This week the Oval in Kennington, South London's premier cricket ground, is celebrating hosting its 100th test match when England play South Africa. It is now one of only four cricket grounds across the world to have done this. Though one would prefer for England to win the test, it will be a joyous occasion regardless of the result. To coincide with this milestone, we thought it would be suitable to provide our own brief history of cricket in South London - we should stress, it is brief. The two teams that essentially represent South London in cricket are Kent and Surrey - with the Oval being the home of Surrey, and Kent playing some of their games at Beckenham in the borough of Bromley. Some might be wondering why Surrey play their games in South London, and the reason for this goes back to a time when South London barely existed and the county of Surrey used to extend all the way to what is now the border between Southwark and Lewisham/Greenwich, but was then the border between Surrey and Kent.
Cricket is a game that requires a bit of space to be played and, naturally, as London as an urban environment has grown and extended beyond boroughs like Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham, cricket has been pushed further and further south, east, and west to the more suburban fringes of South London. However, as what is now South London was, not that long ago, largely countryside and barely developed, cricket has quite a long history in the area. Some of the earliest known references to cricket come from the 1600s and are about games played in what is now South London - Richmond Green, Clapham Common, and Mitcham Green - places where cricket is still played today remarkably.
The nature of sport, as a result of the growth of professionalism, has changed dramatically. In the Victorian Era, and in the early 1900s, when all sportsmen were amateur, most doubled up, or even tripled up. Rather than just playing football, rugby, or cricket, almost all would take part in at least two, because the sports seasons were much more rigidly defined - cricket was the sport played in summer, while rugby and football were by and large not because of the unsuitable conditions.
Now, Lord's in St John's Wood is referred to as the 'Home of Cricket' and is naturally the most famous cricket ground in the world. The Oval is, however, certainly up there, and is easily the most famous of the grounds in South London. Though the ground is called the Oval, the name actually predates the ground, as the space that the ground is built upon was still open before the ground was built. The Oval name actually came from the oval-shaped road built in 1790 that enclosed the space, which they intended to turn into a housing estate. As it was, the developers ran out of funds, and instead the space was turned into a market garden. The Duchy of Cornwall, the owner of the land, eventually leased the ground to the Montpelier Cricket Club and in 1845 the cricket ground was officially opened - three months later Surrey County Cricket Club was founded. The years since have seen the ground be entirely redeveloped, and there are plans to redevelop the ground further in future.
Beyond just cricket grounds, South London has also been home to the most famous of all cricketers - W.G. Grace, who is commemorated by two separate plaques, one in Mottingham in Greenwich, and one in Sydenham in Lewisham, where he lived at separate times during his later playing career. Though he played most of his cricket career in his home country of Gloucestershire, from 1900 to 1904 he played for London County Cricket Club, who played at the Crystal Palace Park Cricket Ground. Today Daniel Bell-Drummond of Kent is probably the most notable player from South London, and played his junior cricket at Catford Wanderers.
We should be clear that this was only a brief history of cricket in South London, and we realise that we haven't properly touched on the history of Kent in South East London, namely in Catford and Beckenham. We decided we'd focus on Surrey and the Oval because Surrey still play at the Oval, and this article was written to coincide with the 100th test at the ground.
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