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'A symbol of cricket's past and a reassurance of its future'

Like sport itself, the world of sporting architecture moved on in leaps and bounds in the last third of the 20th century

Martin Williamson

February 12, 2005

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The pavilion at Lord's
Thomas Verity's original 1889 design for the pavilion at Lord's © The Cricketer/MCC

Like sport itself, the world of sporting architecture moved on in leaps and bounds in the last third of the 20th century. The old idiosyncratic and seemingly haphazard grounds of the past have gradually given way to stadia which are more impressive, functional and comfortable ... but usually much less charismatic..

Deposit a sportsman - not just a cricketer but any sportsman - from 1900 in almost any modern ground, and it would be about as familiar to him as the surface of Venus. The names might be the same - the MCG, the Wanderers, the Basin Reserve - but that is all. One of the few exceptions is Lord's. A batsman from 1900 taking guard at the Nursery End today and looking up to face the bowler would instantly recognise where he was, because of the familiar pavilion (although when he reached the other end and looked up at the media centre he probably would wonder what planet he was on). It is arguably the most identifiable building in cricket, a superb example of Victorian architecture at its most grand, and a throwback to a forgotten era when cricket was the sport of the civilised world, and Lord's was at the centre of that community.

The present pavilion is the third to stand on the ground. The first, a small wooden structure, was burnt down in July 1825, and was replaced by a more robust structure which stood until 1889. But by then cricket had exploded into a major sport attracting ever-increasing crowds, and MCC realised that Lord's needed something altogether larger and more befitting of the game's headquarters.

In May 1889, the MCC committee approved the construction of a new pavilion. The project was put out for tender - there was a budget of £13,000 (£1.2 million in today's money) - and Thomas Verity was subsequently engaged as the architect. Verity was well-known at the time: his other work included input with aspects of the design of the Royal Albert Hall, the Criterion Restaurant and Theatre, the Theatre Royal in the Haymarket, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. He was aided by his son, Frank, who took over handling subsequent alterations after his father's death in 1891.

A local firm of builders, J Simpson & Sons, were employed as the primary contractors with a separate contract awarded to a Welsh firm - JG Edwards of Ruabon - for the terracotta work. In all, the pavilion cost £16,150.

The pavilion at Lord's
The structure incorporates many ornate features. These gargoyles, of contemporary committee members, can be found on the first-floor balcony © Cricinfo

The timescale demanded by MCC was tight. Work could not commence until after the last match of the 1889 season, and had to be completed in time for the following season's AGM at the start of May. There were immediate problems. The original intention had been for the building to be primarily of stone construction, but a masons' strike in the last months of 1889 meant that Verity had to fall back on brick and terracotta. But, crucially, he made the deadline, and the building was opened on May 1, 1890. Bailey's Magazine said the building was "really magnificent", adding that it appeared as if it "were meant to stand forever".

But the construction left MCC in a financial hole, as they had borrowed heavily from the banks to finance the build. A member, William Nicholson, offered to underwrite much of the cost "on favourable terms", and a crisis was avoided. In his book Lord's: The Cathedral of Cricket, MCC's former curator Stephen Green notes that for some time the new pavilion was nicknamed "The Gin Palace", as Nicholson's wealth had come from the sale of that beverage.

Inevitably, the pavilion underwent further changes in the decades that followed. The Bowler's Pavilion at the north end of the pavilion was built by Frank Verity in 1906, providing additional changing facilities and a press box. Despite its name, this was where the professionals changed, and it remained so until the amateur-professional distinction was abolished at the end of 1962, and the space was converted into a bar and offices at the end of the 1960s. The balconies on the front of the main changing-rooms were added around the turn of the 20th century.

In 2003 MCC approved expenditure of £8.2million to restore the pavilion to the original Victorian designs, at the same time improving members' facilities, largely through the construction of a large roof terrace behind the top tier. The work is ongoing and, like Verity's original, started at the end of one season (2004) with a view to being ready in time for the start of the next.

On the occasion of the pavilion's centenary, I asked EW Swanton what made the building so special. "It has stood unchanged for a century and will undoubtedly endure for another," he said. "It is a symbol of cricket's past and a reassurance of its future."

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

Lord's: The Cathedral of Cricket - Stephen Green (Tempus 2003)
Pavilions of Splendour - Edited by Duff Hart-Davis (Methuen 2004)
Lord's 1787-1945 - Sir Pelham Warner (George Harrap & Son 1946)
Lord's: The Home of Cricket - Niall Edworthy (Virgin 1999)

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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