Chapter Nine……….Late-nineteenth century Country House cricket

Vanes had been associated with cricket since the Raby match and the link continued, through the Vane-Tempest family, with the 6th Marquess of Londonderry.   Londonderry, patron of many a club, hosted country house matches on a grand scale at Wynyard Park in the 1890s.   Friends were invited to relax, socialise and play cricket in sylvan surrounds.   A drive through golden gates led to Wynyard Hall and its majestic Corinthian portico and lavish interior.   The grand hall was paved with polished marble, mirrors in the pink drawing-room almost reached a cream-and-gold panelled ceiling and a chandelier in the dining-room weighed over a ton.   The family coat of arms was emblazoned on a £1,000 carpet in a pale terra-cotta billiard room.   Oranges and lemons grew in the conservatory where, for winter balls, Chinese lanterns cast a warm, romantic glow.

Roaming among house guests were princes, peers, politicians and privileged ladies.   Swelled in August by another coterie : the Crosbys, Whitwells, Dr Abraham, Bousfield, Mewburn, Mallett and Pease.   An elite dominating local cricket as Lord Harris, Stoddart and Grace did the First-class scene.   The odd professional was invited to do the trundling.   A cricketer mingling among the beau monde needed more accomplishments than dexterity with a bat.   It required impeccable behaviour to merit a second invitation.   Londonderry and Pease were Conservative Association colleagues.   The host was a member of I Zingari, the oldest wandering club invited annually to play Durham Gentlemen captained by Pease.   IZ included brilliant England batsman T.C.O’Brian, C.F.C.Clarke and Prince Christian Victor, a grandson of Queen Victoria who once hurriedly left Wynyard to join his regiment and score one of the first double hundreds recorded in India.   Carlos Clarke loved the country house environment where sylph-like Abigail served tea and strawberries to cricketers reclining in wicker chairs.   Clarke, actor and musician, was ever at the heart of the entertainment : dances, games, music, “a bevy of nice girls and perchance a flirtation as hot as it is hopeless.”[1]   No whispers of romantic trysts at Wynyard.   Only visits to York races.

Mewburn was also invited to Mr Calverley Bewicke’s matches at Close House, Northumberland.   On one occasion a professional was injured.   Bewicke telegraphed Lord’s.   Demanded A.J.Fothergill be sent north at once.   Fothergill played his early cricket across the Tyne at Ryton.   The left-arm fast bowler was Somerset’s leading wicket-taker in 1880-83, twice played for England and coached C.B.Fry at Repton.   After traipsing all the way to Close House, Fothergill broke two fingers while batting.

The Park was thrown open to the public but Wynyard week was first and foremost a society occasion.   Head gardener Mr Gribble had to prepare a pitch good enough to prevent injury but not so good that large totals produced drawn matches.   Cricket was serious but not so serious as to bore the ladies.   Balance had to be maintained, particularly between the sexes.   Thus the Marchioness adopted the rôle of ‘mother’ to the players and photographed them “in and about her ladyship’s rustic pavilion”.

Wynyard’s glamour faded after I Zingari’s last visit in 1898.   Or at least the glamour on the field faded for Edward II insisted on holding a Privy Council meeting at Wynyard Hall when the 6th Marquess was made Privy Councillor in 1903.   It was the first held at a country house since 1625 and, what is more, in the intriguing presence of Mrs Keppell, the king’s favourite mistress.   Cricket continued but at a more plebeian level with matches against clubs at Londonderry’s collieries.   The Marquess, said to be on friendly terms with his workers, sent brakes to the railway station for the players and  personally welcomed them on arrival.   But the social ambience changed.   It was no longer dinner and canapés in regal style but lunch al fresco under canopy for rank and file.   As Londonderry rose in Government subsequent Wynyard house parties were for royalty and the nation’s elite.   For their sport they shot three thousand rabbits a day.

[1] H. D. G. Leveson-Gower : Country Life (volume on cricket)

Chapter 10

Chapter 8

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