Educational improvements during the 19th century helped to spread the game of cricket. Initially, it was only played at the grammar and public schools of Wales, such as Cowbridge Grammar, Rydal School and Monmouth School. By the early 20th century, the game had spread throughout the Principality with cricket taking place in the playgrounds and sports fields throughout the country.
The ethic of Muscular Christianity
Playing cricket was actively encouraged in schools from the mid 19th century onwards, with the proponents of Muscular Christianity regarding it as being extremely beneficial, channeling athletic energy into healthy recreation, as well as instilling respect for authority, team spirit and obedience to rules. Initially, it was only at the grammar and public schools of Wales where cricket was played.
By the early 20th century, the popularity of Muscular Christianity, and the need for healthy physical exercise, especially in the industrial towns and cities, led to cricket taking place in the playgrounds and sports fields throughout the country.
Cowbridge Grammar School
Cowbridge Grammar School, created under the 1840 Grammar Schools Act, became one of the major centres from which cricket and the benefits of healthy recreation diffused to other parts of Wales.
The playing of cricket at the School followed the appointment in February 1847 of the Reverend Hugo Harper as Headmaster, with matches subsequently being played in September 1849 against members of the Cardiff club, followed in 1850 by a ‘town versus gown’ match against the Cowbridge club.
During August 1860 the first past and present match was held, and this annual Old Boys contest, as well as contact with the prestigious clubs, allowed the Cowbridge scholars to make the right contacts and mix in a suitable atmosphere.
Christ College, Brecon
Cricket at Christ College, Brecon took off during the 1850s following the appointment of the Reverend M.A. Farrar as Second Master. He introduced cricket as the first team sport in the school, with the first recorded match taking place in August 1858 when the boarders in Rev. Farrar’s house took on the rest of the school. The following year, the pupils played the Brecon Town and Garrison club, before commencing in 1865 their annual challenge against Llandovery College. The image below shows the scholars at the Brecon School celebrating after their victory over Llandovery in 1905.
Llandovery College was founded in 1847. Initially established as a place for the education of potential young clergymen, the curriculum was strictly clerical and classical, but following the appointment of Reverend E.O. Phillips as Warden in 1854, greater consideration was given to recreation, with a fives court erected and a series of cricket nets were laid out.
Matches began in the early 1860s against St. David’s College, Lampeter with the scholars using the wicket of the Llandovery Town club, against whom they also played an annual challenge from 1864.
Watkin Price Whittington, a prominent player with Cadoxton CC and the Glamorganshire Club, was appointed as second master in 1868 and it is from this date that cricket, as well as rugby football, really took off at Llandovery, with Whittington taking a leading hand in the coaching of the young Llandoverians.
Swansea Grammar School
In 1860 Rev. M.A.Farrar of Christ College, Brecon was appointed Headmaster of Swansea Grammar School. Through his encouragement, a field for cricket practice was laid out on the lawn in front of the school and matches commenced soon afterwards. Regular coaching sessions were also held with William Bancroft (senior), the Swansea professional. As one of the school’s pupils remarked, “cricket became practically compulsory to the great benefit of those who, like myself, used to avoid public games. In a very short time, the whole tone of the school was changed by the energy and enthusiasm of the new Head.”
Beaumaris Grammar School
On the Island of Anglesey cricket was actively encouraged from the mid-19th century at Beaumaris Grammar School by it’s Headmaster, Dr. Richard Humphrey Hill. He was no mean player himself, and as was the custom at the time, the Head played alongside his pupils in matches against other teams from the island or from Caernarvonshire.
Such was Dr. Hill’s enthusiasm for cricket, he also engaged a professional to help coach his pupils and improve their skills. His encouragement of the game at Beaumaris Grammar School bore fruit in 1861 when a young lad called Hughes scored an unbeaten 144 – the first hundred on record in Anglesey – in a match against Holyhead Collegiate School, who were then bustled out for a mere 7 runs.
Friars School, Bangor
One of the finest cricketing teachers in the mid-Victorian period was J.D. Paramore of Friars School in Bangor. He kept wicket for the town club, but when his team-mates were unable to break a stand, the intrepid schoolmaster would shed the gloves and pads, and bowl what were described as ‘underhand creepers`. In August 1865 at Caernarvon, Paramore had a field day, dismissing eight of the opposition – four caught, two stumped and two bowled!
West Mon Grammar School, Pontypool
Opened in 1898 by Lord Tredegar, West Mon Grammar School has been one of the major educational centres in Monmouthshire. Situated in Pontypool, on land donated by landowner John Hanbury, the pupils at West Mon School were given a good academic and sporting education. The photograph below shows the West Mon 1st XI from 1921 – a time when the cricket professionals from the Pontypool and Newport clubs still helped out with the coaching of the young scholars.