TO STUMBLE across one of Farnham’s village cricket matches – whether it be at The Bourne, Rowledge, Wrecclesham, Badshot Lea, Hale or the villages surrounding the town such as Tilford, Frensham, Crondall, Elstead, Churt, Thursley and beyond – and just stand and watch for a while is to witness a fundamental and still relatively unchanged way of life.
The earliest definite reference to cricket being played in England (and hence anywhere) is given in a deposition by a coroner at a court case in 1597 which mentions ‘creckett’ being having played – he stated, since the mid 1500s – on common land just down the Hogs Back road from us, in Guildford.
In fact, the precise site is located at the top of where North Street is now.
In fact, there is evidence cricket was played on our patch in a less-structured form since the 16th century.
Legends have emerged around fast bowlers and big hitters here -- many a blacksmith, hop picker or farm labourer became more famous for his cricket than his craft!
The connection between cricket and alcohol is probably as old as the game itself and, you’ll have noticed, there have been quite a few pubs named the ‘Cricketers’ in the Farnham area.
Even though betting was rife, the Victorians revered cricket as an important institution because they believed that, like the church and the crown, it had a useful purpose to play in English life.
In fact, the British Empire helped to export the game around the world. For cricket in England, the second half of the 19th century was a pivotal period when a huge cricket boom took place around the country and that’s when many of our own local clubs were founded. In fact, the oldest sports club in Farnham, dating back to 1782, is Farnham Cricket Club.
Cricket during the 18th and 19th centuries was a much more popular spectator sport than football. Large crowds will have supported cricket at all levels from village through to county and Test matches. A match with a neighbouring village was not solely a game of cricket; it was a huge social event.
Both Farnham and Rowledge cricket clubs have historically played home matches at Holt Pound – behind the Forest Inn on the A325 – which is believed to be one of the oldest cricket grounds in England. The site, owned by Binsted Parish Council, is now unused for cricket yet often called the ‘original Oval’ cricket ground and many important Surrey games of the past were contested there, including a match in 1808 when Surrey beat an All-England XI by 66 runs.
Today, just like football, the number of the adult cricket teams has diminished, but the area still produces some first-rate cricket. Rowledge – who played at Lords in 1985 in the National Village Cup final – now play in the upper ranks of the Southern Premier League and Farnham, with their wonderful location in the shadow of Farnham Castle, play in the upper ranks of the Surrey Championship.
However, over the years, many of our local village sides have enjoyed periods of success and dominance, especially in the L’Anson League, the oldest continuous cricket league in the world.
Farnham has produced some truly outstanding players in its time and two of the very best both happen to originate from Wrecclesham – Billy Beldham and Graham Thorpe.
Some 200 years ago ‘Silver Billy’ was unquestionably the greatest cricketer in England and his portrait still hangs in the Long Room at Lords.
He retired to Tilford, adjacent to one of the most picturesque and most photographed village cricket locations in the country.
Surrey’s left-handed middle-order batsman Thorpe was an outstanding player for county and country.
He is one of only a handful of players to have played 100 Test matches for England.
David Sydenham was a long-time resident of Rowledge and he played for Surrey for 15 seasons.
He topped the national bowling averages in 1962, but he also enjoyed shorter spells playing for Guildford and Farnham.
Thanks to the Wrecclesham History Project, the village of Wrecclesham now has a permanent memorial to the legendary Silver Billy.
An old pub sign depicting Beldham, which hung over The Cricketers pub in the village until the pub closed, was saved and it has now been put up on the village recreation ground, next to where the famous cricketer lived.
The relocated pub sign was officially opened in 2016 by – who else – Graham Thorpe.
* Quiz answers: 1 a, 2c, 3a, 4a, 5c. If you got more than half, you can be proud of yourself. If you got all five right, you’re a serious cricket champion... and for the rest of you, there is a chance of redemption, there’s a different sport with a quiz again next time!