Thirty years of history, 1931

Lord's and the M.C.C.

Sir Francis Lacey

Changes are frequent in these days but it is doubtful if any place has changed more completely than Lord's Cricket Ground in the last thirty years or any institution grown more in administration than the M.C.C. which owns it.

Taking the physical condition first, the only part remaining of the earliest history of Lord's is the match ground. Its turf was brought from Dorset Square and North Bank over 100 years ago and, except for a complete system of drainage supplied about 20 years ago, the usual operations of upkeep, the addition of two tanks for conserving rain water and the work of earthworms, it is the same.

The tanks were made on the north and south sides to catch the rain water falling on the large stands. The value of these additions was soon shown. They provide suitable water for preparing wickets and an opportunity of reducing water rates. It is almost imperative, especially in a large town, to have an independent water supply in case of drought.

All else has undergone improvements and additions to meet the requirements of the public and the members. Outwardly the hotel (in early days called "The Tavern"), the members' luncheon room and the pavilion appear to be unchanged. Internally these buildings have been brought up to date. The hotel is the centre of the refreshment department and from it are dispensed refreshments to different parts of the ground. Its excavations extend from the hotel proper to the members' entrance.

When the refreshment business was taken over in 1898, the hotel and its accommodation were found to be unsuitable and inadequate for the business it was required to carry on and bakeries, cold storage and other facilities were provided and now, although it is impossible to serve every individual in a large crowd at the same time, the conduct of the business compares favourably with any ground that has the same problems to solve.

The shop adjoining the hotel was built some years later for the purpose of finding employment for some of the staff in the off season and in order to reduce the loss which, owing to overhead charges, has to be faced during that period.

The addition to the pavilion, on the north side, was made so as to give the Press the best position from which to watch the game in progress and in order to improve and extend the professionals' quarters below.


ADDITIONS AND FINANCES

All the present stands and seating accommodation were built within the time under review. The large mound stand followed a decision of the Committee in 1898 to give more spectators an opportunity of seeing Test matches. This involved removing the tennis and racket courts to a site behind the pavilion.

Many mourned the loss of the ivy-mantled wall of this old building and the large clock it held, which offered an invitation to ambitious batsmen to reach its face with a square-leg hit. Owing to the growing popularity of Test matches these familiar and attractive features were sacrificed out of consideration for the public.

The stand has answered its purpose. It is only when it is unoccupied that it offends the artistic eye. As the popularity of the big matches grew, an increased demand for accommodation for entertaining arose. This was, to a great extent, satisfied by building luncheon arbours on the north, south and east sides of the practice ground.

The erection of the members' extension and its south west tower followed and all the covered seating on the ground floor was replaced subsequently by buildings of a more permanent and less dusty character. The new grand stand (replacing one built in the middle of the last century) and the cantilever stands on the east side of the match ground, recently erected, were constructed from the plans of Sir Herbert Baker and have made a substantial addition to the seating capacity of the ground.

On the death of Dr. W.G. Grace, the champion cricketer, in 1915, the Committee decided to erect a memorial in his honour. This took the form of memorial gates at the members' entrance on the south-west side of the ground.

Finance is not usually regarded as a matter of general interest; but those who are under the impression that the M.C.C. has always been a rich club will be surprised to learn that in 1898 there was an overdraft at one bank, a loan from another bank and the balance of the purchase money of the freehold of the match ground, bought in the middle of the last century, still owing.

The purchase money had been advanced by Mr. W. Nicholson, a member of the committee and in his day a famous wicket-keeper. These liabilities had to be faced in spite of the fact that £40,000 had been raised by the election of 200 life members to meet, in part, the erection of the large mound stand and the removal and building of the tennis and racket courts.

In the year above mentioned, the property of the Club consisted, besides the match and practice ground, of two leasehold houses in Grove End Road, two freeholds and one leasehold in Elm Tree Road and a leasehold in Cavendish Road West.

Now the M.C.C. owns as freeholds all the houses butting on the ground from St. John's Wood Road to 22, Elm Tree Road, the Secretary's official residence. Flats for housing several of the club staff, whose services may be required at short notice, have recently been built on the north side of the practice ground.

The improvement in the financial position has enabled the club to set aside a sum of money for financing, or helping to finance, tours in different parts of the Empire, thereby enlarging its responsibilities towards Empire cricket and increasing its opportunities of strengthening family ties.

Cricket finance, however, has always its problems and difficulties owing to increasing expenses and rates and taxes. Although stronger financially than it had ever been, M.C.C., after a few bad seasons or a decrease in the popularity of the game, might easily find, unless a large reserve is provided, that its work in promoting cricket in this country and elsewhere in the Empire would have to be curtailed.

Exchanges of visits have done much to give birth to an Empire sense and it is to be hoped that a sufficiently large reserve may be secured to enable M.C.C.'s work to be continued and even increased.


THE PROFESSIONAL STAFF

M.C.C. professionals, 30 years ago, were recruited from the County Cricket Clubs which then needed help. These clubs often sent up promising but inexperienced youths. If these youngsters turned out well they were claimed for county matches, except when representative M.C.C. matches such as those against Australia or South Africa, were played. If they did not come up to expectations they were left under the parental influence of M.C.C. When the counties played only eight home and home matches, this arrangement could be tolerated. As the counties increased their matches, however, M.C.C. found itself left with elderly or second-rate players only. In these circumstances it was found necessary to train young players at Lord's conditionally on M.C.C. having first claim on their services.

The members of the professional staff used to be given a benefit match in rotation, subject to an agreement to retire on receipt and to the approval of the M.C.C. Committee with regard to the investment of the proceeds of the match. The fixture allotted was the Whitsuntide match at Lord's and the money taken fluctuated with the weather, the game more than once producing nothing.

It was accordingly decided to give on retirement £500 in lieu of a match and this is always granted now on the old conditions, even when the professional had given all, or nearly all, his services to his county.

Most of the professional staff are taught the principles of coaching so that they may be available for the Easter classes. These Easter classes are held during three weeks of the Easter holidays when the M.C.C. gives instruction in every department of the game to the sons of members and to boys introduced by them.

The classes were first held 25 years ago for about ten sons of members. They are now attended by nearly 200 boys a day and Lord's, for this purpose, cannot take more.

The Middlesex C.C.C. has for many years used Lord's for its home matches. As, however, other county clubs thought that Middlesex was unduly favoured, a carefully considered agreement was drawn up dealing with the equities of the case and creating a situation to the mutual advantage of the M.C.C and the Middlesex C.C.C.

Under this agreement Middlesex pays a fair rent and its proportion of expenses and its members are granted facilities in Middlesex and other matches.


A COURT OF APPEAL

Membership of the M.C.C., limited to 6,000, has naturally increased by slow degrees. It is now, roughly speaking, about 1,000 more than it was 30 years ago and, owing to wastage, it may be many years before the limit will be reached.

The increased membership, and the fact that the M.C.C. is regarded as the Court of Appeal throughout the cricket world, entail a very large and wide range of correspondence. Enquiries and requests for decisions in disputes and difficulties, often couched in quaint language, are received even from remote parts of the Empire. These show a loyalty to the club such as cannot be enjoyed by many institutions.

Correspondence connected with the Laws of Cricket and interpretations thereon became so voluminous that a pamphlet giving decisions and interpretations on all the Laws and Rules in cricket and its conduct, about which there can be reasonable doubt, was published by the M.C.C. This has a large circulation.

When the war came in 1914 the Committee felt that any tendency towards scare or morbidity should be resisted and an outward show of carrying on was allowed. But the ground and its buildings were, at once, placed at the disposal of the War Office and, the offer having been accepted, were used until the end of the war as accommodation and a training ground for the military.

The policy of the Committee was directed towards providing games for soldiers and sailors in training and on leave and for boys too young to serve. Contrary to the usual custom of changing the President each year, Lord Hawke remained President until after the war, and he and the Treasurer (Lord Harris), although doing everything possible to serve their country in other ways, helped and directed in the administration of the changed conditions of the Club.


A TOURS AND THEIR CONTROL

While the physical outlook at Lord's was altering a less conspicuous, though more valuable and potent growth was taking plaec in the influence and responsibility of the M.C.C. Tours abroad became frequent and on them, especially on those to Australia, public interest was focussed.

It was generally felt that tours of such importance should be controlled and conducted by some responsible body. Under pressure, the M.C.C., somewhat reluctantly, accepted responsibility. These tours involved money liability as well as administrative responsibility and for these reasons there was no competition for the honour.

Of recent years tours to Australia have given a satisfactory return and the county clubs have shared in the profits. For some time previously M.C.C. was out of pocket; but the deficit was honourably made good by the Australian Board of Control. There can be no doubt that Australian cricket has benefited considerably by visits from home.

Other Empire tours, financed, or partly financed, by M.C.C., have visited India, Egypt, Canada, The West Indies, New Zealand, Ceylon and South Africa. The South African Cricket Association has been particularly helpful as it has generally guaranteed all, or nearly all, the expenses of a tour to that country.

Only those in close touch with the network of interest created by these visits can fully appreciate their value in making friendly relations and understanding.


NEW GOVERNING BODIES

In proportion as interest in Imperial cricket increased responsibility in selecting sides and organising Test Matches, in England, also increased.

In order to secure the best advice and the willing co-operation of the County Clubs, the M.C.C. convened a meeting composed of representatives of these clubs and the constitution of a Board of Control of Test Matches at Home was established. This was in 1898. Besides passing rules as to the conduct of Test Matches and selecting grounds on which they should be played, it was agreed that there should be an apportionment of profits, if any.

One of the leading counties moved that M.C.C. owing to its position and the work it did for cricket, should not contribute to the pool from profits from a match at Lord's. This proposal would have been passed had not the Rt. Hon. Alfred Lyttelton, M.P.(then President of M.C.C.) intervened and stated that M.C.C. wished to share equally with the county clubs. The equality arrangement was passed and had held good ever since.

Cricket legislation and control had been in the hands of the M.C.C. for over 100 years. The idea of a more democratic form of government had already taken root in the minds of the M.C.C. Committee and another meeting of the county clubs was called and an Advisory County Cricket Committee brought into being. This Committee, on which all the first class counties are represented, with three nominees appointed by the Minor Counties' Cricket Association, is consulted on cricket matters of importance and meetings can be called by the counties themselves.

Arrangements, so far, enlarged the duties and advantages of clubs at home only. The M.C.C., owing to its close connection with clubs and cricketers throughout the Empire, realised the importance of bringing these forces within the network of cricket organisation and invited the largest clubs outside England to form governing bodies and to send delegates to an Imperial Cricket Conference. At least one meeting of this Conference is held yearly.

The above mentioned consultative bodies, with the M.C.C., now control and manage Home and Empire cricket and the organisation thus created has proved it value in many ways. The M.C.C. still remains the Parliament of Cricket, holding its position by general consent, and the county clubs in framing their rules have invited it to accept the responsibility of a Court of Appeal.

The M.C.C., apparently, assumed the position of head of cricket at the end of the eighteenth century and it is significant that through such a long time of change and criticism it has been free from any serious attack.

This is, no doubt, due to the constitution of the M.C.C. Committee on which can be found famous cricketers and men of the highest repute in business and in other activities. The Committee has been trusted and has never failed to aim at securing the best interests of the game as a whole and to preserve the spirit in which it should be played.


© John Wisden & Co