The legacy of cricket at Sheffield Park
The first cricket match was played at Sheffield Park in August 1845 between two local villages, Fletching and Chailey. The original ground was built just prior to this match by the 2nd Earl of Sheffield for his 13-year-old son Viscount Pevensey (later to become the 3rd Earl).
The 3rd Earl had a passion for cricket and hosted all types of matches, from junior village standard to internationals. The Australians were frequent visitors and would open their tour with a game at the ground against Lord Sheffield’s XI.
A particularly notable fixture against Australia, in May 1896, was attended by 25,000 people, including HRH Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). Banners lined the route up from the railway to the garden and no expense was spared.
Lord Sheffield had a number of pavilions built around the ground for his guests and visiting players to use. Two of these were of a very lavish design, made out of cast ironwork, painted blue with details picked out in gold. Records show they would have been decorated with plants and flowers in the lead up to each season. Sadly, none of these buildings exist today but photographic records help us to visualise what they would have looked like.
The ground was also used to entertain local people. On May Days, for example, Lord Sheffield would feed large groups of the community and grant them access to all parts of the ground, including the pavilions. One story tells of a mile-long picnic laid on by Lord Sheffield for the local Sunday school children.
These days, the ground is used by a local team, the Armadillos, whose pavilion you can see. Matches are played here throughout the summer, reviving the passion and history of cricket at Sheffield Park.
Lord Sheffield's pavilion at Sheffield Park
No expense was spared by Lord Sheffield on the buildings and structures around his cricket ground, none more so than his own pavilion. Completed in 1883 by local Lewes firm Phoenix Ironworks, the pavilion was made of ornamental ironwork on the exterior, with a glass roof accessed by a cast iron staircase. Inside contained a beautifully furnished library and retiring room with a large central chimney piece. Even the washrooms were a lavish affair, fitted with ornately framed mirrored panelling.
The ladies' pavilion at Sheffield Park
An equally lavish second pavilion was built in 1886 for the use of Lord Sheffield's female guests. This was an octagonal design and constructed of decorative cast iron, painted in blue and gold. Only the finest quality materials were used such as marble, light oak and velvet on the interior furnishings.
On 11 May 1896 HRH Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) attended the opening match of the 9th Australian tour. Local school children and the Earl’s tenants had a great view of the Prince’s arrival from specially roped off areas next to Lord Sheffield’s pavilion. Use of the ladies’ pavilion was provided to HRH during his visit, and you can see him leaving the ladies' pavilion in this photograph.
Noteable players at Sheffield Park
Perhaps the best known player of his day, WG Grace was good friends with Lord Sheffield and consequently played for Lord Sheffield's XI on a number of occasions, both at home and away. Other notable players included A Shaw, KS Ranjitsinhji, CB Fry, A Shrewsbury, FS Jackson, W Gunn, GH Lohmann and AE Stoddart. They all took part in matches as part of Lord Sheffield's XI.
Lord Sheffield and international cricket
In a time before central authorities organised cricket tours, Lord Sheffield arranged and financed the 1891-92 England tour to Australia. During the tour he donated £150 to support Australian cricket, which was used to buy the Sheffield Shield. This trophy is still played for in Australia today.