The Early Years of Sussex

The Hanover Ground, the home of Sussex CCC 1839-1848
Image courtesy of ‘Regency Society and The Society of Brighton Print Collectors’.

Formed in 1839

Sussex CCC is generally held to have been formed in 1839 when the Rev. George Langdon, the first secretary, sent out a circular to invite a number of gentlemen to a meeting to adopt a set of rules for the new club. The Brighton Gazette reported on the first meeting of the club at Pegg’s Hotel on 4th April, saying that ‘’We hail with pleasure the formation of a club on so respectable a footing for the promotion of this truly English game.’’

Not a good start

The first season of the new club was not a particularly auspicious beginning as the team lost all of its five matches. Over the following decade, 49 matches were played with the side winning 22. The club at this time played at the Hanover Ground until it was closed in 1848 and the site developed with housing, the now Park Crescent.

Tom Box

The Hanover Ground belonged for a time to Tom Box – the first of a succession of excellent wicket players who played for the club – Box played for more than thirty seasons for Sussex and for twenty four seasons he did not miss a match. When the club moved to the Brunswick Ground, the ‘ground by the sea’, in 1848, it was Box who ran the hotel on the ground, the Brunswick Hotel – until he sold it to the club in 1867.

Tom Box standing up to the stumps
The Brunswick Ground, by the sea

John Wisden

One of Box’s pot boys at the Brunswick Hotel was John Wisden, son of the builder Thomas Wisden. When his father died, John went to live with Box from whom he must have acquired a knowledge of the game of cricket and the skills which saw him playing for Sussex from 1845. From 1848 until 1859 John Wisden averaged 225 wickets a season, and in the year of the Great Exhibition (1851), he took 455 wickets. Wisden played his last match in 1863 and launched his ‘Cricketers Almanack’ the following year.

John Wisden
John Lillywhite, a print on display in the museum

Cricketing Families

Throughout its history Sussex has had a number of families contributing several players to the club. Luke Wells continues that tradition in the current side. One of the first cricketing families of Sussex was the Lillywhite family who had five players at various times and in one match three generations were represented. In the mid-Victorian period Frederick Lillywhite was a familiar figure throughout the county with his printing press, which produced scorecards which were updated every two hours.

‘Old Lillywhite’ was the head of the family and his son John played first class cricket for nearly twenty years as an all-rounder. He did bowl but was not as good as his cousin, James.

James Lillywhite was one of a number of formidable bowlers that Sussex had available from the 1860s along with James Southerton and Richard Fillery. In 1867 Sussex distinguished themselves by dismissing Kent for 18, the lowest score of any of their opponents,  with Southerton taking six wickets and John Lillywhite three. The success against Kent though was not reflected in the record of the 1860s for of 63 matches played, Sussex won just 21.

W.G. Grace hits 217 at the Brunswick Ground

In one of the last matches at the Brunswick Ground, W.G. Grace hit one of the highest scores recorded in a 1st class match up to then – 217 not out. The last year at the ground, 1871, saw Sussex win all four of its county fixtures.

Sussex moved to the present County Ground in 1872

For the move to the new (and present) ground, which had a crop of barley being grown on it, the turf from the Brunswick Ground was moved to the new ground. The preparations were efficiently carried out enabling the club to start the first county match on 6th June 1872.

The following season, the first championship for the counties, Sussex finished 6th out of nine competing counties, winning just two out of 10 matches played. The best year of the first decade at the new ground was 1875 when five games were won. In those days the Championship was determined by games lost, not won.

Sussex continued to have a mediocre record throughout the 1880s and into the 90s with just three wins and fifteen defeats in 1892.

One of the players from this era who did play with consistent success was George Brann who first played for Sussex in 1883. He accompanied Aubrey Smith’s team to Australia and scored a quick century against Victoria. Brann was in W.W. Read’s team in South Africa in 1891 and later accompanied Ranji and his side that toured the USA. Brann was a talented sportsman who played football for Corinthians, Sussex and England.

Billy Newham

One of Sussex’s great servants of this era was William Newham who began his Sussex career in 1881 and was still serving the club 63 years later, having been player, captain, secretary and assistant secretary. Newham was one of the few quality batsmen available to Sussex before the advent of the Ranji/Fry era – the so called Golden Era.