Hambledon, a small village in the Meon Valley in Hampshire, is known to cricket enthusiasts the world over as the “Cradle of Cricket”. The game of cricket had been played in Southern England for many years before the Hambledon Club was formed in the 1760’s, but the rules of the game drawn up by the Hambledon Cricket Club, changed cricket from a village pastime, to a national sport. In 1787, it was decided that Hambledon was too remote to be the headquarters of this important game and with its help, the Marylebone Cricket Club (M.C.C.) was founded.
The Bat and Ball Inn, which dates from 1730, was used as the pavilion and clubhouse and stands opposite the famous pitch on Broadhalfpenny Down. Here cricket is still played on summer afternoons in one of the most historic and picturesque settings in the country. The Hambledon Club introduced the middle third stump and defined the width of the bat at 4 ¼ inches.
Richard Nyren, the landlord of the Bat and Ball Inn, was probably the best all round player of his day. Hambledon, between 1750 and 1790, was the centre of English cricket. They played 51 matches against All-England teams and won 29 of them. The greatest victory was in 1777 at Sevenoaks in Kent, when Hambledon defeated an All-England side by an innings and 168 runs. The scorecard for this match, together with other memorabilia of this golden age, can be seen in the bar of the Bat and Ball Inn. Opposite the Inn is an imposing granite memorial to those who played cricket there between 1750 and 1787. It was unveiled on 10th September 1908. Those sportsmen would be amazed and so proud to know that in 2007, their achievements were celebrated by the Cricket World Cup in the West Indies.
The village is two miles away from Broadhalfpenny Down, along the floor of a shallow valley and is surrounded by farmland and woods. It dates from the thirteenth century, when the Bishop of Winchester was given the right to hold a weekly market in, what is now High Street, which leads uphill to the thirteenth century flint Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. The Wayfarer’s Way, a seventy mile long distance footpath, passes through the village and crosses Speltham Down, which can be accessed from the road, Speltham Hill. Speltham Down is now owned by the National Trust. From the higher part of this hill, the whole village can be seen. Hambledon has many timber-framed cottages, which date from 1600. Several cottages have been given more modern fronts. The High Street is the centre of the village, which leads uphill to St. Peter and St. Paul Church. In West Street, below Speltham Down, is Manor Farm House, a stone built house dating from the 12th century, with additions in the 17th and 18th centuries.
West of the village, is a large stone at the side of the road on Cams Hill. This is known locally as “The Murder Stone”. It marks the spot where a murder took place in August 1782. James Stares from Soberton, another village in the Meon Valley, had been drinking at the New Inn, where he had collected a debt. John Taylor, a young blacksmith who had watched this, savagely murdered Stares on his way home and stole his purse. Taylor was executed. The Stone does not now have an inscription on it, but two hundred years ago, it said, “Let future generations know.”