Diameter 60,5 mm
Weight 70 g
Encounting a game of stoolball in the West Country in 1671, the antiquary John Aubrey noted, ‘they smite a ball stuffed very hard with quills and covered with soale leather, with a staffe commonly made of withy, about three and half feet long’. The ‘stobball ball’, he added, was about for inches in diameter and ‘as hard as a stone’.
A mix of cricket and rounders, though predating both, stoolballs is today one of Britain’s longest surviving rural sports, almost as old as bowls.
First recorded in 1450, it features runs and overs, two teams of eleven players and two wickets (originally stools). Played by children, milkmaids and farmhands alike, it could be played on almost any field, level or not. Unlike cricket.
This stoolball, found recently in a biscuit tin in Plumpton, dates from c.1923, when Major WW Grantham set up the sport’s first national body. The Major had started promoting stoolball as an aid to the rehabilitation of soldiers returning wounded from the Great War, his son included.
In homage to the game’s rustic traditions Grantham always played in a smock, while newly emerging teams adopted lyrical named such as the Shrimps, the Bluebells and the Marigolds.
Like all stoolballs of the 1920s, this particular ball was originally manufactured for real tennis. Known as a ‘Best Tennis Double Cover’ and costing approximately 2s, it lasted twice as long as normal ball, as its outer leather casing, once worn out, could be stripped off to reveal a second layer beneath. Hence the inner stitching, just visible to the left of the outer stitching.
Only later did companies such as Webber, John Jaques and Cliff make stoolballs specifcally.
Nowadays the sport is played almost exclusively in Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire, and is classified by Sport England as ‘a minor sport’. Not a view modern antiquaries would endorse. Stoolball is a quintessential part of our sporting heritage, with 5,000 players at over 200 clubs.
Long may they smite in the fields of England.