Cricket 1830-1914

Cricket and industrialisation

Transformation of leisure between 1830 and 1870 was part of the larger socioeconomic change.

Out went aristocratic paternalism and privilege and in came the new middle class. The demands of production required discipline and long hours of work and thus any spare time for popular leisure pursuits was limited. Georgian pastimes anyway were seen as immoral and indolent by the Victorians. Gambling and the ale house didn’t fit with the new work ethic. Sunday drinking declined and explicit regulations were introduced for holidays, public houses and barbaric sports. Factory discipline crept into other forms of employment and was perceived as a threat to freedom. The new order was in conflict with pre-industrial leisure patterns and the period between 1830 and 1850 was a dark age for popular recreations. Despite the hardships, popular leisure, underground for a while, survived. Cricket kept going, following traditional patterns of professionalism and competition. Founded in 1825, Lascelles Hall is a particular example. Alternatively, patronised by the nobility, London Cricket Club thrived from 1722 to 1763 not only because of high standards of cricket but also its gambling. It became disreputable and nobles dispersed into the country, only to reform as The White Conduit Club in the 1780s and, in 1787, the Marylebone Cricket Club, based at Lord’s.

From 1850, legislation and industrial bargaining lead to a decrease in the length of the working week with more time away from work. The Saturday half day came in, workers were better off and, with better transport, they were increasingly mobile. There was thus space for a resurgence of popular leisure. Whilst the new middle classes couldn’t stop popular pastimes, they could impose their values of evangelicalism, industry and emotional constraint. Recreation was not solely about the pursuit of pleasure. Rather it was purposeful, rational and resulted in intellectual and physical renewal. Sports were used as agents of moral change along with other social and educational institutions: voluntary, dramatic, literary, naturalist and philosophical societies, mechanics instititutes, choral societies, brass and concertina bands, bell-ringers, festivals, fairs and feasts, plays and allotment associations. Lantern slide shows, illustrating lectures, were as popular as the theatre. Bamforth’s of Holmfirth were established in 1870. Many of the emerging clubs welcomed the support of work and the church to help fund facilities and kit, but split away as soon as they became financially independent. Many other teams were not influenced at all.

Cricket during the second half of the nineteenth century went in several directions at once. In the West Riding, and the Midlands, the new urban way of life produced hundreds of teams based on the pub, the street and the factory. Forerunners to the local leagues, they facilitated the persistence of popular pre-industrial attitudes to sport.

Elite gentlemen’s teams were formed who discarded the popular approach and conformed with rational recreation. Some of them later became hybrids, taking advantage of the commercial opportunities of spectating and employing professionals.

The professionals survived, firstly in dedicated XIs and then in a market place of county and league cricket.

To be expected, hypocrisy was everpresent, illustrated by WG’s career.

Amateur Gentlemen

Some of the clubs designated as First Class

As urban life developed, so the pre-industrial easy mix of workers, nobility and professionals disappeared. The new middle classes began to occupy the top end of the game and a class-based conflict developed. Being paid to play, associated as it was with economic necessity, identity, competition and commercialism ostensibly went up against recreation for its own sake or for moral and physical improvement. But, some people say, being paid for playing always occurrs and professionalism was a smokescreen. What the middle classes really sought was dominance and exclusivity. During the second half of the nineteenth century, cricket became the ultimate expression of the elite superior amateur gentleman, outwardly expressed by elite amateurs taking over control of the top end of the game.

Counties like Yorkshire, officially formed in 1863, were hybrid. Run by amateurs, they also employed professionals and embraced commercialism and competition. However, county games were played midweek with no large scale audiences. Finances came from subscriptions and donations, beyond a worker’s pay. Professionals travelled and changed separately and the captain was always an amateur. Professionals were referred to as players and addressed their gentleman colleagues as Mr. Heavily influenced by the amateurs, in 1873, the MCC introduced qualifying rules for the professionals. One county per season, either by birth, residence or family residence. The games were evenly matched, a cup competition was suggested and a championship loosely assessed on the county who lost the least number of games. The itinerant XIs uneven fixtures gradually declined following this regularisation of county standards.

Amateur gentlemen formed many clubs. Those in the urban centres, for example Leeds, Keighley, Halifax and Huddersfield, were referred to as the principal clubs. Local rivalries lead to change. Whilst still socially exclusive, they played clubs like Lascelles Hall and paid ‘talent money’ to those who scored 50 runs. They also colonised ‘big match’ cricket, aware of the commercial possibilities of catering, and expanded into athletics and football. Huddersfield for example, began as a church team, St John’s, in 1866. They leased Fartown in 1868 and by 1875 were a leading team. They played against Yorkshire, itinerant XIs, staged North V. South and, in 1876, became a multi-sports club. Bradford opened their Park Avenue site in 1880.

Other teams of amateur gentlemen began in the nineteenth century, and many still play: Yorkshire Gentlemen (1863), Free Foresters (1856), Harrow Wanderers (1870), I Zingari (1845). Playing standards were not the point. Whilst some may say they were to do with improving mind and body, many others saw cricket as simply fun. Kids who enjoyed spending dad’s money. Clubs, financed by subscriptions and patrons, arranged their own fixtures and umpires. Some had their own grounds, others were nomadic. Social cricket became part of the season, along with racing and shooting.

1890 to the First World War is referred to as the Golden Age of amateur cricket, played purely for the spirit of the game. The professionals were balanced by glamorous amateurs such as CB Fry, FS Jackson, Ranjitsinji and AC Maclaren. Yorkshire and Surrey, with predominantly professional XIs, nevertheless dominated the county championship.

In May 1894, the MCC and the secretaries of the clubs involved in the official county championship, decided which clubs were first-class: MCC, Oxford and Cambridge Universities, major cricket touring teams and other teams and matches designated as such by MCC. Some examples from the past are shown below (Total number of clubs around 75). Each may have only played a small number of such games.


During the early nineteenth century, professionals lost their token positions on the large estates and the number of ‘big matches’ declined. The professionals joined itinerant XIs, such as the All England Eleven, playing challenge matches up and down the country, initially organised, in1846, by William Clarke, Nottinghamshire slow bowler and father of Trent Bridge. Aided by an expansion of the railway system and the penny post, Clarke received three times more requests for games than he could physically play. Hence a splinter group, the United All England Eleven, formed by John Wisdon in 1852. In the 1860s, when cricket was part of the season, along with shooting or racing, Lord’s was in the doldrums. Once the grouse moors were open, most of the gentry disappeared and Lord’s shut for August. Nomadic was more popular than the county game. Good amateurs were loath to travel north to play the top professionals at Nottingham and Yorkshire and they were hostile to notions like playing to win and making a living from the game. The commercial success of the itinerant XIs was a threat to gentlemen’s cricket and Lord’s showpiece events like Oxford v Cambridge, North v South and Gentlemen v Players.

It has been suggested that when W.G. Grace, who attracted massive crowds, took the side of the MCC, the professional itinerant XIs went into decline. Being paid for playing continued. Counties like Yorkshire and Surrey were mostly professional. Some professionals were taken on as coaches by the urban elite principle clubs, universities and the reformed public schools. Eventually the West Riding elite principle clubs also began to pay players as well as the coaches.

Professionalism persisted at clubs like Lascelles Hall and Dalton. Hall’s heydays were in the 1860s and 1870s. Like pre-industrial cricket, Hall was explicitly involved in stake money matches, employing professional players. The club had fixtures with all principal clubs in major towns. There was no aristocratic patron, though a Mr Jessop, who was middle class and did not gamble, was associated with the club and its professionalism. The club had 23 professionals in 1883, many also playing for counties, the principle clubs and itinerant XIs such as Casey’s Clowns. They were hand loom weavers, who worked by night and honed their cricket skills during the day. The club was a tremendous source of pride and local identity.

The Leagues

The concept of playing sport for its own sake contrasted with the working man’s idea of leisure. Gambling and prizes, reward for individual success and risk taking and raw economic necessity rather than moral and physical benefit of sports were the important features. This strong sense of identity, asserting onself as a human being was a strength that allowed workers to adapt successfully to the new urban culture.

By 1880 industrial transformation was largely in place. There was a popular mass leisure industry, holidays, music hall and a popular press. Games however had some preindustrial features like watching and a sense of identity, commercialism, reward for good performance and professionalism. They became more formal, a contest with organised competitive structures. Collections of enthusiast played wherever under whatever name on recognisable grounds.

The elite clubs, formed in the major centres, increased their gates by diversifying the product, and improving and extending facilities, though still not necessarily for profit. West Riding principal clubs however adopted the popular approach (as with soccer and rugby) to revenue enhancing practices with limited liability, spectator facilities like franchised refreshments, open professionalism such as broken time payments and no separation gentlemen and players. Their need for status demanded top class fixtures and from the 1860s, they were playing the itinerant XIs and clubs like Lascelles Hall as well as each similar clubs in the West Riding. They took over the ‘big matches’ from publicans, adopting commercial spectator facilities, ultimately growing into large scale organisations within a multi-sports leisure industry (bowls, athletics and rugby). Huddersfield St Johns formed in 1866 and leased Fartown in 1868, becoming a leading county ground by 1875, hosting a NUS match with the Graces. By 1876 it had amalgamated with the athletic club, including rugby football 1876.

Unofficial counties, based on local clubs, played in the eighteenth century, for example Kent and Hambledon. The official championship started in 1889. Yorkshire had no home as such, and began life playing home fixtures around the county, further increasing the status and commercial possibilities of the elite clubs.

From the 1820s, single wicket competitions, the popularity of Tom Marsden and the success of clubs like Lascelles Hall show how cricket survived at the local level. From 1870 the local rivalry crystallised into recogniseable clubs playing on permanent grounds. Professionalism was accepted though regulated, for example one paid player per team. There were also good amateurs who preferred to stay local. Many cup competitions were inaugurated. In 1886, the Huddersfield Cricket Association was formed to arrange fixtures and neutral umpires. After the successes of football and northern rugby, cricket began to formalise competitition, A Huddersfield league began in 1892 followed soon by a further eight local leagues. Star players were attractions. There were no rules on mobility. Non-league fixtures were poorly attended. Fighting occurred in the crowd. Despite the contest being regularised on the field, administered by middle class committees, there was controversy and dispute, excess appealing and teams leaving the field in protest. Most teams played in leagues, even church ones originally associated with rational recreation.

Many others followed in the north and midlands. Pre-industrial values thus survived in a coat of urban and industrial organisation. Playing for the sake of the game had space for expression along with appropriate adaptations that kept pace with reality.

Cricket since World War I

Thus cricket continued to look in several directions at the same time. The elite establishment looked backwards to the golden age of elegant strokeplay. There is a suggestion that they favoured public school and Oxbridge cricket as the royal route to success. The northern leagues and some of the counties took the opposite view and embraced popular values.



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