Early history of cricket – Introduction

This site is not an electronic book. It doesn’t focus on telling the story of the early history of cricket as a continuous narrative; rather, it seeks to deploy the functionality of the internet to approach the subject in a multi-dimensional way, considering the development of the game though a number of separate but linked avenues – club, grounds, players, laws, techniques, equipment etc, supplemented by the presentation of as wide a range of source material as I can find in terms of paintings, engravings, books, poems and the like.

This section is however something of an exception to this principal, insofar as it attempts to pull the story together by listing key events in date order. Hopefully, it gives something of a factual overview to matters with are dealt with with more colour elsewhere. In brief, these are the periods dealt with:

1. Prehistory – up to 1600

There are various hints in ancient manuscripts and illustrations of bat and ball games being played in medieval Europe. None can be pinned down as being cricket, but they set the scene of games being played from which cricket was to emerge.

2. The very early days – the Seventeenth Century

Cricket starts to emerge as a distinct activity with a character of its own, played with a bat and ball, between teams winners being determined by the scoring of runs. Indications are that it was a children’s game initially, which was adopted by adults as time went by. There is frustratingly little to give us much idea as to the character of the game in this period, references in court proceeding when the law was broken are one of the main source of information.

3. Cricket spreads to London – The Artillery Ground Period 1700 – 1770

4. Glory days of cricket – the Hambledon period 1770-1785

I am afraid few cricket historian would be entirely sympathetic to the title of this section. There has bee much debunking of the so-called Hambledon myth in recent years. Writers like John Major and David Underdown have quite rightly pointed out that cricket had a long history before the Hambledon period and have also said the Hambledon Club was really Hampshire in all but name, and sometimes in name as well. Nonetheless, the period when the centre of cricket moved from the Capital of England to a remote hilltop, fifteen miles from Winchester is something which encapsulates the romanticism of the game like nothing else, and I for one, will not be guilty of underplaying it.

5. Return to London, emergence of MCC, first Lord’s ground 1785 – 1800

As the Hambledon period faded into a rich, red sunset, London reemerged as the centre of the game, the epicentre being focused on the Marylebone Cricket Club, founded by members of the Star and Garter Club in Pall Mall. After flirting with the ground at White Conduit Fields, the Star and Garter aristos commissioned cricket-playing entrepreneur Thomas Lord to find a private ground for them closer to the centre of London. He came up with the first Lords Ground at Dorset Square in 1787 and that is where our story begins to draw to a conclusion. Reference will be made to certain events in the Nineteenth Century but, essentially the modern game, if not quite established, was well on its way. The final touch was perhaps the development of overarm bowling which was fully legalised until 1864, but that period is beyond the scope of this website