The earliest known games in Wales

The first reference to cricket  

The first mention of cricket being played in Wales is contained in a letter published in the General Evening Post newspaper in April 1771 from a gentleman in Swansea who was complaining about “the swearing and use of oaths used by young men and boys playing cricket in the town on the Sabbeth”.

The first match in South Wales?

In August 1783 a cricket match took place on Court Henry Down (seen below), midway between Carmarthen and Llandovery, between two teams of gentlemen, one representing those living in Carmarthenshire to the west of the River Cothy, and the other those living in the county to the east of the river.  The prize for the winners of the match was 50 guineas, and had been arranged by John Philipps of Cwmgwili House – a leading young member of local society.

A modern day image of Court Henry Down.
Credit – Glamorgan Cricket Archives

Like so many of the Welsh gentry, Philipps spent much of his life outside Wales. Educated at Westminster School and Brasenose College, Oxford, Philipps moved in high circles in London, with a wide range of contacts which were compatible with his legal and political career. 1783 was an important year for the 22-year old gentleman because that was the year when he was appointed Mayor of Carmarthen, as well as being elected M.P. for Carmarthen Borough. The game may well have been part of the celebrations of his elevation and a means of thanking his supporters.

Early cricket in North Wales

The first match on record in North Wales dates from 1820 when teams from Hanmer and Overton met each other. However, as Dr. Craig Owen Jones has shown, there are earlier references to cricket being played in North Wales. These are contained in poems written by John Jones who grew up in Holywell and worked in the town’s cotton mill from 1796 before serving in the Royal Navy from 1804. In his poem ‘Holywell’ John Jones writes as follows of matches in the late 1790s:

“Not this, appeared Trefynnon [Holywell], when a boy,

I found amusements in an empty toy;

What profanation then prevail’d around,

When crowds assembled on the cricket ground

Each smiling Sabbeth – for that sacred day

Was ever broken by some noisy play!”