"Of all the people of England engaged at the sport of cricket the Kentish folk are the most renowned, and of all the Kentish men, the men of Dartford lay claim to the greatest excellence''
Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, writing a journal entry in 1723.
History of cricket at Dartford
At Dartford we are rightly proud of our long history and role as one of the pioneers of English club cricket. Dartford is undoubtedly one of the oldest cricket clubs in England with origins dating from the very early 18th century, perhaps even earlier. Accurate and authentic records from the time are hard to come by, but Dartford is generally regarded as the oldest club cricket team in continuous existence. In the early 18th century a Dartford team was certainly one of the two most successful in England, its only rival being the London Cricket Club.
Dartford's prowess is borne out by a 1723 journal entry of the prominent Tory politician Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford (right): ''At Dartford the men of Tonbridge and Dartford were warmly engaged at the sport of cricket, which of all the people of England the Kentish folk are the most renowned for, and of all the Kentish men, the men of Dartford lay claim to the greatest excellence.''
David Underdown, an English historian and Professor Emeritus at Yale University, wrote a history of 18th century cricket in England and quotes a report of Dartford as "the greatest Kent team of the first half of the eighteenth century", and states that Dartford was often representative of Kent as a county. Given the difficulties of travel at that time, it is not unlikely that Dartford made up the majority of the Kent team. It was not until the 1730s that county teams began to be truly representative of their counties.
Dartford also produced several famous players in the 18th century including the earliest known cricketing superstar, William Bedle (1679 -1768). He was born in Bromley but lived most of his life near Dartford, where he was a wealthy farmer and grazier. He was reckoned to be "the most expert player in England" and was in his prime for Dartford from 1700 to 1720. Bedle's reputation lasted at least a generation after his playing career ended.
Few detailed reports of cricket matches in the 17th and early 18th centuries have survived but there are records of games involving both Dartford and Kent teams against London or Surrey county teams between 1709 and 1724, the period in which Bedle was an active player. In 1724 Dartford played London in the earliest known match at Kennington Common in south London (close to what is now Surrey's Oval cricket ground). In 1756, both Dartford and London were involved in a tri-series against the sport's rising power, Hambledon. Dartford was also the first local team to appear at Lord's in 1811, playing against the St. John's Wood Club - in those days just as powerful as the M.C.C.
Dartford Brent - original home ground: read more >