Ashes tray to go under the hammer

A silver tray, dating from England's tour of Australia in 1882-83, is expected to fetch up to A$300,000 (£82,000) at an auction in New South Wales on October 19. The tray, a gift of thanks from the England team to Melbourne Cricket Club's president, Sir William Clarke, is believed to have been used to carry the newly-presented Ashes urn and its velvet bag before their return to England with Ivo Bligh's victorious England team.

Australians have repeatedly been disappointed at their inability to persuade MCC to relinquish the Ashes, which are housed in the museum at Lord's. Steve Waugh and John Howard, the Australian prime minister, are among the big names to have called for the urn to return Down Under, but Lord's considers them too fragile to make the journey. But the discovery of this artefact may help to placate the Aussies.

"The tray has to end up in Australia," said Tom Thompson, of Lawson Menzies, the auctioneer, "because there are a lot of people out there who are disappointed with what can't be recovered from Lord's." But, he added, there was no guarantee that that would be the case. "The tray does not carry a heritage order," he said, "because none of the historians knew it even existed."

The tray is raised on four spherical feet, weighs 1.48kg, and was manufactured by Martin & Hall in Sheffield in 1880. It bears the engraved signatures of eight members of England's team -- Bligh, Walter Read, Allan Steel, Charles and George Studd, Edmund Tylecote, Charles Leslie and George Vernon -- and carries the inscription: "Presented to Sir William & Lady Clarke as a tribute of friendship & esteem by the English cricketers in Australia 1882-1883".

At The Oval in 1882, Australia beat England on home soil for the first time; a seismic event that led the Sporting Times to publish a mock obituary of English cricket, which stated that "the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia".