Behind the Scenes at Lord’s Cricket Ground
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Mat: Hello everyone welcome to Living History and at the latest in our series of special episodes from London and this is a very special one indeed. I’m here at Lord’s, the home of cricket and I’m here with Neil Robinson, the curator of collections who’s going to show me around. Neil, thank you so much for taking the time to do this today.
Neil: Pleasure, Mat. Welcome to Lord’s.
Mat: Where are we standing right now? Probably one of the most iconic parts of the entire ground?
Neil: Your listeners can probably hear the slight echo in in the background. We’re standing here in the Long Room – 93 feet double high ceiling. It’s the grandest room in cricket; probably the most famous room in cricket and it’s really the heart of this cricket ground of ours.
Mat: So let’s talk a little bit about the history of Lord’s, because it’s such an iconic ground – the world’s most famous cricket ground. Tell us about the story behind Lord’s.
Neil: Well we’re standing here right beneath a portrait of Thomas Lord, the founder of the ground. A man who started out as a small-scale entrepreneur, a wine merchant who also played cricket and served as a general attendant to the place in Islington called the White Conduit Club where the most prominent gentlemen of the day in the late 18th century were playing their cricket, but they didn’t like the location very much. It was quite open. It was just off one of the main turnpike’s heading north out of the City of London.
There was a lot of crime in the area. It wasn’t unknown for pickpockets and highwayman to frequent it, so these gentlemen, being who they were, thought they should have somewhere slightly more discreet to play their cricket in, so they essentially backed Thomas Lord to go off and find a better location, a more secure location where they could play in privacy and he opened in 1787 the very first Lord’s Cricket Ground which was just off Oxford Street, just off the northern side of Oxford Street these days in a place called Dorset Fields, what’s now Dorset Square.
He stayed there for the first decade or so. It was very successful. Lots of prominent matches there but eventually because London was expanding and the rents were increasing, the Portman estate who owned the freehold of the ground put the rents up for the next stage of the lease. Lord didn’t think he could afford to pay it, so he wanted a slightly more out-of-town location this time. So in 1810, we moved up to a location kind of where near Marylebone station is, between Marylebone station and Regents Park but that was even less successful in the first ground unfortunately.
One of Lord’s great money-making schemes had been to make sure at the first ground everyone passed out through the wine shop. Alcohol sales were a significant part of his business model and the freeholders, the Portman family, weren’t very happy about that and when he built a tavern and a wine shop on his second ground, there were complaints from the freeholders. it also wasn’t such a convenient location to get to for the members of the club, so when Parliament announced in 1812/1813 that they would be building the next stage of the Regents canal right through the ground, Lord was actually quite pleased because it allowed him to take the compensation that he would be given and also to search for another ground and he found that slightly further north on the Eyre estate right here, and we’ve been here since 1814.
Mat: I’ve always assumed that the name Lord’s came from the House of Lord’s or something similar, but it was actually an individual that was named after.
Neil: Actually a canny Yorkshire man called Thomas Lord, and he was such a canny businessman. Cricket wasn’t always the best way of making money in those days. Towards the end of his working life, he decided he needed a little retirement plan and Lord’s was his retirement plan. He approached the Eyre estate for permission to build houses on the outfield in 1823 and they granted it. London was expanding. Property was a big business then just as it is now, so he was given permission to go out to build several houses – semi-detached houses – on about a third of the current playing area of the main ground and this is the main ground. This is before we acquired the nursery ground at the far end, so it would have literally left us with 2/3 of the current playing area left for cricket. It would have killed the club. It would have killed the ground.
Lord’s would not be here today, but luckily another member of the club, a man called William Ward. He was MP for the City of London, Governor of the Bank of England, quite a wealthy, well set up man and a keen cricketer, and he decided to buy Lord out. So he wrote Thomas Lord a check for 5,400 pounds. Lord rode off to a comfortable retirement in Hampshire and William Ward looked after the ground for the next 10 years.
Mat: It’s such a rich and wonderful history. Lord’s must be immensely proud of its story and the heritage that exudes through every part of the ground.
Neil: We absolutely are. It’s a key part of what we are, the heritage of this place and for all the changes that you see around you, we’re standing here in the oldest building on the ground currently. We have lots more modern development. You can see the media center – 20 years old this year – still looking very modern. Directly opposite us, there’s reconstruction work for the Compton and Edrich stands going on. This place continually renews itself and reinvents itself. It evolves much in the same way that cricket does, but there’s something at its heart that keeps it what it is, and it’s that sense of heritage and of it being a special place in the history of cricket that keeps drawing people back, whether they be spectators or the players who love to come here, particularly players from overseas who don’t get to play here that often, and even reporters such as yourself. It’s a special place that people love to come.
Mat: How do you balance that wonderful heritage with the need for development and keeping the game modern and fresh? Because I was recently at the MCG doing a similar behind-the-scenes tour and there’s nothing at the MCG that’s original. It’s effectively a brand new stadium that gets reinvented every 20 years or so. How does Lord’s handle that juggling act between heritage and the requirements for modern development?
Neil: I think for one thing everyone who works here, everyone who’s involved with the club, whether a member or a member of staff, they’re aware of the heritage as a key part of what we are. I think one way we’ve managed to achieve that in the past is that we’ve never knocked everything down and started again. You know, the MCG they knocked down the Members Reserve. I think this is the third version of the Members Reserve they’re on there now, and it’s a very impressive modern building, but we’ve always done things step by step here, which means that every time we’ve had a change, whether it’s a new stand or putting up floodlights or that dramatic new media centre we had here 20 years ago, it’s always had a chance to be absorbed into the atmosphere of the ground and take its own place in the heritage before something else happens. So it evolves slowly, gradually, without having any dramatic change that would be too much of a shock to the system.
Mat: Well talking about heritage. There’s no more heritage than the room we’re standing in. Tell us a little bit about the Long Room.
Neil: The Long Room. It’s one of those unique rooms in cricket where the players and the spectators- MCC members in this case – get really close to each other. The players come down from the dressing rooms on the floor above. They walk into the room from a door in the corner and on a Test match day, they’ll be walking past hundreds of members. There’ll be a little roped off channel for them to walk down, but they will be walking right through the middle of the membership in all of that excitement and atmosphere you get on day one of a Test match or the start of play of any major match, so it’s unique from that point of view. It’s got a tremendous atmosphere. It’s also something of an art gallery. We’ve got a fantastic collection of fine cricketing arts here and many of the finest paintings you’ll actually see on the wall around you. Thomas Lord, W. G. Grace, we’ve got behind us founders over in the corner there. It’s a place that really we can dress up to make it look like the room it should be – the finest and grandest room in cricket.
Mat: When the players are coming through the room particularly opposition batters as they’re walking through the room, are the members restrained, or they ever have a chat to them as they come through?
Neil: I think what you’ll hear generally is encouragement. The members who like to see good cricket whoever they see it from. I don’t think you’ll get anything too partisan here from the MCC members as the players are coming in and out. Generally if somebody scored a century, whoever they are whatever team they’re playing for, when they come back in through the double doors in the middle of the Long Room and then walk back out to the dressing rooms, they’ll get a good reception. They will get a warm reception because the members here like to watch good cricket, and if somebody’s done well out there they will appreciate it whoever the player is.
Mat: It’s one of the most iconic scenes in cricket is the batsman walking out through the Long Room. It’s just a wonderful place to stand and think about the history in and this floor to imagine the number of famous boots that have trodden on this floor over the years.
Neil: Yeah, and the players get a chance to experience that for themselves because when they come down the staircase from the dressing rooms, the staircase is aligned with great players who played here in the past. Coming down from the away dressing, you go down past people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayewardene who have done well here in the past. You walk past Donald Bradman whose portrait is hung directly above the door into the Long Room so that’s the final thing that Australian cricketer will see before he goes into the Long Room to pass out on to the field of play which you can take it as an inspiration, or you can take it as something pretty hard to live up to if you want, and it’s the same for the England players on the other staircase. It’s great England players who play there and we finished there with Rachel Heyhoe Flint, that great England women’s cricketer.
Mat: Neil, we’re standing on a stone balcony overlooking the magnificent cricket ground. Not a great day. There’s supposed to be a game on today but I think with the rain we won’t see much play this morning, but this is pretty significant where we’re standing now, isn’t it?
Neil: This is actually the balcony outside the Members’ Bar on the top floor of the pavilion, which is just an ordinary-looking bar these days with a rather nice balcony overlooking the field of play, but when the pavilion was first built in 1890, this was actually the main visitors’ dressing room. So the Australian team in that year they were touring England, they were one of the first teams to come here and I don’t know how it started, but at some point in the 1890s, a bit of a tradition happened within the Australian team that they would come out on this balcony and they would carve their names or initials into the terracotta blocks on the balustrade and we can see here we’ve got Warwick Armstrong. His name is carved there, 1890 the date below it. Over here just simple initials, VT. That’s Victor Trumper, 1899. It’s tempting to wonder whether they were actually doing that on a on a day like this when it’s gray and drizzly and there is not gonna be much play out there, so they didn’t have much else to do in the pavilion so they carved their names here.
Eventually it kind of stopped in the early 1900s for two reasons: one, the club decided that teams needed a slightly larger dressing room so the dressing rooms were moved one floor down to where they are now and new balconies were put on the front in front of those. There’s also another aspect to it which I suspect the club didn’t really want this catching on with other teams. They didn’t mind so much when it was prominent Australians doing it, but we’ve got a gentleman here. You can see quite clear, 1903 the date, a Mr. E Reeve has carved his name on the balustrade right there.
Now your listeners probably won’t know Mr. E Reeve. Neither did we really until we researched why that name was here. E Reeve played one match here for the London Playing Field Association in 1903. He came in to bat number 11, nought not out, didn’t score a run, didn’t bowl, and didn’t take a catch. This is the only recorded game of cricket he ever played in. If you go on cricket archive or ESPN Cricket, you won’t find any other games played by E. Reeve, but he’s here on the Lord’s balustrade right next to Victor Trumper.
Mat: I love that! What a link with history! He has literally carved his name in the history books.
Neil: He certainly has and maybe that’s a reason why the club decided to move the dressing rooms one floor down so that sort of thing wouldn’t happen too often, but we’re very pleased. Most places don’t like too much graffiti, but we’re very pleased to have these names inscribed in the block, because they are part of the early history of the pavilion. We do our best to preserve them. We had a restoration program for them a couple of years ago which has revealed a bit more of the detail of the signatures. It’s difficult to preserve them in the longer term because they’re out here in the open. The blocks will weather. Eventually they will disappear, but we’ve got them well recorded so we won’t forget about them even hopefully it’ll be a long time before they do disappear.
Mat, we’re standing now on the roof terrace of the pavilion here at Lord’s, which is probably the finest view of the ground and some of the surrounding countryside and we’re here because in 1899 an Australian playing for MCC, a man called Albert Trott struck a ball over the top of this pavilion, and I brought you up here just to get an impression of the scale of that achievement. hitting a ball, he was facing bowling from the pavilion end actually from an Australian bowler, Monty Noble and he was famed for his big hitting and he had made a couple of other attempts earlier in his career, but this one he finally made it.
At the time, we had a couple of chimney stacks standing just behind the roof here, feeding the fireplaces down on the ground floor level, and the ball glanced off one of the chimney stacks and landed in the garden of the dressing room attendant Philip Need, on the site of what is now the real tennis court behind the pavilion. Because it didn’t go entirely out of the precincts of Lord’s, he didn’t get a six for it. He only got four runs, but it was a remarkable hit and the interesting thing about it is the fact that he was playing against Australia at the time when he was an Australian.
he started his career in Melbourne, played for South Melbourne, moved on to play for Victoria, played against the English tourists in three Test matches for Australia in 1893, then he hoped he would get a place on the Australian side to tour England in 1896. It was after all Captain Bryce’s brother, Harry Trott but no, he was left out. He did moderately well in the trial match between Australia and the rest and didn’t get selected for the touring team so he decided to make his own way over to England, carved out a career here at Lord’s initially playing for MCC and various other sides, eventually qualified to play for Middlesex played the rest of his career here in England and he even played two Test matches for England in South Africa the winter before he made that huge hit over the pavilion. So it’s tempting to think that it was the very fact that it was the Australians he was playing against that he felt he should have been a part of, that made him perform this magnificent feat that no one has ever repeated.
We are now standing in the Bowlers’ Bar, which is the small extension on the north side of the pavilion which is where the 5-minute bell gets rung from at the start of every day’s play, which is a tradition going back to the 1860s before this pavilion was even built. But the really interesting thing about the Bowlers’ Bar is the reason it’s called the Bowlers’ Bar, this used to be the dressing room for the professional cricketers. Up until 1963, we had a division a social division in English cricket between gentlemen, amateurs and professional players. We had the Gentlemen v. Players match here every year for 150 years, and the professionals were not allowed to change in the same dressing rooms as the amateurs. There was that much of a social distinction so the professional players would change down here and they would go out down a separate set of steps. They wouldn’t go out through the Long Room. They wouldn’t have that privilege of mixing with the members.
So even someone as prominent a cricketer as Jack Hobbs, every test match he played here, every County match for Surrey, he would have gone out this way and that continued right up until the end of the Second World War, when it was finally felt that this was a little silly and we were getting to the point where Wally Hammond had become captain of England and he’d had to renounce his professional status to do that. It wasn’t long after that that Len Hutton became the first professional to captain England, so the social life of England was changing and this was being reflected in cricket as well, but this building stands as a monument to that division as it was at the time.
Mat: I love that about this ground. As I walk around, there are all these wonderful stories, all these wonderful chapters of history but these are tangible links. These stories have been kept alive by the rooms, by the walls and the floors that we’re walking through right now. It must be a wonderful place to work, especially for yourself Neil, and have that connection to history every day.
Neil: For somebody who was really drawn to this place by the history as a spectator in the first place and then having had the good fortune to come here and work within the ground looking after the history, yes it is fantastic and to be able to help to carry on that tradition. We’re rebuilding the Compton and Edrich stands at the moment and they’re not going to change their names. They’re going to stay the Compton and Edrich stands, even though they’re going to look very different. There is still going to be that reference back to former players, former times. We’ve got the brand new Warner stand just behind us to the side here referencing Sir Pelham Warner, one of the great players/writers. He founded the magazine The Cricketer which still goes today in 1920, one significant figure in the history of cricket who was memorialized through a stand here at Lord’s.
Mat: I believe his ashes also was scattered on the playing surface when he died, so he’d be famous as the manager. People would remember him as the manager during the Bodyline series of ‘32/’33 in Australia. Quite an important character in cricket history.
Neil: He certainly was. Pelham Warner was very uncomfortable about body line and we can talk a little bit more about that later, but yes he was one of the few people to have his ashes scattered on the outfield at Lord’s, but it’s not something we encourage. the groundsmen I think doesn’t like it for the condition of his grass very much, and the Warner stand which stands to the side of the pavilion here was actually built on the site where Warner struck his first boundary to when he played here in a schools’ match in his first ever appearance here so that that’s another nice link.
Mat: Just wonderful, Neil. We’re looking at the most iconic thing in cricket. It’s the original Ashes urn. Tell us about the beautiful urn.
Neil: That’s right. We’re here in the MCC Museum, the permanent home of the original Ashes urn, which is really the most prominent embodiment of a legend. The Ashes really started as a joke which became a legend. We have to go back to 1882 to tell the story to the first time that a proper Australian XI defeated a proper England XI on English soil at the Oval. Dramatic match! England only needed 85 to win but fell seven runs short, thanks to the bowling of Fred ‘The Demon’ Spofforth. Really dramatic finale! It’s reputed that one spectator bit through the handle of his umbrella. Another died, it was originally thought of a heart attack, but we now think it was a brain haemorrhage, due to the Press reports at the time, so yes, it was a very dramatic finish to the game and although the Australians were cheered all the way back to their hotel, their reaction in the press amongst the cricket fans of England was substantially less kind to their own team.
A few days after the match, a spoof obituary appeared in the Sporting Times Newspaper, which was placed by a journalist called Reginald Brooks which declared the death of English cricket and said that the body would be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia – the first mention of the word “ashes” in connection with cricket. now Brooks was involved in a campaign to legalize cremation at the time so he was using the joke about the ashes as a vehicle for advancing his own case, but it was a joke that caught on and an England team was going out to Australia that very winter under the Honourable Ivo Bligh, and he declared his team would go out there to ‘regain the Ashes’, simply meaning the honour of English cricket. There were no ashes at the time. Billy Murdoch, the Australian captain similarly declared that he would defend the Ashes on behalf of Australia, so the stage was set.
But before the Test series even started – there were three Test matches scheduled – Ivo and his team, the amateurs from his team, visited a place called Rupert’s Wood House in San Bruno Victoria near Melbourne, and on Christmas Eve they played a scratch game against some estate workers and some of the other guests at this house party which of course they won, and thinking that the team deserves some reward for this achievement, Lady Janet Clarke, the hostess decided that Ivo should be presented with the ashes of English cricket, so she took what we think is a little perfume jar or ointment bottle from her bedside table, dressing room table and a bail was burnt. We have the testimony of the descendants of one of the estate workers who burnt the bail to confirm that. The bail was burnt, the ashes from the bail were placed in the urn, and it was presented to Ivo as the ashes of English cricket. Nothing to do with the Test series, or whether England had actually retained the ashes in the public conception, but purely as a joke to follow up the original joke.
But Ivo kept that. Irrespective of everything else that happened, you know England won the Test series 2-1. A fourth match was later arranged which the Australians won so you could say the series was drawn 2-all. Ivo declared at the farewell dinner at Melbourne that the Ashes should be buried in a corner of the MCG and forgotten about, but he didn’t mean that urn. He just meant the idea of the ashes. That urn he took back with him to England, and it became a treasured family memento largely because one of Lady Janet Clarke’s friends who had been present at the presentation was a young woman called Florence Rose Morphy and Ivo had fallen in love with her, and two years later they married and this became a symbol of their courtship.
S although it’s subsequently become associated with the idea of rivalry between England and Australia on the cricket field, at its heart it’s a love story between an English guy and an Aussie girl, so we should really think of it as something that brings our two nations together rather than ever dividing us.
Mat: And there is confusion about it because people often say why doesn’t it come to Australia, and it was never a trophy to be awarded to the winning team, was it?
Neil: That’s absolutely right, Mat. It’s never been a trophy. In fact, the whole idea of the Ashes was forgotten about after Ivo’s tour for 20 years, and it was only Pelham Warner’s tour in 1903/04 that reignited the idea, partly because Florence Morphy went out on the same boat as Warner’s team and told Warner about the story. The urn remained in obscurity in Cobham Hall, the home of Ivo and Florence until Ivo died in 1927, at which point Florence donated it to us. They were then Lord and Lady Donnelly, by the way. Quite significant people in the country. Lady Donnelly donated it to us in 1928. We put it on display in 1929 and slowly from that point, it became more and more associated with the idea of the Ashes contest on the field which had been reignited after Warner’s tour, but it’s never been a trophy as you say. In fact, there was no trophy for the Ashes at all until the late 1990s when because Australia was in the middle of this long winning streak and there were increasing calls for the urn to travel back to Australia, MCC decided that the series should finally have a proper trophy so we created a larger scale replica of the urn in Waterford crystal, which was first presented to Mark Taylor at the end of the 1998-99 series, and has been presented at the end of every series since, although quite often at the ceremony on the field of play you’ll see a little replica urn being held up instead because you just can’t shift the idea of the urn itself out of the way and give place to the trophy, but it’s the trophy that the Australian team has taken back with them to Australia at the end of this series.
Mat: That’s why there’s a blank spot on the shelf next to the little urn. That’s where the trophy should be, but unfortunately it will remain in Australia.
Neil: At the moment we have a little blank spot. We’re going to put the Basil D’Oliveira trophy there to replace it, just so it doesn’t look too empty and we can kind of forget about the Ashes trophy’s absence for a couple of years until it all starts up again.
Mat: There’s other pretty special trophies in this cabinet. Just tell me some of the other significant parts of the collection that we’re looking at here.
Neil: Well, there’s certainly a couple I can draw your attention to. Up on the top left we have the Prudential Cup, which was the very first Men’s World Cup contested in 1975, subsequently in ‘79 and ’83. All three finals were held at Lord’s. The first three World Cup tournaments all held in England, and it was that Prudential trophy that was presented at the end of each of them. After the ‘83 tournament, the Prudential Insurance Company decided they weren’t going to be involved in cricket anymore, so a new sponsor was sought for the ‘87 tournament in India and Pakistan, and the trophy was retired and has stayed with us ever since, and it’s a great attraction for a lot of our Indians who are visitors who remember that famous day when Kapil Dev lifted the trophy when India had been expected to be defeated heavily by the West Indies in the ‘83 final, and it really stimulated that the passion for one-day cricket that exists on the subcontinent today. So that’s a significant item in cricket trophies.
Another one just below we have the original Gillette Cup from 1963 which was contested fro in finals at Lord’s up until 1980, the first domestic one-day trophy, so that has its own particular place. we’ve also got the Women’s World Cup right next to it, which England hold at the moment, and the very first Women’s World Cup down here, the Jack Hayward trophy, although interestingly there is another version of this at the National Sports Museum in Melbourne, so we’re not quite sure who has the original and who has a replica. We’ll try and work that one out at some point.
Mat: I have to say as a cricket fan, the new focus on women’s cricket I think is absolutely wonderful, because it’s a wonderful game to watch. It’s probably one of the few sporting events where it’s just as exciting and often more exciting. You know, the focus we always put on men’s sport. Women’s cricket is absolutely fantastic, and as a cricket fan I’m absolutely delighted the prominent position it now holds in collections around the world like this one.
Neil: I remember going to my first women’s Test match in Guildford in 1998, wonderful hot day, terrific battle between bat and ball. I remember seeing the Australian fast bowler Catherine Fitzpatrick clunk one of the England batsmen on the helmet. I mean, it was brutal out there and it was a really hot day so I’ve been keen on women’s cricket ever since that point, and I was fortunate enough to sneak out and watch the last few overs of the World Cup finals here a couple of years ago, and that was such a tremendous game of cricket. I wouldn’t call it a game of women’s cricket. It was a great game of cricket played by women, and that tournament I think has helped to cement the position of women’s cricket as a prominent sport. Women’s sport generally has thankfully had a lot more publicity behind it certainly in this country over the last 2 or 3 years, and hopefully that will only increase going forward.
Mat: Some great tournaments coming up as well. Both the men’s and women’s 20/20 World Cup coming up. Some just wonderful tournaments in cricket in general.
Neil: There’s always something to look forward to in this game of ours. Lord’s has played a prominent part in that in its history and will continue to do so, but cricket fans around the world always have something to look forward to.
So we’re now in the work room, the sort of conservation area of the MCC Museum which we open up on major match days for people to come in and have a look around, but outside of that, it’s closed off but behind a glass screen so people can see what’s going on and I’m just getting out here a replica urn, replica of the original ashes urn. The same size, more or less the same materials. We never quite managed to get the color exactly right, but it’s this sort of thing that you’ll see the players holding up at the end of the series. In fact, this is the very replica that Tim Payne held up at The Oval a couple of weeks ago, so Mat if you’d like to get your hands on that very carefully.
Mat: I’m nervous holding it but that is a wonderful piece of history. Absolutely fantastic!
Neil: We have had one or two accidents with replicas in the past, which is why nobody gets to handle the Ashes urn unless it’s a member of staff and it needs to be handled.
Mat: I’m gonna hand that back to you very gently.
Neil: We do have some other items here for you to have a look at. As well as having a fantastic museum collection, we’ve also got a wonderful library and archive. The archive is the institutional memory of MCC, but it also reflects the history of cricket more generally. We’ve got material from scorers like Bill Frindall, Irving Rosenwater who was the official scorer for World Series Cricket in Australia back in the 1970s, and we’ve got school books for MCC tours, papers from MCC tours, so it’s a real treasure trove of information for anyone researching the history of cricket.
But I’ve got a couple of library books here just to show you. This here is actually four books bound into one. It is the very first four editions of Bridger’s scores. Now Samuel Bridger was the scorer at the first Lord’s ground, and in 1790 he produced what’s really the very first cricket annual, the predecessor of Wisden Cricketers Almanac, and he kept doing this every year until he died in 1813. And if you look through it, all it is is just page after page of cricket scores. There’s no narrative. There’s no commentary of any kind. You’ll just see the dates of the game, the place it took place, and then the score card. Much as you would see today, except there are no bowling figures in there. The bowlers weren’t as important as the batsmen.
Mat: A large number of low scores, I’m noting.
Neil: A large number of low scores. Remember these are the days of underarm bowling. The bat is okay. They were getting pretty straight by the 1790s, but they weren’t spliced. You didn’t have a spliced handle. It would be one piece of wood. Very rough, no lawn mowers so it would be bumpy. It would be really difficult to score runs, but people still took their cricket very seriously, and if you look at the introductory bit above some of the matches here, we’ve got here on Tuesday the 22nd of August, the two following days was played a match at the Hope near Farnham in Surrey, the county of Surrey against Hants for 1,000 guineas.
So this was the pot that was put up by the organizers of the two teams. Surrey, you can see the Earl of Winchelsea who was one of the founders of MCC, Hampshire Colonel Lennox who was also a very wealthy man; Bligh, Esquire – probably from the same family as Ivo Bligh. So these teams have been put together. There were no County clubs at the time. These teams would have been put together by prominent individuals from those counties, who were effectively gambling their own fortunes on the outcome of a game of cricket, which is why in the 18th century, these same aristocrats got together to write the first laws of the game, and we have here a book from 1755 which is the first pamphlet ever produced on the laws of cricket. People often think that cricket has laws rather than rules because it’s somehow more special. well it’s nice to look at it that way, but in fact it wasn’t uncommon for any kind of game and even card games in the 18th century to be described by laws, rather than rules.
So as you go through, you’ll see laws for the umpires, laws for the wicket keepers – back foot will hand over the crease, laws for the strikers, laws for the bowlers. Simply called the game at cricket, a lovely little pamphlet from 1755.
Mat: Just wonderful!
Neil: A little bit of material from our archive now. We have plenty of paperwork relating to the infamous Bodyline scandal, and this is just a small selection from it. We have the letter that was sent out to members of the MCC Committee on the 18th of January 1933, saying that the Committee had received a cable from the Australian board complaining about the unsportsmanlike nature of Bodyline bowling, and on the back of it you will see the draft.
This is only the first draft of the MCC response. Now remember that the MCC committee had not seen Bodyline bowling. They didn’t know anything about it, and the very idea that a MCC captain could have invented tactics on the field that would be unsportsmanlike or in any way ungentlemanly was completely anathema to them.
Mat: That term “unsportsmanlike” we should remember was specifically chosen and had the specific effect of causing a scandal, didn’t it?
Neil: It really did, and it certainly caused lots of outrage within the halls of MCC. The first line of this MCC response – Marylebone deeply regret your cable <stop>. That was later changed to deplore your cable, so there was a real war of words going on here. There’s one from the Secretary of MCC to a Mr. Winterbottom of Lincoln’s Inn WCR. Dear Mr. Winterbottom, thank you for your letter of the 19th instant and enclosures, which I returned duly signed and executed. These gentlemen on the Australian Board of Control are rather tiresome.
Yes, it just shows how out of touch the MCC committee were at the time because we didn’t have satellite television to show the images of what Bodyline bowling was really like. All they had were newspaper reports which came through rather late and were written by people who were perhaps wanting to present the MCC team, the England team in a positive light to their own readership. So it was a very different world in those days.
Mat: Bodyline bowling of course was later banned under the laws of cricket so the full story eventually came out.
Neil: The full story did eventually come out and a lot has been said on Bodyline over the years. I don’t think there’s anything particularly new to add, but we still get plenty of students coming into the library and archive here to look at Bodyline, its political aspects because of course it had a knock-on effect for the relationship between the nations of Australia and Britain which had probably taken a hit ever since Gallipoli. This didn’t help. Anyway, it’s still a focus for study in in cricket history, but just going back to what we talked about on the top of the pavilion.
We have here the bat that was used by Albert Trott to make that fantastic hit. A Courbet bat made in London and if you look at its profile you’ll see it’s really pretty thin. Edges of no more than a couple of centimetres thick, not much of a hump at the back. right next to it we have a bat that was used by Kumar Sangakkara of Sri Lanka to make it his first Test hundred here at Lord’s two or three years ago, and comparing the two it’s really like a match stick next to a railway sleeper, and this is the sort of bat, the Sangakkara bat is the sort of bat that pretty much all players use in cricket today and you would think it would be capable of striking a ball much further than Trott’s bat ever could have been.
Trott was actually well known for using a heavier bat than most of his contemporaries so this was quite a heavy bat by its standards, but it doesn’t look like it now and it’s amazing to think that it was this bat that struck the ball over the pavilion, and hundreds of players using bats like this in recent years have tried and failed, and only really Keiron Pollard, a West Indian batsman was playing for Somerset ever came close. He got it over the apex of the roof but it struck the back wall of the roof terrace and didn’t go quite over the pavilion, so he was really close but not quite there.
Mat: Neil, thank you so much for taking the time to show me around. It’s been absolutely wonderful and the thing that strikes me is this is an evolving ground. The story of Lord’s has been evolving for centuries. What do you think the future of this ground is?
Neil: That’s really difficult to predict. I know everyone who works here now is aware that we have this balance to strike between allowing the ground to evolve just as the game of cricket evolves, and maintaining that sense of heritage of what we are at Lord’s at its heart. That gives me confidence to think that we will manage to retain that sense of being a special place, that of being a heritage venue, within any development that we go through in future. People still find this a fascinating place to come, even visitors from other parts of the world who maybe aren’t as interested in the historical side because it is such a prominent place within the world of cricket. Even though the game isn’t controlled from Lord’s in the same way as it was a hundred years ago, but it’s still a significant institution and it’s still a significant part of what makes cricket a special game. So as long as people around the world manage to retain that sense of Lord’s being a special place, then it will be a place that people want to come
Mat: It certainly is a special place. I do encourage people to come here when they’re in London, whether to a game or even just to do the tour of the behind-the-scenes like we’ve done here today. Neil, it’s wonderful. Thank you so much for your insights and for showing us around. It’s been just extraordinary.
Neil: It’s been a pleasure, Mat. Very nice to have you here.