Women’s cricket is perhaps as old as the men’s game but not quite so well known. The first recorded game of women’s cricket in fact took place at Gosden Common near Guildford on July 26 and details of the game appeared in the Reading Mercury on 26 August 1745.
The greatest cricket match that was played in this part of England was on Friday, the 26th of last month on Gosden Common, near Guildford between eleven maids of Bramley and eleven maids of Hambledon, dressed all in white, the Bramley maids with blue ribbons and the Hambledon maids with red ribbons on their heads… The Bramley girls got 119 notches and the Hambledon girls 127. There was of both sexes the greatest number that has ever was seen on such an occasion. The girls bowled, batted, ran and catched as well as most men could do in that game.
The earliest recorded game in Sussex took place on July 13, 1747 at the Artillery Ground, Finsbury between women of Charlton & Singleton and those of Westdean & Chilgrove. A report of the game featured in HT Waghorn’s ‘Dawn of Cricket’, suggested it was a rowdy affair, so much so that the game was abandoned and had to be finished on a later day.
The first actual club for women was the Yorkshire based White Heather club which was formed in 1887 by eight noblewomen. In 1890 a travelling team known as ‘The Original Lady Cricketers’ was set up by the English Cricket and Athletic Association. They felt that the growing popularity of women’s cricket could be put to commercial use. The team played exhibition matches around the country with the first game in Liverpool attracting 15,000 spectators. By the end of the century there were women’s teams scattered around the country and in Rottingdean the future Mrs Baldwin met her husband Stanley at games played by Rottingdean Women’s cricket team at the cliff top ground.
The early c20th saw a dramatic increase in the popularity of the women’s game and in 1926 the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA) was set up by a group of friends who met to play cricket together in the village of Colwell in Worcestershire. The WCA organised matches around the country including an annual festival in Colwall. In the first year of its existence the WCA had just ten affiliated clubs but this rose quickly throughout the 1930s and many more County associations began to be formed, including Sussex in 1935.
Sussex WCA was formed at a meeting in Horsham in response to a proposal by the WCA that Sussex form a county team. Teams affiliated that year included Burwash, Hastings and Horsham and there were also a number of local schools, including Roedean.
The first ever county team was selected in 1936 when on 6 May 1936 the first Sussex trials were held at Roedean and a team and reserves was selected for a match against Hampshire at Ravenswood, near Horsted Keynes. The first captain was C.H.Bates and following a long delay for rain, play began after tea with Hampshire making 139 for 6 and then Sussex making 86 for 4. Defeats to Surrey and Kent followed but the foundations for a successful side had been laid.
In 1937 the Sussex WCA is recorded as causing a stir during the WCA AGM over the uniform worn for playing. Sussex suggested that they be allowed to wear socks instead of stockings. This was seen as a radical proposal and was rejected. It was thought that the proposal would offend male committee members and that too much emphasis was being put on comfort. When the proposal was rejected Marjorie Pollard, President of the Sussex WCA, replied with an article in the Women’s Cricket Journal in which she stated:
Women cricket players in this country do not own one cricket club…Women cricket players are entirely dependent upon the goodwill of the owners of cricket grounds. Any one false step -any one power offended – even by the sight of bare legs (and often our legs are not too attractive to other people) may have repercussions that can undo the work of years.
On the field in 1937 Sussex had their first England player when Peggy Sulman was picked for the tour to Australia.The first visit of the Australian Women’s Cricket team was in 1937 when 19 matches were organised including a game at Hove against the South. The match attracted over 3,000 spectators who saw Molly Hide score a century before lunch, scored from midday when she came in at No 3. Altogether she scored 145 in a total of 406. Australia were then bowled out for 255 and the follow on was enforced. Tea was dispensed with and cordial was brought on instead. When rain appeared, the players played on, not minding the rain at all. In their second innings Australia made 151 and the game was drawn.
The war years forced a temporary closure of the Sussex WCA but it was reformed in 1947, from when it grew steadily. Whenever there was a tour by the Australians or New Zealanders, there were matches in Sussex although the Sussex team was not yet strong enough to play as a team. Instead matches were between The South and the touring sides with The South made up from players from a number of counties.
In 1951 the Sussex WCA had an executive committee assisted by a number of sub-committees. For the Australian tour of that year there were 22 games including a game against a combined team from Sussex, Berks, and Oxon played at Oxford, and a game against the South played at the Saffrons, Eastbourne, on July 21-23.
As international women’s cricket increased in regularity, the need for a governing body was realised and in 1958 the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) was set up to regulate the international game. At this time funding was virtually non-existent and remained so until businessman Sir Jack Heyward was approached by captain Rachel Heyhoe-Flint. and agreed to sponsor several women’s tours and also agreed to fund a first ever ‘Women’s World Cup’.
In 1974 Sussex played five matches of which two were drawn and two lost with one abandoned. In the Year Book for 1974 affiliated clubs were Brighton & Hove, Chelsea College, Lewes WCC and schools (Chichester High, Hastings High, Roedean, Horsham High School and Warden Park). Two years later in 1976 the first ever women’s game was held at Lords – a ODI between England and Australia. In the Women’s Cricket 50th Jubilee Test Tour in 1987, Hove hosted the 3rd Test played between 29 Aug and 1 Sept.
There had been a decline in the numbers of women playing cricket in Sussex in the 1980s and this was put down by the handbook for the Australian Tour to the popularity of stoolball, with stoolball tournaments being played every weekend. Despite the popularity of stoolball in Sussex, the England side of 1987 included Janette Brittin, Helen Stother, Jane Powell, Joan Lee who had all represented Sussex at some time.
The first Women’s County Championship took place in 1997 with 16 teams reorganised in to three divisions. This first tournament was organised by the WCA but in 1998 it merged with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) which has administered the tournament ever since. The competition, which is a 50 overs limited overs competition, is the longest established women’s cricket competition in England and Wales and now operates alongside the Women’s Twenty 20 Cup established in 2009 and the Women’s Cricket Super League.
Since the introduction of the 50 overs competition, Sussex has been one of the most successful teams of the 16 teams that competed in 2019. Sussex Women won the Championship in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013 and were runners up in 2006, 2007 and 2009. In their last victory in 2013 the team beat Yorkshire, when having reached 229 for 4, they bowled out their opponents for just 133. England star Sarah Taylor and 16 year old Izzy Collis set up the Sussex total by contributing 128 not out and 51 respectively. Izi Noakes then took a wicket in the first over of Yorkshire’s reply. The tremendous result came just a week after the team lost to Kent in the Twenty 20 final.
The Sussex team of recent years has made a huge contribution to the England Women’s Cricket Team with ten players capped for England since 2000 including Caroline Atkins, Alexia Walker, Rosalie Birch, Holly Colvin, Sarah Taylor, Charlie Russell, Georgia Elwiss and Dani Wyatt.