The Dark Side of the Home of Cricket

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The Squire has received his annual invitation to the ‘Founders’ meeting of the White Conduit Club*, which will have special significance in this, the 200th anniversary of the removal of its successor club, the Marlybone Cricket Club, to its present home in St John’s Wood in 1814.

Dear Lord (a bowler affectionately admired by batsman for his ability to find the sweetest spot on their pine bats**) had been commissioned by WCC to find a new and more discrete ground for their matches, which Lord found in what is now Dorset Square.  See above.

“Ah, the Old Ground, Third Man!”

In 1810, Lord acquired an eighty-year lease on two fields, the Brick and Great Fields at North Bank, St John’s Wood.

“Ah the Middle Ground, much admired by the Whigs in the Club, but few others.”

In short order, Lord acquired the land on which the present ground is situated, removed his turf and other less valuable chattels across the road, and the first match was played there in 1814.

But Lord’s income from cricket did not compare with the growing development value that the site had acquired by 1825  and, to safeguard the new ground, William Ward (right-hand bat and an occasional slow lob bowler) bought out Lord for £5,000.

“Ah yes, Billy. One of those cricketers, Third Man, whose career was severely restricted by the war*.”

Yet the ground remained known as Lord’s.

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In 1835 (see above) Ward sold to the trusted James Henry Dark.

“Keeper of the wicket, literally and metaphorically. Get it Third Man? Get it, what?”

“Droll Your Grace.”

Dark sunk his savings and earnings from cricket into the enterprise.

“He is the true hero, TM. Without old Jimbo we wouldn’t have had such a wonderful sweet shop on the old Mound.”

There were of course many other advantages that Dark brought to what those at the Great House continue to call Dark’s in favour of Lord’s, in due respect for his true commitment to the ground and the considerable improvements he brought.

The Ground in 1866:

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“Before Dark the wicket was atrocious and the outfield very rough indeed. Do you remember those ponds, TM?”

“And the sheep, Your Grace.”

“The original roller? Got it somewhere here. Think we use it for a, for a ‘garden feature’ or whatever.”

“In the White Garden, Sir. Did he not install the new gas lighting?”

“And a billiard room, tennis court, running track.”

“Planted 400 tress?”

“Pony racing. Red Indian encampments. What entertainment!”

So, this year, dear reader when you are slapping on factor 50 atop the Compton or looking down from beneath the canvas pinnacles of Mr Getty’s Mound Stand, bear a thought for the Dark Age.

“One day Third Man, one day, the new Club will find some fitting tribute.  For a start, when they replace the Warner, they could do a lot worse than call its replacement Dark’s.”

*Well known for its services to cricket, the Club is less well known for its commitment to experiments in time travel and machines for that purpose. Experimentation  and adventures in time have played hell with the Founders’ life cycles.

** An image of one of the Squires finest blades:

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***The Napoleonic War, of course 😉

N.B. The Wikipedia entry for Dark has this tale. Not a cautionary one, because the mistake was repeated when Network Rail gave MCC the chance to buy the freehold of a strip of land leased by the club at the Nursery End running parallel with the Wellington Road.

“In 1860, there was a potential crisis at Lord’s when the Eyre Estate decided to sell the freehold at public auction. Dark was among many who urged MCC to bid but, for any number of reasons including a lack of vision, they did not and the ground was bought by Isaac Moses, a property speculator, for £7000. Dark resigned the leasehold in 1864 and it was taken over by MCC. In 1866, using funds advanced by William Nicholson, MCC did buy the freehold from Moses for £18,333 6s 8d, which was not good business: they should have heeded James Dark.”

There is something about Establishments that prevents them from learning.

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