London - Gravesend - Bat and Ball

Wrotham Road : DA11 0QP London - Gravesend - Bat and Ball : Map credit National Library of Scotland London - Gravesend - Bat and Ball : Image credit John Hopperton
The Bat and Ball tavern dates from 1850 and had a six acre field where sports such as cricket, trap-bat*, quoits and archery were played. The North Kent Cricket Club was founded in 1854 with the Bat and Ball as its home ground. There was no bicycle racing at the Bat and Ball ground until 1877.

The North Kent Bicycle Club was formed in February 1877 for the express purpose of promoting amateur bicycle racing and utilising the racing track that was under construction at the Bat and Ball Ground. A new cinder track, of three laps to the mile, was opened at the Ground on Easter Monday 1877, the track was described as for the use of North Kent BC members. The track must have been on a slope as race reports mention "going off down the slope" and "coming up the rise".

The first event at the ground included three bicycle races, an open three miles handicap and a three miles handicap for members of the North Kent BC. A consolation two miles race was held for non-winners. Betting took place at the event, but this was regarded as ‘an evil which can hardly be avoided'. There were a thousand spectators and entrance to the ground was six pence with an extra sixpence for a seat in the pavilion.

Further race meetings were held in 1877, organised by North Kent BC. On May 19th there was a 2 miles bicycle handicap, on June 2nd a 3 miles handicap at the Customs fete. There were evening race meetings and on Tuesday 8th August, David Stanton raced a fast-trotting pony over ten miles for £50. Stanton was brought down by a dog which was loose on the ground, but he re-mounted to finish two laps down on the pony. The last North Kent BC race of the season was on October 13th when six bicycle races were held.

The Easter Monday meeting was held again in 1878 and after switching the date to Whit Monday, it became an annual fixture, with crowds of just under a thousand. A ten miles match race took place on September 11th 1878, between B Keen of London and Walter Phillips of Wolverhampton for £30 a side. After a neck and neck struggle, Phillips won by a few yards in 36½ minutes. Once again a loose dog threatened the safety of the riders. There was another race over one mile between Miss M Loyal and Miss Kate Payne.

Mr J Willoughby Brown purchased the Bat and Ball ground in 1879 and encouraged a revival in cricket there, the ground was leased to Gravesend Cricket Club. From the 1870's the Wallis family, who were great lovers of sports, were associated with the Bat and Ball Tavern, Thomas Martin Wallis was the licensee and JE Wallis and A Wallis appear in bicycle race results.

Bicycle racing there continued into the 1880's, but around 1883, the North Kent BC suddenly folded. Racing continued to be held with meetings on Whit Monday and August Bank Holiday. North Kent BC was re-formed in 1886. The Gravesend and Dartford Reporter of June 4th 1887 reported on the ‘Jubilee Bicycle Race Meeting' and the track was described as circular and 3 laps 110 yards to the mile.

There was bicycle racing at the ground throughout the 1890's, with the Whit Monday and August Bank holiday meetings being the main attractions. The quality of racing was sometimes not the best, but crowds of up to 4,000 people were recorded. It was reported in 1894 that for the Whit Monday meeting "The old cinder track is to be abandoned on this occasion, and the races are to be run on a specially prepared grass track. After this, racing activity at the ground gradually reduced.

The Gravesend Cricket Club held a Bicycle Racing Festival on Whit Monday 1899. The bicycle races were ½ mile open scratch, 1 and 3 miles open handicap and 2 miles local handicap. The track was described in the Gravesend and Northfleet Standard as "A splendid grass track, four laps to the mile." This was to be the last bicycle racing at the Bat and Ball Grounds.

The Bat and Ball Ground was sold in 1903 to a local builder, but cricket continued to be played there. A public meeting, organised by the Earl of Darnley in 1906, ‘saved' the Ground. The following year, Gravesend, Northfleet and North Kent Cricket and Sports Company Limited was formed with a capital of £5,100, to revive sports at the Ground. The ground was an important cricket venue, the West Indies played there in the 1930's.

The original Bat and Ball tavern was demolished and re-built in 1939, the pub still exists.

*trap-bat is a mix of cricket and baseball. The ball is pitched by the batsman hitting it up from a trap, then hitting the ball in mid-air. If the ball is caught, the batter is out, otherwise they score a run. The game was, and still is, played in Kent.

London - Gravesend - Bat and Ball : Image credit Wiki Commons
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Photos : John Hopperton, Wiki Commons
Maps    : National Library of Scotland