The cricket season is upon us and England have already won and lost a couple of home tests this summer. In London test matches are usually played at either Lords (in St John’s Woods) or south of the river at the Kennington Oval. I’ve mentioned the first test between England and the Australians (who are on their way over again) before on this blog but today’s story takes us further back into cricket’s history, to 1868 12 years before the test series began.
Surrey have played county cricket at the Oval since 1845 when the current site (then a market garden) was acquired. We all know that professional cricket has been on the decline in England in recent years but the proximity to a ground can be inspirational, especially for the young. However, it seems that in 1868 one local man living close to the Surrey CC’s ground suffered a rather unfortunate loss of perspective, one that eventually landed him in court.
In early June 1868 a ‘house proprietor’ based adjacent to Kennington Oval, a man named William Wades, was summoned before Mr Elliot at Lambeth Police court to answer a complaint.
The boys of St Paul’s School had been playing a cricket match on the Oval’s pitch throughout the day and several balls had been struck over the boundary and into the buildings or gardens nearby. Wades became fed up at the number of cricket balls that escaped the Oval and started to refuse to throw them back. He collected several and told the lads that they’d have to wait until the end of the day to retrieve them. The staff of St Paul’s prosecuted him for detaining their property.
In court Wades was indignant. He complained that cricket balls could do a lot of damage and that it was an all too frequent occurrence to see them come sailing over the walls of his premises.
Mr Elliot was not sympathetic, perhaps suggesting he was a fan of the thwack of leather on willow. He told Wades that it was entirely possible that a ‘hard hitter’ might occasionally send a ball clear of the fences but hardly intentionally, any damage that was done would be the responsibility of the club’s management and he should seek redress in the normal way. He told Wades to hand over the balls and awarded costs to the school.
I used to live behind Northamptonshire’s ground in Abington, Northampton and until they extended their fences we quite often got practice balls landing in our car park. If they hit the cars they did no damage and the only problem we ever really had was when their scarifying of the grass covered all our vehicles in a dark red dust – for which the club immediately apologized and offered compensation.
Interestingly, while England didn’t play the Australian national team until 1880, a team of native Australians (left) did tour England in 1868 and played their first game at the Oval in May that year. The ‘Aboriginals’ were met with some skepticism by the public and a good deal of Imperialist racism by the press, but they acquitted themselves well, playing 47 matches and winning a third of them. There are no accounts of them using sandpaper to tamper with balls or resorting to sledging to put the opposition off their strokes.
[from The Morning Post , Monday, June 08, 1868]