The first Eton v Harrow match at Lord's

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The annual Eton v Harrow match is the longest-running regular fixture at Lord’s.

The first match, in 1805, arose out of a challenge issued by the Harrow boys on 20 June 1805. It was four months and one day before the Battle of Trafalgar:

“The gentlemen of Harrow School request the honour of trying their skill at cricket with the gentlemen of Eton, on Wednesday July 31 at Lord's Cricket Ground. A speedy answer, declaring whether the time and place be convenient, will oblige.”

The place – Lord’s first Ground at Dorset Fields – was convenient enough. But the time was not: the match would eventually take place two days later than proposed, on Friday 2 August. Two centuries later, it is hard to imagine any match taking place at Lord’s barely seven weeks after it was first proposed, but cricket at the time of the Napoleonic wars was enduring something of a slump. Eton versus Harrow was one of only nine matches recorded at Lord’s that year. The fixture’s continued regular presence at the Ground – and the huge and fashionable crowds it brought with it - would go some way to helping Lord’s become the social centre of cricket in the decades to come.

In the event, Harrow were so soundly beaten in the first match that they might have regretted their challenge. Batting first they were bowled out for just 55, William Carter claiming six wickets, then after Eton had replied with 122 they again subsided to 65 all out, losing the game by an innings and two runs. The presence in their side of Lord Byron did little to aid Harrow’s fortunes; a congenital deformity of his right foot meant that he batted with a runner and was, presumably, not much use in the field either. But it did guarantee the survival of at least one written account of the game, in which Byron somewhat exaggerated his own contribution (7 and 2). His description of the after-match activity is presumably more reliable:

“Later to be sure we were most of us very drunk and we went together to the Haymarket Theatre where we kicked up a row, as you may suppose when so many Harrovians and Etonians meet in one place.”

That a certain amount of rowdy behaviour came to be associated with the fixture may explain why the Headmasters of both schools tried to ban the fixture during the 1820s. It was not played at all from 1829 to 1831. The 1856 fixture was also cancelled because Dr Goodford, the Headmaster of Eton, refused the boys permission to play in London. With the exception of 1856 and the interruption of the two World Wars, the fixture was held at Lord’s every year from 1832 to 2019. The first Eton v Harrow match to be staged under limited overs rules took place in 2000.