The history of cricket from 1726 to 1740 covers the period during which cricket established itself as a major sport in London and the south east of England. In 1726, it was already a thriving sport in the south east and, though limited by the constraints of travel at the time, it was slowly gaining adherents in other parts of England. Having been essentially a rural pastime for well over a century before the English Restoration in 1660, it had become a focus of wealthy patrons and gamblers whose interests were to fund its growth throughout the 18th century. Their investment poured money into the game and created the earliest county teams, the first professionals and the first major clubs.
Media interest in cricket grew as the newspaper industry developed, a lead being taken by two new publications. London’s Artillery Ground became the sport’s focal point with major contests showcased in front of large crowds. The concept of a championship existed although there was no official competition, matches being arranged largely ad hoc.
Cricket mirrored society and, as violence was an accepted part of Georgian society, so violent incidents fuelled by alcohol or gambling were simply seen as part of the game. Despite this, attempts were being made to ensure order both on and off the field of play. The earliest known written rules were deployed in 1727. Ground enclosure began in 1731 and, later in the decade, admission fees were introduced.
Cricket was still a regional sport in England, albeit a very popular one, as the constraints of travel limited its introduction to the rest of the country, although there are mentions of it being played in Gloucestershire in 1729 and Buckinghamshire in 1730. Its focal point in the mid-18th century was the Artillery Ground at Finsbury in London. Around 1730, this succeeded Kennington Common as the preferred home venue of London Cricket Club and became the stage for numerous major events, including lucrative single wicket contests. While London represented the metropolitan side of cricket, there were several famous rural clubs like Dartford, Chertsey and Croydon which could challenge London and provide the main strength in their respective county teams, Kent and Surrey. Middlesex and Sussex could also put strong teams into the field. Well-known venues of the time included the Artillery Ground, Dartford Brent, Kennington Common, Moulsey Hurst and Richmond Green.
Cricket thrived on the funds provided by patronage, gambling and large, enthusiastic crowds. As its popularity grew, it began to spread outwards from its south-eastern heartland. The game had already reached the Americas and India as confirmed by references to the game being played overseas by English sailors and colonists in the first quarter of the 18th century. The most prominent patrons in the 1720s were Edwin Stead (Kent), the 2nd Duke of Richmond, Sir William Gage (both Sussex) and Alan Brodrick (Surrey). Some matches in the 1720s were arranged at places like Peper Harow and Penshurst Park which have long been horse racing locations; today, they both house point-to-point racecourses. There were strong gambling connections between cricket, racing and prizefighting throughout the 18th century with matches being staged at venues like Moulsey Hurst or the Forest New Ground at Nottingham; and the fact that MCC and the Jockey Club were both founded by the „Noblemen’s and Gentlemen’s Club“ which used to meet socially at the Star & Garter on Pall Mall in London. Gage and Richmond continued to support cricket through the 1730s when additional patrons were the Prince of Wales and Lord John Sackville. Among the few players whose names have been recorded were Thomas Waymark, Tim Coleman and John Bowra.
In 1727, the Duke of Richmond organised two matches against Alan Brodrick and they drew up articles of agreement between them to determine the rules that must apply in these contests. This type of agreement seems to have been used throughout the period. It is the earliest known instance of rules (or some part of the rules as in this case) being formally agreed, although rules as such definitely existed. In early times, the rules would be agreed orally and subject to local variations so the articles of agreement were created to complement and clarify the rules. It was not until 1744 that cricket’s first formalised Laws were written. This syndrome was also evident in football until the FA was founded, especially re the question of handling the ball. Another reference to articles of agreement occurs in 1730 when London played Kent at a venue called Frog Lane in Islington. The report says: „but being obliged by their Articles to leave off at seven o’clock“, they could not finish it. London had a lead of 30 when play ended and there was a resumption at Kennington Common six days later.
Through this period, batsmen defended a two-stump wicket using a bat shaped like a modern hockey stick against a ball that was bowled all along the ground, either by rolling or skimming. The oldest known surviving cricket bat is dated 1729. It is in The Oval pavilion and belonged to one John Chitty of Knaphill, Surrey. The 1727 articles of agreement stated that „the Duke of Richmond & Mr. Brodrick shall determine the Ball or Balls to be played with“. Similar rules applied through the period and there was no known attempt to standardise bat or ball size until much later. Pads, gloves and other forms of protective equipment were unknown. Umpires carried a stick, believed to be a bat, which the batsmen had to touch to complete a run. Scorers sat on a mound in the field and „notched“ runs (then known as notches) on tally sticks. All runs had to be completed in full as boundaries were not recognised and there were no known rules concerning the care and maintenance of the wicket, although the leading bowler on the visiting team had the right to decide where the wickets would be pitched. The only early rule about pitch and wicket dimensions was re the length of the pitch at 23 yards in 1727; this became 22 yards by 1744.
No cricket had been reported in the infant newspaper industry before 1697 due to the Licensing of the Press Act 1662 which controlled the press until 1696, but reports were beginning to increase by the mid-1720s, though it would be a very long time indeed before coverage became anything like comprehensive. Early reports tended to be an advertisement for a scheduled match or else a brief discussion of the gambling odds rather than the actual play and it was not until 1726 that players were first mentioned by name in a newspaper report. Match reports were much more common in the 1730s and were beginning to present increased detail, sometimes including the names of patrons and players. There is, therefore, a considerably larger record of the 1730s than of the previous decades.
The London Evening Post was founded in 1726 and it carried a good many cricket notices until it ceased publication in 1797. The growth of the newspaper industry was important contemporarily for giving the sport much needed publicity and historically for providing glimpses into a developing sport that had still not learned how to record itself for posterity. The London Evening Post dated Saturday, 27 August 1726 carried an advertisement for a single wicket match between players called „the noted Perry“ (of London) and „the famous Piper“ (of Hampton, Middlesex), playing „for twenty pounds a side“. The venue was Moulsey Hurst, near Molesey in Surrey. This is the first time that players are known to have been named in a newspaper and the match itself is the earliest known to have been played under single wicket rules. Single wicket was a form of major cricket that had periods of great popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries, mainly for the opportunities it offered to gamblers. It became increasingly popular during the 1730s, with numerous big money events taking place at the Artillery Ground. This continued through the 1740s and single wicket reached a peak in the 1748 season.
In 1730, the Daily Advertiser began publication and carried a great many cricket notices until it ceased publication in 1798. There was a significant increase in the number of matches reported during the 1730 season with four single wicket contests and several 11-a-side games, many featuring the London Club which was by then well established as the sport’s premier club and taking on county opposition from Kent and Surrey.
In June 1728, the Swiss traveller César de Saussure noted in his journal the frequency with which he saw cricket being played while he was making his journeys across southern England. He referred to county matches „as a commonplace“. If they were a commonplace, they were also keenly contested to the point where winning teams would proclaim their county’s superiority. It would be a long time before the actual words „county championship“ are used but there is no doubt that the concept of a champion county existed in the 1720s, if not sooner. In August 1728, a game reported as „11 of each county“ between Sussex and Kent was won by Kent. The teams were organised by Gage (Sussex) and Stead (Kent). Stead’s team had earlier won two games against the Duke of Richmond’s XI (also representing Sussex) and their victory over Gage’s XI was reported as „the third time this summer that the Kent men have been too expert for those of Sussex“.
This proclamation of Kent’s superiority is the first time that the concept of a champion county can be seen in the sources, although a reference in 1729 makes clear that the concept was even older. In August 1729, a return match between Stead’s Kent XI and Gage’s Sussex XI (which included players from Hampshire and Surrey) took place at Penshurst Park. It was reported to have been an 11-a-side match and played for 100 guineas with some thousands watching. It seems to have been the first known innings victory as Sussex „got (within three) in one hand, as the former did in two hands, so the Kentish men threw it up“. The report singled out Thomas Waymark, the outstanding player of the time, for special praise: „a groom of the Duke of Richmond signalised himself by extraordinary agility and dexterity“. It went on to say that „(Waymark) turned the scale of victory, which for some years past has been generally on the Kentish side“, so there was a well-established rivalry between the counties with each team seeking ascendancy: i.e., as county champions. The idea is reinforced by a report from 1730 which said: „‚Twas thought that the Kentish champions would have lost their honours by being beat at one innings if time had permitted“. This was the first time that a team is described as „champions“ in known sources. The match in question was at Blackheath between Kent and London. It was evidently a drawn match and remains the earliest known instance of that result.
There was an increasing use of county names in the 1720s. Teams called Kent and Surrey had been recorded as far back as 1709, though they were probably not representative of the whole counties. In 1728, a Middlesex team played London and then, in 1729, the first known use of Hampshire and Sussex in a team title, albeit not individually. In 1730, the first match took place between teams titled Surrey and Middlesex.
A London v Surrey match on 31 August 1730 took place at the Artillery Ground in Bunhill Fields, Finsbury, London. London won by 6 runs. It is the earliest definite match at the venue which was referred to in contemporary reports as the „old“ Artillery Ground, but that may be because it was used frequently for other forms of sport or entertainment. It was generally used for matches involving the original London Club and also became the featured venue of all London cricket until about 1765, after which the focus shifted to Hambledon. Matches were recorded at the Artillery Ground until as late as 1778 but by then the London Club had disbanded, although its members continued their social and organisational existences and maintained their influence over the game as a whole.
The earliest known instances of ground enclosure occurred in 1731, the playing area on Kennington Common being roped off twice in an attempt to keep spectators off the field. Cricket is the first sport known to have enclosed its venues and it quickly became common practice with stakes and ropes being reported at the Artillery Ground in 1732. It is not clear when admission fees were first introduced but there was certainly a two pence charge in place at the Artillery Ground by the early 1740s.
Georgian England was essentially a violent society and this was reflected in many gambling- or alcohol-fuelled incidents which occurred at cricket matches. The situation moderated during the course of the 18th century as social change introduced less tolerance of violence in everyday life. Cricket mirrored social change and there was a parallel evolution with the result that cricket-related violence became less frequent.
The importance of gambling was illustrated in 1730 when a match between teams sponsored by Richmond and Gage was cancelled „on account of Waymark, the Duke’s man, being ill“. Waymark was the outstanding player of the day and stakes would have been laid on his expected performance. Without his involvement, all bets were „off“ and so the game was a non-starter.
A controversial game took place on Monday, 23 August 1731, when Thomas Chambers‘ XI took on the Duke of Richmond’s XI (i.e., effectively a Middlesex v. Sussex match) at Richmond Green in a return match played for 200 guineas. It is notable in one sense as the earliest match of which the team scores are known: Richmond’s XI 79, Chambers‘ XI 119; Richmond’s XI 72, Chambers‘ XI 23–5 (approx.). The game ended promptly at a pre-agreed time although Chambers‘ XI with „four or five more to have come in“ and needing „about 8 to 10 notches“ clearly had the upper hand. The end result caused a fracas among the crowd who were incensed by the prompt finish because the Duke of Richmond had arrived late and delayed the start of the game. The riot resulted in some of the Sussex players „having the shirts torn off their backs; and it was said a law suit would commence about the play“. On Wednesday 8 September, the Daily Post Boy reported that „(on 6 September) 11 of Surrey beat the 11 who about a fortnight ago beat the Duke of Richmond’s men“. This would suggest that the Duke of Richmond conceded his controversial game against Chambers‘ XI.
The gambling issue was not addressed by the sport’s ruling body until the 1770s and it remained a significant aspect through the 1730s and 1740s. The other side of the coin was the reliance of cricket as a professional sport upon the investment accrued through gambling interests. The basic problem in the 1730s was that violence was an accepted fact of life and injury during games seemed so common that any news reports on violence were „passed with little comment“ as they were simply considered part of the game. Violence occurred both during game play and due to disorder among game spectators. For example, in 1737 a cricketer named John Smith was killed by a stone thrown by a spectator. Cricket games were sometimes prohibited. This was one outcome of a 1731 game between boys at Westminster and Eton that ended with „broken heads and black eyes“. Legal authorities also considered prohibition of cricket matches after many disputes over injuries and violence were referred to litigation. Overall, much of 18th cricket was „part of a vibrant, if violent, rural culture“.