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, was 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 “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 within England 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.
1754-55 – Eton v CU
“…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 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 at best. 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 Hardwicke, 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 were reported to have played each other as Suffolk and Cambridgeshire on Newmarket Heath 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.
More likely, however, 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 despite the absence of a first match earlier in that year 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”, but statistics can be deceptive.
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. If 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 Cambridge 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.
“To the Printer of the Cambridge Chronicle
Anxious to play a friendly game of cricket, we at various times, 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 was not the first time such letters of negotiation concerning Cambridgeshire cricket had been aired in the press. A similar exchange between Cambridge and Haverhill of Suffolk was shared in 1786. These letters in 1806, however, involved 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 been 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 pointing out that Cambridge had been offered the chance to borrow two men themselves despite not needing to, 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 bear witness to.
“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.
“…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.
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.
“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.
“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 couples 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 of 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. Henry Page, Medlicott, another 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.
“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 at this time 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.
“TO THE EDITOR.SIR,
THE Cricket Match advertised 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 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.
“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.
“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 on 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.
“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 a further match was announced 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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
“for some time past……boasted of the superiority of their players and chaffed at the presumption of their neighbours.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 expected how the reciprocity of good feeling exists among the Members of the above Clubs, that they will annually meet in the field.”
“…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.”
“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.
“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.
“The many hundreds that assembled, combined with the numerous tents and booths pitched, rendered the scene exceedingly animated.”
“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.
“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”.
“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
“Had the strength of the Town and University Clubs been brought into requisition on this occasion the result would have been……widely different.”
“In the presence of a numerous and fashionable assemblage of spectators amongst whom were many ladies of rank in open carriages.”
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“…of so first-rate a character, that it was impossible to do more than was done”.
“…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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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 most interesting match ever played at Cambridge has just been arranged to come of on Parker’s Piece.”
“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….”
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
“…we expect to see such a ‘bill of fare’ arranged as shall leave no room for the most fastidious to cavil at.”
“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.”
“…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.”
“the common right of the Piece would then be much improved and of much more use to the inhabitants.”
“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”
“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.”
“At the same time we have to regret the divisions thus occasioned amongst the promoters of the science.”
“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];”
“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.”
“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.”
“…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.”
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.”
– 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.