Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to umpire a match in which the bowlers wore top hats, and gentlemen thought that wearing pads and gloves was beneath their dignity?
‘The Meadow at Chapel Hill Cross‘ takes you back to the opening of the first “proper” cricket ground in Torquay, and to the match against the famous All England Eleven which celebrated it. The author dreams that he is asked to umpire this match, and takes the reader with him into a world of cunning under-arm bowlers, and round-arm pacemen who hurl “tosses” at the batsman’s head. You get to listen to the chat of some of the finest cricketers in the game’s history, Old Clarke, George Parr, and the laugh-a-minute Billy Buttress.
Neither umpires, nor the world’s leading professionals, are allowed into the sanctity of the members’ pavilion, so the author must glimpse through the doorways, and spend his time, sharing jugs of ale with those who attracted thousands to watch, yet were deemed unworthy of a gentleman’s company. Welcome to a world of cricket where sheep crop the grass, the groundsman stamps the turfs, the fielders chase “booth balls”, and boundaries are not even dreamed of!
It is a world which will fascinate you, and a journey that you will always remember!
Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.
There are far too few books on cricket here in the USA. Okay, so it’ll never be as popular as baseball, but did you know the first cricket match between two countries was between the USA and Canada, in New York City in 1844? No? Well, now you do, lol.
Because of this lack, I pounce on any book I find about the sport. (You can take the girl out of England, but not the English out of the girl.) This led to most recently, coming across The Meadow at Chapel Hill Cross on NetGalley. The premise is an interesting one: the author, Roger Mann goes to watch a modern-day game, falls asleep in his deckchair, and drifts off to 1853 and the opening match at the first “proper” cricket ground in Torquay. Cricket afficionados will tell you the “Home of Cricket” is at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, and this is where most fans will want to visit at least once and where players around the world long to play. Not many will have a desire to visit a field in southwest England. This is definitely a niche title.
Local interest aside, this is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of the sport. The author presumes the reader will have more than a passing knowledge of the game due to the technical terms and jargon used without explanation throughout. It also helps to know a bit about its history. For example, in the 1853 game an over is made up of four balls and not six, and bowlers bowl using under arm or “round-arm” methods, neither of which are legal in today’s form of the game. No reasons are given for these variances, presumably because they would take the reader out of the 19th century setting.
It’s hard to know how to classify The Meadow at Chapel Hill Cross. It’s an imagining of what happened at the match, which would make it fiction. But it reads like a memoir, written as it is in the first-person narrative, and there’s also just enough technical description to put it in the non-fiction history category. The first part of the book – after the dream begins – details the series of events leading up to the narrator being asked to umpire on the big day. He also explains a bit about how the All England Eleven team was created. The second half details the game itself, which lasted three days. All the named players are real historical players and, according to the author’s note at the end, all but one played in the historical match. The final chapter also gives a brief retelling of their lives after they played.
The format might be unusual, but it is an enjoyable way to write about this 1853 event. Would I have read a straight report of the match? Probably not. I suspect very few would have an interest in reading, outside of local cricket fans. Instead, the format ensures anyone fascinated in the old days of cricket might find it entertaining.
Publication Date: 28 May 2022