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The Season: At Boys’ Public Schools

Crowd at Eton and Harrow Cricket Match, 1900
Crowd at Eton and Harrow Cricket Match, 1900

Society in our land has long ago taken the chief public schools into its social calendar as most important items for providing recreation, pleasure, and delightful entertainment during the course of the year from January to December. Almost each month brings its own special school into prominence, or its own particular social event in connection with the various places of education to which boys from the upper classes resort.

Three times annually does Eton help to provide the day off, so to speak, for Society in this way. These occasions comprise the annual cricket match against Harrow, at Lord’s; the annual match against Winchester, played alternately at Eton and Winchester; and the famous Fourth of June celebrations.

The latter must be dealt with first in this article, because on the Fourth of June, the great school under the shadow of Windsor Castle has the entire field to itself in the regard of social England. On that day Eton gives itself up to pleasure and enjoyment pure and simple, from early morning till late at night. Paddington Station in London has its platforms packed soon after breakfast with innumerable “mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins,” in their latest and most fascinating summer costumes, a blaze of beauty, aristocracy, and charm, all waiting for trains to carry them to Windsor, in order to see “dear Roland” lead the procession of boats, or to spend a happy hour or two with “darling Algy,” who has recently been made a prepositor.

Of course, though there are entertainments and pleasures galore to be enjoyed during the afternoon on that day at Eton, the piéce de résistance is the evening procession of boats from Surly to Datchet, with the fireworks afterwards to enliven the final scene of the day.

For some decades now the Eton v. Harrow cricket-match at Lord’s in July has been reckoned one of the principal days in the list of Society’s summer programme in London–or rather, it would be more correct to say “two days,” for this match always begins on a Friday and continues on the Saturday. The attendance never fails to run into many thousands if the weather is at all propitious; and it must be acknowledged that the match has ever been favoured greatly in this respect, for the two teams have seldom had any really wet days to contend with on these occasions.

To many folks, however, the Eton v. Winchester match is a more enjoyable function than the annual contest at Lord’s, despite the latter’s immense social predominance. For when you can see the delightful scenery round Eton better than on those charming summer days that find the Wykehamists in the playing-fields by the river, supported by an admiring crowd of mothers and aunts, to say nothing of sisters and cousins. Should the match be at Winchester, however, Society from London is found in crowds at Waterloo, trying to get early trains down to the historic city of Itchen. Carriages are rapidly filled, and the famous High Street at Winchester sees a galaxy of ladies invade it with more conquering attributes than ever did the Saxon or Dane in bygone days. Winchester Meads, where the great crowd betakes itself to see the cricket and to enjoy the social triumph, are just as lovely as are the banks of the Thames at Eton.

A cricket-match, of course, is almost an ideal event for a fine show of dress and for social entertainment. Perfect summer weather, charming rural scenery, the enthusiasm of the schoolboys, the gallantry of masters and governors, the game itself, the strawherries and cream, the long drive through leafy lanes to reach the school—all these possess wonderful fascination for the average lady, be she mother or daughter. When the match is at Lord’s it somewhat lacks one or two of these things, but it makes up for them by being in town, where still more friends may be expected to turn up, and where the ladies may look forward to meeting even more of their acquaintances of the stronger sex. This is why Rugby v. Marlborough provides a scene only second to Eton v. Harrow in school-matches on that classic ground of Lords each year.

Whilst it is our intention to pass by the average speech-day at the public schools (though such days are truly often social gatherings of some renown in their various spheres), yet we must say a word about the greatest of them, which is undoubtedly that of Harrow. There is perhaps only one special day of the year when London Society betakes itself m waste to the Hill for pleasure and entertainment, and this is the day. To stand in the country road that leads to the fine speech-hall of the celebrated school, and to watch the crowds of welldressed women and men who come to Harrow to hear the speeches, is like standing in the Row some fine summer afternoon between four and half-past five.

The Hill on this occasion shows us of its best in every way. The dark blue of Harrow’s sporting teams is occasionally in evidence, but for once silk hats and frock coats predominate on the Hill in a manner that is not generally common there. The Etonian on ordinary days, even to stroll through the streets of Windsor, must wear that silk hat, but the Harrovian on ordinary days wears a straw hat, or none at all. It is only when his feminine relations come to the Hill in full force of all-pervading beauty and brilliance that the Harrovian feels it incumbent on him to rise fully to the occasion in the way that Eton does.

Let us make a sudden transition from the summer social delights at the great schools to the winter ones. The most striking of these, often patronised by Royalty, and always by a large number of the aristocracy, is the Latin Play each December at Westminster School. Certain high officials, such as the Judges, Cabinet, Speaker of the Commons, and their wives, have a prescriptive claim to be invited. When one recollects that the Play is always performed in the old dormitory of the school one hardly wonders that the place is crowded, that space is much restricted, and that hundreds of ladies of high degree have often to be “turned empty away.”

Mothers and boys have, twice a year, a fine time for enjoyment, if they are connected with Radley College. When Radley holds its annual “ Gaudy,” a term still applied there to the speech-day, as it used to be at all great schools centuries ago, there is usually such a scene as is only second to Harrow‘s on similar occasions. Ladies of fashion and rank travel down from London to the Berkshire school in large numbers to be present, and the many interesting features of the day are much appreciated by the proud mothers and admiring sisters as they stroll around the beautiful grounds attached to the school.

Marlborough gets in its opportunity for joining in the crush of rank and fashion when its “Commemoration ” comes round each summer. Society has always shown itself most favourable to Marlborough of the newer schools during the past two or three decades, and the college in Wiltshire duly rejoices.

The Lady’s Realm

The Clothes & The Man: Cricket

England cricket team at Trent Bridge 1899
England cricket team at Trent Bridge 1899. Back row: Dick Barlow (umpire), Tom Hayward, George Hirst, Billy Gunn, J T Hearne (12th man), Bill Storer (wkt kpr), Bill Brockwell, V A Titchmarsh (umpire). Middle row: C B Fry, K S Ranjitsinhji, W G Grace (captain), Stanley Jackson. Front row: Wilfred Rhodes, Johnny Tyldesley.

William Gilbert “W. G.” Grace, considered by many to be the finest cricketer in history, contributed to Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes Series with an article on the proper outfit for playing cricket.

Amongst cricketers generally opinions are many and divided as to this or that particular style of batting and bowling, but sound them upon the materials necessary for the outfit of a player, and you will find as a rule that perfect unanimity prevails. I have very seldom met with a cricketer of eminence who did not take the greatest care in the choice of a bat, pads, or gloves, or who did not impress upon his tailor the momentous importance of comfortably fitting clothes.

It is advisable for the sake of health and comfort that he should wear flannel or woollen material next his skin. It was no unusual sight ten or twenty years ago to find an eleven or county twenty-two dressed in all the colours of the rainbow. White is now usually worn, and it certainly looks better and cooler than any other colour. Shirts should be made to fit easily at the shoulders, but not too loosely. They should also be made large at the neck, as nothing is more disagreeable on a hot day than a shirt which is too small round the throat.

The best material for trousers is white flannel or cloth manufactured for the purpose; I like cloth the best, and nearly always have my trousers made of it, as it does not shrink so much in washing, and that is a very important consideration if you play right through the season, from May to September. Braces are not worn when playing cricket, so there is no need to have buttons for them on your trousers; a strap and buckle at the back should be used instead. The straps should be made so that the buckle can be removed when washing is necessary, as the buckle is very likely to stain and cut the trousers if left on. Do not forget loops at the side for scarf or belt to go through. Many of the old cricketers used to wear belts to keep their trousers from slipping down; I prefer a scarf, as it looks better and will grip quite as firmly, and you will not run the risk of being given out caught at the wickets through the handle of the bat coming in contact with the buckle of the belt.

Caps I think indispensable and preferable to any kind of hats, unless in very hot weather under a broiling sun, when some protection to the neck and back of the head is necessary. Most of the leading clubs and counties have a distinguishing colour of their own, and cricketers generally wear caps made of this colour.

Jackets and jerseys, or ‘sweaters.’ as they are commonly called, have their place in the outfit of a cricketer. A jacket on a hot day is useful when one is not actually engaged in the game; special attention should be given to its colour and pattern—very often it is made of the same flannel and shade as the cap, and when well chosen forms a very pleasing contrast to the white of the trousers. It can be used when fielding, but certainly not when batting or bowling. A jersey or sweater is preferable; it fits closer to the body, is much pleasanter, and in the field on a very cold day it helps to keep you warm, which is necessary for smartness and comfort. Always carry it in your bag, for a hot and fine morning may be followed by a cold or wet afternoon.

Experienced cricketers know that the most trying thing during the season is to keep the feet from getting sore and blistered; if they become so, much of the pleasure of the game is gone; therefore everyone who wishes to be comfortable should wear thick woollen socks, and always have an extra pair or two in the bag when travelling about. They are better made plain, not ribbed, and in natural colours they are more comfortable and do not mark the feet.

Cricket boots or shoes must be worn. To prevent slipping, it is necessary to wear spikes or nails in your boots or shoes. [S]pikes are very convenient, as when they wear down short they can be taken out and new ones easily put in. Nails are used by some cricketers; they are of different sizes and shapes, but large square-headed ones hold best. I should advise all cricketers who play often to have two pairs of boots, one with short spikes or nails which will hold and prevent slipping on a hard dry ground, and the other with longer spikes for a soft wet spongy ground.

Pads were not worn in the early days of cricket, and although I have seen a few first-class cricketers who never use them, at the present time I cannot call to mind anyone who plays without them. It is much safer to wear them, and when they are properly made and fit well they but slightly affect the freedom of the legs. The sense of confidence that comes from wearing them more than makes up for the slight loss of freedom. At first [pads] were fastened with pieces of tape wound round the leg and tied; then came india-rubber or elastic straps with hooks, and finally the present arrangement of buckle and strap, which meets with general approval. Some makers of the present day have them fastened by loops and a long strap lacing up the back of the leg. When choosing pads see that they are exactly your size and fit well, for large, heavy, and uncomfortable pads will do as much to tire you out in a long innings as hard hitting.

Batting gloves are of the highest importance, and players should accustom themselves to wear them as soon as they begin to play regular cricket, or very possibly they may have to use them on some important occasion and will feel all abroad when wearing them for the first time. Gloves are generally made of leather, with strips of thick fluted india-rubber sewn on the back to protect the fingers and hand. When purchasing gloves be careful to see that the rubber is stout enough to resist the blow when the ball hits your hand or fingers, or you might just as well do without gloves altogether. See that the rubber on the fingers of the right-hand glove comes down slightly over the tops of the fingers, and on the side of the thumb instead of the back. Just remember that the side of the thumb, and not the back of it, is towards the bowler when you are batting.

Gloves are generally fastened at the wrist by a band of elastic sewn on the top and buttoned. You can fasten them by a band of elastic without a button, or have the thumb separated from the body of the glove and sewn on to a piece of elastic, the other end of which is fastened to the back of the glove, and long enough to pass once round the wrist; this contrivance will keep the glove well in its place.

And now, having described the materials necessary to complete a cricketer’s outfit, the only thing required is a suitable bag in which to put them. One made of good leather is preferable to any other sort. Mind you have it large enough to hold everything you can possibly require. Have a strong lock and key for it, and straps as well. Have your name inscribed on the brass round the lock, and your initials painted in plain bold letters on the side. In the hurry of hand-shaking and bustle to catch a train the wrong bag has been often taken for want of this simple precaution.

Cricket (1890)

For more information on W.G. Grace, here’s a short documentary of his life and times: