The Cradle of Cricket Was an Old Fashioned Car Boot Sale?

At some point the mountain of the market in Hambledon came to the Mohamed of the sheep-strewn Down with its caring, sharing shepherds in another example of the Clash of Civilizations  that was occurring as England moved from the old established hierarchies with values of reciprocity and order to the market orientated individuality that valued innovation and personal gain – from Chalk to Cheese, from ‘high grid and high group’ to ‘low grid and low group’ to reuse two of Mary Douglas’ categories of Cultural Theory.  

Perhaps the economic activity that we earlier saw developing in Hambledon outgrew the confines of the settlement as this medieval subject-packed painting depicts.

And this period painting of a May Day celebration illustrates.

Certainly there came a point when the Bishopric of Winchester transferred the market up the lane onto a nearby Down in its ownership.

Bord halfpenny or brod halfpenny was an old Saxon term for a fee paid in markets and fairs to the lord or, in Hambledon’s case, to the Bishop for the privilege of having a bord or bench for the sale of articles.


A Broadhalfpenny, as these markets were called, would have looked and felt like a latter day Car Boot Sale with vendors driving miles to a field not far from an economic hub, paying their stall fees on arrival and setting out their goods and wares before the arrival of their patrons.  Others would have set up food and drink ‘outlets’ and ‘rides’ and stalls where customers could test their strength and skills in an expression of this new individuality. 

A permanent structure known as the Hutt was soon built for the sale of ale and punch but the rest would have been a transient, tented stall affair.

The children of stall holders and those of their patrons would soon have grown bored of all this adult ‘stuff’ and looked for their own amusement, drifting away from the main attractions to watch and then mingle with the shepherd boys playing their strange game of whacking a ball with their crooks. 

In a market place it is not just goods that are exchanged.  Stories, ideas, innovations, and games are swapped, tried and developed. No doubt the children would have taken home this new game and played their own versions of it in the back streets of their own villages and towns, as cricket crept west and north from the Weald and the North and South Downs.

One can imagine late in the day the crowd might begin, rather worse for ale and punch, to join in with the craic; swiping and missing, connecting and running, tripping and barging, daring and wagering –  just as when two or three children playing cricket after a picnic on the beach can by sunset have grown to a giant game which has swept up every child and most of the adults along the shore.

Quickly, these town-based newcomers to the game would have imposed their own and differing personalities, temperaments and preferences.  Their values will have been very different to those of the shepherds; more individualistic, more selfish, more competitive, honouring conquest over trials of skill.  The game that bound the shepherd community prepared to divide the communities of its new adherents.  

The Downland qualities of tests of skill and fun and community would mingle with those of domination and winning at any cost; a dichotomy that exists still with the rivalry for our support and appreciation of those who ‘win ugly’ and those who thrill with their dexterity and accomplishment; the scorer of the marathon of the double hundred or the dazzling never to be forgotten seventy; the hammer of pace and the art of spin.

And at least one entrepreneur among them, conceivably the tenant of the Hutt, would have seen the value of organizing a match as part of the attraction of the Broadhalfpenny itself.  After all, he had a ready made market ready for diversification with an arena created by the curving track up from Hambledon.  He had money being made and the thirst to make more.  He had those who wished to compete and wager on the outcome.  And he had others prepared to stake huge amounts on their ability to predict the outcome.

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One response to “The Cradle of Cricket Was an Old Fashioned Car Boot Sale?

  1. Pingback: A Cultural Theory of Cricket? « Fourcultures

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