St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Origins of Cricket St George's Park - The Kings Hated Cricket
The Kings Hated Cricket
Rex Lawrence

No evidence has ever been adduced to indicate where or how cricket began.

It must have been a gradual evolution among children who also played such similar games as stoolball, bat-and-trap, stob-ball, cat-and-dog and what was loosely termed club-ball, which was perhaps a generic term for all of them.

The likeliest hypothesis is that it took shape as the sport of shepherd boys on the downland of south-east England.

There the sheep-cropped grass was short enough to allow the earliest bowling to be simply trundled all along the ground.

If the entrance gate to the hurdle sheepfold was the bowler's target, that would account for the term 'wicket' for it consisted of two forked uprights with a crossbar called a 'bail' laid across them;, and the whole was called a wicket.

If the ball was hit away with the shepherd's crook, that would explain the curved shape of the earliest known bats.

Click image to enlarge
A cricket ball of 1793.
The ball could have been knotted or matted sheep's wool.

The red colour of the ball could be accounted for by the wool being matted together with the reddle or ochre used to mark the sheep.

As evidence of a game identifiable as cricket and known by that name, there are several possible, but not certain, pictorial or textual, references to it.

By far the earliest occurs in an illuminated manuscript of Bede's Life of St Cuthbert, executed at Durham, and authoritatively dated 1120 - 30, and now in the Bodleian.

The picture is of a young man wielding what looks like a hockey stick - not unlike an early cricket bat - with an orthodox left-hander's two-handed grip, right shoulder pointing down the line of the pitch; while another player is making, by twelfth-century standards, a convincing enough caught - and - bowled.

The fact that the illustration is crowded with the figures of other young men tumbling and playing at other games is simply in the tradition of medieval illumination. This is a completely isolated source; and the game may not be cricket; if it is not, however, it looks remarkably like it.

Wherever the name 'cricket' came from - and from the various theories 'cricce', Anglo-Saxon for a stick, is the generally accepted origin. It can be assumed that it was played before it was called cricket.

Partly for that reason most cricket historians have thought it likely that an entry in the Wardrobe accounts of Edward I for 1300 refers to cricket. Translated from the Latin it runs To Master John de Leek, chaplain to Prince Edward, the King's son, for monies paid out himself or by the hands of others, for the said Prince playing at creag and other sports at Westminster on the 10th March, 100 shillings. And by the hand of his Chamberlain, Hugo, at Newenton in the month of March 20s. In all £6.

No one has yet produced an alternative meaning for creag. The word has not been discovered in any other context.

Cricket is first referred to by that name as being played in about 1550.

In 1598, John Derrick, a county coroner for Surrey, was a witness in a court case about the ownership of a piece of former wasteland which had been enclosed and used as a timber yard.

Derrick, who was then 59, deposed in testimony still preserved in the court records that "being a scholar of the Free School of Guildford he and diverse of his fellowes did runne and play there at creckett and other plates".

That testimony would refer to about 1550; and it probably is significant that cricket is the only one of the "plates" referred to by name.

At about the same time, when the Reformation forced the Jesuit school, Stonyhurst, to leave England for St Omer, Rouen, they took their 'Stonyhurst Cricket' with them; and, when they returned at the time of the French Revolution, they brought it back virtually unchanged.

In the same year as John Derrick gave his evidence, Giovanni Florio, a tutor in the household of the Earl of Southampton, published an Italian - English dictionary in which he gave the meaning of "sgrittare" as "to make a noise like a cricket, to play cricket - a - wicket and be merry".

Cotgrave's French dictionary (l6ll) gives one of the meanings of "crosse" as "the crooked staff wherewith boys play at cricket".

When Oliver Cromwell went to London in l6l7 at the age of eighteen he is said to have "gained himself the name of royster" by playing 'football, cricket, cudgelling and wrestling".

At a hearing in the King's Bench in 1640, there was testimony that "there was . . . about 30 years since a Cricketting between the Weald and Upland".

So the game entered the seventeenth century shaped and named but still largely a children's game.

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