Cricket History

The Cradle of Cricket

Much has been written about exactly where and when Cricket started. Its name probably derives from the Saxon "cpyce" - a stick, its origins possibly in club-ball, bat-and-ball and trap-ball. As David Gower says in his foreword to John Goldsmith's Hambledon "Trying to unravel the exact and true origins of cricket is one of the great medieval mysteries, with much of the answer lying in and around the village now known as Hambledon. It was the Hambledon team of the late 18th century that 'raised cricket from a sport to an art', in an era when the local team was more than a match for any All England team, and when it seemed that the Bat and Ball Inn, run by the legendary Richard Nyren, was the centre of the cricketing universe.


Early Days

It is thought that a Hambledon Cricket Club was founded about 1750. The earliest surviving record of cricket at Hambledon dates from 1756, coming from a passage in "The Oxford Gazette and Reading Mercury" newspaper which advertised the loss of a dog at a cricket match on Broad-Halfpenny Down.

Portrait painting of John Nyren with the following text: John Nyren; Hambledon; 1764-1837; The Bat and BallJohn Nyren, son of Richard, successively landlords of The Bat and Ball and The George Inn, in his "The Cricketers of My Time" (1833) wrote "No eleven in England could compare with the Hambledon, which met on the first Tuesday in May on Broad-Halfpenny. So renowned a set were the Men of Hambledon, that the whole country round would flock to see on their trial matches."

Reviewing the above book in The Gentlemen's Magazine, 1833, John Mitford wrote "It was somewhere between the years 1770 and 1780 that a great and decisive improvement took place, and that cricket first began to assume that truly skilful and scientific character which it now possesses. The pretty and sequestered village of Hambledon in Hants, was the nursery of the best players; the down of Broad-Halfpenny the arena of their glory."

The result of the match in June 1777 when Hambledon took on England and beat them by a whole innings - England mustering 166 runs and 69 to Hambledon's 403 - epitomises Hambledon's fame. Ten years later, in 1787, the Mary-le-Bone Cricket Club (MCC) was formed by, among others, the then President of the Hambledon club - the Earl of Winchilsea. So successful was the MCC in attracting prestigious players and patrons that, in the following year, it undertook a revision of the laws of the game which had previously been in the acknowledged guardianship of the Hambledon club. We cannot say we are the birthplace of English cricket, but we are the "Cradle of Cricket".


The Golden Age

The most famous period of the Hambledon Club was from 1772 to 1796 during which, on numerous occasions, they met and defeated All England including a great victory in 1777 at Sevenoaks when, in a match for 1,000 guineas, they won by an innnings and 168 runs. There was great feasting, we are told, on the occasions of great matches when thousands of spectators would flock from miles around to witness what proved to be sporting history. The Club left Broadhalfpenny in 1782 and continued with equal success at Windmill Down - this move presumably due to the 'General' of the Club, Richard Nyren, having moved from the Bat & Ball to the George Hotel in the centre of the village, which then became the headquarters of the Club.

Several players of the goldern era are buried in the churchyard, including four of the better known, Edward Aburrow, George Leer, Peter Stewart and Thomas Sueter. Regrettably only the grave of the first of these is currently known.


The Present Day

The gradual decline of the Hambledon Cricket Club coincided with the forming of the MCC in 1787 when the control and administration of the game slowly passed from Hambledon to Lord's. Nothing is known of the Club between 1808 and 1875 when a field between Broadhalfpenny Down and Windmill Down, Ridge Meadow, came into use. This may be considered the start of the present era of Hambledon cricket for it is on this ground that the Club still play.

It is with great pride that the present Club looks back on its history and energetically strives to maintain and ensure its future. 1969 saw its greatest achievement in the modern history of the Club with the building of a new pavillion opened on 22nd June by Ronald Aird Esq. MC, President of the MCC. This was made possible by generous support from cricket lovers all over the world, including Life Members in Australia, South Africa. Malawi, Zambia, USA and Holland, in addition to many in the United Kingdom, confirming Hambledon's one claim to fame.


Broadhalfpenny Down

The memorial stone at Broadhalfpenny Down.Hambledon can justly be proud of its world famous Cricket Club. Formed about 1750 it rapidly became the accepted authority and governing body of the game, formulating the rules and generally promoting the growth of club cricket. Whilst references to a game known as cricket were recorded far earlier than this date, there is no doubt that it was at Hambledon that the game was put on a firm organised basis. It is therefore fitting that the village be referred to as 'The Cradle of Cricket'. The performances of the Hambledon Club are widely known throughout the cricketing world. A memorial stone now stands on Broadhalfpenny Down near the Bat & Ball Inn where the original ground is still a cricket ground, although not that of the present Hambledon Cricket Club.

Today, Broadhalfpenny Down is the home of the Broadhalfpenny Brigands Cricket Club who play regular fixtures there throughout the season. The Brigands manage the ground and its facilities on behalf of the Broadhalfpenny Down Association (BHDA) which was formed in 1996 by the Brigands and Winchester College who own the ground. The BHDA aims to look after the long term future of the ground and to encourage young cricketers. It has members representing local, county and national cricket bodies as well as the Brigands and the College. The BHDA has recently built a fine new pavilion to replace the previous inadequate one which was in disrepair.

The Hambledon Cricket Club ground is nearer the village at Ridge Meadow on the way to Chidden about half a mile from the village, see the previous Spotlight page for more information. The Old Hambledonians Cricket Club play at Judge's Meadow, Leydene.


Cricket Bibliography

Arlott, John (ed.), 'From Hambledon To Lords The Classics of Cricket', 1948 (includes John Nyren's "The Young Cricketer's Tutor")

John Goulstone, 'Hambledon: The Men and the Myths',  2001, Roger Heavens, Cambridge

Knight, R, 'Hambledon's Cricket Glory' in 28 Volumes from 1976-2001.  Enquiries to : ronald950@btinternet.com 

Lucas, E V, 'The Hambledon Men', 1907 (said by John Arlott in his book above to be "one of the great landmarks in cricket literature").

Mote, Ashley, 'The Glory Days of Cricket: the Extraordinary Story of Broadhalfpenny Down', 1997, Robson Books Limited. (Winner of the Cricket Society's 1997 Cricket Book of the Year prize).

Mote, Ashley, (ed.) 'John Nyren's Cricketers of my Time, the Original Version', 1998, Robson Books Limited. (The full original text with introduction and explanatory footnotes by the editor.)

Nyren, John, 'The Cricketers of My Time', 1833 (collected and edited by C C Clarke together with "The Young Cricketer's Tutor" above).

Swanton, E W, 'The World of Cricket', 4th edition, 1967

Jenkinson, Neil, 'Here's the Hambledon Club, 2001 The history of the Club from 1796 - 2000'.  Downend Books Winchester SO22 5HD