Runs in the family

Tilly Mills relates the tales of some formidable cricketing deeds performed by two of her ancestors in Kent in the 19th century...

Tilly Mills relates the tales of some formidable cricketing deeds performed by two of her ancestors in Kent in the 19th century...

Richard Mills © Getty Images
As a child I would visit my grandfather, Julius Mills, who lived on a smallholding in Sussex, and he would tell me tales about his family, of whom he was very proud. In particular he would mention Edward Gover Wenman and Richard Mills as being well known Kent county cricketers.
While doing some family research recently I came across a report of a contest which caused great excitement in the cricketing world at the time, and was regarded as 'an event unprecedented', according to Rev Francis Haslewood in his book on Benenden published in 1889.
Evidently, at Wittersham on September 4 and 5, 1834, Mr E.G. Wenman and Mr Richard Mills, both of Benenden in Kent, were backed to play against 11 chosen players of the Isle of Oxney at double wicket for £20.
Upwards of 2,000 spectators came to witness this singular contest and many heavy sums of money changed hands on the occasion. The odds against the two enterprising players were great, taking on the 11 in every aspect of the game. Whilst one bowled the other had to keep wicket and the duo had to field every ball; in reality they had but two innings as, when one was out, their innings closed. The score at the end of the first innings was E.G. Wenman 65, R. Mills 84 not out, and in the second innings Wenman made 16 not out and Mills 29. They won by 66 runs.
Described as a 'fine man, six feet in height', Edward Gover Wenman, a celebrated cricketer, was born on August 18, 1803 at Benenden in Kent, where he lived until his death on December 28, 1879. His business was that of a wheelwright. Having made an appearance at Lord's in 1828, in the match between the Marylebone club and Kent, he subsequently played in the great matches of his day. He excelled chiefly as a batsman and a wicketkeeper. His name appears on the list of players in the Grand jubilee match, held to commemorate the 50th year of the Marylebone club, between the North and the South at Lord's on July 10, 1837.
The Mills family lived and farmed at Benenden for many generations. Richard Mills, of Pump Farm, played for Kent from 1825-43 and was by far the greatest cricketer of his family, which produced so many good players that the village was able to meet the county on even terms. According to my grandfather, backed up by other records, the Mills family could also make up an entire team from among themselves and often did. One such occasion was when the Mills family played the combined forces of Northiam and Beckley and scored 92 against their opponents' 32. On this occasion, four members of the family team were under 12 years of age.
Richard was a powerful hitter and mediumpaced round-arm bowler, left-handed in each aspect of the game. The story goes that he was invited to appear in the 1831 Gentlemen v Players match but the letter which was sent to him, having no initial, was delivered by mistake to George Mills, who journeyed to Lord's and was allowed to play. George had played several times for Kent so maybe it was not such a terrible mistake.
Sportsmen to the last, a challenge was issued which was published in Bell's Life on July which often competed against local village sides when they were all in their 70s, which read: 'Three of the old professionals of The Old Kent County Cricket Club, and natives of the parish of Benenden - viz 73 years - provided that the youngest of the players shall not be less than 71 years of age. They will make the match for any amount not exceeding £100. Any reply to the challenge to be addressed to Mr E. Mills, George Hotel, Hurst Green.' On this occasion, however, the challenge was not taken up.
Richard and Edgar now rest peacefully, not many yards from each other, in the churchyard that overlooks the village green at Benenden. Only their mellow headstones now record their'innings' in this life.
Hambledon won this match on the second day by 62 runs, but the next time Baker saw them play, against 'England' at Sevenoaks Vine in June 1773, they were beaten by an innings. It was miserably cold and Baker was so disgusted by the club's performance that he did not stay for the single-innings match (a sort of limited-overs slog) that was hastily arranged to fill up the third day. Still, the journey was not altogether wasted. On both evenings he had the good luck to pass by The Crown, and heard the Hambledon team, who were famous for their singing as well as their cricket, 'merrily singing catches (and very well too)'. Baker was a bit offended to hear them enjoying themselves after they had been 'so shamefully beat'.