Friday 22 June 2018

Howzat?: Cricket and the Yorkshire Historic Dictionary

A guest post by Dr George Redmonds, author of the Yorkshire Historic Dictionary 

A woodcut of three men playing stool ball, from a 1767 book 'A Little Pretty Pocket-book'
Stool-ball, 1767, from A Little Pretty Pocket-book
The game of cricket is traditionally difficult to explain, especially to foreigners, but the history of the word itself also poses problems. Even the Oxford English Dictionary has no answer, placing the words ‘Etymology uncertain’ after the entry. The first recorded reference to ‘cricket’ as a game is in the Borough Records of Guildford in 1598 – in Surrey therefore! In that year a man called John Denwick testified that he had known a certain parcell of land ... for the space of Fyfty years and more, a fact secured in his memory because hee and several of his fellowes did runne and play there at Creckett. We can presume from this that cricket was being played at the end of the reign of Henry VIII, but unfortunately it makes no contribution to our understanding of the word.

An old cricket stool, well worn.
A cricket stool
Several possible interpretations are commented on in the OED including one theory that links cricket with stool-ball, a game played especially by young women, to which there are references from before 1473. That game is still played in Sussex, where it is thought to have originated, and the relevant point for cricketers is that two stools were formerly the wickets. The fact that a low wooden stool was once called a ‘cricket’ persuaded some historians of the game that this was a vital link in the word’s meaning. The OED view on that theory is that any connection ‘is very doubtful’ since ‘cricket’ in the sense of stool ‘is itself not in evidence till a later date’, not until just before 1643. 

Excerpt from the probate inventory of George Brough, Selby, 1673
Excerpt from the inventory of George Brough, Selby, 1673,
Selby Peculiar probate
Evidence in a Yorkshire will now removes that particular objection to such a link. In 1559, when Ninian Staveley of Ripon Park died, an inventory was made of his goods, and In the Greate Chambre were 2 old chaires valued at 12s and one litill crekett stole, worth 4s. Similarly, a Selby blacksmith was in possession in 1656 of 1 letle clap table & a crekit stole. It was not invariably a compound term. In 1673, a tanner called George Brough, also from Selby, owned 2 crecketts and 5 greene chares. Of course this does not finally solve how ‘cricket’ came to be the name of the game but it certainly renews the debate about its connection with stool-ball and the south-east of England.  

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Edit 25/01/2019 The Yorkshire Historical Dictionary is now available online at

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