My last post was all about my recent visit to Tilbury Fortress on the northern bank of the River Thames. Despite its massive size and strength or maybe because of it, no-one was ever killed in action here and yet there was one death in particular that must go down as one of the most unexpected in sporting history.
We’re used to the idea that over the centuries, there is no more gentlemanly game than Cricket. The history of Tilbury however shows this isn’t entirely true though it’s hard to believe anyone involved in the match in 1776 had any idea how it was going to turn out. In fact Georgian period cricket was resolutely unrespectable, being notable for heavy betting, nobbling opponents and general skulduggery.
Two teams from Kent and Essex agreed to play a ‘great match at cricket’ at Tilbury. The large central parade ground which at the time was grassed over was the pitch and it being one of those periodic lulls in the history of Tilbury fort, the officers were away, perhaps enjoying the bright lights of Gravesend and it was very much something of a recuperation place for the sick and invalids from the army.
When the Kentish team turned out to include a man ‘who should not have been there’ – perhaps a ‘professional’ – the Essex men refused to play, ‘on which a very bloody battle ensued’. Facing an obligation to forfeit, one of the Kentish team ran into the guard house, seized a gun from an ‘old invalid’, and shot dead an Essex man.
Everybody now rushed to grab guns, easily overpowering the four soldiers on duty, and ‘fell to it, doing a great deal of mischief’. This included running the invalid through with a bayonet, and killing the sergeant of the guard as he attempted to restore order.
Eventually the Essex men fled over the drawbridge, while the Kentish team ‘made off in their boats, but search is making after them’.
Eventually it must have dawned on the Essex players that things had gone badly wrong so they broke off the fight and fled over the drawbridge and the Kent players dashed to their boats and disappeared across the Thames. A search was made for them but they were not found and no-one was ever caught!
But this is to view history through modern eyes. Georgian cricket was resolutely unrespectable, being notable for heavy betting, nobbling opponents and general skulduggery.