George Finch (9th Earl of Winchilsea)
November 04, 1752, London
August 02, 1826, Mayfair, Westminster, London, (aged 73y 271d)
Right hand bat
Eton College: Christ Church, Oxford
It is doubtful if the name of George, 9th Earl of Winchilsea is as well-known among cricket lovers as it deserves to be. Lord Winchilsea was born in 1752 and he succeeded to the title in 1769 on the death of his uncle. He graduated from Christ Church, Oxford in 1771, the year in which he was painted by Dance, wearing the robes of a Gentleman Commoner. He became Lord Lieutenant of Rutland and he died unmarried in 1826 to be succeeded by his cousin, George William. Another portrait of Lord Winchilsea hangs in the Royal Institution where he became the first President in 1799.
Such are the basic facts of one of cricket's most important and colourful characters. An Etonian, he fought in the American . War of Independence in 1776. It is, however, for his cricket that he is mainly remembered today. In the Leicestershire Record Office there has been discovered among the Winchilsea archives a document entitled `The Laws of Cricket Revised at the Star ana Garter, Pall Mall, Feb. 25th 1784 by a Committee of Noblemen and Gentlemen of Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex and London'. Lord Winchilsea was the Treasurer of this body and it is interesting to note that the Laws mention an over of six balls at a date when four was the norm. At the bottom of the document is a `List of the Cricket Club' and it is a reasonable assumption that the people mentioned became for the most part founder members of MCC three years later.
Lord Winchilsea and Colonel Charles Lennox were members of the White Conduit Cricket Club - the leading centre of the game in London at that time. They prevailed upon a Yorkshireman named Thomas Lord, one of the White Conduit's leading lights, to establish a ground in Marylebone, to call it after his own surname and to indemnify him against any possible financial loss. Thus it was that on May 31 1787 Middlesex played Essex on Mr Lord's new ground in Dorset Fields, Marylebone.
Lord Winchilsea's account book survives. He was a man of his times and lavished what were then large sums on wagers and bets. On July 16 of that year £44 went on `cricket expenses at Hambledon'. Much more was expended at the races. In May 1792 he lost £298.4s. at Epsom.
In 1791 he played cricket at Nottingham. MCC beat the local club in two matches but not all the activity took place on the field of play: a deep channel or gutter ran down one side of the street and, by an accident, the cap of Colonel Lennox fell into the water which was the effect of a storm. He coolly picked it up, and dabbed it into Lord Winchilsea's face. His Lordship, incensed by the playful indignity, discharged his obligation to the Colonel in a similar manner: and the infectious example was imitated by the rest, who for some minutes, to the infinite amusement of the by-standers, paid off mutual attentions with uxorious interest. The marks of defilement gave their white dimity clothes a chequered, but, as may readily be imagined, a by no means improved appearance. Lord Winchilsea continued to play cricket. In 1792, for instance, he made 54 for MCC (with five of Hambledon) at Lord's and he scored. 56 for Surrey and Sussex on the same ground a year later.
Lord's remained on its original site from 1787 until 1811 when MCC came for the first time to St. John's Wood, although. not to the present ground. The only contemporary illustration to show cricket on the first ground appeared in the Sporting Magazine for 1st July 1793. It depicts the `Grand Cricket Match played on Lord's Ground Mary-le-bone on June 20th and the following day between the Earls of Winchilsea and Darnley for 1,000 guineas.'
The Hampshire Chronicle for July 15 1797 states: `The Earl of Winchilsea has made a capital improvement in the game of cricket, by having four stumps instead of three, and the wickets two inches higher. The game is rendered shorter by easier bowling out.' Doubtless the batsmen of the day ensured that this experiment was short lived!
Lord Winchilsea promoted many matches and his players always wore hats with gold binding and colourful ribbons. He also acted as a talent scout and he brought into prominence that great player, Lord Frederick Beauclerk who had impressed Lord Winchilsea by his bowling at Cambridge. Lord Frederick in one of his rare peaceful utterances returned the compliment and described Lord Winchilsea as `urbane and loyal'. He was indeed one of the great figures in the early history of the game.
Stephen Green, The Cricketer
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