Part of Kennington Common that is now Kennington Park.
|Location||London Borough of Lambeth|
Kennington Common was a large area of common land mainly within the London Borough of Lambeth. The area was notable for being one of the earliest venues for cricket within London and top-class matches were played there from 1724 to 1785. The common was also used for public executions, fairs and public gatherings.
In 1600, the common was bounded on the south west by Vauxhall Creek. It extended over marshy land to the south west of the Roman road called Stane Street, now Kennington Park Road. There is a 1660 record of a common keeper being paid for grazing. In 1661, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were laid out nearby (its location is noted as the Vauxhall End at The Oval). The large open space was often used for a variety of purposes by people living on the southbank of the River Thames.
Cricket has been played at Kennington since the late 17th century although there are no definite records. In 1725 players were known to use the Horns tavern as their clubhouse. This was recorded a year after the first known cricket match had taken place. Other sports to have been periodically played on the common included quoits and bowls.
The "Surrey gallows" were located on the common. These were the south London equivalent of Tyburn when the entire area was still part of the County of Surrey (prior to the formation of the London County Council in 1889). The gallows stood on the site of St. Mark's Church not far from Oval tube station. Records show public executions were conducted frequently throughout the period that the common was also hosting cricket matches. In total 129 men and 12 women were executed at Kennington but there may well have been others. The first person was Sarah Elston who was burned at the stake for the killing her husband on 24 April 1678. The last person executed was a forger on 5 August 1799.
In 1746, the Jacobite officer Francis Towneley along with other members of the Manchester Regiment, who had been captured during the failed Jacobite rising of 1745, were convicted of high treason and condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered on the common on 30 July. However, by then executioners possessed some discretion as to how much the condemned should suffer before death. Townley was killed before his body was eviscerated. His head was placed on a pike on Temple Bar.
|Home club||London Cricket Club (occasionally)|
|County club||Surrey (pre-county club)|
The earliest recorded use of the common for cricket was the London v Dartford match on 18 June 1724. This has been classified a first-class match given that it featured the two leading clubs of the time.
In 1729, the 7 August edition of the London Evening Post reported: "On Tuesday was played a great cricket match on Kennington Common between the Londoners and the Dartford men for a considerable sum of money, wager and bets, and the latter beat the former very much".
There was a very close contest on the common in August 1730 when London defeated Surrey by 1 run. The report said that it "was thought to be one of the completest matches that ever was played".
The London v Sevenoaks game on 12 July 1731 is the first known to have been played in an enclosed ground. The report said "the ground will be roped round and all persons are desired to keep without side of the same".
The Surrey v London game on 28 September 1731 was promoted as "likely to be the best performance of this kind that has been seen for some time". The ground was again enclosed: "for the convenience of the gamesters, the ground is to be staked and roped out". It seems therefore that enclosure quickly became common practice in 1731. In addition, the advertisement refers to "the whole county of Surrey as London's opponents". The Prince of Wales was expected to attend and this is his first recorded involvement in cricket.
Newspaper reports of the time were more concerned with odds than results and players were hardly ever mentioned by name. There was an exception on 7 August 1735 when the General Evening Post announced a single wicket match on the common the following Monday involving seven players of the London Club. The game would be three against four with Mr Wakeland, Mr Dunn and Mr Pool against Mr Marshall, Mr Ellis and two others. Ellis is known to have been London's best bowler while Dunn was a noted batsman.
In June 1736, a report of a single wicket match names Mr Wakeland, the distiller, and Mr George Oldner playing together against two famous Richmond players who are "esteemed the best two in England" (one of them may have been William Sawyer). Unfortunately the esteemed pair were not named, though one of them suffered serious facial injuries in this game when the ball came off his bat and hit his nose. The report rails against "human brutes who insisted he should play on despite his injuries". This is a reflection of gambling's stranglehold on the sport at the time.
When Surrey played Kent on 20 September 1736, three soldiers apprehended a deserter but the crowd turned on them, rescued the deserter and "after a severe discipline let them go about their business"! Meanwhile, Surrey won the match by 2 wickets and, unusually for the time, the team scores are known: Kent 41 & 53; Surrey 71 & 24-8.
From this time on, the London club increasingly used the Artillery Ground for its home matches and that also became the main venue for the highly popular single wicket contests of the 1740s. The common became one of several home venues used by Surrey: for example, Moulsey Hurst, Laleham Burway and others. Very few major matches were played on the common thereafter. Executions did continue and it is possible that this association eventually drove the cricketing patrons away, especially given their subsequent withdrawal from the Artillery Ground because of its reputation for uncontrolled gambling.
There was one particularly violent execution on 30 July 1746 when nine men of the Manchester Regiment who had joined the Jacobite Rising were hanged, drawn and quartered. There are no reports of cricket on the common that year but a match did take place at the Artillery Ground on the same day.
In all, 22 first-class matches were played on the common until the last in May 1785 which was, curiously, not a Surrey game but Middlesex v Essex. Numerous minor matches were also recorded there.
The common continued to stage executions until the end of the 18th century while fairs, orators and other popular events continued into the 19th century.
Under a scheme sponsored by the royal family, the common was enclosed in the mid 19th century. Kennington Park was opened in 1854. It was created using the land between Kennington Park Road and St Agnes Place. However, with the growth of London throughout the next century, the remaining parts of the common have been consumed by urbanisation.
- G B Buckley, Fresh Light on 18th Century Cricket, Cotterell, 1935
- H T Waghorn, The Dawn of Cricket, Electric Press, 1906
- From Lads to Lord's – Kennington Common
- Dallimore, Arnold. George Whitefield - The life and times of the great evangelist of the 18th century revival. Banner of Truth Trust, 1979, p. 289
- UK local online
- "Executions at Kennington Common". The Vauxhall Society. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
- Classification of cricket matches from 1697 to 1825
- H T Waghorn, Cricket Scores, Notes, etc. (1730-1773), Blackwood, 1899