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Hambledon Cricket and the Bat & Ball Inn

The competitive spirit which had developed by the beginning of the 18th century made it essential to regulate the game. Articles of Agreement had to be drawn up and signed and witnessed when matches were arranged, and this procedure led to the formation in 1744 of a code of laws.

A present-day spectator in 1750 would notice variations from modern cricket. Bowling was underarm and the wicket of two stumps only was smaller than it is today measuring only 22 inches high and six inches apart.

Such conditions when the ball bumped along the ground kicking off every unevenness in the rough and ready pitch did not call for straight bat play but for sweeping strokes with a curved bat and long handle which resembled its ancestor, the shepherd's crook.

The dress of the players followed the fashion of the day for this was before the adoption of special cricketing wear. Players wore full-sleeved shirts, knee breaches of various shades, and buckled shoes. Umpires would cut notches into a stick to record runs.

Such in outline was the games which, at what may be called the “Hambledon era”, attracted many leading members of London Society.

By 1770 Hambledon was established as the leading Cricket Club in England supported by the most eminent patrons and acknowledged as the chief authority for enforcing the laws of “grand matches”. At Hambledon, the more important changes of the 18th century originated and became law.

In 1771 ‘Shock’ White of Reigate appeared with a bat as broad as the wicket, not only was the offending weapon seized from him and arbitrarily cut down to reasonable dimensions but lest any future batsman should have the temerity to repeat the experiment a minute of Hambledon players forthwith limited the width of the bat to four and quarter inches which remains the regulation size to this day.

In 1775, in a single wicket match between Hampshire and Kent with fourteen runs to win and one wicket in hand, Lumpy Stevens' best balls passed between the sumps without disturbing the bail three times. Public sympathy with the bowler was such that even the visitors agreed to experiment with a third stump, which, within a few years, was universally accepted.

Each year the players gathered at Broadhalfpenny on the first Tuesday in May and at the close of play would repair to the inn where there would be “high feasting”. When all had eaten plentifully and were mellow with al there would be music, with old John Small or his son to play the violin and duet of tenor and counter-tenor by Tom Sueter the wicket-keeper and his long stop, George Leer.

It was perhaps inevitable that when the leading patrons of cricket transferred their affections from Hambledon to the new headquarters in London they should have drawn with them the great cricketers of Hampshire. But the Hambledon men, already established as local celebrities, were to become famous as the fathers of the national game.

The graduation of cricket from its nursery at Hambledon was the first step in a missionary development which gave birth to the great touring Elevens of the eighteen-forties and culminated in the inauguration of international cricket.

Extracted from "Hambledon Cricket and the Bat and Ball Inn" by Diana Rait Kerr, written in 1953.

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