During the Victorian and Edwardian era, the owners of country houses in many parts of Wales organised cricket matches on their estates. Some of these games were forms of entertainment for their estate workers, but many were specifically organised so that the young gentlemen of the area could mix with their social equals and play games against other teams of affluent youngsters and wandering elevens of English gentlemen.
Some of the wealthy landowners also paid for professionals to play in these matches, with often the hired hands doing most of the bowling before the gentlemen tried their hands at batting. These matches were often accompanied by lavish balls and banquets and the lure of the champagne corks and the opportunity to dance with the young ladies may have been as strong an attraction as the chance to bat or bowl in these games!
Merthyr Mawr House
Merthyr Mawr was the spacious country home of old Etonian, John Nicholl, the son of the Conservative M.P. for Cardiff who, in the second half of the 19th century, was a leading member of the Bridgend club.
After inheriting the estate in 1852, Nicholl organized a series of country house fixtures at Merthyr Mawr in addition to a two-day game in June 1868 between teams representing the West and East of the county of Glamorgan. He also approached the All-England Eleven to see if an exhibition match could be arranged against a Twenty Two of Glamorgan which would help to raise funds to start a proper county club, but negotiations broke down over the financial terms, and nothing was arranged.
Sir JTD Llewelyn, the sporting squire of Penllegaer, encouraged matches on the lawn in front of his mansion to the north of Swansea with games held against leading amateur teams from England. He also allowed the local teams from Gowerton and Morriston to use the wicket, besides hiring some of the leading professionals to coach his sons – Willie and Charles – both of whom subsequently played county cricket for Glamorgan.
Penllegaer House was also the venue for a light-hearted game at Christmas 1880 which took place on a frozen lake adjoining the main lawn. Below is an image from 1890 showing one of the cricketing parties staged at the House and involving the great and the good of local society.
Tredegar Park, Newport
Tredegar Park was the home of the Morgan family, who owned vast tracts of land across the region – estimated at over 40,000 acres in Monmouthshire, Breconshire and Glamorgan at the end of the 19th century – and the various heads of the family did much to foster the growth of Newport and its industrial expansion during the 19th and 20th century.
The Morgan family were kindly benefactors to cricket, providing land for Newport CC to create their headquarters at Rodney Parade, whilst from 1870 Godfrey Charles Morgan encouraged cricket matches in the grounds of Tredegar House. Many involved his estate workers and were typical country house matches, but others were pseudo-county matches such as the match in 1872 between Colonel Morgan’s XI and Breconshire.
Cresselly House, Pembrokeshire
The grounds of Cresselly House, the home of the Harrison-Allen family saw many games involving the affluent gentlemen of South Pembrokeshire as well as leading amateurs from further afield. Members of the Harrison-Allen family also took part in these contests which were jolly, social affairs. The image below shows the gentlemen and their ladies watch a match in the early 1900s.
Sydney Platt – a Lancashire-born business man – organized matches in the grounds of his home, Bryn-y-Neaudd, near Llanfairfechan in Caernarvonshire. Many of the leading amateurs in North Wales participated in these matches, and amongst the visiting teams to the ground were Herefordshire, Somersetshire Rovers and the Gentlemen of Leicestershire.
Piercefield Park, Chepstow
From 1874, the Clay family hosted matches on their Piercefield Estate, near Chepstow with the games involving the great and good of Monmouthshire society. In May 1882 Henry Clay helped organize a match on the estate between a XXII of Chepstow and District and the United Eleven of All-England. Attended by many members of Monmouthshire society, the local side defeated the illustrious players from England.
Piercefield Park is the site of Chepstow racecourse, where Johnnie Clay upheld the family’s tradition for sport by owning several steeplechasers, besides acting as one of the stewards.
Lymore Park, Montgomery
Lord Powys allowed country house matches to take place in the grounds of Lymore Hall, whilst he also granted free use of the cricket ground by the Montgomery club. In June 1882 the local side met a United All-England Eleven, assembled by William Gilbert of Gloucestershire in a three-day contest.
E.H. Ebsworth of Llandough Castle was typical of the country landowners in Wales who matches on their land. Ebsworth (seen below) duly bowled the first ball on the ground and with the help of a couple of county players, he financed upkeep of the wicket besides appearing in several of the matches. Ebsworth was a larger than life character, with his home – a mile or so from Cowbridge – containing a number of sporting tokens, including a large stuffed brown bear which he had shot near St. Petersburg whilst on a business trip to Russia.