In the 18th Century, Broadhalfpenny (pronounced brawd-HAYP-nee) Down was home to the legendary Hambledon Club, the acknowledged authority on the Laws of Cricket, and was the location of the inaugural First-Class cricket match in 1772 between a Hampshire XII and an All England XII.
It is one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in England and cricket, of all standards, is still played on Broadhalfpenny Down.
The Hambledon Club, founded in about 1750, was the first proper cricket club. Its clubhouse was ‘The Hutt’ is now The Bat & Ball public house opposite Broadhalfpenny Down. By 1760, the club had become the centre of the cricket world and its members included some of the finest cricketers of the day. It was the acknowledged authority for the Laws of Cricket. New laws were considered and recorded in the club’s minutes. They transformed the game of cricket from an occasional rural pastime into the international sport we know today. The Men of Hambledon achieved amazing success under the direction of Richard Nyren, the tenant of The Hutt, carrying all before them on a number of occasions. Most notably they beat Rest of England teams on a number of occasions and once by an innings.
In the 1780s London became the favoured center for cricket and the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), founded in 1787, assumed authority for the laws. The last cricket match played on Broadhalfpenny Down was in 1792 and the ground then lay fallow for 116 years.
Although the old Hambledon Club closed in 1796, memories of the great deeds of their famous cricketers were cherished by many and a move was made to erect a memorial stone to them. The great England cricketer and all-round sportsman, C B Fry, took an interest. A three-day match between a Hambledon XII, which included Fry, and an All England XII, captained by the legendary G L Jessop, was played from 10th to 12th September at which the memorial stone was unveiled; cricket had returned to Broadhalfpenny Down.
Harry Altham, a Master at Winchester College, first-class cricketer, cricket historian and President of MCC, had a great affection for Broadhalfpenny Down. In 1924, he persuaded Winchester College to purchase the ground and surrounding farmland. There was a grand, well-attended match in 1925 to celebrate the acquisition of the ground. It was not until 1936 when the ground was leased to the local engineering firm of Wadhams that Harry Altham’s wish for regular cricket to be played at Broadhalfpenny Down was fulfilled.
On New Year's Day 1929 a charity cricket match was played at Broadhalfpenny Down between The Hampshire Eskimos and The Invalids. Ex Seargent Major Newland who was fondly known as Picolo Jim, climbed on top of the monument and beckoned the players to the field to start the match.
The game, which was interrupted at one stage by the Hampshire Hounds fox hunt, was a cold and low scoring affair with The Invalids scoring 89 all out and the Eskimos scoring 78 in reply.
It was so bitter and cold that as soon as the last wicket fell the players went straight to The Bat and Ball and drunk the pub dry.
In 1952, Wadhams gave up their tenure and Harry Altham offered the lease to HMS Mercury, which had moved to Leydene House, a mile from the ground. The lease was later taken over by the Ministry of Defence. In 1959, four officers founded the Broadhalfpenny Brigands CC with the aim of securing regular fixtures to be played on the ground. When it became clear that HMS Mercury would be closed, the Brigands applied for the lease. In 1992, this was granted to them by Winchester on condition that they would set up an independent trust to secure the long-term future of the ground.
On the initiative of The Broadhalfpenny Brigands and Winchester College, Broadhalfpenny Down Association was set up in 1996; independent of the Brigands and including representatives of the Cricket Society, English Schools Cricket Association, Hambledon Cricket Club, Hampshire Cricket Board and the MCC.
At this time the facilities on Broadhalfpenny Down were primitive – a small thatched pavilion with no electricity or running water. In 1997 planning permission was granted to build a new pavilion. An appeal was launched and more than 400 donations from all over the world raised £188,000 for the pavilion, with electricity and running water, a marquee, artificial grass wicket and net, pitch covers, new gate, sight screens, ground maintenance equipment and secure storage huts.
In 2019, the ICC Cricket World Cup trophy came to Broadhalfpenny Down as a pre-cursor to the tournament being held in England that Summer. More than 400 visitors attended the event, a mixture of fun and homage with cricket historians giving a talk on the origins of the sport and some of the Broadhalfpenny Brigands dressing in vintage cricket attire.
In 2020 the cricket season was delayed until mid-July due to the COVID-19 pandemic. New rules were introduced to allow socially distanced cricket which saw visiting teams arriving in their whites and deprived of the legendary teas usually served in the marquee.
Despite the late start to the season more than 30 games took place on Broadhalfpenny Down and players and supporters appreciative of the chance to play at the Cradle of Cricket.