Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency (I include those who were born before 1811 and who died after 1795), today I continue with one of the many period notables.
1765 – 1796
The Hambledon Club was a social club that is famous for its organisation of 18th century cricket matches. By the late 1770s it was the foremost cricket club in England.
The origin of the club, based near Hambledon in rural Hampshire, is unclear but it had certainly been founded by 1768.
Its basis was a local parish cricket team that was in existence before 1750 and achieved prominence in 1756 when it played a series of three matches versus Dartford, which had itself been a major club for at least 30 years. At this time, the parish team was sometimes referred to as “Squire Land’s Club”, after Squire Thomas Land who was apparently the main organiser of cricket teams in the village before the foundation of the club proper.
From the mid-1760s, Hambledon’s stature grew till by the late 1770s it was the foremost cricket club in England. In spite of its relative remoteness, it had developed into a private club of noblemen and country gentry, for whom one of cricket’s attractions was the opportunity it offered for betting. Although some of these occasionally played in matches, professional players were mainly employed. The club produced several famous players including John Small, Thomas Brett, Richard Nyren, David Harris, Tom Taylor, Billy Beldham and Tom Walker. It was also the inspiration for the first significant cricket book: The Cricketers of My Time by John Nyren, the son of Richard Nyren.
The Hambledon Club was essentially social and, as it was multi-functional, not really a cricket club as such. Rather it is seen as an organiser of matches. Arguments have taken place among historians about whether its teams should be termed Hampshire or Hambledon. A study of the sources indicates that the nomenclature changed frequently and both terms were applicable.
The subject is complicated by a reference to the Kent versus Hampshire & Sussex match at Guildford Bason on 26 & 28 August 1772. According to the source, “Hampshire & Sussex” was synonymous with “Hambledon Club”. It is interesting that Sussex cricket was not very prominent during the Hambledon period and this could have been because Hambledon operated a team effectively representing two counties. Certainly there were Sussex connections at Hambledon such as John Bayton, Richard Nyren, William Barber and Noah Mann.
In 1782 the club moved from its original ground at Broadhalfpenny Down to Windmill Down, about half a mile away towards the village of Hambledon. The Bat and Ball Inn had been requisitioned as a munitions dump by the military, and Windmill Down provided as an alternative. However, after a couple of seasons playing on the steep sloping and highly exposed new ground the club agitated for a move to a more suitable location and Ridge Meadow was purchased as a permanent replacement. Ridge Meadow is still the home of Hambledon C.C. today.
Hambledon’s great days ended in the 1780s with a shift in focus from the rural counties of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire to metropolitan London where Lord’s was established as the home of the new Marylebone Cricket Club in 1787.
Membership declined during the 1790s. On 29 August 1796, fifteen people attended a meeting and amongst them, according to the official minutes, was “Mr Thos Pain, Authour of the rights of Man”! It was certainly a joke for Thomas Paine was then under sentence of death for treason and exiled in revolutionary Paris. The last meeting was held on 21 September 1796 where the minutes read only that “No Gentlemen were present”.
The club had a famous round of six toasts:
6. The Queen’s mother
5. Her (His) Majesty the Queen (King)
4. The Hambledon Club
2. The Immortal Memory of Madge
1. The President.
The enigmatic “Madge” is a “what”, not a “who”. Indeed, it is believed to be a common, but crude, contemporary reference to the a lady’s private parts.