Not Very Sporting
We came across the following lively report of a Cricket Match from the Chelmsford Chronicle for November 1776
" A terrible affair happened this day at Tilbury Fort. A great match of cricket being to be played between Kent and Essex, the parties assembled on both sides. When they were met, a man appearing among the former, who should not have been there, the Essex men refused playing, on which a very bloody battle ensued, and the Kentish men being likely to be worsted, one of them ran into the guard-house and, getting a gun from one of the invalids, fired and killed one of the opposite party. On seeing this they all began running to the guard-house and, there being but four soldiers there, they took away the guns and fell to it, doing a great deal of mischief. An old invalid was run through the body with a bayonet ; and a Serjeant who commands at the fort, in the absence of the officer, endeavouring with his four men to quell them, was shot dead. At last the Essex men took to flight and, running over the drawbridge, made their escape. The Kentish men then made off in their boats, but search is making after them."
This exciting news had been taken from a gravesend letter dated October 29th to the London Chronicle and repeated in the Essex paper, tucked into the London News section. A great deal of detective work by the Cricket Afficionado Leslie Thompson in the early 1960s convinced him that the story was a hoax. County games were never played in Tilbury, which at the time consisted of a Fort, a ferry house and a cow shed, set amongst the salt-marshes. Hornchurch, Stock and Navestock were the nearest that county games ever got to Tilbury. It is certainly possible that it was an impromptu game amongst local teams from either side of the estury heralded as a county game in rather the same way as cockfights were, but the bloodshed would have caused a sensation in Essex and certainly made headlines. There are plenty of examples of hoaxes in the papers we've scanned. The concept of the 'urban myth' is not new, and the papers of the time did not have the staff or the necessary time to check their facts
Am I alone in feeling a tinge of regret that it probably never happened. Cricket caused immense passion at the time. It was not the anodyne sport we see now, but a rough, hot-blooded, contest. It was certainly taken more seriously than warfare. The men of Kent were often referred to as 'Frenchie' due to their coarse and unrecognisable accents, and I can well believe that a cricket dispute could spill over into bloodshed