John Nyren's famous account of the matches of the Hambledon club on Broadhalfpenny Down in the 1770s has passed into cricketing legend, establishing an ideal version of Hambledon at the centre of English cricket history. So, as David Underdown shows in many original and unexpected ways, it was. But Nyren's account conceals as much as it evokes. Setting Hambledon thoroughly in its historical context - social, cultural and political - is the main purpose of this book. Underdown begins with a detailed and revealing account of the origins of cricket in the Kent and Sussex villages in the 17th century and early 18th centuries and its prosperity under aristocrats such as Charles II's grandson, the second Duke of Richmond. Cricket, he shows, was an important accompaniment to the balls, assemblies, concerts and other features of the culture of the well-to-do. But he sets this alongside discussion of cudgel-play, cock-fighting and many other popular sports and pastimes, so that cricket is not seen, as it so often has been, in isolation. The game spread to Hampshire, and reached its apotheosis in Hambledon. Why that should have been so, and the nature of the club's glory, are among the central themes of the book. But why then did Hambledon decline? How did London come to dominate the cricketing life of the nation so quickly? What was happening to rural cricket during the period of agricultural transformation which coincided with Hambledon's rise and fall? The author throws entirely new light upon these maters, including the hitherto almost unknown last years of the great club between the 1790s and its final collapse in 1825. David Underdown has a rare combination of skills as a professional historian and as a passionate cricket enthusiast. In this book cricket is seen not as a pastime distinct from other kinds of human activity, but as part of the local and national life which surrounded it, often crossing class boundaries in a remarkable way.
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David Underdown is the author of the acclaimed FIRE FROM HEAVEN: LIFE IN AN ENGLISH TOWN IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY, A FREEBORN PEOPLE: POLITICS AND THE NATION IN SEVENTEENTH CENTURY ENGLAND, and REVEL, RIOT AND REBELLION: POPULAR POLITICS AND CULTURE IN ENGLAND, 1603-1660. He has given the Ford lectures at Oxford and is the Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University.
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