Clash of Civilizations at Chevening

Could this post be about to reveal exclusive proof of a row between the Conservative Foreign Secretary and the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister over the domestic arrangements at their shared grace and favour mansion in Kent?  Nope, no clash to speak of there, surely.

The title (if not the above work by Theo van Doesburg, Counter-Composition XIII) refers instead to reports from a court case held in 1640 which alludes to a “cricketing” of “Weald and Upland” versus “Chalkhill” at Chevening on the North Downs “about thirty years since”. What a true clash of civilizations that must have been in 1610.

For those who find it hard to imagine life then, here’s a painting probably of a Frost Fair in 1608.  Is that a game of bowls curling taking place, centre left, or could it be a bowler completing his underarm action in the first recorded game of cricket on ice?  Why else would the figure closer to us be crouch ready to field any shot towards mid-off?

Recently Third Man began to develop a Cultural Theory of Cricket  using some of the ideas of the social anthropologist Mary Douglas.  He was looking at the development of cricket in the communities of the North and South Downs, now he turns his attention to The Land Between.

In the photograph by Kevin Moore looking north from the South to the North Downs the Weald can be seen like a wedge driven between them in the right hand corner – the Weald where, according to E.W. Swanton, ‘all historians are well aware Cricket was born and nurtured.’

In contrast to the sheep-shorn chalk Downs, the agricultural and industrial Weald of the 1700s was made up of areas of scattered settlement, containing hamlets and isolated farms some distance from each other and from any defining centre such as a the parish church.  The pressures of ‘group’ and ‘grid’ discernable in strength in Downland communities were weaker here.

Although there were still large tracts of woodland (Weald = Woods), the huge oak forests had been cleared and turned into farmland for the rearing of cattle, but these were relatively small farms often kept so by the practice of partible inheritance.

The old iron-working and cloth-making industries had required more market orientated social systems and less cooperation.  Their decline around this time created poverty and unemployment and further weakened mutual ties and obligations.  The woods contained tempting game and poachers were held more as heroes than villains.  

The Wiltshire saying, ‘Chalk is church and cheese is chapel’ sited by Underdown in his ‘The Start of Play’ described the greater inclusivity and pressures of conformity of the typical Anglican parish compared with those of congregations that favoured non-conformism and equally well applied to the differences between Down and Weald.

Here too the two contrasting cultures fostered differing religious denominations.  But did they also foster different approaches to cricket, different styles of play?  Downland (high group, high grid) cooperative, conventional, deferential: Wealden (low group, low grid) more individualistic, expressive and innovative?

Certainly the records are full of references to contests that seem to match sides from Downland and Wealden communities.  Were these special?  Did they excite more interest than the pitch up and play games between individuals from the same parishes or the same ‘ways of life’ like some latter day Test between the Old Country (hierarchical and hidebound) and the Australian Colony (entrepreneurial and iconoclastic)?

Cricket with its two dimensions of Team (co-operative/conforming/compliant) and Individual (competitive/resistent) may also have been a special institution that eased interaction between two ‘cultures’ offering a common language but allowing for differing and divergent accents.

Because cricket can lie in a number of places along the spectrum of co-operation and competition and different social systems lie along the same spectrum, it is a game wonderfully resourceful in allowing different cultures to meet and exchange.  It is also wonderfully adept to evolve and follow the path of a changing social system – sometimes more individualist and market orientated, at others hierarchical and bureaucratic.

As the C18th progressed, society was generally moving steadily towards the Wealden-way and away from the Downland, but as Mary Douglas says, of the two opposed and incompatible types of social control – the market orientated individualism (low group and low grid) and the conforming hierarchies (high group and high grid) – there is plenty and of scope for mixing, modifying or shifting in between the extremes.

Could the strongest cricket come from communities that some how embrace the two, expressing  just such a mix?


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One response to “Clash of Civilizations at Chevening

  1. Pingback: The Cradle of Cricket Was an Old Fashioned Car Boot Sale? « Down At Third Man

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