For me, if two words encapsulate the history and atmosphere of Eighteenth Century cricket, the words are Broadhalfpenny Down. Situated high on a hill, three miles outside the Hampshire village of Hambledon, this ground may not be the cradle of cricket as it is often called, but it was certainly the epicentre of the cricket world for about fifteen years, from 1770 to 1785, and I like to think, it was there that cricket discovered itself. The ground faded into obscurity for much of the nineteenth century, but was revitalised in the twentieth and now thrives as host for a variety of exhibition and club matches. To those fascinated by cricket history, this ground has a magic of its own.
If you visit the ground at midnight on Midsummer’s Day, keep very quiet and very still, you can hear the the faint murmur of the crowds of ages past echoing across the Downs. Fact.
Let’s take a look:
One of the modern greats (me) showing how it is done in front of the new pavilion. Note the two stump wicket, cunningly built from three walking poles.
|1||18 Aug 1756||Hambledon||Dartford|
|2||17 Sep 1764||Hambledon||Chertsey|
|3||04 Aug 1767||Hampshire||Sussex|
|4||28 Sep 1767||Hambledon||Caterham|
|5||05 Aug 1768||Hampshire||Sussex|
|6||29 Aug 1768||Hambledon||Kent|
|7||05 Sep 1768||Hambledon||Sussex|
|8||29 Jun 1769||Hambledon||Caterham|
|9||28 Sep 1769||Hambledon||Surrey|
|10||04 Oct 1770||Hambledon||Caterham|
|11||20 Aug 1771||Gentlemen of Hampshire||Gentlemen of Sussex|
|12||30 Sep 1771||Hambledon||Chertsey|
|13||24 Jun 1772||Hampshire||England|
|14||10 Aug 1772||Hampshire and Sussex||Kent|
|15||30 Jul 1773||Hambledon Town||Hampshire|
|16||04 Aug 1773||Hampshire||England|
|17||26 Aug 1773||Hambledon Town||Surrey|
|18||27 Sep 1773||Hampshire||Surrey|
|19||22 Jun 1774||Hampshire||England|
|20||13 Jul 1774||Hampshire||Kent|
|21||15 Aug 1774||Hampshire||Kent|
|22||14 Sep 1774||Hambledon||Hampshire|
|23||29 Jun 1775||Hampshire||Kent|
|24||13 Jul 1775||Hampshire||Surrey|
|25||02 Jul 1776||Hampshire||Kent|
|26||26 Aug 1776||Hampshire||Surrey|
|27||07 Jul 1777||Hampshire||England|
|28||08 Sep 1777||Hampshire||England|
|29||24 Sep 1778||Hampshire||Surrey|
|30||23 Aug 1779||Hampshire||England|
|31||30 Jul 1781||Hampshire||Kent|
|32||20 Sep 1791||Hambledon Town||West Sussex|
Let’s finish with a song
Appendix – Connection with the Escape of King Charles II after the Battle of Worcester
We are in autumn 1651. Charles Stuart, who was to become Charles II of England, had been defeated at the last engagement of the English Civil War, also known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, was on the run. On 13 October he, along with three supporters (Wilmot, Swan and Gunter) passed by Broadhalfpenny Down. and it was here that they held a conference about where to spend the night. A house called Hinton Daubney was prepared for them, but, for some unrecorded reason, Charles opposed this and they agreed to travel to Hambledon to stay with Gunter’s sister and brother-in-law, Ursula and Thomas Symonds.
So they traveled three miles further on to arrive at Hambledon village itself for his last full night on English soil before Charles’s escape to France. They stayed at he Symons house at the edge of the village, known as Bury Lodge. This house was demolished around 1800 and replaced by a new Bury Lodge, further away from the road. No visible trace of the old house remains though it seems that the cellars survive, buried underground. What does survive however is a nearby cottage now known as King’s Rest. According to local legend, Charles in fact spent the night of the 13th at the cottage not using the main house as the smaller dwelling would be less likely to be searched – hence the name now given to it. That, it must be said is doubtful as a nineteenth century visitor recorded seeing a tablet let into the masonry dating the building as 1720. Nevertheless, the legend persists and in 1947, the then occupants of the cottage, Rear Admiral and Mrs C.D. Madden recorded an encounter with the ghost of the King. Whatever the truth of these matters, King’s Rest is the closest location we have to the Charles’s lodging for 13 October, so it worth considering further.
When I visited the site in November 2022, sad to say, the cottage was in a ruinous condition. The garden gate at the front of the cottage is overgrown, but, eerily, the name plate still survives and through the trees beyond, the property can be glimpsed. An overgrown driveway to the left of the property is still usable as well, and this has been sealed off with a new metal gate (though this does not prevent pedestrian access) and this was the only sign of recent work. By walking along this driveway, you can see the where Old Bury Lodge stood, a place Charles would certainly have visited. And beyond that, there is the cottage.
Astonishingly, this building is not listed so that perhaps that is why it has been so neglected – to pave the way for a request to demolish and rebuild; I am not qualified to say. It does though seem a pity that this once picturesque dwelling, closely connected to where an important English King spent his final night before entering into a nine-year exile, should be allowed to become derelict and perhaps even vanish. For more information see www.thefugitiveking.uk .