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300 Years of Cricket at TOWN MALLING

Posted by Mark Worrall on 15/08/2005 15:47

A History prepared for 300th Anniversary

In 2005, Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, Kent Cricket Board and Town Malling Cricket Club organised a fortnight's celebrations to mark the 300th Anniversary of the first recorded game at the ground in West Malling.


West Malling, or Town Malling as it was originally known, played an important part in the history of cricket in Kent, a role quite disproportionate to its size. The first recorded match there was in 1705, when on 24 July The Postman advertised "a match of cricket is to be played between 11 gentleman of the west part of the County of Kent against as many of Chatham for 11 guineas a man at Maulden in Kent on August 7th next".


Cricket then was not quite as we know it. There were only two stumps, 22 inches (55.8 cm) high, one bail six inches (15.2 cm) long, no pads or gloves, creases were cut in the turf and the bat curved like a hockey stick with the weight at the base to cope with underarm bowling delivered for the most part along the ground. The over consisted of four balls and would continue to do so until 1889. Pitches were not necessarily flat. In winning the toss gave a choice of pitch as well as innings and bowlers liked a slope. It was written of Surrey's famous Edward " Lumpy" Stevens (1735 -- 1819). "Honest Lumpy did allow he ne'er could pitch but o'er a brow".


There are references to cricket in Malling throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, but the next date of real significance 1827. When Thomas Selby and his business partner Silas Norton established Town Malling Cricket Club, playing on "The New Cricket Ground". Selby himself was a useful batsmen and with others such as the Malling-born brothers Alban and William Dorrington, the Club proved itself good enough to beat some of the strongest sides in the county including Sevenoaks, Dartford and Chislehurst. Wicketkeeper William Dorrington played 55 times for Kent between 1836 and 1848, one of nine Town (or West) Malling born cricketers to play for the County.


In 1830 Town Malling, reinforced by two leading cricketers of the day, Fuller Pilch and James Broadbridge, took on Benenden in a match starting at the ungodly hour of nine in the morning. The ground, now known as "the George Field", covered no more than three acres (1.2 hectares), but an estimated 8000 took advantage of free admission. Subsequently admission was charged for major matches.


Pilch, by a large margin the best batsmen in England, figured again in 1835, when a consortium organised by Selby and Norton and including the Second Lord Harris lured him from his native Norfolk for an annual salary of £100. Multi-tasking in modern parlance, he played for the club, managed the ground -- which quickly became known as " Pilch's Ground" -- and ran the adjoining pub. The consortium soon saw a return on their investment. Before the end of 1835 Pilch had hit 22 and 64* for Town Malling against Bromley and top scored again with 23 when Kent, admittedly seriously understrength, lost to Town Malling by an innings.


A County Club

In 1836, with Thomas Selby again the driving force, a Town Malling based Kent County Cricket Club was formed. A short-lived Kent Club had been formed in Coxheath in the 18th century and by the 1830s the "Grand Old Kent XI" was already taking shape, but there was no continuity. Matches were arranged by clubs or individuals, often the players themselves, on a more or less ad hoc basis and Selby's enterprise can reasonably be claimed as the first properly organised, albeit hardly representative, Kent CCC.