The powerful Tudor dynasty reigned from 1485 until 1603. In his prime Henry VIII was perhaps the most infamous of the Tudor monarchs. Characterised as being lustful, egotistical, harsh, and insecure, he was described as being ‘one of the most charismatic rulers to sit on the English throne’. An author and composer, in later life he became severely obese, and suffered ill health which contributed to his death in 1547.


Henry was extremely keen on sport, which in Tudor times was restricted to the upper class, and rigorously controlled by the government. He was a skilful jouster, the favoured sport of Tudor times, but in 1536 was seriously injured, which forced him to retire from the sport. He also enjoyed playing tennis, which was played indoors, with balls made of leather shells filled with hair. A keen hunter, he frequently spent as much as six hours a day hunting stags, which only noblemen were allowed to do. Farmers who cultivated their own land were allowed to hunt foxes, and the rest hunted hares and rabbits.

In the early 1500’s a game similar to that of ‘football’ became a popular sport. Two sets of goal posts were placed about a mile apart, and with no limit to the number of players taking part, the ball was booted around an indefinable pitch, carried, or driven, through village streets, over fields, hedges and streams, in an attempt to put it between the opponent’s goalposts. Such rough ‘kick abouts’ were usually held at holiday times, or times of celebration such as Shrove Tuesday. And records exist which suggest in medieval times young men left work early to compete for their village teams. However, it was essential the Tudor government ensured the populace spent most of its time working, and in order to achieve this passed a law in 1512 banning ordinary people from such a ‘devilish pastime’, as excessive injuries and fatalities were seriously depleting the available workforce. Tennis, bowls, skittles, cards, and other such games, were also forbidden.


England was the first country to develop a ‘kicking game’, similar to that of modern day football, and there is compelling evidence to suggest that in the county of Nottinghamshire team games were being played in schools as early as 1581.  While the origins of the game of cricket remain a mystery, from the collection of folklore and fact expertly assembled over time, it is likely a simplified version of the game was played by children living in the south-east of England, in the counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey, a region of the country then known as the Weald.

It has also been suggested a form of cricket may well have stemmed from the game of bowls. With a ‘batsman’ introduced to intervene and try to hit the ‘bowl’ in order to prevent it from reaching its target the ‘jack’. Since cricket can be reliably traced back to the 13th century, it may therefore be assumed bowls is the older of the two sports. The game of bowls can hypothetically be traced back to the 12th century, for in a biography of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, graphically described the summer amusements of young men in the city of London as including the sport of ‘casting of stones’, which is believed to mean the game of bowls.

Undoubtedly the first definitive reference to the game of cricket is dated Monday, 17 January, 1597, when a disagreement over a piece of common land was heard in court in Guildford, Surrey. John Derrick, a fifty-nine year-old former pupil at the Free School in Guildford, testified under oath, that some fifty years earlier he and some of his school friends played the game of ‘creckett’ on the disputed site. It is universally accepted this is the earliest reference to the game. Proving beyond doubt that cricket was being played in Surrey circa 1550, around the time of the death of the Tudor monarch Henry VIII.

Numerous terms are thought to have been descriptive of the earlier word for cricket, the most likely source being the south-east of England. In the earliest definite reference it was spelled ‘creckett’, and the name may well have been derived from the Middle Dutch ‘krick’, meaning a stick.


By and large the game continued to be played by children for generations, and is defined in a dictionary of the day as a ‘boys’ game’. Played in clearings, or on pieces of land grazed by sheep, the earliest items of equipment may well have included a matted lump of sheep’s wool, or a small lump of wood, or even a stone, to serve as the ball. A stick served as the bat, and a tree stump, or a wicket-gate, functioning as the wicket.

During the early part of the 17th century the game was taken up by adults, with the first reference of it being played as an adult sport occurring in 1611, when two Sussex men were prosecuted for playing cricket on Sunday instead of going to church.

Village cricket had developed by the middle of the 17th century, and there are numerous references suggesting the game was contested between parish teams right up to the English Civil War. At that time considerable enthusiasm was being shown by the nobility to engage in village games, with the landed gentry actively adopting the sport. And by 1660 cricket had begun to thrive, primarily since it was attracting a significant amount of gambling. By the turn of the 17th century gaming on the results of cricket matches had become enormously important, with newspaper reports laying greater emphasis on the size of the wagers than on the quality of the play.

By far the most famous of the early cricket clubs was the Hambleton Club. Formed in 1750 in the village of Hambledon, Hampshire, the club came to prominence in 1756 and is recognised as the ‘cradle of cricket’. In spite of its rural location it developed as a private club incorporating among its membership noblemen and country gentry, some of whom occasionally turning out to play in matches, although the players usually employed were mainly professionals

The game of cricket is by far one of the oldest of the country’s most popular team sports, with a wealth of information chronicled for those with an interest in exploring the history of village and county cricket. It’s is perhaps understandable that a great deal more attention has been attributed to examining the men’s game than that of the women’s, even though the women’s game can itself be traced back at least 250 years and reveals a rich and varied history.

Article © Roy Case 

Continued in Part two – see –