Census and Cricketers in the Leigh Area: 1881

The Association of Cricket Statisticians have accessed the 1881 census and obtained the names of anyone in Kent who mentions cricket.

Two hundred and fifty people in Kent mentioned earning a living from cricket. Out of those two hundred and fifty, exactly half were in Leigh, Tonbridge or Chiddingstone Causeway – thirty in Leigh. Clearly therefore in mid – late Victorian times a reasonably large proportion of people in this area earned their living from cricket. The vast majority were cricket ball makers either at Dukes in the Causeway or in the five or six other smaller factories in Hildenborough or Tonbridge. Mr Duke – aged 77 – is shown as employing “seventy-two men and one boy” and many of those would have been from Leigh – as well as outworkers in Leigh and other local villages. As well as cricket ball making people (two hundred and six), there are seventeen cricket bat makers and two who called themselves managers of cricket greens.

James Payne of Chiddingstone had described his occupation as cricket ball maker and organist. However, John Knock reminded me that Ed ‘Ginger’ Meade who only died a few years ago was a cricket ball maker and organist of Penshurst Church AND he played JAZZ on it.

A large number of names of well-known Leigh families feature on this list from 120 years ago – often several members of the same family. For example Barden, Eade (nine members of the family), Batchelor (two), Card (four), Hitchcock (ten), Ingram (five), Killick (three), Marchant (two), Lucas, Passingham and Simmonds (who lived in my house).

Boys started work early. There are not only several ball maker apprentices aged 14 but a fully qualified ball maker aged 13 from Tonbridge and another, Charlie Fox, aged 14 from Leigh. (Most children were leaving school at 10 or 11). Another point relates to old age – or rather the relative lack of it. Out of our two hundred and fifty in this census extract, only nine were over 60 and only a further fourteen were in their fifties.

In the overall list there are eighteen who say they were currently or had been professional cricketers. The self-proclaimed most famous was Richard Mills aged 83 of Rolvenden who said that he was a “retired farmer and celebrated cricketer”. The only professional cricketer living locally was George Wells who lived in Tonbridge High Street. Leigh’s best-known cricketer, Ike (Isaac) Ingram, was 25 at the 1881 census. He and his father, also Isaac, are noted as ball makers. Ike was only a professional for a couple of years around 1878.

In 1881 I was expecting that in a male dominated society in the completely male game, there would be no mention of women. I was wrong. There were two lady cricket ball makers – both elderly: Elizabeth Martin from 32 London Road, Tonbridge aged 63 and Mary Young aged 67, who was born in Godstone, but was living in Leigh in 1881.

Parish Magazine Article: Oct 2003: by Chris Rowley

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