Suspicious characters at the Oval, 1880


Traditionally the last test match in an England cricket series take space at the Kennington Oval. In 1880 however, there was only one test match in the year, the very first test in England between the nations that were to compete for the Ashes (matches had been played in Australia the previous year, but had ended in riot and a good deal of bad blood). In this one-off test at the Oval  (played from 6-8 September) England  beat Australia by 5 wickets.

The famous batsman, W G Grace scored 152 in the first England innings, being dismissed by George ‘Joey’ Palmer. This was the first century for an Englishman in a test match and this game was also special as Grace’s two brothers  played alongside him. The Aussies were roundly beaten but among the press coverage of the event was a report from the Lambeth Police Court.

Isaac Booth (54) and George Connor (44) , a turner and steward at the Oval respectively, were charged with picking pockets.

As the crowds were leaving the ground around 6.30 in the evening a policeman spotted the pair ‘pushing about in a very suspicious manner’. As the crowd gathered in front of the grandstand to cheer the appearance of W G Grace Booth was seen to ‘get behind a gentleman’ and attempt to dip into his pockets.

Connor was acting as cover; trying to shield Booth’s actions from prying eyes. The constable moved in and arrested them both.

In court they protested their innocence; Connor steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and declared he was a ‘respectable man’. Luckily for him the evidence was insufficient to prove he was intent on theft so he was discharged. As for Booth however, the magistrate thought it clear he had been up to no good and sent him to prison for 14 days.

Meanwhile Australia returned to the Oval in 1882 and won, prompting The Sporting Times to publish an obituary for English cricket. In the following year the England traveled to Australia on a ‘quest to regain the Ashes’; they have continued to fight for this unofficial trophy ever since.

[From The Standard , Thursday, September 09, 1880]

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