Skip to main content

Read all about the traditions of Canterbury Week

Tuesday 4th August 2009

The Traditions of Canterbury Cricket Week
By Hon. Curator David Robertson

Displayed here at the St Lawrence Ground in the Chiesman Pavilion is a print of the Canterbury Cricket Week of 1877. The picture epitomises the spirit and social side of The Week. The marquees, then as now adorned with bunting, lining the perimeter of the playing area; gentlemen and their ladies promenading, and famous cricketers of the day mingling with them.

Leading families in the County invited house guests, described as “fashionable visitors” who would be sumptuously entertained on the eve of matches and who on the following morning would be transported by horse-drawn carriage through the countryside into the flag-bedecked streets of the City and on to the ground where they would be welcomed by the festive atmosphere of what has been, for 167 years, one of the great occasions of our summer game.

Nowhere are the traditions of The Week better illustrated than in a wonderful set of family albums containing a remarkable collection of programmes of The Old Stagers, scorecards, newspaper cuttings and other memorabilia, held at Belmont, the home of the Fourth Lord Harris, which the writer has had the privilege of recently seeing.

The early organisers of The Week decided that the festivities should not be confined to cricket, so Theatricals and Balls were organised for the evenings, with the tradition being established in the very first Week of performances by The Old Stagers, an amateur theatrical group which still continues to present performances in the evenings. This amateur Company was formed from amongst Cambridge friends of the Hon. Frederick Ponsonby. In early years, the Company presented three or four productions during The Week: drama, farce, comedy and operetta, and was supported by an orchestra made up of members of the St Lawrence Amateur Musical Society. The Old Stagers performances, in those early days, were of great financial benefit to the Hospital. In 1869 the Hospital received over £63, making the performers“ total contributions since 1848 what was then a very handsome sum of £405.

The early Weeks are well documented and contain accounts of the theatrical performances, well attended Balls, and Band Concerts on the ground and in the City. In 1889 a “Complimentary Banquet” was given to Dr. W.G. Grace at which there was present “…….a large number of the Gentry of the County”, and in those days the festivities closed, usually on the Saturday morning, with a “Public Breakfast.”

Down the years Ladies“ Day has maintained its special tradition and remains a highlight of The Week. The first was in 1876. Thursday, then as now, was set aside for it and in bygone times it was traditional for the ladies and their guests to parade in their finery while the bands played selections of popular music. In 1887 Ladies“ Day is recorded as having been a “gigantic success.” “……..The brilliancy of the weather enabled the fair sex their lightest and gayest of toilettes, and the scene presented was a most lively and attractive one.” Crowds of up to 10,000 were regularly present on these occasions. The weather was not always kind and in the Jubilee Year of 1891 it was described as “dreadfully wet and dismal” with only 55 minutes play possible on Ladies“ Day, despite which the attendance was estimated at 7,000. To some extent the tradition faded after the Second World War but it is now being successfully revived with regimental and other bands, the annual hat competition and many other attractions.

It was in 1873 that decorations in the City took on an organised form, the initiative for this coming through the local Chamber of Trade. On the Wednesday evening of the 1884 Week, the Dane John was illuminated with thousands of coloured lamps and Chinese lanterns. There were also illuminations in various parts of the City and bands giving performances in the Dane John Gardens. These events became a regular feature of entertainment in the City, once the day“s cricket ended. Although attendances in the early years were in their thousands, they increased even more after 1846 with the completion of the South-Eastern Railway between Canterbury, Margate and Ramsgate.

Inevitably, a number of the traditions from early days have long since gone. 1846 saw the first Annual Sermon preached in the Cathedral for the benefit of the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. This was formerly delivered during the Race Week. The collections for the Hospital are recorded in E. Miton Small“s “The Canterbury Cricket Week” published in 1892 to mark The Week“s Golden Jubilee. They amounted to sums in excess of £100 but the tradition was abolished in 1888 after the collection realised just £1.14s. 0d. (£1.70). Recent times have seen the introduction of a tradition which pays tribute to those Kent players who gave their lives in the two World Wars with the laying of a wreath by the Supporters“ Club President at the Colin Blythe Memorial.

The traditions of Canterbury Cricket Week are jealously guarded and remain in good hands. Long may they remain so!
My News Story description goes here. This is where you write your story using the HTML editor