Carry on Cricket - The Duke of Dorset's 1789 Tour
An English cricket team set out on a goodwill visit to Paris in the turbulent summer of 1789. But the proposed tour never took place. Overtaken by events, it turned back at Dover. John Goulstone and Michael Swanton compile the following account from broadsheets and from correspondence, between certain of the personalities involved.
Many will have smiled at the late G.M. Trevelyan's assertion that if only the French nobility had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants, their chateaux would never have been burnt.
Fewer will have guessed that the British ambassador to Paris on the eve of the French Revolution would heartily have concurred with that opinion.
The development of English village cricket as an eighteenth-century social phenomenon is well known. Leap-frogging social barriers, squire and farm labourer, grocer and parson met together in rough camaraderie to enjoy a game which consisted of a rapid sequence of exciting, energetic play. Not yet the deliberate, considered, 'scientific' exercise of later times, it was an often boisterous pastime provoking free fights among over-excited spectators, and even occasionally among the players themselves.
It was likened by the censorious to contemporary horse-racing, and the easy money which might be won gambling on the outcome of a single-wicket or five-a-side match attracted aristocratic and shady low-life followers alike. Certain aristocratic households might even find employment for gamekeeper or gardener merely in order to field his prowess as batsman or slow bowler against a rival's team. Important matches were often associated with great-house events such as a county ball. The more popular fixtures could attract huge audiences of up to 10,000 or more spectators, and at election time were often the scene of lively vote-hunting.