On 26 July 1745 twenty-two ladies gathered in a field on Gosden Common near Guildford. Half of them – the maids of Hambledon – wore red ribbons around their hats; the other eleven, from Bramley, were bedecked with blue ribbons in their high hats. Both teams of eleven were decked out in floor-length white dresses. There then ensued what has been described as the first all-female cricket match – one in which the Maids of Hambledon triumphed, scoring 127 notches (i.e. runs, recorded with a notch being cut in a wooden tally-stick). The Maids of Bramley managed a disappointing 119 notches, but who cares, the result was probably the subject of many wagers and for all I know the Hambledon Maids were just more expert at sand-papering the ball, or slathering it with face cream to give their (underarm) bowlers an edge. (Oh no, sorry, that sort of thing came later, with the men’s game….).
Hambledon had become the spiritual home of English cricket and it is here that John Sackville, Third Duke of Dorset played. He was a keen patron of cricket, spending, it is said, over a thousand pounds a year on maintaining his team (according to the Whitehall Evening Post of 1783). And that was before taking into account the huge wagers he made on the match results. He too was keen to foster the women’s game, as well as making overtures to host what would have been the first international cricket match, between the English and the French…. but the French Revolution put paid to that absurd idea!
The women’s game remained a novelty, and was not confined to local village girls having a frolic in the long grass. In 1777 (or possibly a couple of years later) Elizabeth, the Countess of Derby, arranged a match in which both teams were drawn from the upper echelons of society. I have no idea who won, but at least we have some idea of the frocks they wore, thanks to the print made in 1779 – in colour, below, and as a monochrome close up, above). Apparently the game prompted the Reverend H R Haweis to remark “Do I object to cricket, for instance? Personally, I do not care to see a graceful girl straddling behind a wicket, with her nose above the bails, her body doubled-up like a frog’s, and her hands clapped on her knees for support; nor do I think that a young lady’s hands and arms were intended to swing a weighty club, and ‘swipe’, as the boys say, at cricket balls”.
Caricaturists loved showing women attempting to take part in ‘manly pursuits’. Below is an etching entitled “Miss Wicket and Miss Trigger” dating from around 1778. It is based on a painting by John Collett, from which an engraving by Carrington Bowles was made. The inscription tells us ‘Miss Trigger you see is an excellent shot. And Forty-Nine notches Miss Wicket just got.’ The abstract on the Lewis Walpole site, quoting from the British Museum catalogue, reads:
‘Two well-dressed young ladies meet before a farm house. On the left, Miss Wicket leans on her cricket-bat turning towards Miss Trigger who advances with her dogs, holding aloft a pheasant and two partidges, as she tramples a paper marked “Effeminacy”. Miss Wicket wears a chip hat and jacket with waistcoat, her sporting petticoat short enough to reveal her ankles. Miss Trigger wears a large hat of the bergère style, a long coat with buttoned sleeves and boots. Behind the pair a young girl catches a ball.
I am much intrigued at the idea of Miss Wicket belting up and down a 22-yard track while sporting such exotic head-wear. The print is interesting in showing the early form of bat, shaped like a paddle, in use at the time. Also note the wicket, consisting of two ‘stumps’ being sticks with a ‘V’ at the top to hold a horizontal stick or bail.
In October 1811 a print by Thomas Rowlandson appeared in the Thomas Tegg publication called “The Caricature Magazine, or, Hudibrastic mirror”. It announced that: ‘on Wednesday October 3rd, 1811, a singular cricket match took place at Balls Pond, Newington. The players on both sides were 22 women, 11 Hampshire against 11 Surrey. …’
The print appears on the Lewis Walpole site , which quotes from the explanation in the British Museum catalogue :
“The scene is a sloping field. The batswomen are running hard, while one of the field leaps to attempt a high catch; the wicket-keeper crouches behind the wicket, hands on knees. The players have petticoats kilted above the knee, bare heads, necks, and arms; they wear flat slippers, mostly ‘en cothurne’. All the fielders look or run towards the ball; one has fallen with great display of leg; another, running headlong, trips over a dog. Eleven are playing, including those batting. Two girls sit together on the ground, one cutting notches on a stick to record the runs. Others stand near, one with a young man’s arm round her waist. Spectators stand round the field. In the middle distance is a marquee with a flag: ‘Jolly Cricketers’. Here, fashionably dressed men are entertaining the players; a very fat woman drains a bowl of punch, another sits on a man’s knee. A girl descends from a donkey. Behind is a fashionable tandem. The scene is rural except for a smoking lime-kiln.”
And to think that in a mere two hundred and fifty years* it has reached the stage where we meet ‘The Goddess of Cricket’ – the name given to Indian skipper Mithali Raj after she became the first woman to complete 7,000 runs in One Day Internationals. Top notch indeed!
(*I am being ironic)