Back in 2020 England’s most famous cricketer Ian Botham in receiving a life peerage was introduced to the House of Lords. I’d like to think at a later juncture someone from the administration divulged to him a potted history of the Lords and Commons Cricket Team (LCC). If not, well the Archives is on hand to fulfil this obligation using LCC records from our collections plus the chronicles of ex-players Eric Bullus MP & Lord Orr-Ewing.
This blog, written by Richard Ward, Assistant Archives Officer, focuses on their first 140 years (1848-1988) where members and peers put aside party allegiances for the sheer enjoyment that the game brings.
From the Pavilion
The tentative beginnings of the LCC can appear quite sketchy but their spiritual home is undoubtedly Vincent Square a stone's throw from the Palace of Westminster where from 1860 they yearly contested a talented Westminster School XI. Prior to this, there is evidence to show that thousands attended the LCC v I Zingari clash which acted as the traditional curtain raiser at Lords before the main event of Eton v Harrow.
Matches took place on Saturdays to avoid chamber business however player absence was an issue as many retreated to their country estates for the weekend. Politics and cricket were ripe for parody as Punch Magazine satirized the uncanny resemblance of ageing Prime Minister Earl Rosebery to household name W G Grace. This was also a period when the Government and Opposition jostled for bragging rights by starting the summer recess break with a challenge match noted for its robust competitiveness.
Wars Interrupt Play
Edwardian cricket seemed infused by a golden haze soon extinguished by the gloom of the Great War. Consequentially the LCC folded between 1916-1922 until ardent enthusiast Sir Rowland Blades MP restored matters by formulating a regular fixture list challenging the likes of Woolwich Garrison and The Times XI. New stars emerged in the thirties including Lloyd George’s son, Gwilym. A diligent politician/wicketkeeper/treasurer responsible for keeping the yearly-subscription accounts in order.
Joining the panel was a smattering of newly elected Labour Parliamentarians who helped lower the average player age that bordered on geriatric. As the clouds of conflict loomed again the LCC met the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at the Oval. The match itself was forgettable though the occasion lived long in the memory for those in attendance. As bands played in the intervals and the provision of a lavish lunch was fondly remembered as daily lives returned to a war-footing.
When recruiting within a pool of peers it’s inevitable that the odd extrovert would infiltrate the ranks. In the LCC interwar era the 3rd Lord Tennyson fitted that description. As skilful with the bat as his Laureate grandfather was with words, he’d previously featured in an Ashes series. Under less demanding conditions he filled his portmanteau with vintage champagne to enjoy whatever the result.
If eccentricity defined Tennyson, his contemporary Lord Harris was cut from a different cloth. A notable legislator across both Houses he captained the LCC well into his seventies sustained by a ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality. The Lord that got away was Learie Constantine. The great Trinidadian all-rounder had become an honorary Lancastrian due to his brilliance on the field at Nelson CC. In retirement, his vigorous campaigning for equality led to him joining the Upper House in 1969. Shortly after induction he sadly died from a heart attack.
Ringers & Staffers
A combination of busy schedules and general informality allowed the opportunity for ‘ringers’ to make up the numbers if required. John Wisden an elite player who founded the Cricketer’s Almanack once took nine wickets as a late replacement. Beloved BBC Commentator Brian Johnston appeared for LCC in 1933 describing the team as containing ‘five Lords, one knight, two honourables and three commoners’. Two could play that game as the Law Society showed by sneakily enlisting England luminary, Phil Edmonds to line up against the LCC when still in his pomp.
The importance of ‘staffers’ cannot be downplayed. Victorian Serjeant-at-arms Lord Charles Russell was formidably resolute in action. Westminster School alumni recalled the overly abrasive style of John Cartwright, a clerk in the Lord Chancellor’s Department. While Brian Mustill, a long-serving estate policeman was a renowned master bowler who held his own even when facing the West Indies Wanderers fearsome batsmen.
Over at Ten Downing Street
Here’s a quiz question for you; Who’s the only Prime Minister to have played first class cricket? Answer - Lord Alec Douglas-Home.
Called to take up office following Harold Macmillan’s resignation in the wake of the 1963 Profumo Scandal. Home conducted governmental business in a calm steady manner bearing a certain similarity to his measured prowess on the pitch. Post-war incumbent Clement Atlee was known to instruct his Whips Office to cut some slack to Labour members unavailable to vote because of an LCC engagement.
Such was Stanley Baldwin’s fanaticism that he probably marked a tenure as MCC President as a greater achievement than his premiership. Baldwin’s wife, Lucy was a respected performer on the late 19th Century women’s cricket scene that for a spell was extremely popular. Legend has it that her future husband fell in love watching her score an impressive 62 runs playing for Yorkshire’s White Heather Ladies.
A golden generation came to the fore in the seventies and eighties highlighted on LCC scorecards dutifully filled by Lord Orr-Ewing as Eric Bullus had done before him. From the Conservative benches came young guns Tom King and John Redwood while over on the other side of the chamber Labour’s Michael Cocks became a dependable captain. Cock’s colleague Denis Howell’s CV included a stint as a Football League referee, so he was a natural choice for the unenviable task of umpiring.
Since the LCC’s inception they’d been intermittent murmurings of them donning their traditional blazers adorned with a blue portcullis badge and heading off to tour in a sun-kissed destination. This never came to pass so the LCC settled for an annual match against the Dutch Parliament at that cricketing hotbed, The Hague. More beers and sausage than cocktails and lobster yet all fare in the love of cricket.
CRI, Lords and Commons Cricket Records, Parliamentary Archives
ST/295/3, A History of Lords and Commons Cricket by Eric Bullus MP
Celebration of Lords and Commons Cricket by Lord Orr-Ewing
Votes for Cricket by David Lemmon