03/02/2010

Mayhem, murder and myth: cricket at Tilbury in 1776

Posted in Local History at 12:54 am by henrysgauntlet

This is one of the great ‘stories’ about cricket in Essex in the eighteenth-century.  It comes from the Gravesend correspondent of the London Chronicle and is dated 29th October, 1776.

“A terrible affair happened this day at Tilbury Fort.  A great match of cricket being to be played between Kent and Essex, the parties assembled on both sides.  When they were met, a man appearing among the former, who should not have been there, the Essex men refused playing, on which a very bloody battle ensued, and the Kentish men being likely to be worsted, one of them ran into the guard-house, and getting a gun from one of the invalids, fired and killed one of the opposite party.  On seeing this they all began running to the guard-house, and there being but four soldiers there, they took away the guns and fell to it, doing a great deal of mischief.  An old invalid was run through the body with a bayonet: and a serjeant who commands at the fort, in the absence of the officer, endeavouring with his four men to quell them, was shot dead.  At last the Essex men took to flight, and running over the drawbridge, made their escape.  The Kentish men then made off in their boats, but search is making after them.” 

It is a fascinating story, one that was repeated again and again in nineteenth-century anthologies.  The trouble with it is that no other report ever appeared in any other newspaper of 1776:  no one was named as one of the two victims murdered on this occasion and absolutely no one was caught or prosecuted.  No advertisement for the match between Kent and Essex had appeared, indeed there was no place in ‘Tilbury’ where the match could have been played since, apart from the fort, the ferryhouse and a milking shed about a mile away, there were no buildings or settlements there.  The ground around the fort was, moreover, too sodden for any match to take place there, let alone one at the end of the month of October.  Engaging though this story is, that is what it was – a ‘story’. 

Eighteenth-century people, just like their twenty-first century counterparts, enjoyed ‘spoof’ accounts of improbable events.  This one had all the elements – mayhem and murder – to keep it alive for over one hundred years.  Its author would have been proud of that at least.

Author  –  Christopher Thompson

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10 Comments »

  1. Chris,

    I’m a photography lecturer working at SEC and I’m just starting a project photographing old cricket pitches and de-commissioned cricket pitches. The first ex cricket pitch I’ll be shooting is the one at West Tilbury next to Condovers campsite near Cooper Shaw Hill. So tonight I’ve been trying to locate any images of the cricket pitch or stories that relate to it’s existence. As a kid I used to camp with Tilbury Sea Scouts at Condovers and clearly remember in 1976/77 cricket matches being played there. Your article talks about there being no places to play cricket near Tilbury Fort and I thought perhaps this could potentially be the cricket pitch. I have no idea about the West Tilbury pitches history or now long it was there for before it was neglected, but it did have a pavillion. Aerial images from Bing maps suggest that the pavillion may still be intact? Do you have any info on this cricket pitch?

    Cheers

    Dave

    • Mike said,

      I played for West Tilbury at Condovers in the mid 70’s. We all used to drink at the Kings Head after the game. I went back there a about around 2005 and the pavillion, wicket and everything else had gone !
      Hope this helps your research !

      • henrysgauntlet said,

        Thanks for this information, Mike.

  2. Christopher Thompson said,

    You may find my father, Leslie Thompson’s work, Cricketing in Essex Then and Now (1963), of some help. The Essex Record Office (and its SEAX search engine) is another useful place to start. Good luck!

  3. David Thompson said,

    Chris,

    Your Dad Leslie, wouldn’t be a Leslie Thompson that lived in Crammavil Street, Grays by any chance would he? Had 2 brothers Jimmy and Peter Thompson?

    Dave

  4. Chris

    Your father didn’t live in Grays by any chance in Crammavil Street and have 2 brothers, Jim Thompson and Peter Thompson who died in the last year and lived off Hathaway Road by any chance?

    • Christopher Thompson said,

      I am afraid not.

  5. Christopher Thompson said,

    Dear David,
    I am afraid not. With good wishes,
    Christopher Thompson

  6. Kevin Diver said,

    There was in fact a perfect place to play cricket at Tilbury in the 18th century- the Tilbury Fort Parade Ground! Records show that for long periods of its history, and much of the 18th century, the 2.5 acre parade ground was grassed over. The present rough paving was installed in the 1960s. Whether or not the match took place is debatable but this would have been a very logical place for the match to have taken place, especially as it was (presumably) between two military teams and not a county match. The report talks about the Kent players running into the Guard House and also mentions the Essex players fleeing over the drawbridges so inside the fort seems a very likely location.

  7. Cheers everyone for your replies, I lost this link for a while and have just come across it again. I’m still trying to find images of the ground at Condovers still with no success, despite meeting a few people that played there, it seems people just didn’t take pictures back in the day as it was expensive and difficult in comparison to now!

    Cheers Kev for the info with regards to the ground being inside the fort, if I can back that up with some more data to confirm it, I may also use that venue?

    The kings Head might be worth a look in too, maybe they had pictures on the wall there at some point and they’re still around somewhere out the back out of sight? Chris, I’ll keep an eye out for your Dads book and maybe invest in that as well.

    More recently though I’ve found an account on one of the cricket websites in the area, that there was a cricket ground in Tilbury other than the ‘Daisy Field’ on St Chads Road. Apparently the ground was along Dock Road somewhere. Any info on that location would be good and photographs would be amazing?

    Dave


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