Page:Jubilee Book of Cricket (Second edition, 1897).djvu/408

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386
COUNTY CRICKET.

pilgrimage was vain, there below you is the smoke of the Hambledon fires. The path downwards is steep and stony as one of Bunyan's toilsome ways, and a thought of Clovelly takes you here and there. At the foot is the George Inn, among other whitewashed houses, which stray as little as may be from the level road runnmg along the bottom of the gulch. Looking around, and feeling a primitive peace in the air, you are persuaded it was worth the walk from Rowlandy Castle to be at last in the nursery of cricket.

The George Inn, once the headquarters of the Hambledon cricketers—vice the Bat and Ball, deposed—but now possessing not even a relic of the game, is the chief hostel. Competition is, however, rife, for in Hambledon the inns are, after the good old English habit, numerically in all disproportion to the population, although, alas! no longer are their cellars deserving of the panegyric which once they won. These are bad days for the connoisseur of beer. No longer is such ale to be drunk as a hundred years ago moved Hambledon's historian to eulogy—"Barleycorn," he called it, "such as would put the souls of three butchers into one weaver; ale that would flare like turpentine—genuine Boniface! This immortal viand (for it was more than liquor) was vended at 2d. per pint." Nyren wrote these words fifty years after the matches which were graced and ennobled by those libations were won, yet "the smell of that ale," he could add, "comes upon me as freshly as the new May flowers." The Hambledon men were ever good drinkers. The old Club book contains this illuminating entry: "A wet day. Only three members present. Nine bottles of wine." A wet day, truly.

Opposite the George a road starts up the western hill—Windmill Down—to the church. Here, under the long grass, lie some of the old Hambledon cricketers whose deeds and characters live for ever in Nyren's pages. The path to the ground where once they played passes their graves. It is sad to think that these green mounds are nameless. A ruddy Hampshireman on the hillside above the church throws a light on the knowledge of the modem villager concerning Hambledon's tremendous history. Yes, he had heard say that the first cricket ever played was in Hambledon, but that was over there on Broad Halfpenny, a long while back. When he was younger they used to play every Sunday afternoon; they played for pints. Hambledon, by the way, never seems to have been quite willing to regard cricket as cricket's own reward. Stakes were preferred. Sunday cricket is still an institution in the village, as it was in Kingsley's day at Eversley, and at Halton when Dr Parr dominated that spot.

"Dr Parr," says Mr Pycroft, "on a Sunday evening used to sit on the Green at Halton (Warwick) with his pipe and his jug to see the parish lads at cricket, no one being allowed to play who had not been at church; the public-houses were deserted, and a better-behaved parish than the doctor's was rarely seen in those days." Such is the moral influence of cricket. Hambledon may not have reached this state of perfection, but cricketers and teetotallers alike will be pleased to know that the allurement of pints has ceased to be all-powerful.

Windmill Down is no longer meet for batsman and bowler. The slopes are yellow with corn, and the summit is divided between rank grass, growing from stony soil, with a profusion of high ox-eye daisies and purple thistles—such as Sir Horace Mann would have joyed to