:
“Jockies of Norfolk be not so bold.”
1821 – The CU conforms to type
“The Cambridge town Club commenced their campaign in this manly science, on Thursday, when a well contested match was played between them and the gentlemen of the University (on the New Ground belonging to the latter,)…” Huntingdon Gazette and Advertiser, 26th May 1821.
Whilst we do not know for certain just how long university cricketers had been using Parker’s Piece, it still comes as something of a surprise that only five years after the first known reports of their playing there they decided to move to a private ground.
Maybe they were avoiding the ridge and furrow, still present from the Piece’s smallholding days, maybe it was having to jostle for space with the town’s cricketers or maybe the general commonness of the common green that was not to their liking.
For whatever reason by the start of the 1821 season they had moved to an eight acre field opposite to the Covent Garden nursery and mill on Mill Road, about half a mile from Parker’s Piece. We know, in part from details of a 1823 court case, that the new ground occupied a field which was reached from Mill Road by a 22 foot wide high-hedged cart-road and was surrounded by a fence and high gate. Whilst the approach road was not public it was said to be used by “ladies”, suggesting that they were probably attending the cricket ground. At the time of the court case at least two workmen were employed there rolling the wicket, one named Murcutt, who may have been the Cambridge cricketer of that name, who would go on to run an inn serving the cricketers and spectators on Parker’s Piece.
A second surprise is that by the end of the year an announcement had already been made that plans to obtain a replacement ground had come to nothing. Preliminary discussions for the cemetery that eventually replaced the cricket ground talked of water being “found so near the surface as not to admit of the portion [on the east side of the ground] being rendered available for purposes of interment by any practical mode of drainage”. Maybe this was why the cricketers wished to move.
Nonetheless the students remained in their private ground for ten years. During the new ground’s first season we know of only the Town v Gown match being played there, although the King’s College v Rest of the University could well have been. The ground continued to be used once or twice a season for reported matches, mostly for the town v Gown contest but also to entertain the Bury Club on six occasions, winning 4 and losing just one.
Meanwhile Cambridge Cricket Club continued into 1821 much as before, winning over the University, bringing their tally so far in the series to four wins against two, Martin following up his previous year’s century with 54, alongside Henry Page’s 55. They then faced new opposition in Bury St Edmunds,winning by 151 runs,with Martin and Page scoring 90 and 72 respectively, losing by 48 runs, and winning the decider at Newmarket by 84 runs. The latter seems to have been a bad tempered match, but other than that the town club seemed in good shape. Then in 1822 the bubble seems to have burst – just the one match against the University – and the Cambridge Cricket Club never recovered. By 1827 it appears to have gone.
It is hard to explain this sudden change of fortunes without linking it to the university club’s move. With little in the way of wealth outside of the university it seems quite plausible that the town club was reliant on members of the university for financial support. The move to a private ground, however, may have put a strain on that support to the extent that the town club could no longer keep up its previous itinerary. There is no concrete evidence of this, but it is a possible explanation. It is also possible that an incident in 1820 in which town player Stearn was banned from playing against the university due to his having threatened “a six feet high gownsman that he would lick him” also served to alienate some university support.
In 1829, by which time the town’s cricket had revived somewhat, the ground was made available for a Town side to play a joint Biggleswade, Royston and Hitchin side but the match did not materialise.
By 1830 the ground had been reduced in size by two acres to accommodate a burial chapel. Herbert Jenner-Fust claimed this made it nigh impossible to play on. The club returned to Parker’s Piece a year later.
Overall the ground had provided privacy, both for the occasional official match and no doubt for practice matches. It must also have been a powerful status symbol, but ultimately it proved too small and possibly too wet to hang on to. The Bury matches suggest that the University had ambitions to attract a greater range and perhaps higher level of opposition but this did not happen yet. A challenge to their equivalents at Oxford University came to nothing in 1821 but eventually led to a match at Oxford in 1827, by which time they were perhaps less happy to entertain on their own ground.
This first private ground illustrates what seems to have been an irresistible tendency on the University’s part to have sanctuary from the town. There had been and would be times of greater mixing and co-operation but the drift towards separation seems to have been in the blood and for a while they had reverted to type. It proved to be a false dawn but was still a trial run for the future permanence of Fenner’s ground.
1825 – Cricketing artisans
“THE SOCIETY OF JOURNEYMEN TAILORS
respectfully return their thanks for the kind offer
of the Compositors, Pressmen, Masons, and Joiners,
and also feel grateful for the Contributions of the
Fountain Cricket Club, and other private individuals,
and beg at the same time to state that the late differ-
ences between them and their employers is amicably
Ram Inn, March 29th, 1825.”
Cambridge Chronicle 1 April 1825
1825 was a volatile time for industrial relations in Britain. The Combination of Workmen Act 1824 had officially repealed the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800, thus theoretically opening the way for legal trade unions. Restrictions would soon be tightened up again but in the meantime this dispute involving the Journeymen Tailors of Cambridge may have been an example of a union flexing its new-found muscle.
As far as the history of Cambridgeshire cricket is concerned this notice is interesting because it refers to the Fountain Cricket Club, one of several that formed in the county town towards the end of the Cambridge Cricket Club’s existence. This begs questions such as why the Fountain Club should want to support a trade union and what sections of the Cambridge population were playing the game. But first, what was the Fountain Cricket Club?
Ever since the Morning v Evening matches of 1895 their had been intimations of a groundswell of interest in the game within Cambridge. As well as the increasingly frequent appearances of the Cambridge Cricket Club there were single wicket matches, married v single matches and matches involving a variety of university based teams. There were also apparently one-off sides representing the parish of St Andrew the Great, the Cambridge Volunteers, and college cooks. As if to emphasize the numbers of players laying in wait there were matches between 11 of the Cambridge CC and 17 and 22 “players of the town who are not members” as well as between Cambridge Old and New Clubs.
Then, in 1818, we read in the Bury and Norwich Post of “a cricket match……between 11 Members of the University and 11 of a junior Club of the town”. For some reason the Cambridge Cricket Club did not attempt to avenge its previous year’s defeat to the university but here was a junior club to take its place. From 1816, when the “New Club” was beaten “as usual” by the “Old Club”, there were increasingly frequent references to a “minor cricket Club of Cambridge”, “Cambridge Junior Club”, and a “Parker’s Piece” team that played the “youths of Midsummer Common”. In 1822 the Junior Club was identified with the Fountain Inn on St Andrews Street and subsequently called the Fountain Club. Thus, on the grounds that these could have all been the same club, it is possible that the Fountain Club went back at least as far as 1816.
More certainly, we do know that by the time the Cambridge CC was entering its death throes in 1822 the Junior/Fountain Club had been joined by the “lately established” Castle Club and by the Union Club as the Midsummer Common Club had come to be known. Cambridge cricket had entered its pub club era. The Bird-bolt and Castle Inns on St Andrews St had both previously been associated with cricket on Parker’s Piece, but now the pubs began to play a more direct role in the game.
The Castle Inn, where the Cambridge CC had been paid tribute to six years before and soon, if not already, to be run by John Page was most likely the home of the Castle Club, which, like the Fountain, was often described as a junior club. Both were very handy for Parker’s Piece. At the other end of town was the Union Club, based at the Union Tavern on Quayside and formed, it would appear in the same year as the latter acquired a new landlord, possibly a James MacFarlane. These three clubs, along with the slightly later Hoop Club, also run by a former cricketer, William Bird, essentially kept cricket alive in Cambridge.
The Cambridge Junior Club without the Fountain tag had rather more success than with it, winning and losing once to the University, winning three out of four against the Midsummer Common Club, and beating the Red Lion. As the Fountain it lost once to the Castle, at least three out of four to the Union and once to the Hoop. This might suggest that these were different clubs, but it is just as feasible that the Union took a little while to reach its peak level of performance and that in its early days the Junior Club had less competition and therefore more choice of quality players. It certainly seems, however, that once the pub clubs got serious the Castle and Union were the more ambitious and successful, going on to follow in the Old Club’s footsteps by playing the likes of Saffron Walden before considerably extending the horizons of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire cricket in the late 1820s and early -30s.
The Fountain Club continued through to 1827 when it bowed out to the new Hoop Club, fresh from unexpected success against March. The Fountain players, whose names were published for the first time, gave a good account of themselves, scoring a creditable 141 and 96, but were defeated by four wickets.
“The game excited considerable interest, in consequence of the odds being at starting greatly in favour of the Hoop club, but which were materially reduced by the great number of runs got by the Fountain Club in their two innings.” Cambridge Independent Press 25 August 1827, p 2.
So who were the junior cricketers of the Fountain Club? The only players I have positively identified are James and Francis Fenner. The former was twenty-five years old by 1827, whilst his stepbrother Francis was only 16 and possibly making his debut. Between them they scored 113 runs in this match. Francis, along with Hall, Whittaker, Case, Benstead and Edwards appear to have moved on to the Castle Club. If Austin was William Austin he may have been around 25 as well, so the Junior Club tag clearly does not refer by the end of the Fountain’s run to the players’ ages. In the same way the Castle Club would continue to be called a Junior club but would include the same players for several years. Francis Fenner, for example would still be playing for the Castle when it folded in 1837 at the age of 26.
So do we have a link between the Fountain Club and the Journeymen Tailors? For a start the two Fenners’ father was a tailor. The implication is that these young players were artisans – skilled manual craftsmen. Maybe a notable number of them were tailors. Maybe they were simply of a similar social class. Either way the Fountain Club in its time supported both the tailors and cricket of Cambridge.
1827 – March v Cambridge Hoop – The north will rise
“EXTRAORDINARY MATCH…Betting at starting 6 to 4 on Cambridge; but after the first innings 7 to 4 and 2 to 1 on the March, which again varied, after the second innings of the Cambridge, to 2 to 1 in their honour, which was freely offered, and taken to a large amount. However, the March batted very well, and so far turned the game (having four wickets to go down for only two runs), that 280 to 5 was betted and taken, and strange to say, the Cambridge won the match by one run. This makes a tie – each party winning on their own Ground: the conqueror is to be played at St Ives, and each party are very sanguine of success.” Norfolk Chronicle, 27th July 1827.
The ebb and flow of this match and that it was won by new kids on the block, Cambridge Hoop, against March, the most successful team in the county at that time, were not the only extraordinary things about it.
Ever since March took on Wisbech in 1744, cricket in the north and south of Cambridgeshire had gone their own ways. Even though both Chatteris and Cambridge played St Ives of Huntingdonshire in the 1770s they did not play each other. When Wisbech were playing Peterborough and the Hertfordshire Militia in 1801 and Cambridge played St Ives in the same year there was no hint of them taking the field together. The nearest to a north/south fixture so far had come in 1818 when Cambridge played Peterborough, which at that time was in Northamptonshire, at Huntingdon. The only Cambridgeshire teams the Cambridge Cricket Club had ever played were Royston and Newmarket, both in the south. So when Cambridge Hoop travelled to March in June 1827 and March returned the favour in July completely new steps were being taken.
Although the disappearance of Cambridge Cricket Club may have been due to local factors, there was some sign of cricket in general suffering a lull around 1820. In Cambridgeshire the ten years around 1820 also saw very little cricket north of the Bedford Level. In 1825 the Cambridge Independent Press acclaimed a recovery:
“We are happy to find that this manly and noble game, which has for some years been on the decline in the fens of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, is beginning to revive.”
This comment accompanied an advance notice of two matches between March and Ramsey, both won convincingly by March, who followed up with at least one match against Thorney. In the next season they took on both Walton with Walsoken and Downham Market home and away as they began to extend their geographical range. They were also extending the standard of opposition, Norfolk’s Downham Market inflicting the first known defeat on this March team, at Downham.
Then in 1827 came the matches with Cambridge Hoop. The only lead up to these matches consisted of simple advance notices of the first match, with one not even appearing to know the Cambridge Club’s name – “eleven of the Cambridge new cricket club”. Just how this fixture came about is a mystery and we can only speculate that the reputation of March had spread south and that the Hoop were ambitious. The result was a win by 25 runs for March, probably as expected, with the Cambridge side losing four wickets to stumpings. The return match was postponed a week from the original date, but on the 16th July Cambridge batted first, Page and Davies making 33 of the 55 run total. March replied with 80, mainly due to their lower order. Page and Davies again led the way with 33 and 24 respectively, and were supported enough to reach a total of 121, setting March 97 to win. With only four wickets down March needed just 18 to win, “but so great was the anxiety and fear of losing on the part of the March gentlemen who had to go in at this crisis of the game, that they lost the caution and judgement so essential, and victory was declared for their opponents by one run only.” T Matthews was left stranded on 22 not out as his last partner was run out. The “conqueror” or deciding match does not appear to have been played.
Also in 1827 a new March team was formed, engaging as coach “that beautiful and scientific player” Robert Glasscock, who had previously played with some success for Downham Market and Lynn [King’s Lynn]. He does not appear to have played for the short-lived new club, but was in the original club’s side to face Cambridge Union in 1828 and remained a regular member of the side through to 1830.
March returned to winning form by beating Chatteris home and away, but after 1827 their form stuttered, winning three and losing seven of their matches up to 1830. Two of those defeats came against an improving Chatteris Club.
Another four defeats were against Cambridge’s Union (played for 100 guineas) and Castle Clubs, confirming that the north-south divide was definitely breached. By 1831 Glasscock had moved to Chatteris and reports of March Cricket Club had dried up. Chatteris had picked up the baton and once again Wisbech was playing towns rather than its surrounding villages, but March Cricket Club had been crucial in reviving and extending the cricket of north Cambridgeshire.
1827 – the varsity match
“LORD’S CRICKET GROUND……Monday, June 4. A grand match will be played between the Gentlemen of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.” Morning Post, 2nd June 1827.
Sometime around June 1826 Charles Wordsworth, son of the Master at Trinity College Cambridge, but himself an undergraduate of Christ Church College Oxford, expressed a wish to his brother for Oxford University to play Cambridge at cricket. Nothing came of it that year, but by June 1827 Wordsworth had formally challenged Cambridge University Cricket Club and Herbert Jenner, who had somewhat ignominiously succumbed to Wordsworth’s bowling in 1822 for Eton v Harrow, had accepted.
On Monday 4th June, or thereabouts, the two clubs met at Lord’s for the first in a series of matches rather better known than the Cambridge Town v Gown contests. Retrospectively deemed first-class because of the later status achieved by Oxbridge cricket, this fixture was soon to become both an annual and popular feature of the social calendar for the upper reaches of British society.
As far back as 1821, with Cambridge University CC flushed with their success at obtaining a private ground, a challenge was reported to have been sent from Cambridge to the Oxford University Club. I do not know how organised Oxford University cricket was at that time, but perhaps disappointment with the new Cambridge ground and a lack of formal organisation at the Oxford end combined to delay the fixture six years.
Wordsworth’s own account of the 1827 match, in the Cricket volume of the Badminton Library, refers to the difficulty in getting King’s college students to play for Cambridge due to their being kept up at college longer than other students. Perhaps the five Trinity players in the eventual Cambridge side reflect his self-confessed Cambridge connections, although since 1817 both King’s and Trinity had been prominent in university cricket. The majority of Eton players in the Cambridge side fits well with that and confirms the Eton / Cambridge University connection previously noted in 1754. Somehow Lord’s was obtained as the venue, necessitating Wordworth to obtain permission to visit London on the pretext of visiting a dentist.
On the one day of the match permitted by the weather Jenner was the only Cambridge player to show any resistance with the bat. He made 47 out of 92 having already taken five wickets as he alternated bowling with his principle position of agile wicket keeper while Oxford made 258. Rain prevented the conclusion of the match but could not prevent the beginning of a long-lived British upper class institution. From now on Cambridge’s university and town cricketers were following very different social and cricket paths.
1830 – Fenner disappears to the Fens
Francis Phillips Fenner was born on 1st March 1811 to Joseph Fenner, a tailor, and his second wife Sarah. He had three stepbrothers, two of whom, James and George appear to have played cricket. Indeed it may have been George’s successful appearances for the Cambridge Cricket Club – a top score of 34 and at least fifteen wickets in four matches in 1821 – that inspired the young Frank to take up cricket, making his recorded debut for the Fountain against the Hoop at the age of just sixteen.
Following the Fountain Club’s demise in the year of his debut Frank appears to have moved to the Castle Club just up the road and in September 1828 he and Hall sent a single wicket challenge to Bell’s Life, with a return address of “Fenner, Castle Inn Cambridge” responding to an earlier challenge from two brothers of Chesterford. This suggests a confident and enthusiastic young cricketer keen to be involved in the game wherever possible. He may have played for the Castle in the same year, but no detailed scores of the club’s four recorded matches were published. When more detailed scores were given in 1829 a Fenner, without initials, did play for the Castle at least three times, against Potton and March, taking at least 17 wickets and making 84 at an average of 21. Frank was certainly playing for the club from 1835 through to its disappearance in 1837. So it seems likely that he was the Fenner mentioned in 1829 and had effectively been a member of the Castle since 1828.
Similarly the Fenner playing twice for the Hoop Club against Biggleswade in 1828 and taking at least ten wickets in the away match could well have been Frank. The Hoop Club was ambitious and would no doubt have been keen to pick up on enthusiastic young talent, but either of his stepbrothers are also contenders.
Then comes a surprise. After 1829 Frank’s name disappeared from Cambridge cricket for three years. There was no Fenner in those years’ town sides against the University and MCC (1832) nor in the 1830 Hoop side that played Swaffham. His name was even absent from the four Castle Club matches for which player’s scores appeared, two against Chatteris in 1831 and two against Newmarket the following year.
Where did he go? The answer would appear to be Chatteris as in 1830 his name, again without initials, was included in that town club’s team against March and again two years later in a single wicket match alongside Sheppard, West and Glasscock, the four of them being described as Chatteris players. The most convincing evidence that this was indeed Cambridge’s Frank Fenner came in the team announcements for the 1832 Cambridgeshire sides to play the MCC at Lord’s and Chatteris. In this instance FP Fenner was clearly grouped in with the Chatteris players rather than the Cambridge ones and he significantly was not present in the third match played by the visitors, against Cambridge Town Club on Parker’s Piece.
We can only guess as to why he moved to Chatteris, but the appearance is of Chatteris Cricket Club, under the leadership of J Fryer, attempting to build a powerful side that included three distinguished imports in Daniel Hayward from Mitcham, Fenner from Cambridge and Robert Glasscock from March. New players, fixtures against top local clubs as well as the MCC, annual meetings and dinners all suggest a well-run club going places. Fenner’s motives are perhaps less explainable, but his subsequent life showed him to be both ambitious and opportunist, so maybe for a while he thought his best chances in the game lay with Chatteris. It is easy to imagine the attraction of this ambitious club and the buzz of playing in an up and coming team. An additional factor is that in 1836 he was to marry a Chatteris woman, Mary Smith. He may have met her whilst living there but maybe she was an attraction for going in the first place.
By 1833 Frank was back in Cambridge playing single wicket and for the town club in the Town v Gown match, leaving an unsolved mystery as to why he went in the first place, why he only stayed three years and why he returned. Apart from his impressive debut, his performances on paper had been solid so far and they would steadily improve as the decade progressed and beyond. Looking back, Arthur Haygarth was able to call him one of “many professional cricketers of great note” and to include him in a list of 23 “quite (or nearly so) first-rate” bowlers of his time. He would appear for the Players v Gentlemen, the annual England side that played Kent at the Canterbury Festival and for North, South and Midland representative sides. He would also become a fine captain, adroit club secretary and a businessman with a keen eye for the main chance. In addition to giving him a taste of top-flight cricket his stay in Chatteris also appears to have secured him a marriage and a friend in Daniel Hayward, who would join him in Cambridge, perhaps as a personal favour, as part of the Cambridge Town and County Club of the 1840s.
Fenner’s residence in Chatteris, then, remains mysterious but it adds to his image as ambitious, opportunist, talented and popular.
1830 – The Union goes to London
“The Canonbury Club, at Islington, opened the campaign for the present season on Thursday last, with a strong muster of their veteran forces as well as recruits. An intention was expressed at the meeting of laying siege to Brighton: and mention was likewise made that the tacticians of Cambridge and Chatteris were desirous of a similar visit.” Bell’s, Life 9 May 1830.
“We have received a letter from a Member of the Canonbury Club, stating that the communication in our last, announcing that the Club intended challenging the Brighton and other Clubs, is without authority. The avowed purpose of the Canonbury Club is to play for pleasure, and not gain; and those who state the contrary are intermeddling where their silence would be deemed proof of good sense.” Bell’s Life, 16th May 1830.
End of story.
Except that on 23rd August that same year Islington Albion Cricket Club played Cambridge Union on Parker’s Piece after apparently making a challenge of their own. It defies logic that there was no connection between these events and it is clear from contemporary entries in Bell’s Life that the Canonbury and Albion in fact did have close connections. Canonbury’s president played the Albion’s Hinxman at single wicket at 3.30 one morning, for example. Albion members attended Canonbury’s meetings and the Canonbury held a gala day at the Albion’s ground. The source of the information that the Union and Chatteris were willing to play the Canonbury is, however, unknown. Perhaps the ambitious Chatteris were calling Cambridge’s bluff or maybe both put their name in the hat so as not to concede such an opportunity. Or perhaps the paper was acting matchmaker
Both the Canonbury and the Albion were established London clubs. Back in 1823 the Canonbury, based at the Canonbury House/Tavern, had played and beaten Chislehurst for 100 sovereigns. Towards the end of the 1830 season it would play Windsor and Eton Juniors, although by the next season it would have lost its ground and most of its members. The Albion, established as long ago as 1805, seemed to be particularly active around this time and had already attracted the attention of the Cambridge press with its victories over Hackney and Richmond. In 1823 Bell’s life described its players as having:
“for some time past……boasted of the superiority of their players and chaffed at the presumption of their neighbours.”
An 1828 report in the same paper had described the Albion in the field as:
“each gentleman dressed in white, with light hats, and an elegant silk neckcloth, which gave them the genuine appearance of Cricketers as well as gentlemen.”
A poem published in 1830’s volume 4 of “The Olio” went into considerable detail on the Albion’s players, covering most of those who would play the Union – Jardine the determined bowler, Rose short and stout but nimble, Smith sharp in both his dress and catching, Oldfield the long-stop, Schabner choice in manner both with the bat and at slip, all-rounder Gunner, Hinxman the expert wicket-keeper, Tombleson an artist in play and father figure Gibson.
Being linked with either of these London clubs shows how far the Cambridge pub clubs had come from their humble origins as “the Common Club”, “eleven of Parker’s Piece” or “the Junior Club”. Having cut their teeth playing each other, they had emulated the Cambridge Cricket Club against Saffron Walden and Biggleswade, gone further by playing north Cambridgeshire March and Chatteris and were now extending their reach to London.
The Union had struggled to get a fixture over the previous season, making unmet challenges to “every place within 28 miles of Cambridge”. The Club was also trying, to be selective in its choice of opposition as its members paid for matches when they had enough money and wanted their money’s worth in return. Islington Albion must have seemed a brave but exciting challenge, even if one paper had the Union as “favourites at six and seven to one”.
However, as the same paper reported, in the first match, on Parker’s Piece, “the Union had not the slightest chance of success throughout the match. They were all out for 73 and 62, losing at least seven wickets to Jardine and 27 runs to the “spruce” Smith. The local papers were not impressed. Even John Boning’s top scores in each innings were treated with complacency. The Cambridge Independent Press was condemning:
“Indeed nothing but the most egregious folly or vanity could have induced the Cambridge Club to enter the field against a Club hardly second to any in the kingdom.”
In response “A member of the Union Club” wrote to the paper claiming that the Union had decided, against its officers’ better judgement, to take up Islington’s challenge in order to provide its supporters with a long-awaited match. He also claimed that several of the club’s best players had shown an indifference to playing of late and that it was therefore unfair to criticise those that had turned out. He did not reserve his criticism for the players, however, attacking the club’s “admirers” for their meagre support
“for it cannot be thought reasonable that men will leave their homes and business, as well as a more important consideration—their pockets bare, for the personal gratification of others unless they are more liberally patronised in some way by their fellow townsmen.”
It is possible that the player’s reluctance was fuelled by an incident in early January 1828 when, on leaving the Union Tavern following their annual celebrations, several of them were set upon by a gang of about fifteen townsmen and severely assaulted, eleven of the perpetrators ending up with prison sentences. Whatever the reason, it would appear that some of the fun had gone out of game for the Union cricketers. Perhaps the return match served to bring some of it back.
As might be expected the odds were strongly in favour of the Islington club leading up to the return, but after “a fine match, in the course of which every point of the game was exhibited in a masterly manner” the Union won by two wickets. John Boning, a veteran of the “Old Club” followed his 29 in the first match with a second top score, of 38, with particular help from Stearn and Davis, and also took at least seven wickets, as did Union regular Sussums. Schabner, “choice in manner”, impressed with the bat for the losing side. In contrast to the first match reports were full of praise, Bell’s Life claiming:
“It is expected how the reciprocity of good feeling exists among the Members of the above Clubs, that they will annually meet in the field.”
Whilst “annually” proved optimistic, the two sides did meet again in the following season. This time both sides won at home, first the Union by 25 runs and then the Albion by a rather more decisive 145. There was some undoubtedly fine batting from the Islington in the second match – “father” Gibson with 51 not out, “artist” Tombleson with 51 runs and at least five wickets, and Schabner and Groves weighing in with 67 and 34 respectively. Despite good performances over both matches from, in particular, Boning, Stearn, Sussums and Davies the press returned to pessimism:
“…they are unequal to contend with the…good play and conduct of thr Albion Club. We trust they will never again have the vanity to go to London in search of conquest.”
Over four matches the Union had come out with honours even – no mean achievement. Nevertheless the pub clubs were declining. The Hoop had played its last match, a defeat to Norfolk’s Swaffham, in 1830 and the Union would play just one more match. Perhaps the financial and motivation problems experienced by the Union were terminal. Only the Castle, with Frank Fenner at the helm, would continue for a while longer, officially withdrawing from the fray to make way for the Town Club in 1838. Still they had done a great job in re-establishing Cambridge as a respected name in cricket and had left a solid foundation for the Town Club to build on.
1831 – Cricket on a new level
“An application was also made by Mr Dupuis, of King’s College, on behalf of a number of gentlemen, for permission to level about sixty square yards of Parker’s Piece, in order to afford greater facility for playing the manly game of cricket. Leave was given for the execution of the work, under the direction of the committee, with the understanding that the portion of ground so improved should be equally for the use both of the university and town.” Cambridge Chronicle, 11th February 1831.
Over 200 years after the exchange of Parker’s Piece from Trinity College to the town council another agreement was made about the same piece of ground, or at least a part of it. Whilst a subsequent council meeting minute placed this issue firmly into the realm of “unimportant questions” the negotiators here were unwittingly heralding an important stage in the development of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire cricket, just as their predecessors had done.
Having put up with what seems to have been an unsatisfactory private ground for ten years, the University Club now wished to rejoin the throng on Parker’s Piece and were offering to relevel an area of the old ridge and furrow, since that had almost certainly been one reason for moving away in the first place.
The inclusion of an assurance that town and gown should have equal access recalls the condition in 1613 that the Piece should be
“for all such persons of the Town and University”.
Both assertions reflected the constant tension between Town and Gown, with a particular sensitivity on the Town side to the threat of the undergraduates dominating the town’s facilities. Now that it suited the University to use the Piece once more the town officials were determined to protect the townspeople’s’ access.
Both the University and Town clubs had experienced cricket of a higher standard and in a variety of conditions over the last decade. The University had also had the benefit of at least one experienced professional in Sparks, a veteran of Middlesex, Surrey and Kent eleven’s. Both would have had bowlers practising (in both senses of the word) the newfangled round-arm style, for which I imagine the rough old Parker’s Piece would have caused additional problems. Whilst the University club’s propensity to score runs rather than take wickets would have been a strong influence, both clubs would have appreciated the value of a leveller playing surface. Further improvements would be carried out in 1832/33 and 39, but it is this instance that marks a moment when cricket in Cambridge was taken more seriously.
Although things did not kick off immediately for either club this new seriousness would be reflected clearly over the next decade. Opponents, for example, would include the MCC (for both the Town and University), Nottingham, Norfolk, Peterborough and Stamford and Lincoln’s Inn and Temple. The town cricketers would even flirt with the idea of a County Side on the way to the eventual establishment of an officially constituted Cambridge Town Club.
Thus it was that a simple request by Harry Dupuis in 1831 was in fact the sign of Cambridge cricket finding a new level in two ways. Together the improved surface of Parker’s piece and the increased ambition of the players would take both University and Town cricket to still greater heights.
1832/34 – Cambridgeshire unites
“A match at cricket has been made between the Marylebone club with Lillywhite, and the county of Cambridge with Pilch and Caldecourt. The first game will be played early in July, at Lord’s Ground.” Cambridge Independent Press, 9th June.
Despite having the luxury of the newly levelled Parker’s Piece and the Union Club having come out of their contests with Islington Albion two wins apiece, Cambridge Town cricket now entered a relatively low key period. For the next six years there does not appear to have been an official Cambridge Town Club. Ad hoc Town teams honoured the annual Town/Gown match most years but it was mainly left to the Castle Club to represent the county town’s cricketing tradition.
The curious exception was a group of matches in 1832 and 1834. The former, as if in contrary response to the local press defying the Union Club to return to London, saw two Cambridgeshire sides and a Cambridge Town eleven successfully taking on another London Club, the MCC. The latter year saw a Cambridge dominated county side losing out twice to Nottingham.
On the 9th June 1832 the first of two matches between “the county of Cambridge” and the “Marylebone Club with Lillywhite” was announced. Trawling the newspapers of the day at this distance gives the impression that these matches came out of the blue. The only hint as to its origins came in the report of the return match at Chatteris:
“Much praise is due to T Fryer Esq. for his liberality in making the match…”
This might suggest that the Chatteris Cricket club, of which Thomas Skeels Fryer was president, was behind this development. Fryer was a local brewer and magistrate who had been High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire since 1826. Sometimes referred to as “the squire of the parish” or “king of Chatteris” he was a man of influence. It was already evident in 1830 that Chatteris CC had ambitions when they added Daniel Hayward, Robert Glasscock and Frank Fenner to their side. At least since 1824 Fryer had hosted end of season dinners for the club and compared to Cambridge, which had no officially constituted town club, Chatteris appears organised.
If Fryer did promote these matches it is interesting that Cambridge, without its own club, still secured a match with the MCC and retained the services of Pilch and Caldecourt for it. Maybe a deal was struck whereby Chatteris got the home county match and Cambridge a match of its own. Alternatively it seems possible that Cambridge’s reputation was such that the MCC assumed that a match with the town would be included in their “Cambridge tour”, as Bell’s Life called it.
Cambridge cricket had not lost its reputation. Locally the concept of a Town Club remained from the “Old Club” days, reflected in the teams playing the University being called the “Town Club” when no such entity appears to have existed. The negotiations around the Union/Islington matches also carried an air of Cambridge cricket being respected whoever played it. Whilst Bell’s Life had planted the idea it was the London club that issued the challenge to the Union. So it is plausible that whilst the 1832 county sides were driven by the Chatteris Club, the town players having a match to themselves was simply down to their reputation
Whilst the County of Cambridge sides were relatively narrow in their catchment, nevertheless they did constitute an advance on the talent available to either Chatteris or Cambridge, especially with the addition of Fuller Pilch and William Caldecourt. The order of the published team list illustrates clearly how the team was selected. First was Sir St Vincent Cotton, cohort of renowned cricketer and horseman Squire Osbaldeston and playing member of the MCC, a suitably prestigious captain. He was followed by Fryer, the nearest to Cotton in terms of social status and organiser of at least this match. Then came the Cambridge contingent of Boning, Davies, Stearn and Johnson, followed by the Chatteris men Hayward, Glasscock, and Fenner. Caldecourt and Pilch completed the eleven.
The MCC side was augmented with William Lillywhite, but according to Bell’s Life, was missing Mr Knight, presumably G T Knight, as his bowling partner. Cambridge refused to allow MCC professional Bayley to take his place. On the day the “Country men” of Cambridgeshire struggled in the field as William Ward contributed 54 to the MCC’s first innings of 125. Pilch and Hayward kept them in touch with the bat, however, and after dismissing the MCC for 67 pretty well won the match by themselves with 41 not out and 22 respectively as Cambridgeshire chased down 89 to win.
Following a match at Chislehurst against the Gentlemen of Kent, the MCC set out for East Anglia to play the return match against the county at Chatteris and a second match against a Cambridge Town team on Parker’s Piece. Despite Bayley’s presence the MCC lost even more decisively at Chatteris, perhaps missing Ward. Caldecourt and Pilch took at least 16 of the wickets between them, limiting the MCC to 36 in each innings and making the county’s 78 enough to secure an innings victory.
On the following day the players of Cambridge Town had the chance to emulate the county side and did so by five wickets without the help of Cotton or the Chatteris men but with Pilch and Caldecourt still on board. The Bell’s Life report played up the excitement of the occasion:
“The many hundreds that assembled, combined with the numerous tents and booths pitched, rendered the scene exceedingly animated.”
Cambridgeshire had shown its skill at the game, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of these three matches is the relationship between Chatteris and Cambridge. Both would presumably have come away feeling good about the results, Chatteris having demonstrated their influence by securing a victorious county fixture and Cambridge having beaten the opposition on their own. An interesting footnote is that, whilst the razzmatazz of an MCC visit and county sides was going on, one twenty-five year old man from March declared himself open to play any man of a similar age from Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire or Hertfordshire for £5. He at least wanted to keep other parts of the county in the picture.
Two years later, however, a similar side was put together to play Nottingham, but without Caldecourt and Pilch the results were rather different. The bowling of Redgate and Barker was too fast for Sir St Vincent Cotton’s side and his own round-arm bowlers were unable to emulate them. Cambridge’s Fuller was injured, Fenner broke his bat, and Nottingham won by 152 and an innings and 114. The Cambridge bowling would improve and be reinforced in time, but for now the likes of William Clarke’s Nottingham were too much for them.
Once again the Cambridge side appears to include both Cambridge and Chatteris men, with Fenner now included in the Cambridge contingent, but the home match was this time played on Parker’s Piece, Fryer was missing from the team, and the titles given to the two sides were confusing. Some reports saw them as county sides and some used the short forms of “Cambridge” and “Nottingham”, which at that time could have signified town or county status. Peter Wynne-Thomas seems clear that the Nottingham side was just that, although the Cambridge papers of the time were equally clear that theirs was a county side. Cotton was captain for the first match, which would bolster the latter view. On the other hand Fenner was later to recall 1834 as the last year for a while in which Cambridge Town put out a full strength side.
Even if Cambridge was a county side here the implication is that Chatteris had lost some of its impetus and influence,with ough they continued to play locally with some success including two victories over Downham Market in 1835 in which West and Hayward both scored centuries for Chatteris and Hayward alone made 228 runs over the two matches. Fenner had returned to Cambridge by now.
Overall the MCC and Nottingham games seem to illustrate both a power struggle between Chatteris and Cambridge, which Cambridge eventually won, and the strength of Cambridge’s reputation. The latter seems to have had the most lasting consequences as the ball had been kept rolling enough for Cambridge to eventually organise and form a town Club a few years later.
1837 – Cambridge Town Club – it’s official
“Cricket.–The admirers of this game will be glad to learn that the cricketers of this town are about to establish a new club, on a more extended principle; by which means they hope to be able to gratify their townsmen by playing more interesting matches than we have been accustomed to witness of late.” Cambridge Chronicle, 29th April 1837.
Up until 1836 Cambridge cricket had followed on from the Hoop and Union Clubs’ grand farewells with just the annual town v gown contests, the Castle Club and nearby Chesterton playing similarly small club opposition and the occasional “grand” match to take the breath away and encourage a taste for more.
The “Town Team”, whenever one played the University for example, had usually been attributed to the “Cambridge Town Club” but there does not appear to have been such a club in existence. 1835 brought two indications of the lack of an organised Town Club. Firstly the Town v Gown match was cancelled on the odd grounds of difficulty in finding a venue for the after-match dinner. Later in the year Frank Fenner published a challenge on behalf of “The cricketers of Cambridge”, responses to be sent to William Bird, now landlord of the University Arms. Nothing came of this challenge or of later ones to Hertfordshire and Mitcham. With the Swaffham and Islington Albion matches, the MCC tour, and the Nottingham contests still recent enough to be talked about, however, it seems likely that players and supporters alike had acquired a taste for more exotic opposition. The University had equally branched out by playing Oxford University, the MCC and Norfolk – yet another reason for the town players to want better matches.
Since 1830 the Cambridge Castle Club had played at least thirteen matches against the likes of Chatteris, Ashdon and Saffron Walden. At the same time a Club in nearby Chesterton, whose teams included several familiar Cambridge players like John Crouch and Israel Haggis, had become active in playing Huntingdon, St Neots, Bishop’s Stortford amongst others but eventually ran into financial difficulties.
Thus with players spread around several local teams and no official Town Club the chances of organising “more interesting matches than we have been accustomed to of late” were few. It was therefore no surprise that in 1837 an attempt should be made to formalise into a Town Club in the hope of securing a more consistently high standard of cricket for home consumption.
Fenner was by now established in Cambridge as a businessman, mainly as a tobacconist but also soliciting custom for cricket equipment, particularly from the university and village clubs. Later events and his challenge in 1835 suggest he was involved in this bid to form a Town Club. Interestingly one notice suggested that the new club would have “the support of our gentry”. So far only Sir St Vincent Cotton, a renowned debtor, had shown any interest from that quarter. The new club would have honorary (paying 5s to £1) and playing members. John Crouch, a larger than life veteran of the Cambridge Cricket Club, Union Club and, more recently, Chesterton, was selected to collect subscriptions. It was possibly assumed that his skills at extracting licence fees from landlords and market traders as Yeoman Bedell for the University would make him perfect for the job.
Some good matches were said to be in contemplation, but the only one to materialise was a match, barring Edwards, Fenner and Haggis, with what looks like a University second eleven. During the rest of the season Parker’s Piece appears to have been limited to the Drapers v Grocers and the Castle Club v March. The Castle lost narrowly at home but, after bowling March out for just 18, won away by an innings and 131, Fenner taking at least five wickets and scoring 66 runs. This performance was fitting for both Fenner and the Castle Club as this would turn out to be the club’s last match.
The 1838 season opened with regret being expressed that
“the Cambridge cricketers were not united”. [In order to resolve that problem]“the members of the late Town Club, and those of the Castle Club, have formed themselves into one united Town Club”.
The reference to the “late Town Club was presumably to the previous year’s failed attempt. For the second year running the product of the new club was minimal. The annual Town v Gown match appears to have been its first fixture, but after that a planned match with Hertfordshire was cancelled and two challenges to Mitcham of Surrey and St Ives came to nothing. Parker’s Piece saw even less competitive cricket than in the previous season. In August the club staged a Married v Single match and in September Fenner and Alfred Adams of Saffron Walden played the second of two single wicket matches, Fenner making 68 from 230 balls in winning comfortably over the then holder of the record for highest ever cricket score – 279.
By 1839 “a Cricketer” was probably speaking for many others when he asked where the Cambridge cricketers were and calling them “white-feather heroes” for not showing themselves on the cricket field. Frank Fenner, who had by now assumed a leadership role, sprang indignantly to the Club’s defence, characterising his club as “fearless challengers” whose gauntlet had consistently been refused. He had written a similar letter the year before when a clergyman designating himself “A Constant Reader” wrote condemning the Cambridge cricketers for playing cricket and drinking beer on Parker’s Piece on Good Friday. In reply Fenner had written a passionate defence of his players’ “harmless indulgence in a favourite recreation” and “moral decency” and of the game’s “drawing closer the ties of humanity”. Fenner’s strident leadership together with a pre-season report of the Town Club’s anniversary dinner and two matches against a joint Peterborough and Stamford side did suggest that at last Cambridge cricket was being carried out “on a more extended principle.
The first match with Stamford and Peterborough, also called rather morelonwindedly as “Eleven players selected by the Earl of Aboyne…from the counties of Northampton, Huntingdon, and Lincoln”, resulted in a large first innings win for “the counties” in a rain interrupted match. The return on Parker’s Piece, however, was well worth the wait as Cambridge turned around a first innings deficit of 61 by bowling their opponents out for just 20, Fred Thackeray, student of Caius College and nephew of the provost of King’s, taking at least six wickets. They then secured the target of 82, again thanks to Thackeray with 46 not out. One report had the latter “several times..[sending the ball]..several days into next week”.
But this is about as good as it got for the next four years. The regular Town v Gown match, which for five years from 1836 meant facing “the cannon-ball velocity” of J H Kirwan was one attraction. Otherwise it was just the occasional big match against the MCC, Norfolk and Swaffham, and a few lower-key matches against the likes of Newmarket and the University Long Vacation Club.
Two years later the Club played the MCC twice, losing on the first innings away and by 64 runs at home. 1842 saw a peculiar incident as someone sent a score to Bell’s Life of the Town scoring 319 and defeating the university by five wickets. It was left to Fenner to reveal this score as a hoax, despite his having been attributed 87 not out. He wished the perptrator to be ducked. A match between Cambridge, Leicester and a third unnamed club against Nottingham also never materialised but Cambridge did play Norfolk at home, winning by eight wickets, newcomers Ringwood and Arnold backing up Fenner to bowl out Norfolk for 47 and 98. The intended return fell foul of a clash of commitments and never happened. This had been a peculiar season of matches that never were.
In 1843 instead of playing the Norwich based Norfolk club Cambridge played twice with West Norfolk club Swaffham, losing twice but clearly putting together a mostly young and promising side. Pryor, Boning, Fenner and Edwards were relative veterans but Robert Ringwood was an all-rounder currently taking wickets with impressive enthusiasm, Thackeray we have seen already, and Alfred Diver and Charles Arnold were both fast round-armers, the former the rather more accurate of the two, but both successful.
In 1841, however, the away match with MCC was preceded by a plea for funds to make the trip possible. A year later the Cambridge Chronicle was moved to say:
“We really think they [Cambridge Town] are worthy of far more energetic support than they receive from their fellow-townsmen…the funds of the club are, we know, in a very unfit state to meet the unavoidable expenses…Subscriptions from those who take an interest in cricket––and what Cambridge man does not?––would , we are sure, be exceedingly acceptable…”
With such promise on the field, but disorganisation off the field it there was inevitability about a third attempt to re-organise things proposing another “New Club”, this time to be widened to the Town and County Club “that shall do credit to Cambridgeshire”. Overall the Town Club had provided a transition between the skilled but informal Town Team of the early 30s and the winning machine that would be the Town and County Club. If nothing else it had given Frank Fenner time to hone his all-round cricketing, leadership and secretarial skills as well as once more inspiring several local clubs – the Albion, Victoria, and St Andrew the Less – to provide a larger pool of sometimes exciting talent for the new club to draw from.
1838 – Town and Gown or master and servant?
“On Monday, the Marylebone Club and Ground, with Adams and Wenman, played a match against the Gown and Town of Cambridge, with Caldecourt and Hayward.”Cambridge Independent Press, 21 July 1838
When I first discovered that four matches between 1838 and 1843 were not played, as claimed in retrospective records, by Town or University sides but by apparently joint teams I was delighted. Were these an example of Cambridge University and Town cricket swallowing their differences in order to take on a mightier, or at least more prestigious foe, in the middle of what otherwise appeared to be a story of determinedly separate development?
When put together with the appearance of several undergraduates in Town Club and Town and County Club sides there is indeed an impression of a near ten year period of conscious co-operation. What doesn’t quite fit, however, is the knowledge that by 1846 attempts were being made to set up a second private ground for the University and that after the opening of Frank Fenner’s ground in 1848 this impression of togetherness would more or less disappear. This despite Fenner’s continued position of having a foot in both camps.
On closer examination the team title given here is “Gown and Town”, not the other way round and throughout this brief series of matches the teams were heavily dominated by the University Club. In this first year only Fenner, Haggis and Boning represented the Town compared to six students. A year later the ratio was two to nine and it is no surprise that Haygarth represented this as a University side. Only in the last match was the ratio slightly reversed to 6 to 5 in favour of the Town. These were clearly different from either University or Town sides but they were not equally representative. The Town Club was a relatively young and improving side at the time and it was mostly the older ones who took part in these matches.
Such an arrangement suggests less of a co-operative venture and more a University side augmented by a handful of professionals – Cambridge University and Ground in effect, with the lateness in the University cricket season accounting for the absence of non-Cambridge pros such as Sam Redgate and Thomas Barker. The University had been employing local players since at least 1823 and, although there are no clear records, it is likely that town players were on its books at this time. Over the relevant time period the University was slightly the stronger side of the two and both clubs played the MCC independently. Neither were particularly successful in doing so whether together or not. The 1838 match was lost by an innings, with Fenner taking four wickets; in 1839 defeat was only by 25 runs, eliciting the claim:
“Had the strength of the Town and University Clubs been brought into requisition on this occasion the result would have been……widely different.”
Charles Pryor made two scores of 27, which probably led to him being included in a England side against the MCC at Lord’s later in the same season. In 1849 the defeat was by 49 runs. Kirwan and Fenner shared 13 wickets. The final match in 1843 was unfinished and low scoring, Fenner taking eleven out of the 14 MCC wickets to fall on a Lord’s ground that
“exhibited the appearance of a huge bog in a state of drainage.”
The motive behind these matches is a mystery. Since all were played at Lord’s this may have been an MCC initiative rather than a concerted attempt to pool resources. The most probable explanation is that these were more social, showpiece, events than competitive matches, with the MCC and University indulging in a bit of old fashioned master and servant ostentation. As if to emphasise this, a report of the 1840 match described it as played
“In the presence of a numerous and fashionable assemblage of spectators amongst whom were many ladies of rank in open carriages.”
There would be a similar feel to three matches against Surrey in 1857, which have since been regarded as Cambridgeshire sides. There may or may not been a spirit of co-operation at work at work in either instance, but it is clear that the University were not averse to taking their professionals along with them to strengthen their sides.
1842 – Jobs for the lads
Hon. A. Saville…
E. Hartopp Esq…
Hon. C. C. Neville…
Hon. H. A. Neville…
W. Cloves Esq…
E. Walton Esq…
J. Clayden….” Essex Standard 5 August, 1842
“CRICKET AT AUDLEY-END. The season commenced on this delightful ground on Tuesday last with a match between eleven of the Audley-end Club and eleven selected from Cambridge and Linton……..Cricket has received a fresh impulse in this neighbourhood by the kind patronage of the Braybrooke family; and too much cannot be said in praise of the remarkably fine ground at Audley-end……Arnold and Taylor were the bowlers on the part of Cambridge and Ringwood on the other side.” Cambridge Independent Press 29 April, 1843
“Ringwood was the professional employed at Audley End for many years……Ringwood was highly thought of by my family and was considered a very good bowler.” Letter by Lord Braybrooke, 1914.
Robert Ringwood made a big impact on his arrival into cricket. As William Denison put it, “he came out as a bowler”, but from the start was a capable batsman and it was that side of his game that survived best as his career progressed. In his first recorded season, 1840, Ringwood bowled out all ten wickets in the first innings for St Andrew The Less against Saffron Walden, at that time only the second known person to have achieved ten bowled wickets in an eleven-a-side innings. He had already taken six second innings wickets, again all bowled, against the University and bowled five per innings in the return with Saffron Walden. A feisty young 24-year-old opening bowler, known for his “leggers” and “peculiars”, here was a useful addition to the Cambridge round-arm attack led by Fenner.
Later in the season Ringwood was the given non-student player for an eleven of university students in residence, the predecessor of the Long Vacation Club, against a Town side. Although the latter won both matches, Robert more than played his part taking at least four wickets in the town’s only innings of the first match and scoring 45 in the second. Was this the beginning of his flirtation with the world of professional cricket, a bowler for hire?
The following year a second young Cambridge player, Alfred Diver, made his debut, this time for the Cambridge Victoria Club and played against Ringwood and the University, having to watch as Ringwood continued his brilliant start with 64 not out (following 42 against the MCC earlier in the season).
Such was Ringwood’s rapidly won reputation that the hoaxer of 1842 gave him five wickets and a score of 49. In the real Town/gown match he did not manage the runs but did take eight wickets. By the end of the season he had been joined in the Town Club side by not only Alfred Diver but also a third young fast bowler Charles Arnold.
Apart from their obvious youthful talent these three also shared a Ringwood’s wish to explore professional opportunities in the game. Earlier generations had known few opportunities to go beyond their hometown. Only Henry Page had made a small step outside by filling in for Henry Beauclerk for Biggleswade back in 1820. Otherwise the only route to wider recognition was for sides like the CCC, Cambridge Union or the Town Team of the 1830s to play more prestigious opponents. Whilst Cambridge players occasionally witnessed the likes of Fuller Pilch and William Cauldecourt hiring themselves out, for them cricket was a parochial pastime. Even Fenner, only five years older than Ringwood, had to satisfy his enthusiasm by moving to Chatteris for a few years before returning to establish himself as a Cambridge businessman. Now though, in the 1840s the world of professional cricket showed signs of opening up for those Cambridge players willing and able to take advantage. It was in 1842 that Ringwood appears to have been taken on as a regular hired hand with the new Audley End Club, just over the Cambridgeshire/Essex border near Saffron Walden.
Although the tradition of the gentry employing cricketers went back well into the previous century, the associations of the gentry with cricket had faded a little as sport in general had come under scrutiny and big money matches had gone out of fashion. Cambridge newspapers of the 1820s had reflected a concerted attempt to revive the game’s reputation using such words as “manly”, “wholesome”, and “Olympic”. Drinking and gambling at cricket matches had continued but somehow cricket began to be re-accepted. In Cambridge, which seems to have weathered threats to the game particularly well, this could have been down to the sheer numbers of cricketers in the town. This had been enough to push the Cambridge CC to its successes and to be replaced by the pub clubs and was enough now to be making a push for success on a wider stage. By the 1840s the game was becoming accepted nationally in public schools, high society and, gradually, amongst the population as a whole. Cambridge cricketers were both well placed and likely to be tempted to help this process along.
Captain Richard Neville, eldest son of Lord and Lady Braybrook, was credited with the formation of the Audley End Club, “an excellent club” according to Bell’s Life. Matches were largely society affairs, played by gentlemen and watched by ladies. The club was to continue with some success for about seven years and the opportunity to secure an engagement with it for the greater part of that time was no doubt highly valued by a young cricketer like Robert Ringwood, both for the prestige and to gain employment. The club played eight matches in this season, with Ringwood lending a hand in some of them. He was not included for a match against the St George Inn side from Cambridge, but following an early finish he and Frank Fenner were given to the Cambridge side for a single innings match. This suggests both that Fenner was also helping the new club and that Ringwood was on hand, maybe as a net bowler or coach, even when not playing. In the last match of the season, against Bishop’s Stortford, Audley End even gave him to the opposition.
Ringwood continued to play for Audley End in 1843 and again appears to have been joined by Fenner, who had already that season played for Hampshire against the MCC, scoring 29 and 20 and taking 7 wickets.
Charles Arnold was soon to follow Fenner and Ringwood to the occasional matches at Audley End but made a more definite move for himself when engaged by Bury St Edmunds Club. The Bury Club had employed professionals before, notably Fuller Pilch in the 30s, but had struggled of late. Soon the Bury and Norwich Post was acclaiming Arnold as “a great acquisition to the Bury Club, and to his services is mainly attributable their success this year”.
Alfred Diver soon followed the trend obtaining engagements at Huntingdon, Suffolk Borderers and the Auberies. Unwittingly these young cricketers were beginning a fruitful pattern for Cambridge’s up and coming talent. Over the next twenty years or so cricketers like Robert Carpenter, Fred Reynolds and George Tarrant would get their first taste of professional cricket with clubs in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk clubs before heading north to Yorkshire and Lancashire and then on to the professional touring elevens of the 50s and 60s.
Unlike Arnold and Diver, who would go on to take on club engagements around the couniry as well as playing for the touring elevens, with Diver securing a twenty-yesr post as coach with Rugby School, Ringwood’s cricket career would have stalled by 1850. Having made several important contributions to the Cambridge Town and County Club and Audley End and also appeared for Huntingdon and Wisbech, he came back to where he started for St Andrew The Less. He went on to run a cricket equipment business, with Daniel Hayward’s son as well as looking after one of the university college tents on Parker’s Piece, before becoming heavily involved in the church. In his obituary he was remembered as “rather a celebrated character [as a young man]; but becoming religious he displayed a marvellous change of life, habits and tastes.” As “a celebrated character” he was in at the start of the development of Cambridge cricketers into an impressive body of professionals as they learned their trade in the wider world of professional cricket, eventually becoming skilfully strong enough to carry a county side through the 1860s.
But before that there was the Cambridge Town and County Club.
1844 – Make way for the Cambridge Town and County Club
“This annual match came off on Parker’s Piece, on Tuesday and Wednesday last, when the admirers of this manly game must have experienced a rich treat…….a degree of science and skill was evinced on the part of the town club, which more than realized the high expectations which had been formed concerning it, and which fully warrants the boast of last year, that the Cambridge can turn out an eleven fit to compete with some of the first clubs in the kingdom.” Cambridge Independent Press, 25 May 1844.
Cambridge Town and County Club 267; Cambridge University CC 113 and 100. Cambridge T&CC won by an innings and 54 runs.
If ever there was a statement of intent by a new cricket club this was it. Diver 56, Charles Pryor 103, Fenner 17 wickets. As the Cambridge Independent Press put it, “the chief defect on the University side was their bowling”, but nonetheless this was an impressive effort by the town side. Foster and Diver put on a steady 45, before Pryor began his “enormous” innings, and with Diver, built a second wicket stand of 77. Diver batted “very prettily”, whilst Pryor
“added to his cricketing fame by most brilliant play, batting in all directions and gaining, by a series of splendid hits, the enormous score of 103.”
George Carpenter, Fenner and Winterton, who would be unlucky to lose his place to Hayward after just two matches behind the stumps, added useful runs. 267 was a formidable score.
Fenner bowled right through both University innings, partnered by Snow in the first and Ringwood and Arnold in the second. Despite Grimstone and Hoare’s efforts in both innings the bowling was described as
“…of so first-rate a character, that it was impossible to do more than was done”.
Not that the town were surprising winners. The previous year’s match had remained unfinished with scores about level and two years before that was another innings win. But the style in which they won this one was particularly emphatic. This was only the second recorded century scored by a Cambridge batsman, and the bowling attack was as fine as they had ever had or ever would have, with the experience of Fenner and Snow and youth of Ringwood and Arnold, and Diver, a late addition to the published side at the expense of Boning, not even needed.
Although it is difficult to tell the feelings of the time, in retrospect this match is highly symbolic. Here was an announcement that Cambridge Town cricket was to be taken seriously. The rest of the season would confirm that the club was no longer a shoestring operation, incapable of organising more than the odd match per season. This first match, however, shouted loud and clear that these were cricketers to be wary of. They would no longer be in the shadow of the University, which even had its practice matches listed as important in the London papers. They could stand on their own efforts and in their own right, not as humble appendages to their class superiors. There is no indication of any animosity towards the University at this time but the flamboyance with which this match was played and won was most definitely assertive.
With Sir St Vincent Cotton as president, support from other parts of the county and an enthusiastic take-up of membership subscriptions, the Cambridge Town and County Club was keen to appear as if it meant business. Some historians have referred to it as a county club, but it was only ever the Town Club on a firmer footing. Challenges would be sent to county clubs and the Swaffham and Bury Clubs appended their county names, but the general opposition was of a similar standard to previous years – Swaffham cum Norfolk, Bury and Suffolk, Bishop’s Stortford, and Audley End. In its six years of existence the Town Club had managed only 12 matches. This year the new club would play eight matches in just one season, winning six. The only defeat came in the home match with Norfolk in the second match of the season, perhaps a reaction to the excitement of the opener.
Attempts were made to improve the standard in the second season, but the old problem of not finding opponents re-emerged, with Cambridge eventually landing two matches with Gravesend, perhaps not so much a rise in standards but certainly in public profile. The clincher here was probably the arrival of the railway. Arnold came into his own as a bowler this season taking 48 wickets in five matches. Of the batsmen, Cornwell took a step forward, making 53 against Norfolk and being selected for England against 14 of Nottinghamshire, where he took 46 off the bowling of, amongst others, William Clarke. He “bids fair to be one of the ‘first stars’ of the cricketing world” said the Independent Press, providing he minded his “decorum”. William Glover said of Cornwell,
“…he knew every trick of pace, and pitch and twist, which Clarke could devise” but also “It was well understood that if you that if you engaged with Corney at any time, you must take him comments and all.”
He also led the way for his fellow pros in heading north to take up engagements with the Stockport and Manchester Victoria clubs.
With a clean sweep in 1845 this brought the new club’s tally to 11 wins out of thirteen. They had started as they intended and would continue. By the second season Daniel Hayward had moved from Chatteris to replace Winterton behind the sticks. Wicket-keeping was never going to be Cambridge or Cambridgeshire’s strong point, but Hayward was an agile fielder and more than reasonable wicket-keeper as well as a fine addition to the batting. Snow, an accurate but sometimes too bouncy bowler and the surprise success of the first season with over 50 wickets, was not one of the youngsters and seems to have succumbed to ill health, but Diver, Arnold , Ringwood and Fenner were strong enough an attack on their own, and could always call on veteran Boning for his underarm lobs. Boning was more at home with the bat and, alongside Pryor, Diver, Cornwell, Hayward, Ringwood and Fenner, who made his career best score of 82 against Swaffham, provided a formidable challenge to any visiting bowlers. This was an almost perfect blend of experience and youthful confidence. Perhaps only Diver, Fenner and Hayward would be considered top class cricketers, but the whole team had talent and worked well as a team, much like successful county sides of the present day.
As you might expect the town was abuzz with talk of cricket. The University Arms, overlooking Parker’s Piece, included cricketers on its billhead and Henry Staples Foster, a future Cambridge mayor and frequent player for the Cambridge Club, sold his porter at matches. Fenner was doing a good trade in cricket gear in direct competition with jewellers Robert Sadd and Son. Perhaps more indicative of a new mood was Israel Haggis, another regular member of the Cambridge team, moving into the New Inn on Parker’s Piece in 1841. He advertised bats “made by the most eminent makers, viz., Cobbett, Caldecourt and Dark”, balls, “newly invented light cork Leg Pads, and finger Guards” for sale, erection of marquees, bat repair and the provision of a catapulta bowling machine. He also announced that
“Lillywhite, the great Sussex bowler, is stopping at the above-named Inn, and is always ready, at the shortest notice, to wait on gentlemen, lovers of the noble game at cricket.”
The annual Barnwell Theatre presented “Sweethearts and Wives”, a favourite comedy, sponsored by Sir St Vincent Cotton and other members of the Town and County Club. The Town Club’s ambitions were, it seemed, at last being “realized”.
1846 – avoiding the hubub
“On Saturday last, in a match between the Marylebone cricket club and eleven members of the University, in a field at the back of the Town Gaol, the Earl of Stamford struck a ball clean over a building in the gaol. The height of which is 20 feet, and the distance from the wicket 240 feet.” Cambridge Independent Press, 23 May 1846.
About a week before the Town and County Club began its third season by playing the University several newspapers around the country reported this considerable feat of hitting. The gaol had had been built in 1827, overlooking Parker’s Piece, replacing King’s College Chapel as the backdrop of choice for cricket pictures on the Piece. The cricket ball in question, however, had not been hit from Parker’s Piece but from a field on the other side of the gaol, leased to Lords Burghley and Stamford, two wealthy undergraduates who appear to have disliked the public nature of Parker’s Piece. They had taken things into their own hands, hiring William Lillywhite, perhaps approaching him at Israel Haggis’s New Inn, to lay out a cricket ground for their private use. Two years later the same field would be enhanced by a second and become Fenner’s Ground, when the University Cricket Club decided to follow Burghley’s and Stamford’s example.
This match was in fact the third ever match, not of the MCC but of the I Zingari, a wandering amateur club co-founded by Fred Ponsonby, later Lord Bessborough, a former cricketer for the University. Their opponents were described in one report at least as “The Earl of Stamford’s and Lord Burghley’s Club”, which won by 76 runs.
Just five matches over two seasons were played on the original field. Burghley’s and Stamford’s Eleven played one more match, with the help of John Wisden, against Haileybury College (with Samuel Redgate). The two Lords were the elite of the elite, – Fellow-Commoners – who had privileges within the University as well as in society at large. Accordingly they had the money to lease a ground, have it prepared professionally and hire professionals for matches. They also had the contacts to arrange matches with the likes of I Zingari and Haileybury College.
Israel Haggis, a stalwart of the Town and County Club, would appear to have laid out the ground for its second season, by which time T M Townley and Lord Fitzwilliam had taken it on, Stamford having more serious matters to contend with like marrying a Cambridge shoemaker’s daughter. A “well known cricketer” was purported to be the ground’s manager. The two main matches were lower key affairs including several professionals. Eight Gentlemen with Tom Barker, Samuel Dakin and Alfred Diver playing a side of bowlers and the Hon C W Fitzwilliam’s Ten with Henry Cornwell and James Lillywhite played E MacNiven’s Ten, which included John Lillywhite, Fred Bell, Joseph Guy, Alfred Diver, John Wisden, Israel Haggis and Tom Parmenter. A third match involved two local school sides, which had formerly used Parker’s Piece.
This was not complete separation from the Town’s cricketers, then, but it was an intimation that the recent spirit of co-operation shown by the likes of O C Pell and A M Hoare in playing for the Town and County Club was not shared by all. Stamford, in fact, was “one of the leading men” in some particularly aggressive Town/Gown riots in 1846, so he was certainly prepared to stir up trouble with townsmen, but this joint land venture with Burghley seems to have been a more subtle gesture designed to gain some space from the general public.
Nevertheless the long-standing feud between sections of the University and Town and the animosity shown in 1820 between Cambridge Cricket Club player Stearn and the University Club, was clearly still present and would re-emerge in the future. That Fenner, who appears to have wanted to make use of the Town/Gown connection for the Town Club’s benefit, should be a party to such a divisive move as setting up a private ground for the University shows either extreme pragmatism or simply bad judgement. For the present, though, he was still leading the Town and County Club from victory to victory and the goings on in a field behind the gaol were probably paid very little heed.
1846 – Cambridge against England
“CAMBRIDGE (WITH BOX AND HILLYER) VERSUS ENGLAND
This match commenced on Monday [14th September] at Cambridge, and the public, we think, are much indebted to those who, immediately upon the match being proposed, set about with all possible zeal to promote it, and who determined to leave nothing undone that could in any way enhance its interest, at once secured the assistance of the most polished artistes of the day. Kent furnished her lions– “Alfred the Great,” the renowned Fuller Pilch, and the incomparable Hillyer, Sussex sent forth the nonpareil Taylor, Box (the prince of wicket-keepers), and the hard-working, ever-tough, yet malleable “Jemmy Dean.” Surrey assisted in the grouping, finding able representatives in the fearless Ponsonby and the cautious Hoare, while the elite of the town of Cambridge and University furnished names familiar to the whole cricketing world, and whose place in the cricket scale is with the choicest of the day, thus completing a list over which the most fastidious would chuckle as the time neared for the development of their excellence.” Bell’s Life In London, 20 Sept 1846.
“…a dashing hit from Arnold, working its way through the field, terminated the match amid such a chaos of joy as we never before witnessed. It is absolutely impossible to depict the excitement which prevailed for many minutes. Old men were transformed into young ones, cripples were made sound and active by the electrical effect of victory, and nothing but congratulations could be heard above the mighty din of the joyous population.” Cambridge Independent Press, 19 September 1846.
“The feeling towards Arnold, too, for his successful exertions was so great, that he was met in his passage from the wicket, and literally carried off the ground in triumph.” Cambridge Chronicle, 19 Sept 1846.
The season of 1845 had proved a struggle to fill with matches of the desired level. The Club was determined not to avoid a repeat.
“The ensuing season is anticipated to be superior to any that has preceded it in the high character of its matches.”
The season began auspiciously with the donation of a “most excellent and powerful roller” by James Packe, Vice-Provost of King’s College. Home and away matches with Norfolk, Gravesend and Royston were agreed early on and a challenge was issued through the pages of Bell’s Life to “any county in England”. Nothing seems to have come of that challenge nor of plans to play a joint Oxford and Cambridge University side and a Suffolk side (with Alfred Mynn and Fuller Pilch). Eventually, on the 5th September, following another addition to the season – a drawn match with Essex club the Auberies – an announcement appeared in the Cambridge press.
“The most interesting match ever played at Cambridge has just been arranged to come of on Parker’s Piece.”
In failing to find opponents from existing clubs the Town and County Club had come up with an exhibition match of the highest quality. In one way this match reflected the sort Fenner had already been involved in at the Canterbury Festival playing for England against Kent in 1842, but also had about it something of William Clarke’s All England Eleven matches. The first of these, against Eighteen of Sheffield had been played at the end of August. In fact Dean, Pilch, Mynn and Hillyer had all played for Clarke’s Eleven as recently as the 9th September, before appearing in this match. This was the local champions pitched against a sample of England’s best. Admittedly it was heavily supplemented by Cambridge University’s A M Hoare, O C Pell, R T King, J M Lee and W Sykes. The first four of these had been a key part of the Town and County side this season and, though no mean players, did not have the reputation of Pilch and company. Neither did A K George who had played for the I Zingari in the first match on Lord Burghley’s ground and quite regularly for the MCC. Nevertheless this was the highest profile team to have ever played a Cambridgeshire club or to appear on Parker’s Piece.
Whilst the absence of the students weakened the Cambridge side, in the true fashion of the All England matches it was sufficiently bolstered by the addition of two outside professionals – Thomas Box, who presumably kept wicket in place of Hayward, and William Hillyer – to make for an even game. The remainder of the Cambridge side were regulars, with only Cornwell missing due to injury. Perhaps most tellingly the London papers treated this as a “great” match, a tribute they would not generally pay to Clarke’s All England matches.
On the first day the Gents of England made 103 led by Fred Ponsonby with 25, Arnold taking six wickets. His wicket-taking balls were variously described as “an ugly one”, “shot like lightning”, “one of Arnold’s fast-uns, and “a ripper”. In a relatively low-scoring match Cambridge replied with 75, with Boning and Box the only ones to get into double figures, making 17 and 26 respectively, Dean and Mynn sharing the wickets. On the following morning, with the odds of 2 to 1 and 7 to 4 on England, Arnold and Hillyer again shared the bowling and took five wickets each, leaving Cambridge 88 to win. Hayward and Box gave Cambridge a chance with a top order 17 and 19 respectively, but wickets fell steadily to Dean and Mynn until Arnold came in at number nine and “began with a quaintness not particularly graceful, but perhaps under the circumstances, safe”. When last man Haggis came in the deficit was reduced to just six, which Arnold completed with a four. His eleven wickets and 13 not out ensured his being carried from the ground. This was easily the peak of the Cambridge Town and County Club so far. Not only was this a “Great Match” featuring major stars but Cambridge had won it.
The 1846 season had been a decided success. Five wins, one draw and a home defeat to Gravesend in the absence of Diver and Arnold. The next season, which was always likely to struggle to compete with its predecessor was interrupted by disputes, cancelled matches and the inauguration of Prince Albert as the Chancellor of the University. Just three wins from six was a dip in results but the side was still producing great performances. Diver took twelve wickets and Ringwood made 60 against the Auberies and Cornwell again showed his mastery of William Clarke’s bowling in the two matches against the MCC, with innings of 35 and 61.
Although there were signs that money was harder to raise, with increasing mounts of subscriptions owing, the aim of securing interesting matches was still being met by playing the MCC, the Auberies and Gravesend. Just as encouraging were the signs of new players coming through like Fred Bell, who debuted in 1846 and Billy Buttress who was on the verge of breaking into the Town team within the next twelve months. .Daniel and Thomas Hayward and Robert Carpenter were already learning their trade on Parker’s Piece. The future for Cambridge Town and County Club and accordingly town and county cricket looked bright.
The town was in suitably celebratory mood. The theatre in both 1846 and ’47 not only had performances sponsored by the cricketers but also turned its stage into a cricket ground in order to pay tribute to the cricketers in person.
“The great attraction of the evening was the scene, after the play, in which, seated at the festive board, we beheld our victorious “Jolly cricketers,” arrayed in their cricketing attire,……A tent covered the stage—the wickets were pitched—the bats that had done the mischief of the season stood proudly by the “timbers,” and the crimson ball lay listlessly near……”Fenner, Fenner” was the cry……Mr Clarance then sang “The Jolly Cricketers,” which was encored…
We are all cricketers, cricketers, cricketers,
We are all cricketers when e’er we choose to play:
To prove that we are cricketers I’ll try to do in rhyme,
That is, if you’ll but give me your attention, patience, time:
This life is but a Cricket-match, in which we’re doomed to play,
For we’re “hit,” and “tossed,” and “bowl’d,” and stumped,” just as fortune may….”
Nor did the celebrations stop there as over the winter months Nicholas Felix, cricketer and painter, was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Town and University teams. The Cambridge Town and County Club was the toast of the town.
1847 – Two of a kind?
(see top of home page for the picture)
“The first annual meeting of the Town and County Club for the present season……Amongst the members elected was one of marked celebrity in the cricketing world, N. Felix, Esq. whose name called forth a round of applause. The public, perhaps, are not aware that this gentleman (who is also celebrated as an artist) has lately been engaged taking the likenesses of the most eminent of our town and University players, the whole of which, numbering about six and twenty, are very beautifully grouped, and will form, when completed in one picture, a delightful memento and Cambridge ‘cricketer’s companion’.” Cambridge Chronicle, 1 April 1848.
Entitled “The Town and University of Cambridge” and begun during 1847, this was the earliest group portrait of a town or university cricket club, and only the second of any cricket team, to my knowledge, the first being Felix’s portrait of Clarke’s “Eleven of England”, painted the same year.
This is a picture of two clubs that had arrived in the national consciousness, at least in cricket circles, although their journeys had been rather different. It would have made little sense to depict one or other of these Cambridge sides alone as both had claims to fame and were two clubs whose futures looked bright.
Due to a combination of factors such as leisure-friendly working hours and the annual presence of student cricketers to emulate, the town of Cambridge had gradually, over a period of one hundred years, accumulated an impressive body of above average cricketers. The Cambridge Cricket Club and the pub clubs had shown the first fruits of this process but over the last four years the Cambridge Town and County Club had gone further than either, establishing itself high in the ranks of the national game. It’s record so far was 19 wins out of 26 matches and included victories over a Gentlemen of England side, the MCC, Gravesend, and the Auberies, with much talk of matches planned with the likes of Nottinghamshire, Surrey and Sussex.
The University Club had similarly evolved out of many years of development, honing the game first in the privacy of university life and later in the more public arenas of Parker’s Piece and their own ground off Mill Road. Since the first Oxford v Cambridge Universities match of 1827 at Lord’s, however, a socio-cricket alliance of considerable influence had been forged. The by now annual match was held at Lord’s more often than not and was becoming an accepted fixture in high society’s social calendar. Even practice matches, such as this season’s match between O C Pell’s and R Seddon’s elevens back in April, were given the full score treatment in Bell’s Life, a London paper, and included as important matches in end of season reviews. The continuous turnover of team members made for an inbuilt inconsistency and difficulty in developing a team the way the town clubs had, but direct links with public schools like Eton, Harrow and Rugby, meant it was rarely short of experienced cricketers. Some like C G Taylor and J H Kirwan were especially so. This season its record was good with wins over the Town and County Club, Clapton, the MCC and Oxford University, although it would take a few more years before it secured a more ambitious fixture list.
Both clubs, then, were well respected and here are their likenesses to be preserved for posterity. Although this picture is more cluttered, looks less finished, and evokes less of the players’ individual characters than Felix’s England Eleven picture, this is still an important historical document and there is plenty to take from it.
There are no definite clues as to where the picture is set, but there are some hints. The trees suggest a field, park or common, but the lack of buildings, either the gaol or houses that by then lined much of the surrounding roads or the iconic King’s College Chapel that dominated the North Easterly skyline, makes Parker’s Piece seem unlikely. The most convincing evidence is the presence, proprietarily overlooking the cricketers from horseback, of Thomas Townley and Lord Fitzwilliam, the most recent “occupants” of the ground originally leased by Lords Burghley and Stamford behind the Town Gaol. Nothing very certain, then, but this could be a picture of the two clubs’ personnel standing in the private cricket ground, a prescient choice if so given future events. Equally the setting could be purely generic.
The great wonder
Partly because he is in the foreground and partly because his portrait seems to have been given more attention, the dominant image is of John Crouch, seated far left with his right arm resting on a small circular table, implying possibly that his portrait was sketched indoors. He looks appropriately imposing, given his day job as Yeoman Bedell – a lay official assisting the University’s vice-chancellor in, amongst other tasks, collecting license fees from local inns and market traders and acting as the University’s Crier. The prominence of his portrait might also suggest that he had a hand in commissioning this picture. A veteran of the Union, Hoop, Chesterton and the Royal George Inn Clubs and of late an umpire and Town and County Club committee member, Crouch’s presence and cricket ability were neatly summed in the description:
“a great wonder for his skill with the willow.”
Young, skilled and dangerous
Behind Crouch stand the town’s Charles Arnold, Henry Cornwell and Alfred Diver, each young, skilled and dangerous, although only Cornwell is fully visible“. A six foot one tall, broad shouldered man, from this portrait it is easy to imagine the latter being a handful at the crease, especially against slow under-arm bowling. It is also easy to see why Glover thought opponents wise not to take him on at chat “in the choicest English” and also why he was a good longstop, presumably able to cover ground quickly and return the ball hard and fast. “Ducky” Diver’s cautious accuracy and Arnold’s lethal but sometimes wayward pace are not even hinted at, however, and it is left to Cornwell, called the “Black Diamond” for reasons that are not immediately apparent, to embody their youthful threat.
The Walkers of Southgate
Next to Diver stands John Walker. Both he and brother Alfred look the epitome of the amateur cricketer, John tall and elegant, his brother “trying a fair fall upon the grass” after the manner of the students of 1710. They were members of the Walker family of Southgate, who would become famous for hosting mostly all-amateur cricket matches and for being instrumental in founding the Middlesex County Cricket Club. John, a 21-year-old middle-order right-hand bat, would make a first-class highest score of 98 whilst Alfred, a fast underarm bowler, had taken nine wickets in this season’s Town and Gown match.
Hero on another field
Next in line comes James Leith, better known for receiving the Victoria Cross for bravery in India than for his cricket. An 1858 picture of him in military uniform shows him off to far better effect than the rather anonymous portrait here. Elphinstone Barchard, to Leith’s left, is barely visible, peeping over the shoulders of Leith and Lord Burghley, and his cricket career may have been similar, sharing a highest score of 43 with Leith in a first-class career that lasted just two years.
Lord Burghley – William Alleyne-Cecil – posing in a silk shirt with right hand on hip, is clearly visible, which is how I surmise he would have wanted it. He seems to have had something of an eye for the great occasion, perhaps appropriately so for a direct descendent of William Cecil, chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth the First. A fellow-commoner at the university and president of the Pitt Club, Burghley had only a short first-class cricket career before going into politics. This season he had chosen his matches well, making his career top first-class score of 45 in the Varsity match, despite not having played for the university in any other matches that season. A tribute paid to him by the Stamford Mercury this season credited him with 245 runs in ten matches, adding:
“This nobleman has shown his love of cricket by the pains he has taken in making himself proficient, having practised against nearly all the best bowlers in England: the consequence is that he has become a first-rate batsman.”
Bound for Australia
The final three members of this first group are Richard Seddons, William Hammersley and Edward Macniven. 22-year-old Seddons, a captain in the early season practice match, had batted fairly regularly if not that prolifically, for the last two seasons but his last recognised first-class match was the Varsity match this year. He is tucked in on the back row. Macniven, described by Haygarth as a very powerful man, had a reputation as a hard-hitting batsman as well as successful oarsman. Here his silk shirt matches Burghley’s, giving his appearance a certain grandeur as does his confident looking pose.
William Hammersley, however, was to become an altogether more remembered cricketer, mover and shaker, and journalist, in Australian cricket at least. At the beginning of a 34-match first-class career that would conclude for Victoria after emigration to Australia, it could be argued that he fully deserved his full portrait here. Once in Australia Hammersley would join Melbourne Cricket Club, top the batting and bowling averages, captain the Victoria state team, help establish Australian rules football and exercise considerable influence writing under the pen-name of “Longstop”.
Fenner in the middle
The second group of figures begins with Town and County Club captain, secretary, batsman, bowler, slip-fielder and businessman Francis Philips Fenner, with bat in hand, forming the centrepiece of the picture with R T King the current captain of the undergraduates despite the viewer’s eye being led to the better drawn non-playing figures. Both look in suitably commanding form, this being the best portrait of three known of Fenner. A contemporary painting by W Drummond and C J Basebe of a fictional match between Sussex and Kent showed him as one of the great and good of cricket. Here he looks more like a cricketer and the Victorian all rounder that he was, if perhaps a little taller than his actual five foot ten inches.
Robert Turner King was one of at least eight students to have played for the Town and County Club, an important factor in the club’s ability to field a regular team. Six are featured in this picture – Hammersley, King, Lee, Hoare, Pell and Townley. King was described as a “fine forcing batsman” and a “rather fast” round-arm bowler but is here shown practically standing to attention. In 1849 he would make the highest individual score in the Varsity match to that date – 92 – and would go on to make a century for Leicestershire. Looking over King’s shoulder is John Morley Lee, right-handed bat and medium fast round-arm bowler, whose top score for the Town and County was 36 not out and for the university 110, which he would make against the Gentlemen of Kent in 1848. His best bowling of 12 wickets in a match had come in this season for the University v MCC. Arthur Malortie Hoare, standing next to King, is the only player to be shown in a top hat, maybe an acknowledgement that he was currently a Town Club committee member. As a batsman he was known for his cool defence. His top first-class score would be 59 for Surrey. Next along in the front row is Oliver Claude Pell looking similar but somewhat blander than in the England Eleven picture. His record for the Town and County was not exceptional, but by now he had played for Clarke’s England Eleven and made his highest first-class score of 54 for the Gents of England v Gents of Kent in 1846. All four of these students had played for the Gents v Players. For the Town Club their main contributions were probably a youthful athleticism, each being useful fielders, especially King at point, and their already wider experience of the game.
Almost hidden behind Fenner and Lee is Edmund Blayds, seemingly best known for later changing his name to Calverley, but as Blayds a regular for the University for four years from 1846, making his top first-class score of 30 for the University against the MCC early in his career.
Between King and Hoare can just be seen 32-year-old Charles Pryor, brazier, scorer of 103 in the 1844 Town Gown match and long serving town cricketer, first for Mr Johnson’s school in 1826 and later for the Castle, Chesterton, Town and now the Town and County Club. At his best a “lively hitter” he was also valued for his fielding:
“Still Pryor, nimble as a roe
To see him pick her up and throw
Must please all jolly cricketers”
Pryor would appear to be looking straight at the 17-year-old Fred Bell, who can also just be seen possibly returning his gaze from between Hoare and Pell. Frederick Bell had debuted the previous year and would go on to follow the lead of Arnold and Diver in playing for the United England Eleven and Cambridgeshire as well as taking up various engagements including coaching at Eton and for Queen Victoria’s sons.
Boning or Felix?
We are told by captions to various prints that the figure shown with knee bent, bat jauntily placed on his shoulder and completing the second group is 42-year-old veteran and college servant John Boning. Gerald Brodribb, however, assumed it to be a self-portrait of Felix as his portrait in the Eleven of England picture has a strikingly similar face and hat. Given Boning’s importance to the town team it would have been odd to leave him out of the picture and one possibility is that he was not available for a sketch to be made and Felix used his own portrait as a model. Boning had been playing since the Cambridge Cricket Club days and, despite his age, was a key part of the Town and County Club side, generally opening. He carried his bat for 37 against Gravesend in 1846. Use was also made of his slow under-arm “twisters” as a back up for the main attack. By the end of his career he had scored over 1,500 runs, taken over 100 wickets and taken 70 catches fielding usually at point.
First of a dynasty
The last group is a mixture of players and officials, the first being batsman, wicket keeper and gardener Daniel Hayward whose bushy hair seems to belie his 39 years. Now living in Cambridge, he had played for Mitcham, Chatteris, Cambridge and Surrey and by now his two sons, Daniel junior and Thomas, were preparing for their own careers in the game.
Dressed for the occasion
Next comes Charles Browne, editor of the Cambridge Chronicle and Town Club Committee member. As with Crouch he is portrayed in greater detail than most figures in this picture, suggesting that his portrait was completed more fully or that he was seen as important, given his local standing. Two along from Browne in the front row is David Bush Edwards, a stalwart of Cambridge Town cricket for many years but now an umpire. Oddly his clothes are also well delineated but his face has either faded or was never properly finished.
The brewer, ironmonger and parish clerk
Behind Browne is an apparently greying Henry Staples Foster, unusually for home grown Town cricketers given the suffix Esq. A local brewer and future mayor of Cambridge he was highly praised in match reports despite relatively modest contributions. Next in line is the Town’s other keeper, Charles Winterton, ironmonger, looking like a giant compared to his replacement Hayward. He was selected occasionally as a lower order bat and fast bowler, but is still a slightly surprising inclusion in this picture.
Barely squeezed in behind Winterton is Robert Ringwood, on his day a sensational bowler and batsman and an important part of the Town team, who is at least given a distinctive face, possibly bearded. Unbeknown to him at this time Ringwood shared an aspect of his future with several of the students in this picture such as King, Seddons and Hoare. In a few years time, when they had become ordained ministers of the church, he would begin a lengthy career serving the church as sexton and parish clerk.
P C Robinson
The last of this third standing group is a heavily bewhiskered gentleman in what appears on close scrutiny to be a policeman’s uniform. This is police constable William Robinson at this time the security on match days, ensuring spectators stayed in the ring on Parker’s Piece and occasionally removing troublemakers to the nearby police station. He played a little cricket himself and would become a very public supporter of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire cricket for many years alongside his rise to the level of Chief Constable. Original captions acknowledged him simply as “Robinson”. In his obituary he would be described as a hero of the same Town/Gown riots in which Lord Stamford had played his part, although Robinson’s heroism consisted simply of being knocked to the ground.
The picture is completed by Thomas Manners Townley, student and son of local M P and vice-president of the Town and County Club G M Townley, and Lord Charles William Wentworth Fitzwilliam surveying the scene from horseback. Apart from giving us a clue as to the setting, their presence here seems to be to give the whole group a stamp of authority. Neither apper to have contributed much as players.
This is a fascinating picture in various ways. Compared to the England Eleven portrait it attempts what would now be seen as a more conventional group portrait, but, with thirty figures is more cluttered and in places looked unfinished, probably reflecting the upheaval in Cambridge cricket that would occur while the picture was in progress. More than anything, however, it places the university and town together in a manner that reflects the awkwardness of Town/Gown relations of the time. Here are two teams presented as equals despite the fact that most of the Town cricketers were employed at some time as professionals for the university club. College servants Arnold, Cornwell and Crouch (and probably Diver) are next to but somehow disconnected from the eight students in the first group. Pryor and Bell seem to be conducting their own relationship behind their student team-mates in group two. The group of players and officials in group three are directly overlooked by Townley and Fitzwilliam. That they are possibly shown on the students’ private ground again puts the emphasis, wittingly or not, on the complications of the two clubs’ coexistence. There is, indeed much to glean from this picture.
1847 – Hard times in old Cambridge
“WHEREAS, a Petition of DANIEL HAYWARD, at present residing at No 14 Mill Road, in the town of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, instructor in the game of cricket……..an insolvent debtor, having been filed in the county Court of Cambridgeshire, at Cambridge, and an interim order for Protection from Process having been given to the said Daniel Hayward……
……All persons indebted to the said Daniel Hayward, or who have any of his Effects, are not to pay or deliver the same but to THOMAS JOHN BARSTOW, Esquire, Clerk of the said Court.” Cambridge Independent Press, 9 October 1847.
“In the Cambridge Borough Police Court on Monday last, the notorious Henry, alias ‘Baffy’ Cornwell, was placed at the bar, charged ……..with having stolen a Bill of Exchange.” Cambridge Independent Press, 19 January 1850.
“In re CROUCH ––……The final order of the Insolvent was then granted on condition of the insolvent’s paying into Court the sum of £10 per annum for five years” Cambridge Independent Press, 2 August 1851.
“Mr Israel Haggis, of Cambridge, applied for articles of peace against Sarah, his wife. The ground of the application was, that on that morning (6th), in the fair at Fletton, Mrs H had, without much ado, struck Israel on the back of his pate with a hammer, and had furthermore threatened to murder him then and there.” Cambridge Independent Press, 17 October 1846
Economic depression hits Cambridge
As far as results were concerned Cambridge Town and County Club was going well in 1847. Off field, however, life in early Victorian Cambridge had its downsides. Money, for example, was getting a little harder to raise, with the amount of unpaid subscriptions mounting each year.
“RECEIPTS, 1846 £. s. d.
Gross receipts up to November 30th…………………154 12 0
Uncollected Subscriptions……………………… 42 19 0”
This may have been due to the honeymoon of enthusiasm for the cricket club having subsided or may have been part of an economic depression that afflicted Cambridge and surrounding areas in the immediate wake of the arrival of the railway in 1845. Until then the core of the town’s trade had come up the river from King’s Lynn. The railway quickly provided an alternative trade route and is said to have completely altered the balance of fenland trade, bringing local unemployment and consequent distress for a few years.
For many years the town had been small and overcrowded with slums and poor public hygiene making parts of it decidedly unpleasant to live in. Enclosure came late to Cambridge and the town had been surrounded by open fields. Since the turn of century, however, some of land had become available to build on, but even then corruption in local politics had often determined who sold what to whom. Not until the arrival of the railway was there a wider expansion of property to meet the needs of an increasing population. Thus Cambridge, like most other towns had its share of poverty, and, with it, ill health and crime.
Cricketers under pressure
For whatever reason, there were pressures for Cambridge cricketers to cope with other than those met on the field of play. Although most of them were recognised as professionals, Henry Foster being the principle exception, there was no living to be gained from playing the game for Cambridge Town and County Club. It is hard to see from remaining Club accounts whether or not they were paid anything more than expenses. Some, like Ringwood, Diver and Arnold had sought security of a kind through professional engagements with other clubs. Others like Pryor, a brazier, and Boning, a college servant, had stable employment.
For others, however, it might mean living in a world of financial uncertainty and even a low level of casual violence and even higher social status and income might still be undermined through poor judgement or fortune. Three of the townsmen featured in Felix’s picture would, over the next few years, experience hardships that must have seemed a world away on that September day in 1846 when the Town and County Club beat the Gentlemen of England and were the toast of the town. John Crouch and Daniel Hayward would both face insolvency hearings while Henry Cornwell would be charged with theft and assault and be part of the town’s corrupt political culture of organised intimidation. A fourth player, Israel Haggis, would succumb to cholera following a life of minor controversy including poverty, violence and marital conflict. All would have a struggle to stay out of difficulty. Thus the private circumstances of some of the players were in stark contrast to the apparent glamour of playing public matches against famous opponents. Even Frank Fenner, an apparently successful tobacconist, would be moved to give himself the security of a business deal with the university by the end of the winter.
Daniel Hayward – cricketer, gardener and insolvent
On 9th October 1847 an insolvency petition notice relating to Daniel Hayward appeared in the Cambridge Independent Press. Hayward was described as “an instructor in the game of cricket, and occasionally a journeyman gardener”. This notice provides interesting background to Hayward’s arrival in Cambridge in 1844. It appears that directly beforehand he had been living in Newmarket for six months as a cricket instructor and gardener and before that in Bedford for three months, unemployed. Prior to Bedford, Hayward spent three years running the Three Tons public house and gardening in St Ives, playing briefly for St Ives Cricket Club. Curiously their children were not recorded as living with Daniel and Elizabeth in the 1841 census. We already know that he moved to Chatteris from Mitcham in Surrey in about 1830, so in 20 years he had lived in six different towns, had three professions and who knows how many jobs. It is interesting to muse on exactly how a cricket instructor made a living. Did he hire his services out to bowl at young men on Parker’s Piece? Did he operate more like private tutor for the wealthy? Ringwood, Arnold and Diver almost certainly coached club members as well as being a star player. The latter seems like the most lucrative option. The professionals engaged by the University, of course, coached without the glamorous match-saving opportunities.
Hayward’s debt in 1847 had been £147 8s, now worth about £16,000, but was reduced to £20, still the equivalent of over £2,000. Hayward claimed he had no means of paying the debt and had been unable to pay an agreed £1 a month, the equivalent of £110 today or over two months’ salary for a labourer at the time. In the subsequent court appearance the judge described this as a gross case and adjourned it “sine dei” – indefinitely.
Given that Hayward was a gardener and had known Fenner for many years it would have been surprising had he not been involved in the preparation of Fenner’s new ground, but it is unlikely that either gardener’s wages or the number of gardening opportunities in Cambridge were high. Even with seasonal employment as a professional for the University Club he would have been pushed to make a living for himself, let alone for a wife and 5 children.
He continued to play cricket over the next few years, but died in July 1852, probably before seeing the full flowering of sons Daniel junior and Thomas as gifted cricketers. Ten years later, in the 1861 census, when young men would seem to be queuing up to be regarded as professional cricketers, Elizabeth Hayward would describe herself as a gardener’s widow. Clearly Daniel had been born too early to make a living out of cricket alone and whilst there is little known detail in his story he would appear to have been simply a victim of poverty and insecurity.
Israel Haggis – in the news
Israel Haggis also lived a life on the edge of hardship, but we have more detail in his case. In August 1849 he was reported to have “paid his last debt”, having succumbed to cholera at Audley End Fair after ignoring pleas not to eat a suspect piece of salmon.
Haggis was a reasonable cricketer, but featured in the newspapers for other reasons almost as often, generally relating to his taking a dance booth and selling beer at fairs, running pubs or his stormy marriage.
The first mention of his trading at fairs was in 1836 when he was convicted of selling spirits without a license at Stourbridge Fair. He continued to trade at fairs and markets throughout his life, even turning up with his band at cricket matches such as Ramsey v Chatteris in 1848.
He and his wife Sarah lived out a very public relationship, with him announcing her absconding in 1843 and several reports of minor assaults and thefts at the hands of her and her friends. Generally he was more offended against than offending, suffering various thefts and assaults such as being held up at gunpoint by a student in 1841, having cricket bats and balls stolen from a tent on Parker‘s Piece that he was minding for St John‘s College and being assaulted with broken beer glasses.
Following being landlord of first the Flower-pot pub and then the Six Bells Haggis took over the New Inn on Parker’s Piece in 1844. This appears to have been a bid for an improved reputation, as he advertised cricket equipment for sale, the erection of tents and the use of a catapulta bowling machine as well as boasting of playing host to William Lillywhite the noted professional cricketer, currently helping the Town and County Club. In 1845 he was in the news again, vouching for pedestrian Alabaster, in his record walk of 1,000 miles and 1,000 furlongs in 1,000 continuous hours, on Parker’s Piece.
By 1847, however, Haggis was in considerable debt and was declared insolvent, spending a short time in debtors’ prison. Even his death at Audley End Fair in 1849, at the age of 38 years, was subject to an inquest, it being judged that he had been unwisely moved back to Cambridge. His new partner was also said to be seriously ill. Sarah, meanwhile immediately disputed his possessions.
Israel Haggis certainly had a good eye for publicity, but seems to have attracted it despite himself as he struggled to make ends meet and construct a “respectable” life.
Henry “Baffy” Cornwell – the Tory bully
Unlike Hayward and Haggis, Henry Cornwell does not appear to have had regular employment. Glover described him as a gypsy due to his occasional employment as a tent minder for the colleges and there is reference to his selling beer at fairs, but neither of these occupations was regular or secure. He was certainly free enough to travel to Manchester and Nottingham to play cricket and, like Hayward, he moved around the country a bit.
In 1848 Cornwell’s wife Phoebe was assaulted and robbed while landlady of the Guy Earl of Warwick pub. In January 1850 Henry, described as “the notorious Henry, alias ‘Baffy’ Cornwell”, appeared in court charged with stealing bills of exchange from a student in an apparent scam to pay off personal debts. Despite being at the peak of his powers, he would not appear in cricket reports again. He did, however, remain in Cambridge at least until 1854 in his role as “Baffy “ Cornwell the Tory “bully”, appearing in several newspaper items about local politics as he organised mobs to support Tory rallies and processions as well as being convicted of burglary. He appears to have worked for C E Brown’s successor as proprietor of the Cambridge Chronicle, Naylor, who was named in the 1853 commission into corrupt election practices in Cambridge as organising illegal payments to voters. Cornwell was referred to as an enforcer on several occasions during the commission’s proceedings.
Said to have been “well known to the police in London” Henry and Phoebe moved there and died in Tower Hamlets within a few months of each other in 1869. It may have been Henry that was reportred in 1865 to have accidentally shot a man in Clerkenwell while working at a brickworks.
Cornwell’s cricket and political careers seem to have been kept separate. Glover, for example, referred to him in very affectionate terms, implying a maverick character but making no mention of violence. Nevertheless the potential for conflicting interests between team mates is intriguing. Cornwell and C E Brown were political allies, the former going on to organise a mob in support of Brown in municipal elections, while Henry Staples Foster, often playing alongside Cornwell, was firmly on the Liberal side of politics. It would appear that due to political irregularities being such a regular part of Cambridge life Cornwell was able to involve himself in organised violence and escape both the attention of law and the worst effects of poverty.
John Crouch – respectable insecurity
John Crouch’s story was less about poverty as he had some status in Cambridge and, as Yeoman Bedell for twenty years and Curator of the Philosophical Society, had a regular income for most of his life.
He was not, however, immune from debt and accumulated a sizeable one before his insolvency hearing in 1851, during the course of which he lost his curator post and the £60 a year that went with it, thus reducing his annual income by half. His debts of well over £400 had partly accrued due to his helping out friends and some of the claims on him were withdrawn, but he was still ordered to pay the court £10, roughly the equivalent of £1100 today, per year for five years.
He would be popular enough a man to inspire a newspaper appeal on his behalf when he later lost more of his income due to the University losing its powers to license pub and market stalls. The University would respond by awarding him an annual stipend of £25. Crouch, however, was able to deal with some of his own debtors when he pursued other members of Chesterton CC through the courts to get back some of the debt he had been sued for as a representative of that club. This and the insolvency proceedings both suggest that Crouch regarded himself as financially responsible, several of his debts stemming from acting on others’ behalves. Here was an apparently successful man who still experienced hard times.
Also mentioned in incidents involving the above were Alfred Hutt and Henry Morgan. Hutt was an employee of Israel and associate of Sarah Haggis who was said to be assisted by Henry’s brother Edward Cornwell in “attending the cricket players on Parker’s Piece”, perhaps as forerunners of the “seedy professionals on Parker’s Piece” later recalled by W J Ford. Henry Morgan is a mystery. He described himself as a cricketer when in court on an assault charge but is not evident in match reports and the only other Morgan I have come across with links to cricketers is a John Morgan, another of the local Tories’ “bullies” alongside Henry Cornwell. Edward Cornwell had his own runs in with the law, including, in 1854, a conviction of assaulting a p.c. Gravestock who had entered Cornwell’s house looking for Henry. He was fined ten shillings plus expenses (or a month’s hard labour). A theme that comes through these stories is that of the professionals engaged in the game at different levels. Hutt and Morgan suggest a possible link with the town’s underworld in the sense that cricket provided casual employment and maybe provided a dignified cover.
A newcomer to Cambridge cricket at this time – Billy Buttress – was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in 1848, the first of many occasions in which drink would get the better of him throughout his career. He belongs to a later part of our story but shows the continuity of personal struggles throughout the game’s various stages of development in Cambridgeshire.
All these stories illustrate the impossibility for most cricketers of making a profession out of the game at this time. Instead they had to find what other opportunities they could in order to earn a living, preferably ones with enough free time to play cricket, in a time of considerable economic insecurity for many. Not all were able to do this. The other message here, of course is that cricket was not necessarily central to the player’s lives. Despite their being considered professionals, Cambridge’s cricketers almost certainly had motives for playing other than financial – local celebrity, comradeship, competition and maybe the chance to escape from the trials of real life. A newcomer to Cambridge cricket at this time – Billy Buttress was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in 1848, the first of many occasions in which drink would get the better of him throughout his career. He belongs to a later part of our story but shows here that the trend of cricketers seeking escape from life’s trials through the game was a continuing one.
1848 – Fenner’s ground opens
“The first [general] meeting of the Town and County Club for the present season……
……A private ground situate at the back of the Town Gaol has been engaged by Mr Fenner, and during the whole winter men have been employed levelling and re-laying to the extent of 6 acres. The ground is now completed, and promises to be one of the best private cr1cket grounds in the country. The University club have arranged to play all their matches there, and the advantages of a well-conducted private ground most people, we think, will be ready to appreciate.” Cambridge Chronicle, 1 April 1848.
The same report that informed the Cambridge public of Felix’s picture of the Town and University cricket teams concluded with this announcement that almost certainly contributed to the unfinished look of that painting. “Mr Fenner” had secured a private cricket ground behind the gaol and the University would play all their matches there.
The exaggerated enthusiasm for the new ground implies an anticipation of disagreement and well it might. For a start this report suggested that disagreements within the membership were common:
“…we expect to see such a ‘bill of fare’ arranged as shall leave no room for the most fastidious to cavil at.”
The issue of a private ground, given its political implications, was even more likely to be divisive. Whilst there had been no public evidence of conflict between the Town and University cricket clubs, there had recently been confrontations between townsmen, police and students, reflecting a centuries old unease between Town and Gown in general. The agreement to share the cricket area on Parker’s Piece in 1831 had also highlighted the sensitivity of Town/Gown relations even in cricket.
Perhaps the most surprising feature of the new development was the involvement of Frank Fenner, an apparently enthusiastic promoter of co-operation between the two clubs. Under his watch as the Cambridge Town Club and Town and County Club secretary four combined Town and Gown sides had been fielded against the MCC, nearing a dozen students had played in Town sides and both Arthur Hoare and Oliver Pell had served on the committee. Now he had apparently extended his practice of supplying the University Club with equipment to providing it with a new ground.
The next public reference to this matter came on the19th of April when the Cambridge Advertiser gave notice of a “public meeting of the subscribers [to the Town and County Club]……to dispose finally of the question” of “playing matches on Fenner’s new private ground”. The subsequent meeting entailed “considerable discussion, in which the most kind feeling was expressed towards Mr Fenner”, but resolved not to play the Town and County Club matches on his ground. It was agreed to get up a benefit match for Fenner, at the same time pleading for membership subscriptions to be paid up immediately.
As well as paying complements to Fenner, who had offered to lease his ground to the club for twenty-one pounds, the discussions revealed those divided opinions. For some the important factor was that the game should be available to watch to “the many hundreds who cannot afford to pay……..’Cricket for the million’ should be the general cry”, a topical comment given recent attempts to stage a Chartist rally on Parker’s Piece. Others preferred the comfort of a private ground, referring to annoyances on the Piece such as “tent-seats more occupied by non-subscribers than otherwise, the occasional want of orderly conduct on the part of some, the great lack of manners on the part of many, the ground infringed upon etc.” “But” said the Advertiser “these wickets were quickly bowled down.”
The Advertiser seems to have been more supportive of remaining on Parker’s Piece than the Chronicle, which printed this announcement of the Town v Gown match:
“In consequence of the old subscribers to the Town and County Club having decided that the matches with that club should be played only on Parker’s Piece, the University declined the annual Town and Gown match……Owing to the decision above named, the expense of the match will have to be borne by the tenant of the new ground, and consequently the admission demanded: if a contrary arrangement could have been arrived at, all subscribers would have been entitled to claim an entrance.”
This version of events conveniently forgot the Chronicle’s own statement back on the 1st of April that “The University have arranged to play all their matches there [Fenner’s ground].” The Independent Press opined:
“…we are inclined to think that the Town and County Club will be bowled out for a while for the want of energy and support.”
Already effects on cricket in the town were being felt as Parker’ Piece was said not to have been touched well into May.
At this point letters began to be published on the question. The first to appear upped the ante a little as regards Town/Gown relations in suggesting that as the University was to play all its matches at Fenner’s then it should practice there also:
“the common right of the Piece would then be much improved and of much more use to the inhabitants.”
A second letter, signed “Argus”, who describes himself as “a cricketer, man and boy, for fifty years”, regarded it as “dainty“ to” repudiate” Parker’s Piece.
“Why, Sir, that piece was the glory of Cambridge ever since I can remember it, and the envy of surrounding towns. Every cricketer who is a judge of the right stuff for the game to be played on has, on visiting us, expressed his admiration of it. Why, therefore, are all matches to be played in some private field, with a charge for admission? I should have thought that Fenner, our own pet, whose cricketing qualities we all admire, and whose frank and courteous bearing we all respect, would have protested against this selfish scheme……Pride and selfishness are not the characteristics of cricketers; nor did I ever imagine that matches were played for the individual gratification of the players, especially when their club is principally supported by voluntary contribution, but for the more generous feeling of rendering a treat of cricket-seeing to those who can appreciate the game. Compare now the miserable appearance at a match, when played on the new field, to the thousands who congregated on our own Parker’s Piece on such an occasion”
This latter is presumably a reference to the recent Town v Gown match, held at Fenner’s but unsupported by the Town and County Club. The previous match on the new ground, between the University and the MCC, was reported to have attracted a “goodly number” or “over 500”, still shot of thousands but other University matches may not have ever attracted as big a crowd as the Town/Gown contest.
“Great satisfaction was expressed by all present at the comfort and additional pleasure available to all lovers of the game, many evident annoyances being removed.”
The Chronicle then added:
“At the same time we have to regret the divisions thus occasioned amongst the promoters of the science.”
A report in some London papers also gave attention to the new ground:
“Setting aside the fact of Fenner being a Cambridge man, and a cricketer of a high standing, we know of no one better qualified to conduct such an undertaking in a respectable and satisfactory manner, so far as appertains to himself, or so as shall meet the wishes of his patrons to the fullest extent; with a view, also, to the welfare of that ‘national game’, of which he has for several years been one of the brightest ornaments. Thus, then, the visitors to the present match had, for the first time, ‘to pay for the look’ [sixpence];”
“Setting aside the fact of Fenner being a Cambridge man” was not something everyone found easy to do of course. The Advertiser continued to be less than enthusiastic, claiming that the Town v Gown match had been “entirely without the interest which attends a well-contested game; their being apparently a great want of spirit and exertion on the part of the townsmen.” A third letter, claiming that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” called for a general meeting to decide the future of the Town and County Club which had apparently done nothing further to prepare Parker’s Piece or arrange matches well into June, despite the Gravesend Club announcing its wish to repeat what had become a regular fixture between them.
With that meeting arranged, Fenner felt it necessary to write his own explanation of events. In a lengthy letter to the Chronicle and Independent Press, but not in the Advertiser, he implied that most of the complaints were erroneous and continued:
“The Town and County Club have no more to do with the University Club in such a matter than the University Cricket Club could possibly have with the Marylebone Club – and dictations from either to the other would be equally preposterous.”
This was a debatable statement. During his tenure as secretary Fenner had appeared previously to actively encourage co-operation between the two. Separate clubs they may have been, but certainly not unrelated. This was Fenner in his characteristically bullish letter writing mode and sounding like a businessman defending his pragmatism. Perhaps most significantly Fenner appeared insensitive to the emotions his move had stirred. In a reference to students having approached him to find a new ground because of offence they had experienced on Parker’s Piece he added:
“Surprise has been expressed that I, an old cricketer, should have lent myself to the removal of cricket from Parker’s Piece. Why, the very establishment of this private ground was to promote cricket, to prevent its decay in Cambridge – in fact to make cricket a game that could be followed by all, the sensitive as well as the sturdy and indifferent, without risk of having their feelings offended by conduct such as I have before named.”
Fenner was being disingenuous. One further letter from “An Old Cricketer” emphasised this, alluding to businessman Fenner’s potential profit and his immodesty in stressing how unselfish he had always been. The main issues had by now developed into Town/Gown rivalry and the appropriateness or otherwise of protecting the sensitivities of those who could afford to pay for their cricket. It was not just rhetoric to see this as an issue of cricket for the million or the privileged few. As chance would have it the students had themselves recently had cause to resent privilege being used against them when the MCC had asserted its right, on being short of players, to incorporate some of the university players into its side. It is unlikely that anyone saw similarities though.
What seems to have been lacking on both sides of the argument was any ability to stand back and observe the issues with a wish to resolve them. For a start the Town v Gown match could easily have been played as a two-match home and away fixture. Secondly the opponents of the private ground, rather than standing on their wounded dignity, might have shown more foresight by accepting Fenner’s offer and the possibility that Cambridge could not support two financially viable nationally competitive clubs, given their admitted difficulty in collecting subscriptions. Thirdly, if they really supported “cricket for the million” the Town and County Club would have been better advised to proceed with the 1848 cricket season as initially planned instead of getting distracted by local politics, thus keeping their club alive. The main problem for the club seems to have been disagreement within its own membership.
The point that many would not be able to afford membership was, however, well made and showed the problem that Cambridgeshire cricket was faced with if it wished to develop. Paying for admission was the way forward to financial security, but in following that path the game was becoming more exclusive and leaving its origins as a folk game well behind. This was a difficult adjustment for a town that had learnt its cricket through public accessibility.
Time would show that by turning down Fenner’s offer Cambridgeshire put off both the development of a county club and the exclusion of the general public for another ten years. A more secure county club might have been a consequence of accepting Fenner’s offer. The public accessibility the town was used to would, however, almost certainly have had to be sacrificed eventually if a County Club of any kind was to be sustained.
Eventually moves were made to provide some cricket by town players, a meeting being held at Haggis’s New Inn. This resulted in two matches with Saffron Walden, the home game being played on Parker’s Piece. The Cambridge team was decidedly second or even third string although it did include Snow, presumably Thomas, once again taking wickets on the Piece. At about the same time another Cambridge side, again without the town’s principal players, played and lost two matches with a Kirtling and neighbourhood side, the home match played at Fenner’s. Neither of these matches came close to the excitement of the Town and County Club over the previous four years. A third match between St Andrew the Less parish and Saffron Walden provided better entertainment than either, with Ringwood, Mark Arnold, Haggis, Hayward and a young Buttress helping the Cambridge side to a first innings victory in the only match played, again on Parker’s Piece. Interestingly Boning, Haggis and Winterton, are some notable omissions from teams playing at Fenner’s this season. Maybe they were less than happy with developments.
Yet another general meeting of the Town and County Club was held at which Fenner resigned his post as secretary, with the Advertiser rather sadly reporting that:
“…it was resolved to continue the society for at least another year, to see what will be the effect of the private ground on the interests of the society.”
The Town and County Club never did reform successfully and towards the end of June the following advertisement gave an indication of what was to come for Cambridge cricket over the next ten years:
YOUNG BELL, the Cambridge Bowler, being at present disengaged, would be happy to treat with any gentleman or Club either for a limited time or for the Season.––Terms,&c., made known on application to F. BELL, Cricketer, 20, Adam-and-Eve Row, Cambridge.”
As the Independent Press had predicted, the Cambridge Town and County Club would be “bowled out for a while for the want of energy and support.”
– The county gents set the mould
“On Wednesday last the dull monotony of a long vacation was somewhat relieved
by a very excellent match, on Fenner’s New Ground, between eleven of the County
of Cambridge, and eleven of the Town…..and it was extremely gratifying to find
there was so much cricketing talent in the county as to produce a considerably
better contest than the most sanguine could have anticipated”.
Cambridge Chronicle , 26 August 1848.
There was considerable fallout in the wake of the implosion of the Cambridge Town and County Club and creation of Fenner’s ground. Some of it would be crucial in reshaping cricket’s development in the county, especially the precedent set in August of that year by the formation of an amateur County side to play the Town.
Whilst the younger and more ambitious of the Cambridge professionals like Alfred Diver and Fred Bell went off in search of money and celebrity with other clubs, including both sides of the All / United All England Eleven gravy train, younger players were left without inspiring role models. In place of the ambitious Town and County Club, Cambridge town cricket would soon settle into a routine of small local clubs playing each other and surrounding villages.
Whilst the University Club would take advantage of its new ground to pace its development into a first-class cricketing as well as social unit, the county’s non-Cambridge clubs, in the absence of a dominating Cambridge presence, were suddenly presented with a newly found importance. In the main the Cambridgeshire’s various town and village clubs had resisted the Town and County Club’s entreaties for support, although a few players like Titchmarsh and Shephard of Royston and Francis Bavin of Wimblington had made the odd game. Now, though, the town’s cricket lovers needed help and it was to the county that they turned. Whilst those still championing Parker’s Piece as the home of Cambridge cricket set up two matches with Saffron Walden, Fenner’s played host to a side that, despite in some accounts being called “Suffolk”, appears to have been a combination of players from Kirtling and neighbourhood in the far east of Cambridgehire. The Cambridge side were twice subjected to “a right good drubbing”, suffering defeats by ten wickets and 61 runs.
Then, in August Fenner, needing a “grand match” to both boost his income and maybe prove his commitment to Cambridge cricket and its followers, made a new and prescient move. Presumably using his proven networking skills, he got Wimblington’s Francis Bavin, currently playing for Wisbech, to bring a County eleven to take on Cambridge Town. In reality this appears to have been mostly a Wisbech and neighbourhood side. At least Francis Bavin, Fryer, Hogg, Ashby and the Reverends Jackson and Moore all appeared for Wisbech at around this time. Nevertheless they gave a good account of themselves. After apparently being bamboozled to 81 all out (Arthur Hoare 35) in the first innings by the young Billy Buttress’s “twisters” (seven wickets) they replied to the Town’s 141 (Fred Bell 59) with 151 runs of their own, shared pretty evenly through their team. They only gave up the game with Fenner on 24 not out and the town needing just another 18 to win with five wickets in hand.
Setting a precedent
This grand match “for pride and place” to relieve “the present dearth of amusement” appears to have succeeded. In addition, and with greater long-term significance, the County side in this contest set an important precedent for the future of Cambridgeshire cricket. This was the first time since 1834 that a team had been brought together to represent the county as a whole. This was also the first time that the County was seen in Cambridgeshire cricket as something separate from the county town and representing the amateur side of the game.
The years 1850 through to the formation of the Cambridge County Club in 1858 would see a string of similar county sides picked to play an annual match with Cambridge University related teams. These sides would generally be selected from around the county, from Wisbech to Royston, Willingham to Horseheath. They would increasingly be identified with amateurs, often containing university graduates, and as if to emphasise this amateur status, would often include the occasional carefully identified ‘given’ professional to provide some solidity. Thus were laid the foundations for a Cambridgeshire County Club organised by amateur gentlemen in line with how county cricket was developing elsewhere in the country.
In 1850, Francis Bavin was still involved in the two County sides that played the Cambridge University Long Vacation Club, but the catchment area was wider this time, including Bavin, Ward and Fryer of Wisbech, Hogg of Ely, Titchmarsh and Shephard of Royston and Wright and Howard possibly of Fulbourn and Linton respectively. Apart from 1852, when the fixture had to be fulfilled by a team consisting mainly of Cambridge Britannia Club members, and 1854, when no team was forthcoming, the main pattern was set for rest of the decade.
By 1853 these sides were referred to as “the County Gentlemen”, although they were probably a mixture containing, amongst others, farmers and vicars, as well as “landed proprietors” such as Bavin and Frederick Fryer. The term gentlemen, initially at least, appears to have denoted non-professional rather than a position of social status, although the two were sometimes indistinguishable. Usually these amateurs had the help of one or two Cambridge professionals who seem to have been included for their ability rather than to balance the side geographically. In the first match of 1851, for example, Alfred Diver helped the County side to a three wicket victory by taking 12 wickets and scoring 85 and 37. Other professionals who would be involved over the decade were Shephard of Royston, and Fred Bell, Dan Hayward, Billy Buttress, Charles Arnold and Fred Reynolds of Cambridge.
At one point the Cambridge Chronicle suggested a Canterbury week style festival consisting of an All England versus a United University County and Town match and a University versus County match, although nothing came of this idea. In contrast to such a precise plan, organisation seems to have been an issue for the first few County Gentlemen sides, with poorly balanced sides and overcharging spectators coming in for criticism. By 1855, however, Henry Perkins of Royston CC, and a former Cambridge Blue, had become involved, the regular opponents had become the full University side and things ran more smoothly.
Henry Perkins from Thriplow, prolific century maker and underarm wicket taker at village club level, would have an immense influence on Cambridgeshire cricket over the next fifteen or so years, not the least of which was his probable part in increasing the number of Cambridge alumni in these county gentlemen sides. The 1855 side for the early season match with the University first eleven, for example, included brothers Charles and Fred Thackeray, O Hammond and Edward W Blore as well as Perkins. Whilst professionals Diver and Buttress dominated the scorecard (8 wickets/61 runs and 9 wickets respectively) the match had a very University feel to it.
There was no obvious county side in 1856 although “eleven gentlemen of the [newly reformed] Town and County Club” who played the University were a very similar mixture, without the professionals, including Blore, Perkins, Hammond, J W and J H Marshall, Lord Royston, George Helm and Simon Kempson. If not quite a Gentlemen of the County side this was certainly the county branch of the Town and County Club. The 1857 team regained its professional help in Charles Arnold and Fred Reynolds, but was described in the press as consisting “chiefly of members of the University, either past or present”.
1857 was also the year in which a University side, equipped with a handful of Cambridge pros, took on Surrey, in the first of three matches that were to be recognised as inter-county matches. Whilst the presence of the professionals anticipated the later County sides the University origins of these sides showed how Cambridgeshire cricket had come to be easily associated with its amateur gentlemen.
The precedent confirmed
In 1858 the gents of Cambridgeshire would eventually coalesce into a formal club under the supervision of Henry Perkins and Frank Fenner and the presidency of H J Adeane of Babraham. For a few years this would provide far more regular opportunities for these county gentlemen sides to play local villages, more powerful clubs such as Southgate and even other counties’ gentlemen elevens. The precedent had, of course, been set ten years earlier by Francis Bavin’s fill-in team.