The history of cricket would have been very different without Thomas Lord (1755-1832). As with horse-racing, the sport was promoted in the 18th century by the nobility who organised teams to play for wagers. Richard Holt, sports historian, has described cricket as “the first team-game in which the upper classes were expected to exert themselves without the aid of a horse”.
The most famous village club was the Hambledon Club in Hampshire which led the way in the second half of the 18th century in developing the rules of the game. Erected in 1908, a memorial stone stands on Broadhalfpenny Down outside the village’s Bat & Ball Inn. Hambledon’s leadership continued until, in London, another club was formed which would influence the game both nationally and internationally.
Thomas Lord was a general attendant at a fashionable sporting club which played in Islington. Members of the exclusive club sought a more private venue nearer to central London. Lord, ambitious and an entrepreneur, was invited to find and establish a new ground.
In 1787, he leased land on the Portman family estate. A plaque on (now) Dorset Square recalls the historic birth of the MCC. In 1811, after one previous move, Lord negotiated alternative grounds in St John’s Wood. The MCC became the strongest club in the land and the governing body of ‘first class’ cricket generally, organiser of England’s touring teams and custodian of the spirit of the game. The ground continues to bear his legendary name.
Easily missed by hundreds of people passing daily, a tiled wall on a platform of the underground station at St John’s Wood, originally designed by Harold Stabler, reveals a simple portrait of a man whose name has been at the forefront of cricket for more than 225 years.