Chapter Two……….Early-nineteenth century A cricket club is born

As the eighteenth century drew to a close the Hambledon club declined; its brief, but glorious, reign at an end. London was now the centre for patrons of cricket. A similar, if less famous, transition from rural surrounds happened in Durham. The population of Sunderland increased as the harbour grew in importance. There was bull-baiting in open streets and cock-fighting in close inn-yards. It was in just such a tavern, perhaps, that a cricket club was born :

On the 12th inst. a grand match at cricket, for one hundred guineas a side, was played on Sunderland moor, between nine of the Sunderland cricket club, and two from the 3rd Lancs militia, against nine of the Durham militia, and Wm Beckwith, Esq. and H. F. Mellish, Esq. – The Durham won by 34 notches in one innings. Five to two against the Durham at starting. (Newcastle Courant, 30 May, 1801)

Sunderland was a gentleman’s club of fairly wealthy members. Stakes are the highest on record in Durham. Two months later there was a further report in Newcastle Chronicle :

On the evenings of Monday and Thursday last a Cricket Match was played at Monkwearmouth-Shore, between eleven gentlemen of that place and an equal number from Sunderland (the challenge by the latter.) the best in two innings, which was won by the former as follows:

SUNDERLAND 32 32 = 64

Innings totals and set days point to improved organisation. Once-spectral figures assumed substance in 1808 when Tyne Mercury named sixteen Sunderland CC members. South Shields, five miles up the coast, lost to North Shields in 1811. North Shields travelled across the Tyne for the return match to find their hosts at practice. They “showed such superior ability and vigour both in bowling and in striking and blocking that [North Shields] forfeited their deposit of 5 guineas rather than play”.

John George Lambton completed his studies at Eton in 1808. There, no doubt, he learned to play cricket. Lambton was six when placed in care of Dr Beddoes, a distinguished physician who said he “exceeded any child I ever saw in industry, intelligence and active curiosity”. At 21 he was MP for Durham, an “over-bearing, vain, high-spirited, brilliant man” whose opinions earned the name ‘Radical Jack’. He was also known as ‘Jogalong’ because, as one of the richest in the country, he said he could jog along nicely on £40,000 a year. He was later Lord Privy Seal, first Earl of Durham and governor-general of Canada. Lambton was an irrepressible young buck before parliamentary duties demanded his attention. When 17 he enlisted in the 10th Hussars but relinquished his commission after falling in love with beautiful Henrietta Cholmondeley, illegitimate daughter of an English peer and French actress. Fearing family objections they eloped to Gretna Green to marry on New Year’s Day, 1812. Henrietta is Durham’s first cricket widow. In days of heady romance her dashing husband formed Lambton Cricket Club. The 1812-13 scorebook is the oldest surviving in Durham. The oldest known pre-dates it by only seven years.

To open the olive, leather-bound scorebook is to sense pastoral days in secluded woodland far removed from the spectre of Napoleon. Among sixteen members in 1812 are the architect Bonomi, who restored parts of Lambton Castle, and William Beckwith, perhaps he who assisted Durham Militia against Sunderland. Lambton captained a side that beat Mr Thurlow’s side in twelve of 19 matches. So neat is the copper-plate hand on blank pages that scores must have been copied from loose sheets. The scorer’s mode of listing batsmen reflects the gentleman / player distinction that characterised scorecards until 1962. Of fifty names, 24 are titled Mister, one Doctor and one Captain; surname or Christian name for the rest. Estate workers Robert, Charles and Ralph occasionally played alongside the gentlemen : early evidence of the game uniting men from differing social backgrounds. Matches were mostly on Fridays, anything from five- to eleven-a-side. With twenty-two available a one-innings match followed a two-innings match. If numbers were short they played two two-innings matches. The scorebook was clearly valued. No doubt because the leading run-maker, with a poignant top score of 99 not out, was Mr Lambton. Motorists driving north through Durham may be surprised at sight of a half-size replica of the Temple of Theseum in Athens standing high on Penshaw Hill around which, according to local song, the Lambton Worm “lapped ’e’s tail seven times”. Penshaw Monument was erected in memory of Lambton.

Lambton was in parliament when eleven gentlemen of Stockton met eleven of Yarm in 1814 :

Stockton First innings 24 Yarm First innings 45
Stockton Second innings 36 Yarm Second innings 18 60 63
And Yarm had only one man out in the second innings – The Field, which was corded off, to prevent the populace from interrupting the players, was about half-way between Yarm and Stockton. The parties met at nine o’clock on Tuesday morning, and played the game agreeably to certain rules previously agreed upon,
and each side had two umpires. (Newcastle Chronicle, 24 September 1814)

Umpires and agreed rules indicate advanced organisation. Each umpire lived five miles from a neutral venue that ensured minimum travel for each side. Nor would either wish to concede ground advantage with £100 at stake for bowlers were adept at exploiting the ridges and hollows of their own field. The field was cordoned so cricket attracted sizeable gatherings. Henry Heavisides, one of the players, said 2,000 attended. As the match “came off in a large field opposite the Lord Nelson Inn” we can be sure the landlord staged it for profit. Nyren writes excitedly of Hambledon’s high feasting. “What stuff they had to drink! – Punch! – punch that would make a cat speak!…The ale, too!…Ale that would flare like turpentine – genuine Boniface!” It was little different at Stockton where matches with Yarm “were played by men who dared blisters in stocking-feet. They were unparalleled for intense excitement and not seldom ended in contests of quite another character.”

At their zenith the men of Hambledon drew crowds of “some thousands”. Now, in one of the last corners of England to be converted, cricket attracted a comparable congregation. Those hurrying to the match along a dusty track off Yarm Road were jostled into hedgerows by a jerking procession of carriages and carts, equestrians on high-stepping horses and rustics on jaded hacks.

O! it was a heart-stirring sight to witness the multitude forming a complete and dense circle round that noble green…patiently and anxiously watching every turn of fate in the game, as if the event had
been a meeting of two armies to decide their liberty.

Tommy Marshall played that day, too. Born of Quaker stock in 1790, Tommy lived at one with nature, “had all the mysteries of woodcraft at his finger’s ends”. Marshall was ‘The General’ of the Stockton club, “indispensable hero of a thousand cricket matches”. Tommy was groundkeeper, tutor and umpire and followed his beloved Stockton until he was 87. “He was part and parcel of its history. He saw it rise to a position second to none in the North; and he has seen it fall…into a state of comparative insignificance.” Marshall’s experience echoes Richard Nyren’s at Hambledon. As distant church bells tolled nine on Tuesday, 13 September 1814, the ghost of Hambledon Past infused the cricket of Durham Present.

Chapter 3

Chapter 1

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