‘Behold! The Black Knight has arrived’

Prince Charles gives the jubilant press a good photo opportunity at Arundel castle cricket ground, c1980
Prince Charles gives the jubilant press a good photo opportunity at Arundel castle cricket ground, c1980

Arundel Castle’s historic cricket ground, built in 1895, is believed to be on the site of an early medieval settlement.

Arundel Museum is planning to feature exhibits and videos about the history of the cricket ground, while also building further social and educational contacts between them.

The Duke of Norfolk and Duke of Edinburgh at Arundel Castle cricket ground, August, 1953

The Duke of Norfolk and Duke of Edinburgh at Arundel Castle cricket ground, August, 1953

Proposals are being considered for school groups to visit both sites and to partake in the facilities each has to offer.

One artefact currently being studied at the pavilion and the museum is concerned with a mysterious full-size cricket bat discovered in the pavilion loft.

It bears the signatures of several ex-England players under the heading (Duchess) ‘Lavinia’s XI’.

Beneath is a blank space headed only by the word ‘Pakistani XI’. This is not from their 1993 game, however.

Arundel Castle cricket ground panorama, April 9, 2014

Arundel Castle cricket ground panorama, April 9, 2014

Can any reader help solve this mystery? Where are the Pakistani signatures, and when was the ‘game’ played?

The person most closely associated in memory with the ground is still Bernard, the 16th Duke of Norfolk, a great supporter of cricket all his life until his death in 1975.

He was host not only to the great players, but local ones as well. In the 1930s, it was the Duke who upheld the request from a recently-formed team of Catholic young men for permission to use his ground for some of their matches.

He immediately agreed upon the condition he was invited to appear for the side whenever they played at the Castle ground. This, in turn, helped foster the growth of a rival Church of England side in Arundel, and led to years of friendly competitionbetween the two church teams of the town.

This 'mysterious' ruin on the far side of the pitch was once a reservoir which pre-dates the cricket ground

This 'mysterious' ruin on the far side of the pitch was once a reservoir which pre-dates the cricket ground

Memories abound. In the spring sunshine one thinks back to Colin Cowdrey, doyen of the masterly cover-drive; to the bold but brief attack by Keith Miller for the visiting Australian touring side of 1956; to the not-out century of Brian Lara for the West Indies of more recent times.

Other members of the great and the good have also played here - and some of the more notorious as well. In 1953, the Duke of Norfolk led his team to a narrow victory against that led by the Duke of Edinburgh, though the latter had the satisfaction of bowling Duke Bernard for four runs. Both sides bristled with past and current county and England players of the time.

In 1978, the Sussex Martlets, fielding against Duchess Lavinia’s XI, were treated to the late arrival of one of their players shortly before lunch. A large limousine drew up outside the pavilion and out stepped the well-known actor and jester, Oliver Reed, clad head to foot in a suit of 16th-century metal armour. He faced the field and boomed across to his team-mates as he brandished a two-handed sword: “Behold! The Black Knight has arrived.”

Confusion reigned. He took lunch while sitting in his armour.

A slightly more conventional occasion, though one equally enjoyable, was the 1993 visit to the castle ground of John Major, the prime minister. This was the first, and so far the only, visit by a current PM to the castle ground. He came to enjoy Duchess Lavinia’s XI playing against the Australian touring side captained by Alan Border.

As he left the ground, he was heard to say: “A day like this makes you realise there are other things in life than politics.”

Plenty of cricket history here for the younger visitors.