No one will ever know where the first cricket match was played. It seems pretty clear that it originated in the sheep-grazing counties of Southern England, where the short grass of the downland pastures made it possible to bowl a ball of wool or rags at a target. That target was usually the wicket-gate of the sheep pasture, which was defended with a bat in the form of a shepherd’s crooked staff.
An ancient mural dating from the 14th century in Cocking church, just North of Chichester, depicts shepherds carrying “cricks”, similar to hockey sticks, but heavier and longer. In 1622, complaints were made to the Bishop of Chichester about men in the village of Boxgrove, adjacent to Slindon, playing cricket in the churchyard, breaking the church windows and endangering the well-being of a small girl!
Cricket as an organised game owes much to the Duke of Richmond at Goodwood Park. In the 17th century, he developed a stable of players, largely from his estate workers and local landowners, and including Slindon residents. The Newland brothers, and Richard in particular, were key to the development of the game, with Slindon as its focal point. Apart from being their home, Slindon Common with its clay surface on fast-draining gravel provided a level and fast pitch allowing more accurate play than the usual downland turf. When the Duke was summoned by the King to help suppress the Stuart rebellion in Scotland in the early 1700s, Newland and his fellow players formed their own club.
Slindon, therefore, can unquestionably claim to have the oldest cricket club in continuous existence. Hambledon Club subsequently became renowned, but owes its origin to the Newlands and their nephew Richard Nyren who became the landlord of the Bat & Ball tavern on Broadhalfpenny Down.
Richard Newland was the first great left-handed batsman and bowler whose side took on the best in England, including the famous match in 1740 when an all-England team was beaten by “poore little Slyndon…in almost one innings”. His headstone may still be seen today near the entrance to Slindon’s village church.
The other enduring legacy of those glory days was the first set of rules governing the playing of the game. Largely drawn up by the Duke of Richmond, they became the subject of a formal agreement in 1744 between the Duke and Alan Brodrick, later Viscount Midleton, resident of Surrey. This remains substantially the basis of the code of cricket laws in operation to this day.
Slindon’s cricketing heritage is honoured today both by the memorial of “crick”, wicket and ball at the junction of Reynolds Lane and Park Lane, and by the players who still oil their bats, don their pads and walk to the crease on that flat and true Slindon Common pitch.
Hambledon in Hampshire erroneously became known as the ‘Cradle of Cricket’. This is because the cricket commentator, John Arlott, lived there and made the claim. Also, because many years ago members of Hambledon Cricket club stole one of the original Slindon cricket bats. That bat still hangs above the bar at the Bat and Ball Inn (not tavern) in Hambledon. On the wall of the Bat and Ball Inn is a display of cricket memorobilia which correctly acknowledges Slindon as the village where modern cricket originated.
For details of Slindon’s historic Cricket Club, click here.