site unseen The first Lord's Cricket Ground, Dorset Square, London

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The smell of cut grass and the sudden appearance in newspapers of long lists of cricket scores - baffling to the uninitiated - herald the arrival of summer.

All over the country, strange equipment emerges from lofts and attics. Liberal quantities of Ralgex are being applied to aching limbs after the first painful game. Euro 96 is just a fleeting distraction from the main business at hand.

Of course, cricket is not everyone's game but even the most unenthusiastic have heard of Lord's, the game's headquarters and home of the MCC - the Marylebone Cricket Club.

But wait a moment, isn't Lord's in St John's Wood? In which case, why isn't it the "StJWCC"? And why Lord's in the first place? Good questions. The answers are provided by a wine merchant whose father had lost out in Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion.

In 1786, a group of aristocrats, unhappy with their existing ground in Islington, commissioned Thomas Lord to provide new premises. As a Yorkshireman whose father's financial misfortunes were a permanent blight, the handsome Lord had ingratiated himself with the nobility - helped by his cricketing prowess, particularly some demon under-arm bowling.

Throughout the winter of 1786/87, the indefatigable Lord toiled away preparing a new ground in the rural fields of Marylebone. His efforts were rewarded on 31st May 1787, when Middlesex played Essex for the princely sum of 200 guineas - in other words, despite the objections of purists, cricket was a commercial pursuit from the start.

Twenty years later, however, the growth of London meant that this ground was no longer quite so secluded. It was time to move. The pitch was later surrounded by delightful Georgian housing, still present and elegantly correct. The square was named after one of Thomas Lord's patrons, the Duke of Dorset.

Thomas Lord built his second ground further to the north, picking an unpopular site that he opened in 1809. Fortunately for him, John Nash soon came knocking on the door. Eager to build the Regent's Canal, Nash needed Lord's land.

Lord acquiesced. This (third) time he went still further northwards, to distant St John's Wood, opening his new venue in 1814. The MCC has been here ever since. What it has, it certainly holds. Short of a bloody revolution, Lord's will live on for centuries to come.

But all cricket lovers should pay a visit to the shed in the middle of Dorset Square where a plaque commemorates Lord's efforts.

It all began here.

Dorset Square, London NW1

Comments