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Derbyshire marks 150 years since first game

Wednesday 26th May 2021
& News
Written by Stephen Martin

Today, Wednesday 26 May, marks 150 years since Derbyshire played their first game of cricket, against Lancashire, at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Heritage Officer, David Griffin, explains how Derbyshire became a first class county, and what occurred in that opening game 150 years ago.

The first recorded reference of cricket played in Derby was in 1785, when a single wicket match took place between Edward Smedley and Thomas Hadley on 4 August in what is now the Friar Gate area. Smedley won by eight notches, but a dispute then led to a fight between the two men which Smedley also won.

However, even earlier than that, Wirksworth defeated Sheffield on 1 September 1757 at Brampton Moor, Chesterfield.

There’s also a painting dating from 1789 by Derby’s Joseph Wright which shows the children of Swanwick Hall preparing to play cricket and in 1792 a Derby side played Castle Donington in Derby.

An All-England Eleven frequently played matches in Derbyshire in the mid-19th century, at The Holmes Ground, in Derby, and at Saltergate, Chesterfield, as well as at Ilkeston, Somercotes and Staveley.

These games were instrumental in popularising cricket in a county where the South Derbyshire Cricket Club had been formed in 1835. The Duke of Devonshire and the Earl of Chesterfield were members of this club, which was based at a ground in Chaddesden, made available by Henry Wilmot, owner of Chaddesden Hall.

In 1848 the South Derbyshire Cricket Club moved to The Holmes Ground, although facilities there were poor with one section of the ground partitioned for use as a cattle market.

In 1863, the decision was taken to move to the Racecourse, or what we now know as The Incora County Ground.

South Derbyshire Cricket Club’s prominence became apparent when the touring Australian Aborigines brought their side to Derby in 1868 at a time when several prominent people in the county were considering the possibility of forming a county club.

Walter Boden, Derby-born, co-owner of a silk mill in the town and a JP consulted Edward Wass who was a fellow businessman from Wirksworth who worked in the lead mining industry.

John Cartwright, from Ilkeston, was a clerk with a company based near to the racecourse in the 1860s and a keen local cricketer. Ilkeston had several prominent local cricketers, and in Derby he formed the Excelsior Mutual Improvement Society Cricket Club and began to provide match reports to local newspapers.

William Jervis was born in London and spent his youth in Lincolnshire but after being educated at Eton and Oxford University, he started a legal practice in Derby and had a keen interest in cricket.

However, despite the notable local figures raising the possibility of a county club, it was the man from more humble stock, Cartwright, who publicly suggested that there should be a county club, and who actually wrote, as follows to the London Sporting Life in 1866;

“We have a nice little ground of some four acres, situated in the centre of the Racecourse, opposite the Grandstand, and it is in good condition.”

In August 1868, a report in the Nottingham Review of a match between two sides drawn from the north and south of the county stated; “We must express our surprise that Derbyshire does not form a County Committee and thereby become, as assuredly with perseverance it would, another bulwark of the north.”

In July 1870, the Gentleman of Derbyshire beat the Gentlemen of Kent by an innings at Tonbridge, and subsequently an MCC and Ground team were beaten by 4 wickets at Lord’s.

MCC were dismissed for 62 and 79 with Dove Gregory – of whom, more later – taking 11-79 in the match.

Walter Boden was by this time convinced that there was enough public interest to form a county club and on Friday 4 November 1870, a public meeting took place at The Guildhall, Derby, with the following agenda item;

“…to consider the best mode of establishing a Cricket Club for the Shire that should represent the cricketing strength of the whole county…”

Alongside Boden at the meeting were Cartwright, the Vicar of Chaddesden, Reverend EW Northey, the Vicar of Longford, Reverend TA Anson, Wass and several future players. Henry Wilmot sent his apologies, and the meeting was chaired by Mr. WT Cox.

Boden presented letters of support from the Duke of Rutland, and from Lord Vernon at Sudbury Hall plus pledges of cash donations of £5 from Jervis and others.

Boden’s formal proposal: “That a cricket club for Derbyshire be formed which shall represent the strength of the whole county, and that it should be called the Derbyshire County Club.” was seconded by Wass and the motion carried.

Membership subscriptions were agreed at ten shillings and sixpence and the Earl of Chesterfield was elected President.

His term as President was tragically cut short when he contracted typhoid and died in December 1871, having lived just long enough to see Derbyshire play first class cricket.

A committee was formed to run the club which had overnight become the ninth first class county alongside Gloucestershire, Kent, Lancashire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Surrey, Sussex, and Yorkshire.

However, they were only able to arrange games against Lancashire in 1871 – indeed, in the first three years of their existence, Lancashire were the only county willing to play Derbyshire – and the first, scheduled for three days, began at Old Trafford, Manchester on 26 May.

Samuel Richardson, a prominent Derby businessman and cricketer, who had played with the South Derbyshire club, was captain, and also in the side was Dove Gregory, a fast bowler from Sutton-in-Ashfield whose real name was Gregory Dove. He had been on the South Derbyshire club’s books as a professional for three seasons.

His fellow opening bowler was William Hickton who had played first class cricket for Lancashire, and the youngest member of the side was John Platts who would subsequently score the first hundred for Derbyshire in 1877.

The ground at Old Trafford was in the countryside in 1871 and no play was possible on the first day due to heavy rain. On the second day, however, Lancashire were dismissed for 25 with Gregory taking 6-9 in 12.3 overs. His debut analysis remains the best for the county; only David Wainwright with 6-33 v Northamptonshire at Derby in 2012 comes close.

Lancashire’s wicketkeeper, Alfort Smith, who would subsequently move to Derbyshire and play 50 games for the county, top-scored with 11 not out.

Derbyshire replied with 147, Unwin Souter making an unbeaten 47 and George Burnham 31, before Lancashire were dismissed in their second innings for 111.

The match report in Wisden stated that; “Derbyshire’s victory…was an encouraging and deserved success.”

Derbyshire have experienced a multitude of high and lows since their formation, but that a county club exists in Derbyshire today can be traced back to those committed 19th century gentlemen who made it all possible, Messrs. Boden, Cartwright et al.


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