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Cricket on Beeckestijn

After last night’s surprising victory over England by the Dutch cricket team, which has caused both a shock and words of praise in Britain, one has to wonder where it all began. Certainly, cricket in Holland has never grown into a large and important sport, but as it turns out it was introduced at least as early as 1765.
The earliest reference to cricket in Holland I know of (mind you, I am not an expert in cricket), comes from the Boreel family, the owners of Beeckestijn. In reply to a request dated 23 August 1765 by Willem Boreel, Jean Palairet (agent in London of Willem’s father Jacob) confirms he had bought 4 bats (12 shilling) and 12 balls (12 shilling). 1)These amounts are confirmed by a receipt in the Boreel family archive. A week later he writes extensively about the name of the ship carrying the “masses de jeu de crickett et des douze boules”, but somehow forgets to mention the ship’s name itself. 2)Both letters from Palairet are kept in the Boreel family archive at the Nationaal Archief in The Hague. Willem Boreel’s request has not yet been found.

In his first letter Palairet states that he is still on the lookout for a rule book. Although these ‘Laws of Cricket‘ existed since 1744, a printed rule book based on revisions agreed upon in 1774, was not published until 1775. So it is safe to say that the Laws of Cricket probably never made it across the North Sea earlier than that.
That would not have stood in the way of a good match at Beeckestijn, though, because back then the game knew many different rules and forms. A major standardisation of the game only came about in 1809. The fact that none of the open areas in Beeckestijn‘s garden is big enough to house a cricket field by modern standards, would not have posed a problem: the first laws of cricket only dictates the size of the pitch, the distance between the wickets and where the bowling and popping creases should be. The size of the surrounding field where the field players are, seems to have been open to interpretation and circumstances.
Finding opponents would not have been difficult as well. Willem attended college in Leiden (Leyden), at the time a university which drew students from many countries in Europe, including many from England. 3)Willem Boreel became close friends with James Harris, later the first Earl of Malmesbury, who attended classes in Leiden from September 1765 till the spring of 1766.

cricketbeeckestijn-kopieIf we were to play a match on Beeckestijn by modern standards, we would be forced to play on a field just next to the garden proper, now in use as a meadow for horses (see my poor rendering of that situation on the left). 4)This field is now an important archaeological site, making it highly unlikely a game would ever be played there. Instead, wouldn’t it be nice to commemorate the 1765 introduction of the game at Beeckestijn with an annual historical cricket game, taking place at either the small or the big field in the landscape garden the family created in exactly the same period? Attention in the media and any proceeds of the game could then be used to support the future exploitation of Beeckestijn, after all one of te most important gardens in The Netherlands.

How on earth did Willem Boreel learn about cricket so soon?

He must have simply seen it on his trips to England.  His father Jacob Boreel Jansz. had been serving two terms in London as a representative of the Dutch state. The first term (1759-1760) as a not very successful negotiator in a shipping row between the two countries. 5)England had just entered the Seven Years’s War (1756-1763). Holland was neutral in that conflict, but was accused by the British to ship goods in favour of their enemy France. The second term (1761-1762) Boreel acted as a Dutch representative and ambassador. During that last stay Boreel also took his wife, two daughters and two sons with him. It must have been an unforgettable experience for all of them. 6)On the down side there is the fact that Boreel’s wife died in her sickbed in Bath, in December 1761. Jacob Boreel could not be with her in her last hours: on his way to Bath, he was called back to London because the ambassador Hendrik Hop had died at the same day. Boreel had no other choice than to return to London and fulfill his duties for the state.

Boreel’s children, in their tens and early twenties, must have experienced the whole period as a long holiday, although social events and trips were combined with more serious matters like school. The elder son Willem stayed in Sheering for a while, some 35 kilometers north of London, to be taught English by a certain dr. Hind.
As a result of his work, Jacob Boreel met many representatives of the ruling class in Britain. Somewhere in these two summers they spent together in England, the Boreel family must have seen a cricket match. They may even have informally participated in one. And certainly found it entertaining enough to buy themselves a set of bats and balls two and a half years after their return to Holland.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. These amounts are confirmed by a receipt in the Boreel family archive.
2. Both letters from Palairet are kept in the Boreel family archive at the Nationaal Archief in The Hague. Willem Boreel’s request has not yet been found.
3. Willem Boreel became close friends with James Harris, later the first Earl of Malmesbury, who attended classes in Leiden from September 1765 till the spring of 1766.
4. This field is now an important archaeological site, making it highly unlikely a game would ever be played there.
5. England had just entered the Seven Years’s War (1756-1763). Holland was neutral in that conflict, but was accused by the British to ship goods in favour of their enemy France.
6. On the down side there is the fact that Boreel’s wife died in her sickbed in Bath, in December 1761. Jacob Boreel could not be with her in her last hours: on his way to Bath, he was called back to London because the ambassador Hendrik Hop had died at the same day. Boreel had no other choice than to return to London and fulfill his duties for the state.

One Response to “Cricket on Beeckestijn”

  1. on 31 Jul 2013 at 10:05 pmHvdE

    The recent re-enactment of an eighteenth century cricket match, as it would have been played under the 1744 Laws, gives some insight into what the shipment might have looked like:
    It appears the bats used in those days were curved, as opposed to the straight bats we see now. And the original cricket balls were made of “wool, wound wool and then covered with hide”.
    Also the wicket did not have three upright sticks, but just two (making it much more difficult for the bowler to hit the wicket).

    More information here.

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