The Marylebone Cricket Club is the world’s most famous cricket club, which was established in London, England in 1787. Like hunting, boxing, and fencing, cricket was considered a gentlemen’s pursuit and provided men with plenty of gambling opportunities. Before Marylebone opened, aristocrats and noblemen played cricket in White Conduit Fields in Islington, London.
As London’s population expanded, crowd control to watch these matches began to bother the players. The players claimed their matches were “too public.” Trying to find a more private venue near London, some nobles approached Thomas Lord. Thomas Lord was a professional bowler at White Conduit Fields in Islington, and the members encouraged him to set up private grounds for the matches, guaranteeing him no financial loss. Thomas Lord leased Dorset Fields in Marylebone and the gentlemen’s club moved there, renaming themselves “the Mary-le-bone Club.” The first staged match pitted Middlesex versus Essex, thus the Marylebone Cricket Club came to be on May 31, 1787.
A year later the members constructed a Code of Laws detailing the game. Marylebone Cricket Club remains the framer and copyright holder of the Laws of Cricket and those laws apply to cricket around the world.
In 1810 Thomas Lord’s lease on Dorset Fields expired. He was forced to relocate the club to Regent’s Park. Efforts were made to transfer the Dorset Fields’ turf to the new site, but the ground was not popular with the players. After keeping the cricket matches at Regent Park from 1811-1813, Thomas Lord moved the site again when the proposed Regent’s Canal development was going to cut through the cricket site. Thus Thomas Lord moved the club to its final location in St. John’s Wood in 1814. Again the turf was transferred to the new site.
The cricket matches brought in many spectators and players, and due to its success, Thomas Lord built a pavilion and refreshment stalls to cater to the crowds. In 1805, the nobles wished to see their sons playing the game and the schools of Eton and Harrow had a match, which began an on-going tradition that still remains. In 1825, at the age of 70, Thomas Lord sold the ground to the Bank of England Director, William Ward. Also occurring in the year 1825, the original pavilion burned down, destroying scorecards, records, and trophies. A new pavilion was constructed and opened the following year.
At one time, the wicket was prepared before a match by allowing sheep to come and graze on the grass. However, the club acquired mowers and its first groundsman in 1864. The original colors were sky blue, but this changed in Victorian times to red and yellow, now recognized around the world.
An interesting side note: Females were refused membership to the club well into the 1990’s, due to the difficulty in gaining the two-thirds majority needed to approve female membership. In September 1998, 70% of the members eventually voted to allow female membership, ending 212 years of male exclusivity. Until that time, the Queen, as the club’s patron, was the only woman permitted to enter the Pavilion during play, with the exception of female staff.