The MCC collections are the oldest sporting collection in the world, but for almost a century after their inception, few people beyond the Club’s membership were able to see them.
From their beginning in 1864, the Club’s collections were only displayed in the Pavilion at Lord’s, effectively limiting access to players and Members. Even the Ashes Urn, the most famous cricketing artefact of them all, spent the first 25 years of its time at Lord’s in this exclusive isolation. MCC acted in the role of a private collector, preserving the heritage of cricket for posterity, but hardly for the common good.
By the end of the Second World War, this attitude was beginning to change. The collections had outgrown the Pavilion that housed them and even at Lord’s there was a new egalitarian spirit in the air. The Club appointed its first Curator of Collections, Diana Rait Kerr, a woman of remarkable gifts and determination, and gave her a brief to set up a new museum on the Ground where all cricket supporters could learn about and appreciate the game’s heritage. The chosen site was a disused rackets court, which had fallen into disrepair during the war years. The building would double as a site commemorating the cricketers of all nations who had fallen during the two tragic global conflicts of the previous 40 years.
Rait Kerr showed tremendous energy, securing donations of pictures, equipment and other artefacts from players and cricketing authorities all over the world. She project managed the fitting out of the new Gallery, completed in time for the scheduled opening on 27 April 1953. Fittingly, in what was Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation year, and with the new gallery sited adjacent to the new Coronation Garden, the formal opening was conducted by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. After the ceremony, the Duke made sure his own name was the first to go down in the donations book.
The Imperial Cricket Memorial Gallery is now the MCC Museum, and welcomes in excess of 50,000 visitors per year from all over the world. It has hosted exhibitions on subjects as diverse as cricket games and cricket’s links with baseball. But its origins can still be seen in the memorial tablet affixed to its walls which reads:
To the Memory of Cricketers
Of all Lands who gave their
Lives in the cause of Freedom
1914-1918 * 1939-1945
Secure from Change in
Their high-hearted ways