One-Armed Versus One-Legged Cricket

Oct 27, 2021 0 comments

In 1861, Charles Dickens reported, in his magazine All the Year Round, a rather eccentric cricket match being played at Peckham Rye in the grounds of the Rosemary Branch tavern. The match was being played between two teams, one consisting entirely of one-legged men and another consisting entirely of one-armed players. Dickens wrote:

The one-legged men were pretty well with the bat, but they were rather beaten when it came to fielding. There was a horrible Holbeinish fun about the way they stumped, trotted, and jolted after the ball. A converging rank of crutches and wooden legs tore down upon the ball from all sides; while the one-armed men, wagging their hooks and stumps, rushed madly from wicket to wicket, fast for a "oner", faster for "a twoer".

While Dickens described the spectacle as “painfully wonderful and ludicrously horrible”, he did concede that despite the “ostentatious amount of infirmity” on the field, “everybody appeared merry and good natured, and determined to enjoy the game to his heart's content.”

The cricket match that Dickens reported was held for the benefit of the Greenwich pensioners, who were sailors pensioned off from the Royal Navy and resident at the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich. These sailors often lost limbs during naval service and so the teams were drawn from the ranks of the pensioners. The first such match was played in 1766 at Blackheath. The one-armed team beat the one-legged team quite handily.

The next one on record was in 1796 at Aram’s New Ground in Walworth for a prize of a thousand guineas. The match was advertised and so there was a large crowd of spectators. The one-legged team batted first, scoring 93 runs in that innings. The one-armed team scored 42 runs in their first innings but there had been a great commotion while they were batting as a press of would-be spectators broke down a gate and some fencing to get in. Some climbed on top of a stable which collapsed so they were bruised. The one-legged team batted again and scored sixty more runs for the loss of six wickets. The game finished that evening with the one-legged team winning by 153 runs to 42.

The next match was held in 1811, at Walworth, also for 1000 guineas. Then from 1841 through to 1868 there are descriptions of five more matches. One of these descriptions refers to ‘the annual match between the one arm one leg Greenwich Pensioners’ so there might have been many more such matches.


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