It is an accepted fact that the first Club Cricket match played in Hertfordshire took place in Stanstead Abbotts on 6th July 1737, fifty-two years after the formation of Mitcham Cricket Club (purportedly the oldest cricket club in the world) and notably, fifty years before the formation of the MCC.

An extract from the Lords Cricket Museum Records reads as follows: “Last Wednesday, July 6th, a great cricket match was played at Stanstead Abbot in Hertfordshire, between 11 gentlemen of the corporation of Hertford and an 11 of Stanstead, for 200 guineas, when the gentlemen of the corporation were beaten. There was upwards of £1,000 won and lost on the match.”

It is clear therefore that the sports betting market is nothing new and that very big money was won and lost that day. A conservative estimate of the value of £1,000 today, based on the Retail Price Index, is £130,900. The purse of 200 guineas equates to about £27,500 today.

It is not known where this match was played but it may well have been on Stanstead Marsh, as this is where the Club played most of its home matches until 1902, although they did occasionally play on other fields around the village.

Indeed, on 11th September 1798 the Club, which had a strong link with the Middlesex side at that time, entertained that County on Stanstead Marsh. The Middlesex side included Thomas Lord who had opened the first Lords Cricket Ground on Dorset Fields (now Dorset Square) just north of Marylebone Road, in 1787. The match was not finished.

Just prior to this match, on 5th & 6th of September 1798, three Stanstead Abbotts players, H & J Wilborne and Taylor represented Hertfordshire against Middlesex at Lords. Although Middlesex won the match by 98 runs, H Wilborne was top scorer with 41 runs in the second innings.

Taylor played for Hertfordshire against MCC in the first ever match at the current Lords ground in St Johns Wood on 22nd June 1814.

In the early part of the 19th Century cricket grew immensely in popularity and organisation, so that in September 1828 the Hertfordshire Mercury was able to report that: “From one extremity of the kingdom to the other, the manly game at cricket has become the rage; almost every county, town, village and hamlet are vying to excel.”

Around this time too, the underarm style of bowling was superseded by round arm delivery and soon the game became recognisable to that we see today.

Records exist from this time of matches against Puckeridge, Matching, Hertford Caxton, Hunsdonbury, Sawbridgeworth, Chigwell, Easneye, Ware and Hertford.

Very little is recorded of Stanstead Abbotts’ cricket team between 1878 and 1892 but matches continued against the likes of Hoddesdon Juvenile Club, Ware Night School and Nazing (sic).

During the summer of 1895 Frederick Wells, a professional, joined the Club. He was to become one of the clubs most successful players. He settled in the village and later became the landlord of The Five Horseshoes in Roydon Road.  

A fixture list exists from that year, showing matches against Amwell, Ware, Nazeing, Camberwell Postmen, Hoddesdon, Nonconformist Grammar School Bishop’s Stortford, Roydon, Hunsdon, Gilston and Mr Bryant’s XI. Frederick Bryant, a corn merchant living at 4 Roydon Road, was the Club Captain and Chairman. It was in this latter match that A S Johnson of Essex scored the first recorded century against the Club, notching 106 runs before Wells caught him out off of the bowling of A L Watson.

Such was the success of the cricket club that a Second XI was formed for the first time in 1900.

During the Victorian era the Club had progressed from occasional matches and underarm bowling to highly organised competition with two elevens playing regular fixtures and an active social life for its members.

In 1903 the Club moved to the Mill Field, where the Football Club played.

The outfield and wicket was gradually improved and batting averages rose year on year.

1909 was a watershed year in the history of the Club. Saturday first team fixtures were moved to St Margaretsbury, owned by Septimus Croft who became a patron of the Club until his death in 1928, with midweek games being played at the Mill Field until after the First World War. The Croft family remained heavily involved with the Club until Gilbert Croft, the son of Septimus moved to Devon during the Second World War.

Perhaps more importantly for the development of the game, the East Herts Cricket League was formed. Although short lived, this provided structure to the playing season with 12 fixtures and added competition through the published league tables. Stanstead Abbotts became founder members with Allenburys, Hadham, Hertford Heath, Hertford St Andrews, Poles (the former name of Hanbury Manor) and Turners Hill and District.

The St Margaretsbury ground was of a much higher standard than the Mill Field and the Club revelled in its new surroundings, winning the League Championship by a point from Hadham. The Pearce brothers were outstanding; Edmund set a record for the highest number of aggregate runs made in a season with 366 at an average of 30.5 and also took 59 wickets at an average of 5.59 whilst his brother Gifford took 74 wickets and made 100 runs.

Edmund and Gifford were the sons of Joseph Pearce, the flour and corn miller of Mill House, Roydon Road who was a staunch club man. Gifford worked in the family business as an overlooker and traveller. He later lived at what is now Willowthorpe, while Edmund was a Stockbrokers Secretary.

The Club ceased activity at the onset of the First World War.

There was a tentative return to cricketing normality after the War but by 1920 cricket was once again being played regularly in the village with the 1st XI at St Margaretsbury and the 2nd XI at Mill Field.

In 1926 the Club moved its 1st XI matches to Hall’s Field to the north of the High Street, though Mill Field was still very much in use.

Between the Wars the Club enjoyed a good standard of village cricket although low scores were a feature of the game. This was because of the difficulties that had existed ever since the game was first played - long grass in the outfield, under-prepared wickets and a lack of good practice facilities conspired to give bowlers an advantage that they do not enjoy in the modern game.

An extreme example of this took place on 14th May 1938 when, in a match against Standon, the Stanstead Abbotts side were all out for 24 and nine of the batsmen were dismissed for ducks.

Another example occurred the following week when the Stanstead Abbotts bowler, L Perry took 9 wickets for 11 runs.

In 1939 the Club became an affiliate member of the Hertfordshire County Cricket Club but by early September Stanstead Abbotts Cricket Club had again ceased activity with the onset of World War II.

However, at a Committee Meeting held in the village club on 3rd October 1939 it was decided to endeavour to field one side during the 1940 season.

The “Keep Calm and Carry On” motto adopted during the war years is brought into sharp focus by the date of the match at Allenbury’s which took place on Saturday 13th July 1940, four days after the beginning of the Battle of Britain! It is perhaps worth pointing out here that the village came under direct attack during the War. On the night of 7th November 1940 thirty high explosive bombs were dropped on Stanstead Abbotts and surrounding area but miraculously there were no casualties.

Despite the best endeavours of the Committee the Club found it impossible to carry on and ceased activity for the duration of the war.

Cricket again took time to recommence after the end of World War II and it was not until 26th January 1948 that Dennis Burton called a meeting of the pre-war club members and other interested individuals.

The meeting took place at the Village Club and the Minutes show that much preparatory work had been done. It was announced that the St Margaretsbury ground had been secured for the 1948 season. It was decided to sell the old pavilion from Hall’s Field and to accept the offer of the Village Club to be the Club HQ.

The Club resumed playing on 1st May 1948 when a team called W.B.T.S. visited St Margaretsbury and the two sides played out a draw.

During the early post war years the Club members strived hard to establish good facilities at St Margaretsbury. In 1952 sight screens were purchased from Little Berkhamsted Cricket Club.

A dramatic change came on June 16th 1962 when the sports facilities built within St Margaretsbury Recreation Ground were completed and the new Pavilion opened. It was not without some sadness that the Cricket Club transferred its activities to the new pavilion leaving behind some of the flavour of the village club in the old thatched pavilion. With a new base came a new name and Stanstead Abbotts Cricket Club became St Margaretsbury Cricket Club.

The Club continued on a sound footing playing Club matches against old opponents, with some fixtures stretching back a hundred years or more.

In 1981, over 60 years after the demise of the East Herts League, the Club joined the Hertfordshire County League. They quickly established themselves as one of the stronger teams in the competition and n 1985 the Club won the Championship of Division One, a not inconsiderable feat that was repeated in 2002. Between those two triumphs had come a relegation to Division 2 in 1988.

It took five years for the Club to regain its place in the top Division when, in 1993 the Second Division championship was won by 3 points from Old Finchleians, who were also promoted. Capping a wonderful season, the 2nd XI won their championship for the second consecutive season and the third time overall.

The 2002 championship was won in some style with the Club finishing 31 points above second placed Millhillians although Letchworth Garden City spoilt the final day party a little by beating the champions by 5 wickets at St Margaretsbury.

The Club continued its development in 1998 with the establishment of a second wicket, adjacent to the New River and the construction of additional dressing rooms.

Today, the Club fields four Saturday sides, all of whom compete in the Hertfordshire Cricket League, with the 1st XI now competing in Division 2, two Sunday sides and four colts sides, and takes pride in its friendly and family nature.
The members are proud of the association built up over many years with the Hertfordshire Cricket Association and many other local sides and competitions, some of which have been playing cricket against St.Margaretsbury for almost 150 years!

A Précis of Saint Margaretsbury Cricket Club History
Roger Reed