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!
Slindon was then a very different sort of place than it is now. It was unruly and violent and many, if not most, of its population were actively involved, as providers, distributors or consumers, in what was then the principle industry of the whole of the South and Eastern England, which was smuggling. The smuggling activities of Slindon and the adjacent villages centred around The Dog and Partridge Inn on Slindon Common, the site of much skulduggery, including at least one murder, whose innkeeper at this time was James Reynold (hence Reynold’s Lane). There was a gibbet on Slindon Common.
The game of cricket was also very different. There were no fixed rules. Games were played on any convenient strip of land, either common land or an area lent by the landlord, which had generally been cropped short by sheep. The ball was bowled along the ground under arm where it hopped and bobbled about, depending on the evenness of the turf. The wicket was two sticks with a third acting as a ball across the top. The ‘bat’ was curved, not unlike a club, and the batsman was allowed to hit the ball twice, which made life pretty hazardous for the fielders.
The organisation of a game or match was very much like the arranging of a duel. The opposing teams and the two umpires (seconds) used to confer prior to the game to decide and agree the rules for that particular game. Sides were not necessarily eleven strong and for single wicket games (very popular) sides could be of three players or five or more. There were also one-a-side matches.
By 1700 the game was being widely played in the South and South-East of England and in London, and was gradually spreading Northwards. Parishes and village teams (some calling themselves clubs) were regularly playing each other, generally challenge matches for modest sums of money, and there were also ‘great’ matches between teams sponsored by rich patrons such as the 1st and 2nd Dukes of Richmond, Colonel William Gage (of greengage fame), Admiral Vernon, Mr Alan Broderick, Frederick, Prince of Wales (who died in 1751 after being hit by a cricket ball), his brother the Duke of Cumberland and others. These ‘great’ matches were played for large sums of money with much side betting and sometimes attracted huge crowds of up to 10,000 people. Fairly early in the century there were County teams representing Surrey and Kent and later one for Sussex.
In the late 1730’s Charles Lennox, the 2nd Duke of Richmond, was recovering and convalescing from a badly broken leg, when it came to his attention that one of the local village teams, near to Goodwood, that of Slindon, had playing for it some men of considerable talent for the game. The Duke had previously terminated the hand-picked ‘Duke of Richmond’s XI’ team, which he had been sponsoring, managing and occasionally playing for in the previous decade, and became the patron and sponsor of the Slindon team instead.
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.
The core of the Slindon team were three brothers of the Newland family – Richard, John and Adam – and later, in the 1740’s, a very good bowler called Edward Aburrow (known as ‘Cuddy’). Of these gamesmen, Richard Newland, a left-handed batsman all-rounder, was a famously good player who later went on to play for Sussex and All England. Not all of the players came from Slindon; the Duke cast his net wide and also sometimes drafted in some of his old players like Thomas Waymark and Stephen Dingate from Surrey. Under Richard Newland, as captain, Slindon had a run of 43 games with only one lost. Although the team was known as the ‘Slindon’ team (mainly because its captain was a Slindon man) it was actually much more like a Sussex county team with players from all parts of the county.
Richard Newland was, arguably, the greatest player of his time, although there are some who say that Robin Colchin (‘Long Robin’) of Bromley was at least his equal. 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 most important match of 1745 was between an XI picked by Richard Newland and an XI picked by Robin Colchin, which took place at the Artillery Ground. Colchin’s side won by more than 70 runs.
There is no doubt that there was cricket at Slindon a long time prior to 1741. At that time Richard Newland, then in his prime, was 28. It is thought that he had been playing for Slindon for the decade before, being as he was 18 years old in 1731. It is assumed also that he learned the game at Slindon, in which case there was cricket there in the 1720’s and quite probably before.
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 and Ball tavern on Broadhalfpenny Down.
In July 1741, in a letter to her husband, the Duchess of Richmond (Sarah, wife of the 2nd Duke) mentioned a conversation she had with John Newland about a Slindon v East Dean cricket match on Long Down, near Eartham, which had taken place a week earlier. This is the first mention of cricket at Slindon and is also the first time that any of the Newland family is heard of in the context of cricket.
Later in July, the 2nd Duke of Richmond wrote two letters to the Duke of Newcastle concerning a game on 28th July with resulted in an unruly brawl involving ‘heavy blows’ and many ‘broken heads’! This match between Slindon and unknown opponents took place at Portslade. Slindon seems to have won the battle, but the result of the match (if it was ever finished) is not recorded. The affray probably arose over a dispute about the rules of engagement agreed with the other side and the two umpires.
There is no doubt that some of the Slindon cricketers were actively engaged in the smuggling trade. Their star bowler, Edward Aburrow senior (senior because he had a son – also Edward Aburrow – who migrated to play cricket for Hambledon in the 1760’s) was a known active smuggler whho was jailed in 1745 for ‘bearing arms whilst landing prohibited goods’ at Elmer’s sluice on the Sussex coast (he was lucky not to have been hanged or transported). At about the same time, two other star Slindon players – Richard and John Newland – were indicted for assaulting one Griffith Hughes in an incident almost certainly connected with smuggling. On this latter occasion all were discharged. At the time, the Slindon team was sponsored by the 2nd Duke of Richmond and it is entirely possible that His Grace, faced with the probable loss of his star bowler, Aburrow, and two of the Newland brothers, one of them the team captain – three players comprising the core of his Slindon team – might have had a quiet word with the magistrate so as to ensure leniency.
There were, in fact, five Newland brothers. It is not known if the two youngest ever played for Slindon; there is certainly no record of them having down so. There were also five Newland sisters. One of these, Susan, married Richard Nyren of Eartham and their eldest son Richard (born 1734) was taught how to play the game by his Newland uncles at Slindon and later went to Hambledon and became captain of the Hambledon club (he was known as ‘The General’). It is not known if Richard ever played for Slindon. He certainly did not in the great years of the Slindon club, as he was much too young at the time.
In 1744 at a meeting between the 2nd Duke of Richmond and Mr Alan Broderick (later Viscount Middleton) and a few representatives of one or two cricket clubs, at the Star and Garter Inn on Pall Mall, the rules of cricket were first agreed and codified (the hand-written document is in the Chichester Records Office) but they were not printed and published until 1755. It has been said that Richard Nyren took the rules to Hambledon when he moved there and it seems entirely possible that Hambledon may well have been the first club to play consistently to the written rules – which remain substantially the basis of the code of cricket laws in operation to this day.
The great years for the Slindon team were 1741 to 1744 when they carried (almost) all before them, but lost heavily once to London. In 1745, the 2nd Duke of Richmond, their sponsor and patron, who was also a Lieutenant General in the army, departed to help the Crown, represented by the Duke of Cumberland (‘butcher’ Cumberland) quell the Jacobite rebellion which broke out that year. Slindon cricket went into decline. Richard Newland departed to play for Sussex and All England and there were no more notable Slindon matches, only village and inter-parish games are occasionally recorded during the years after this. The 2nd Duke died in 1750 and after his death the whole of Sussex cricket deteriorated and remained at a low ebb until the rise of the Brighton Cricket Club in the 1790’s.
In 1744, the 2nd Duke created the world’s first known cricket scorecard at a match between Slindon and London at the Artillery Ground at Finsbury when Slindon won by 55 runs. Of interest is that Richard Newland was out for a duck in both innings and Thomas Waymark, who was one of the stars of the previous Duke of Richmond’s XI, played for the London side. The original card is in the Chichester Records Office.
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’. In fact, the Hambledon Club was pre-eminent in the 1760’s and 1770’s, led by Richard Nyren, landlord of The Hut Inn (later renamed The Bat and Ball) from 1762. The cricket commentator, John Arlott, lived in Hambledon in the last century and made the claim. 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 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.