The Origins of Canterbury Cricket Week
By Hon. Curator David Robertson
It was 167 years ago this month, on 1st August 1842, that Canterbury Cricket Week was born. Apart from the intervention of two World Wars it has been celebrated annually since that date. And it is apt to describe it as a celebration, for whilst cricket has been the main attraction, it has always been a great social occasion commanding an audience from near and far.
Early matches were played at the Beverley Ground and featured contests between representative Kent and England sides. The Kentish Gazette, reporting the matches in that first Week, highlighted the performances for Kent of two outstanding batsmen of that time, Fuller Pilch and Nicholas Felix, reporting that “The cricket proved worthy of the occasion….”
The first Week at the St Lawrence Ground was in 1847, the two matches being Kent v England and the Gentlemen of Kent v the Gentlemen of England. The Week commenced on 2 August and it is recorded that: “…. Owing to the General Election taking place at the time, some of the leading families and visitors were absent.”
Through to the latter part of the C19th. the representative matches continued, Kent sometimes combining with other counties, or engaging “given men” (leading players from other counties) to take on England or MCC sides for one of the two matches, the other often being a North v South or Gentlemen of Kent v Gentlemen of England fixture. Since 1882 the County side has been involved in both of The Week“s fixtures (now only one since the introduction of four day matches) laying other first-class counties, MCC, or the Australian tourists who were featured on eight occasions between 1882 and 1893.
Many outstanding performances were recorded in the early days, three of which merit special mention. In 1868, W.G. Grace, playing for The South against The North, scored 130 in the first innings and 102 not out in the second, thus becoming the first batsman to score two centuries in a match. In 1876, in a high scoring match between Kent and the Gentlemen of MCC he achieved the then highest individual score of 344 in the Gentlemen“s second innings. This still stands as the record individual score on the St Lawrence Ground and was W.G.“s career best. The scorebook, recording this innings, is displayed in the Chiesman Pavilion. His elder brother, E.M. Grace, made his mark during the 1862 Week. Playing for MCC in a twelve-a-side match he scored 192 not out, the highest recorded on the ground up to then, and went on to take all ten wickets (one batsman being absent) in Kent“s second innings.
Outstanding team and individual performances were not confined to the early years. When Kent won its first Championship in 1906 there were innings“ victories against Sussex and Lancashire, this latter match being the subject of the famous painting by Albert Chevellier Tayler showing Colin Blythe bowling to J.T. Tyldesley. Within living memory there was Leslie Ames“ one hundredth hundred in 1950 and the record second wicket partnership of 366 between Simon Hinks and Neil Taylor in 1990. Matches against Hampshire have not lacked excitement: in 1926 Kent had a first innings advantage of 268 with Hampshire at 57-6 at tea on the second day. However, a fine partnership extending well into day three, and tail-end resistance, left Kent with 172 to get in a little over two hours. A remarkable stand of 135 in just over an hour between Percy Chapman and Frank Woolley paved the way for an equally remarkable victory. Such is the spirit of Canterbury Cricket Week.
Tradition demands that The Week is held in the early part of August and with one exception – as recently as 1990 – that has always been. From the inception of the County Championship both of The Week“s matches have been against other counties, the first often against Hampshire over what was until recent times the August Bank Holiday weekend (excluding Sunday). That first match of the week was usually chosen as the benefit match by the player awarded a benefit for that season. Given good weather bumper collections on the Saturday and Bank Holiday Monday would provide much security for the beneficiary in later life.
Canterbury Week is something special. Its history and tradition is unique. It is one of sport“s outstanding summer occasions, ranking alongside Wimbledon, Ascot and Henley. It is a time which still evokes eager excitement and anticipation in this Kent enthusiast who cannot recall missing it in more than fifty years.