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Heritage: It was cricket, not tennis, that first made Wimbledon's reputation
5:00am Friday 23rd May 2014 in News
Exactly 160 years ago this week on 20 May 1854, local landowner Thomas Devas and two friends named Holroyd and Oliphant founded one of Wimbledon’s first ever sports clubs in order to stage cricket matches.
Devas, owner of Mount Ararat, a large house on a 55-acre site now crossed by Arterberry Road, became the first president of Wimbledon Cricket Club.
Surrey Cricket Club itself had emerged only nine years earlier as one of England’s first, so Wimbledon was something of a trailblazer.
The area would later become known of course for its football, golf and - above all - tennis clubs but at the time it was best known for shooting and archery (see Heritage story 13 July 2012).
As well as Devas, Wimbledon Cricket Club included a host of significant figures among its members – among them John Augustus Beaumont, the property developer who had bought Wimbledon Park from Earl Spencer (see Heritage story 19 July 2013) and was now beginning to create the London suburb we know today.
The new club’s first match took place 22 July 1854 on a pitch marked out on the Common with tented changing facilities. Matches were played against Mitcham and Hampstead in 1855 and the club’s first ever century was scored against Surbiton in 1860.
The player in question was one W.T. Webber but it was another man, F.W. Oliver, who dominated matches during the club’s first 25 years. Captain until 1874, he was both a prolific bowler who captured a total of 1774 wickets, and batsman who scored 7281 runs. In 1865, the club beat the county team twice by seven and then nine wickets.
For its first 36 years the team played its home matches on poor pitches on the Common without a pavilion and only on Saturdays.
By the 1880s, visiting teams increasingly expected to use a permanent pavilion but this was not allowed on the Common. So when a right of way was confirmed across the middle of its existing ground in 1889, the club decided to move to a new site at Church Road, Wimbledon Park. From 1890 this was leased, until the committee decided to buy the freehold in 1899 for £4,000.
For the next 80 years, Wimbledon Cricket Club played against a variety of amateur teams from London, Surrey and Kent before helping to form the Surrey Cricketers League, winning it three years in succession and in 1980 joining the Surrey Championship.
It took that title the very next year and has since repeated the triumph numerous times. It was 32 years after the club moved from its original ground on the Common before it was joined at Wimbledon Park by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which left its own site in Worple Road to move directly opposite the cricket ground (see Heritage story 28 June 2013).
The rest of course, is history, as Wimbledon’s world famous reputation for tennis has obviously overshadowed its cricketing name. However, as freeholder of the site, the cricket club was well placed to survive the AELTC’s offer for its ground 100 years after the move from the Common.
It continues there to this day and benefits from Wimbledon tennis fortnight each year too by renting out the ground for corporate hospitality and car parking.
The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.
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