Horses, hounds, bat and ball: The day Huntsmen took on Jockeys

Cricket at Lord’s from a bygone past… A cricket match in progress between Oxford and Cambridge (top) and a luncheon interval at Lord’s cricket ground, London, in 1895 © Getty Images

May 29, 1880. In a curious cricket match played at Lord’s, a team of Huntsmen took on a side consisting of Jockeys. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the day stirrups and guns were traded for willow and leather.

 
One group jumped down from their horses and exchanged their stirrups for pads. The other let go of their hounds, handed in their guns and took hold of willows.
 
Vast open spaces shorn of trees may have confused one side. The other may have been intrigued at events focused on the centre of the pitch rather than quickfire laps around the periphery. However, the two teams met in a macabre match at the most famous of cricket grounds.
 
On May 29, 1880, Lord’s hosted a cricketing encounter between The Jockeys and The Huntsmen.  And 13 pillars of each of these two old sporting professions assembled to face off in a day’s game.
 
It was a 13-a-side game, with two innings per side, to be played till sundown, by men more adept at riding, shooting and training horses and hounds. Yet it was played in all seriousness.
 
One of the umpires standing in the match was the old patriarch Thomas Hearne. His family tree went on to sprout cricketers from every possible branch — who turned out for Kent, Middlesex, England and South Africa. This excellent batsman had toured Australia with the first English XI to travel Down Under in 1861. Since suffering a career-ending paralytic stroke in 1876, Hearne had been employed as groundsman at Lord’s. Now, he was asked to officiate in the game; he did his job with gusto.
 
The match was played for a noble cause. The Bentinck’s Benevolent Fund had been set up for the horse trainers and jockeys. The welfare of the Huntsmen was looked after by the Hunt Servant’s Society. The proceeds of the match went to the coffers of these two associations.
 
As for the game, the Huntsmen played with a lot of enthusiasm, but were out of their depth in the open fields. The Jockeys on the other hand were far more experienced cricketers. They played fairly regularly, with their annual match against the Sporting Press contested with a lot of enthusiasm through the 1870s. In fact, they even boasted a First-Class cricketer in their ranks in the form of William Middleton — who played three times for Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and on nine occasions for I Zingari.
 
Middleton took five wickets in the match and top scored for the Jockeys with 58. Having been bowled out for 66, the Huntsmen did well to restrict Jockeys to 152, and then held fort gamely, scoring 114 for 10 in their second innings. It being a 13-a-side match, they still had two wickets in hand when stumps were drawn, and the match ended in a draw.
 
The teams met once again the following year, but after that we don’t find a mention of Huntsmen in the record books. The Jockeys also did not turn out in officially recorded games almost a quarter of a century, before coming back to take on an ensemble of Actors in 1905. Curiously, one of the players of the Jockey team of 1905 was named HJ Hunt.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)