The fascinating history of stoolball and the locals who played
I remember well the stoolball games I played at school mainly because the bat was so wide, it gave me some hope of hitting the ball! But did you know it began as a medieval courting game?
Stoolball originated in the Kent, Sussex and Surrey area and began in the C15th. It was played by both sexes and all ages and it is argued that this is where cricket originated from. Early games were marked out with milking stools and milking bowls used as bats.
The pitch was often smaller than for cricket and there were reports from the C15th of games being played in churchyards after the Sunday services. Shakespeare referred to the game in one of his plays and ‘playing stoolball’ was accepted as a euphemism for sexual behaviour.
Down in the Vale on a Summer’s day
All the lads and lasses met to be merry
A match for lasses at stoolball to play
And for cakes and ale and cider and perry
In 1747 a ‘fine match of stoolball’ was recorded at Warbleton amongst a group of 28 local ladies. Women’s games at this time were non-competitive, informal and ruleless in keeping with the attitudes towards women at the time.
This changed, however, when Gertrude (1844 – 1927) and Maud (1856 – 1944) Brand of Glynde Place, Great Granddaughters of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, started to play stoolball both captaining the team known as the Glynde Butterflies. Unlike cricket, stoolball was able to be played by all classes and more structured inter village games took place, becoming one of the first women’s team sports in the world.
In 1866 Gertrude captained the first recorded village stoolball match against the Firle Blues. When she married three years later she gave up playing but her role was passed to her younger sister Maud who captained the Butterflies in the first ever recorded women’s cricket match at Heathfield Park in 1884 against the Southdown Ladies.
Stoolball experienced a revival after WW1 as it was considered a suitable recuperating sport for some wounded soldiers. By 1927 there were over 1,000 teams playing in England.
Still a popular sport played today and now regulated by Stoolball England, the game is played all over the world.
Story written and kindly submitted by Nicole Walker, author and local historian.