This place deep in the Weald has a long history. In medieval times Sifeld was a sheep clearing at the time when drovers moved sheep from the high ground of the Downs into the wooded Weald. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book and in August 1538 Thomas Howard, Third Duke of Norfolk entertained Henry VIII in the former Mansion. By then it had become a deer park and from the mid 18th Century its then owners the De La Warr family began to formalise it by clearing areas, establishing lawns, creating lakes and planting avenues of trees in the fashion of the times. In 1796 it was sold to John Holroyd who was made Earl of Sheffield in 1816.
James Wyatt was employed to remodel the medieval house in the fashionable Gothic style and Capability Brown and Repton landscaped the garden in the new style, creating irregular belts and clumps of trees, small lakes and cleared informal paths through the woods.
Cricket was first played at Sheffield Park in 1845, when Fletching played Chailey. Opening the batting for the home team was Viscount Pevensey (later Lord Sheffield), a 13 year old schoolboy on holiday from Eton. The ground was enlarged in 1855 and when Lord Sheffield, the Third Earl, inherited the Estate in 1876 a complete reconstruction took place creating one of the most beautiful grounds in England.
Lord Sheffield was to become one of the great Patrons of Sussex and England cricket and first-class matches at Sheffield Park commenced in 1881 with the first of five Australian visits being made in 1884. The ground also staged the first ever matches in England involving teams from India (1886) and South Africa (1894). Lord Sheffield’s matches attracted huge crowds and on 11 May 1896 over 25,000 people came to see the Prince of Wales, W.G. Grace, the Australian cricketers and the beautiful garden.
Lord Sheffield died in 1909 and the Estate was then sold to Arthur Soames. He continued the planting programme, adding colour to the garden, much of which still exists today, including beautiful rhododendrons, Japanese maples and nyssas providing spectacular autumn colour.
During the Second World War the property became the HQ for a Canadian armoured division and Nissen huts were erected in the garden and woods. The whole Estate was split up and sold in lots in 1953 with the National Trust buying the garden but not the Grade 1 Listed house, subsequently restored and converted into apartments.
In 2007 the Trust was able to acquire the adjacent Parkland thus re-uniting it with the famous garden and providing visitors with new opportunities to explore outdoor leisure activities.
To add to this success and to commemorate the contribution that the Third Earl of Sheffield made to cricket, the National Trust selected the Armadillos to be the club to restore the ground and bring country house cricket back to this famous garden, and so it was that in 2009, on the 100th anniversary of the Third Earl’s death, a commemorative match was able to be played between an Old England XI and Lord Sheffield’s Australian XI in front of several thousand spectators. Fittingly the Sheffield Shield, commissioned by the Australians from money donated for the benefit of Australian cricket by the Third Earl after England’s tour there in 1891/92, was brought over from Australia for the occasion and proudly displayed to the crowds. Now home to the Armadillos, cricket is once again regularly played throughout the season on this famous old ground.
Acknowledgements: Roger Packham, author of “Cricket in the Park, the Life and Times of Lord Sheffield 1832-1909″
Ashley Brown, National Trust
A History of Lordly Patronage
Cricket tours these days tend to be hectic and obsessive. Their social purpose is minimal. A century and more ago, despite the fact that no-one organised a tour without careful consideration of its financial viability, players and organisers alike considered that what happened off the field was at least as important as the matches themselves and the profits – or losses – they made. Cricket could build bridges between nations. Visitors had to be looked after, entertained, wined and dined. None did better than the five Australian teams who between 1884 and 1896 opened their tour at Sheffield Park in Sussex, the Arundel of Victorian cricket.
Of all the private patrons of cricket, in any era, none was so passionate, and yet so disinterested in personal prestige, as Henry North Holroyd, the Third Earl of Sheffield. A lifelong enthusiast for cricket, he was no great player, though he once, as Lord Pevensey, played for the Gentlemen of Sussex against the Gentlemen of Kent. That was in 1856, when he was 24 and his private ground at Sheffield Park was already open, a ground of exceptional scenic grandeur, most beautifully maintained.
Surviving menus show something of the hospitality afforded to the Australians, and in 1894 the South African tourists were also splendidly entertained at Sheffield Park. The public was never charged for entry to these matches against the touring teams, which were played very seriously – especially no doubt by Lord Sheffield’s XI which often amounted almost to an England side – though in an atmosphere of “cordial happiness”. The pitch was described as being “good if a trifle fiery in dry weather and, like all wickets on infrequently used grounds, apt to crumble.” The Australians enjoyed notable innings victories in 1884 and 1890, on both occasions despite the presence of W.G., who was one of an XI bowled out for only 27 (Grace 20) by Turner and Ferrit in 1890. The last first-class match at Sheffield Park, against the 1896 Australians, was marked by a brilliant 95 not out on a crumbling wicket by F.S. Jackson. Not many years afterwards the ground had become a hayfield.
The Australians had double reason to be grateful for Lord Sheffield’s friendship. In the winter of 1891-92, entirely at his own expense, he took an England touring team to Australia, partly, it was said, to show W.G. Grace to a new generation of Australian spectators. The Doctor was now a real veteran, but he did not let anyone down and, despite an incident or two involving the umpires (plus ça change), the team was popular in Australia, not least for losing the Test series 2-1! To commemorate the trip, Lord Sheffield presented the famous Shield for which the leading state sides have battled every peacetime season since.
Lord Sheffield was even more generous in his own country. President of Sussex from 1879 to 1897, he resigned after receiving a number of ‘poison-pen’ letters, but returned to the post in 1904, four years before his death. For ten years he employed Alfred Shaw of Notts and William Mycroft of Derbyshire to coach Sussex cricketers at a time when the county was struggling to hold its own. Three or four trial matches were held at Sheffield Park every year before the season opened – Shaw estimated that “they cost his Lordship no less than £50 each” – and all through the summer Shaw would officiate at further trial matches round the county, seeking out new talent. Promising players were given special coaching, and Shaw himself received a generous salary. Amongst those thus spotted were Billy Newham, George Brann, Aubrey Smith, F.M. Lucas and A.E. Relf.
Shaw also accompanied the philanthropic Earl on trips ‘combining cricket with pleasure’ to France and Holland and on non-cricketing journeys up the Nile to Egypt, to the Holy Land, to the Crimea and to Norway. Presumably Shaw was invited on those trips to do the near best thing to playing cricket – talking it instead. But wherever Lord Sheffield went, a chance to play the game was never missed. As Shaw recalled, it was inevitably his idea to play a game at midnight on board the Lusitania.
“The scene of this novel match was the anchorage in the ice fjord at Spitsbergen, about 40 miles up the fjord… we were nestling in the bosom of a peaceful fjord at midnight, with the Arctic sun at its lowest point lighting up the snow-clad mountains and the magnificent glaciers around us. The light was equal to noonday at an English cricket match: indeed it was much superior to the average light of one or two famous cricket grounds in the North of England.”
“It was Lord Sheffield who suggested a cricket match at this weird hour and amongst these eerie surroundings. Wickets were pitches, a ball improvised, and at a quarter to twelve on the night of August 12, 1894, this strange game commenced. Of course I had to bowl and Lord Sheffield opened the batting. Between a quarter to twelve and half past twelve, I had bowled out practically all the gentlemen passengers and officers, certainly forty persons all told.”
The noble Earl and his fellow passengers were in good company. Shaw is believed never to have bowled a wide and he bowled W.G. Grace on 20 occasions, more than any other man. That was another kind of Sheffield Park hospitality!
The Parting of the Good Doctor’s Beard
The 1896 match was the setting for the memorable encounter between W.G. and Ernest ‘Jonah’ Jones, a lively Australian opening bowler, as told by F.S. Jackson:
“Of all the fast bowlers the Australians have sent to this country, I think Jones was the best in my time. I have very good reasons for remembering him, as I took part in the first match he played in this country against Lord Sheffield’s XI at Sheffield Park, Sussex, in 1896. He was one of the most powerful men I ever met. I believe he was a miner, and in his early days of the tour was very wild in his delivery. This was probably because the Australians came practically straight off the ship to the match and were short of practice. Jones gave me the impression that his main effort was to show his immense pace. The wicket was dry and he bowled short, bumpy stuff.
“One ball from Jones hit W.G. under the arm, and later in the innings another one went head-high past him and over Kelly’s head to the boundary. This was the ball about which the Beard Story originated. I can see W.G. now. He threw his head back, which caused his beard to stick out. Down the pitch went W.G., stroking his beard, to Harry Trott and said: ‘Here, what is all this?’ And Trott said: ‘Steady, Jonah.’ To which Jones made that famous remark: ‘Sorry, Doctor, she slipped.’
I do not think the ball actually touched W.G.’s beard. That story was told afterwards, and I believe I was responsible. When I was out and returned to the Pavilion, I said: ‘Did you see that one go through W.G.’s beard?’ The ball was bouncing, and only Ranji appeared to like it. The pace that Jones was bowling impressed me because in the second innings, when I had made about 10, I had the misfortune to stop one with my ribs, but with the assistance of W.A.J. West, the umpire, who rubbed me, I was able to continue my innings.”
First Class Honours Board
HIGHEST TEAM TOTAL IN A FIRST-CLASS MATCH:
266 WG Grace’s XI v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1883
258 Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians 1893
257 Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1896
231 Lord Sheffield’s XI v WG Grace’s XI 1883
212 Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1884
LOWEST TEAM TOTAL IN A FIRST-CLASS MATCH:
27 Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians 1890
70 Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1886
86 Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians 1884
98 Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1886
106 A Shaw’s XI v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1881
HIGHEST INDIVIDUAL FIRST-CLASS INNINGS AT SHEFFIELD PARK:
|FS Jackson 95*||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians 1896|
|AC Bannerman 94||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1884|
|WL Murdoch 93||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1890|
|WG Grace 81||WG Grace’s XI v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1883|
|KS Ranjitsinhji 79||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians 1896|
|W Newham 77||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Marylebone Cricket Club 1891|
|WR Gilbert 73||WG Grace’s XI v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1883|
|A Shaw 73||Lord Sheffield’s XI v WG Grace’s XI 1883|
|J Darling 67||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1896|
|A Shrewsbury 67||Lord Sheffield’s XI v WG Grace’s XI 1883|
|WG Grace 63||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians 1893|
|F Hearne 62||Lord Sheffield’s XI v A Shaw’s Australian XI 1885|
|E Mills 62||WG Grace’s XI v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1883|
|A Shrewsbury 62||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians 1893|
|CHS Trott 59*||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1896|
|W Gunn 56||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians 1893|
|WG Grace 51||WG Grace’s XI v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1883|
|G Ulyett 51||A Shaw’s Australian XI v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1885|
|WH Scotton 50||A Shaw’s XI v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1881|
BEST BOWLING FIGURES IN A FIRST-CLASS MATCH:
|JJ Ferris||44||19||88||12||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1890|
|W Barnes||39.3||19||46||10||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians in 1886|
|W Wright||46.2||22||58||10||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Marylebone Cricket Club in 1891|
|GE Palmer||70||34||72||10||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1884|
|G Giffen||72||31||121||10||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1884|
BEST BOWLING FIGURES IN A FIRST-CLASS INNINGS:
|W Barnes||22.3||12||26||7||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians in 1886|
|W Bates||38||12||45||7||A Shaw’s XI v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1881|
|JJ Ferris||30||12||70||7||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1890|
|E Jones||22||4||84||7||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1896|
|TW Garrett||15.2||8||22||6||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1886|
|W Wright||17.2||10||23||6||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Marylebone Cricket Club in 1891|
|GE Palmer||37||20||38||6||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1884|
|T Emmett||31.1||15||41||6||Lord Sheffield’s XI v A Shaw’s XI in 1881|
|A Shaw||48.2||29||43||6||Lord Sheffield’s XI v WG Grace’s XI in 1883|
|G Giffen||34||15||50||6||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1884|
|WG Grace||46||24||72||6||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians in 1884|
|JJ Ferris||14||7||18||5||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1890|
|E Peate||42.1||20||39||5||Lord Sheffield’s XI v A Shaw’s XI in 1881|
|W Attewell||35||16||52||5||Marylebone Cricket Club v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1891|
|GA Lohmann||29.4||5||70||5||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Marylebone Cricket Club in 1891|
|A Conningham||38.2||16||74||5||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1893|
|WH Lockwood||26||8||81||5||Lord Sheffield’s XI v Australians in 1893|
|G Giffen||25||4||93||5||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI in 1893|
MOST DISMISSALS BY A WICKETKEEPER DURING AN INNINGS OF A FIRST-CLASS MATCH:
|4 H Phillips||WG Grace’s XI v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1883|
|4 G MacGregor||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1893|
|4 AFA Lilley||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1896|
|3 G Pinder||A Shaw’s XI v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1881|
|3 M Sherwin||Australians v Lord Sheffield’s XI 1890|
Ground Renovation – A Dream Come True
All negotiations had been completed, the lease from the National Trust to The Armadillos signed, so now came the time to get down to restoring the ground.
Our initial inclination was to keep down the cost of laying a square but eventually we decided that, in order to produce a first class playing surface, no expense should be spared. We are extremely grateful to Brian Funnell of Dickson and Church Ltd. who spent many an hour taking soil samples and recommending grass seeds and fertilisers. Steven Pask was then employed to lay a square to accommodate eight separate wickets.
The position and orientation were a major concern. As the longest day of 2008 approached several visits to the ground were made to monitor the passage of the sun through the sky and diagrams were produced. Huge distances were covered on foot along imaginary boundaries before it was eventually established precisely where the square should go and that the wickets should run almost due North to South— the original square ran in a more East to West direction. On 28th April 2008 the gang moved in.
An investment of this magnitude was not to be taken lightly and feelers were put out for a highly qualified groundsman and a friendly meeting over a few pints resulted in us enlisting the honorary services of two truly knowledgeable gentlemen, David Wickens and Brian Turner. Initially equipment comprised a borrowed mower and roller. Now we’ve acquired a three ton mechanical roller, a massive Ransome cylinder mower for the outfield and a smaller one for the square. The National Trust had brought mains water, donated in part by the Thorne Group, to the sites of the square and the pavilion and an irrigation system for the square was devised by Piltdown Plumbing and Heating.
Since the beginning of the Second World War the outfield had accommodated Canadian Army Nissen Huts, a Tree Plantation and mud dredged from the lakes. More recently the National Trust had converted it into a beautiful meadow. After an initial cut and a roll by Derek Lingham, Barcombe Landscapes gradually reduced the length of the grass, filled in the more pronounced dips and rolled regularly. The north is known as the “Kirk Douglas End” due to the expansive dimple a few yards short of the bowling crease.
Throughout the entire procedure progress was thwarted by resident badgers, rabbits, moles plus the occasional deer. The square, however, had to be protected and I hate to think how many hours our President spent manufacturing thirty chicken wire frames to keep out invading fauna.
The area surrounding the outfield was covered in trees, saplings and brambles. Over a period of time these were thinned or razed to the ground by the National Trust, various working parties, Derek Lingham and Barcombe Landscapes, and roots and stumps removed and the ground levelled by Tree Wise. All the time we were conscious of the previous existence and whereabouts of exquisite pavilions and band-stands erected by the Third Earl of Sheffield, most of them of wrought iron.
The precise location of our pavilion took almost as long to decide as that of the square until our President finally plunged a twig decisively into the ground. The fine building you see was agreed upon and built by Beaver Construction. Once again nature was an influence in that this beautiful oak frame construction caters for the needs of bats, barn owls, swifts and lesser crested newts.
A dream has come to fruition and we feel really excited about it all. We hope you all agree that it has been worthwhile.
Peter Wigan 2009