History of Chislehurst and West Kent Cricket Club

In 1821, members of the Prince’s Plain Cricket Club from Bromley lost their ground due to the enclosure of Bromley Common. The Lord of the Manor of Chislehurst came to their rescue by giving them leave to create a new ground on eight acres of Chislehurst Common. The first game took place on, July 20, 1822. The opening of the new ground was celebrated by the arrangement of a Grand Match between Kent and Marylebone Cricket Club. Handiballs had been sent out all over the county, as far as Maidstone, announcing it was for £1,000 a side. It is recorded that a crowd of more than 5,000 flocked to see it.

Now, 178 years on, cricket is still being played on the same site. It is one of the oldest grounds in southern England. In keeping with its new location, the Prince’s Plain Club became the West Kent Cricket Club. During these early years of the 19th Century, a bowler delivered the ball to the batsman by rolling it along the ground under arm – hence the term bowling.

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However, the practice of raising the arm level with the shoulder and jerking the ball forward in a round-arm manner was beginning to be used. The over-arm bowling action familiar today was not established until the 1860s. Neither batsman nor wicketkeeper wore protective pads or gloves. Games commenced at 11am and Finished at 3pm when the players retired to the nearby Tiger’s Head for a meal of venison and champagne.

In 1876, three small local clubs amalgamated and called themselves the Chislehurst Cricket Club. They approached West Kent Cricket Club for permission to play some of their fixtures on the common. This was agreed – a shared agreement which continued for the next 100 years.

In the 1880s, an Act of Parliament turned the common over to the people of Chislehurst with the proviso that cricket be played there perpetually. Thus, the common is protected from speculative building development and is administered by a board of conservators. Over the years, many well-known players were to play either for or against West Kent. W G Grace made the first of several appearances in 1880. Needless to say, he top-scored and took most wickets. When he retired from first class cricket, he came to live in Mottingham Lane — his home is now a private nursing home. Grace played for Eltham Cricket Club for several years and visited Chislehurst on a number of occasions.

After much deliberation over the cost and design, a pavilion was finally erected in 1899 and is still in use today.

Incidentally, when the deposed emperor of France, Napoleon III, was living in exile in nearby Camden House, he would occasionally stroll over to the common to watch a game. He once observed to a friend that he found the game interesting but could not comprehend why men should expose themselves to such risk without the spur of financial reward.

The situation today is that West Kent CC is, alas, no more. Declining membership made it increasingly difficult to fulfill fixtures and the club was dissolved in 1980. Chislehurst, now known as the Chislehurst and West Kent Cricket Club, now has sole use of the ground.