Bat & Trap has been around longer than you think below is the history of the game which has been gathered from many sources however thanks goes to the Canterbury & District Bat & Trap League who have allowed us to use many of the photographs
Stoolball is an ancestor of cricket and bat and trap and play is pretty similar to cricket. The story goes that milkmaids started the game by throwing stones at their upturned stools while waiting for their shepherd husbands to return from the fields where they were passing the time throwing stones at “wicket gates”, a kind of field gate. A more concrete fact is that the game, in 1671, was apparently played in North Wiltshire, North Gloucestershire and near Bath. At that time the ball was 4 1/2 inches (11.43cm), stuffed with quills and very hard. The bat was a “staffe” made of withy about 3 1/2 feet (1.0668m) long. It seemed to die out after the 17th century but in 1916 Major Grantham of Balneath Manor, Sussex re-kindled it as a healthy pastime for convalescing soldiers and it has been alive ever since.
When the enthusiasts of Bat and Trap opened their new league season in May 2011 they were celebrating the 89th anniversary of the Canterbury League’s foundation. It was in May 1922 that the first round of League matches were played in the city of Canterbury, Kent. The game is undoubtedly ancient, and the earliest evidence of some such game is said to be contained in a drawing in a monastic manuscript of the 13th century, showing a monk playing a similar game. However, this manuscript has not been seen by Brin Tyndall, Andrew Wayre or Peter Guise of the Canterbury Bat & Trap League who kindly provided a substantial amount of this historic information. It is not possible to state that the game was devised at a particular time by a particular individual. Its’ origins are most surely lost in the mists of time. It is extraordinary, though, that this game was created, reputedly a forerunner of cricket, in which no-one actually had to run anywhere! The equipment used by modern players may all be made of wood by any decent carpenter, as it surely was then.
This picture was provided by Roy Mellick, and came from the Southwark Local History Library. As you can see, it’s the same engraving as the one left, but on a page in a book this time, and with more information about it. It turns out that the people in the engraving are playing at the Black Prince trap ball ground. Nice to know it was being played on licensed premises then, too!
The greatest problem faced by any researcher in trying to determine the history of the game – even in the last 90 years – is the absence of documentary records. Traditionally, the game was played by agricultural workers, it was unlikely that many could read or write, so it is equally unlikely that there would be any written records. Sadly, even the Canterbury League’s own archives seem to have disappeared. Thus, press reports, the Canterbury League’s trophies and the memories of older players become the staple source for the researcher. Although a country game of considerable antiquity, the game was in serious decline by the end of the Great War of 1914-1918. With the evolution and increase in popularity of sports like Association Football, Rugby Union & Cricket in the last third of the reign of Queen Victoria, and the loss of young men during the Great War, the game decline but was still pursued in a handful of public houses in Canterbury, Kent, and the neighbouring villages. There were, at that time, no standard rules – and as such matches were played only on a casual basis.
Another version of events from Barnett’s Field Magazine states “In its modern format, Bat and Trap was re-introduced in the 1914 – 1918 War as recuperation therapy for the thousands of limbless service men returning from the trenches of the western front. Overshadowed for generations by a derivative game that came to be known as cricket, bat and trap was brought out of obscurity, given new rules and organised into a short – lived National Championship by a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Health called Archibald Levers – Landsdowne. Cricket, he rightly contemplated was too active for the limbless but Bat and Trap encompassed all the solid elements of competition, quickness of hand and eye and the beneficial open air environment so beloved by the Edwardian age. Levers – Landsdowne’s new rules published for the first time in 1915 and largely used today, called for teams of between four and ten men who would meet on a 22 yard pitch and , “in a spirit of tolerance and generosity” would alternately seek to score runs and take wickets”.
It was against this background that there came into existence the Canterbury & District Bat & Trap League. The summer of 1921 was when the League was conceived, by a gentleman called Bill Humphries. He spent that summer codifying the rules, establishing a standard size for pitches and equipment, and persuading a number of pub landlords to lay their grounds out to these standards in preparation for an inaugural season in 1922. He was reasonably successful in his endeavours, as in May 1922 the first season of the Canterbury League was able to get underway. There were six founder members of the Canterbury League with teams being entered from The Brewers Delight, The Rising Sun, The Two Brothers, Ye Olde Beverlie and The Royal Artillery – all Canterbury pubs. The Golden Lion at Broad Oak (a mile or so north of the City) made the sixth member. The Golden Lion and The Two Borthers are the only teams from the founding six that still play in the League, but these days the latter play their home matches at The Kings Head, Wincheap as The Two Brothers pub itself was close decades ago.
In the early days, entry was restricted to teams who played within walking distance of Canterbury city centre, but with improved public transport services, especially bus services, more village teams were able to enter. This was quite a boost to the League, as village pubs were more likely to have a garden big enough to accommodate a pitch. In 1928 there were sufficient teams in the Canterbury League for a 2nd division to be formed. In the early 1930s cups were donated for a knockout competition by two prominent Canterbury citizens – Mr Henry Court, who was from the family that founded Court the Furnishers, also now extinct – and Mr Charles Skam, a proprietor of the then largest taxi firm in the area, and the only one for a wide area to possess a Rolls Royce as part of the taxi fleet! Both these cups are still competed for. A knockout competition for the landlords of ream host venues in the Canterbury League had evolved into a singles knockout tournament for players by the mid 1930s.
Generally, there was a steady expansion of the League during the 1930s, despite economic factors then prevailing that would have restricted the spending power of the players. Clearly, the game of Bat & Trap was as addictive to its’ pre-war players as it is to the current crop of enthusiasts. The close of the 1939 season terminated Canterbury League matches until the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945. There were four divisions at the end of the 1939 season and a letter from the Canterbury League Secretary of that time, Mr R W Humphrey, requested that the Beaney Institute in Canterbury hold the Canterbury League’s seven trophies in their strong room for the duration of the war. Mr R Surtees, Custodian of the Institute, appears at first to have declined the request, but soon changed his mind. With the arrival of the end of the European phase of the war Canterbury League activity resume – but only to play the various knockout events = the Henry Court and Charles Skam Cups as well at the singles knockout. The Canterbury League committee also introduced a doubles knockout tournament in 1945. Full Canterbury League fixtures were resumed in 1946.
The Canterbury League continued to flourish, with a slow expansion, until 1951, when a major change occurred in the regulations for playing the game. It became a Canterbury League rule that every league team had to have its pitch floodlit. This meant that the starting time for matches could be moved from 7pm in the evening to 8pm. This made a big difference for the players who, as mentioned above, mostly worked the land. They would normally be working in whatever hours of daylight there were. Now they could start the matches and play them in darkness – which would be the case at the start and ends of each season. In 1952, inspired by the Festival of Britain, the Canterbury Ladies League came into being. There was sufficient interest for this to quickly develop into a three division league.
This pic is of Ted Long (74) playing at home for the White Hart in Canterbury in August 1954. They are playing against the Dolphin B team, in front of the camera of BBC Radio Newsreel reporter Douglas Brown. Ted would have been 42 when the League started, having been born in 1880. He certainly saw some changes in his lifetime. Thanks to Dave Cornfoot for this photo.
With the improved social and financial conditions prevailing through the 1960s and 1970s, the Canterbury League continued to expand, hitting a peach of eighty teams in eight divisions in 1982. Ten teams per division would have been impossible without floodlighting, since that many teams require eighteen weeks to play all their league fixtures. It was decided that this level was the optimum at which the Canterbury League could be administered effectively. New teams seeking to enter the Canterbury League had to wait for a vacancy to be created by another team leaving. This unsatisfactory situation lasted for four years and, thankfully, no longer prevails with all requests for entry into the Canterbury League welcomed, considered, and almost invariably concluding with an invitation to join. The Annual General Meeting of 1986, however, was a rowdy and bad tempered affair, resulting in the creating of a breakaway league, which called itself The Friendly League (this is presumed to be because of the autocratic manner in which the Canterbury & District League was perceived to operate at that time). The long term effect of this was a steady erosion in the membership of the Canterbury & District League, which by the end of 1997 season had 58 teams in seven divisions. In 2006 the Canterbury & District League had 45 teams in five divisions. It should not be assumed that this was the only reason in the number of teams in the Canterbury League – the whole remit of Public Houses in Kent, and indeed elsewhere, was changing and continues to do so, with many becoming “theme” pubs with forced ambience, some turning in “eateries” or alternatively simply closing down altogether as a result of their inability to complete with the cheap availability of beer elsewhere, changing drinkers habits and the general laws of economics.
It is of some interest to compare the game as it was played in the 1920s with the game as currently played. Team, then, were of ten players – now, in the Canterbury League consist of eight players. Matches start later, as noted in the comment on floodlighting. Games always finish nowadays on the same day they started. In the early years they often had to be resumed on another day because darkness had set in! The Canterbury League, geographically now embraces Faversham, Whitstable, Herne Bay, Chartham and may of the outlying villages. Yet, despite many changes to the rules of the Canterbury League, the laws (or rules as they are now know) are still essentially those that were codified by Bill Humphries in the summer of 1921.
The Canterbury & District Bat & Trap League was the first league ever formed for competition in this ancient game, but it has inspired leagues elsewhere. There are known to be (or have been) leagues based in the following areas:
It is also know to have been played in isolated pockets on a non-league basis in places as close to London as Biggin Hill, home of the famous World War II Battle of Britain airfield, only a few miles from the centre of London. The game has also spilled over from Kent and is played in neighbouring county of Sussex, although Stoolball is more predominant, another game presumably evolved from the same ancient source. Similar games are also played in North Yorkshire (knurr and spell), in Lincolnshire (Rat in the Hole) and in various forms in other parts of the country. It is also played in many European countries, particularly within the EC, as a result of two twinning exchanges with Kent towns. It is known to be played in certain parts of the USA, Australia and New Zealand, predominantly by ex-pats although in the USA the interest also arises from links with the history of baseball.
Whereas there were probably no more than seventy players world-wide in 1921 (all of whom were in Canterbury!) it is certain that numbers playing in the various leagues exceeds 1000 today, with many more playing casually through social evenings arrange by company social clubs and other groups such as Rotary, Round Table and Lions etc.
At the start of the new millennium, this antique game is in good fettle, but there are still may unanswered questions whose resolution may help to fill in the missing details in the history of bat and trap. For example, reference has been found to an All England Trophy – a delightfully whimsical concept for a game which is predominantly played in only one area of the UK. Although, of course, our cousins across the pond would have World Series for essentially domestic sports!
The Sevenoaks and District Friendly Bat and Trap Society appears to have come about in 1981 but there appears to be no documents and records until the late 1980s. An article in Kent Life in 1986 stated: ’About five years ago, John Staniford, licensee of the King’s Head in Bessels Green, was looking for a pub game of an informal kind, “not too energetic”, for his customers. He decided against stool ball, another old Kentish game, because the ball goes too far. Then he remembered Bat and Trap, from his earlier days in the Canterbury area. So now there is a Sevenoaks and district bat and trap association, with the King’s Head as headquarters and a star side is currently from the Bucks Head, Godden Green. Bucks Head licensee Pat Chandler told me they hold not only the ‘A’ league championship and the doubles shield but also the All England title, though the latter is something of a misnomer, with the teams being all from Kent.” The Blacksmiths Arms from Cudham were also winners of the All England championship when it took place in Caterbury in the mid 1980s.
The Canterbury & District League is currently attempting to draw together various leagues to resurrect the All England Trophy however collaboration between the Caterbury League and Sevenoaks and District league has given rise to the latest challenge of the Kent Challenge Cup. The first ”challenge” between the Chequers from the Sevenoaks & District League and the Gentil Knyght from the Canterbury League took place early in 2012 and saw the Chequers victorious. This annual event is due to take place in April 2013 again between the Chequers from the Sevenoaks & District League and The Artichoke from the Canterbury League. The two leagues are hoping that other leagues will get involved in the Kent Challenge Cup – if any other league is interested please use the Contacts page to let us know.
In the mean time, we would urge all bat and trap enthusiasts to raise their glasses and toast Bill Humphries , without whom we might not have had so many great evenings!
Below are a couple of pictures of bat and trap being played which pre-date photography!
Roy Mellick from Canterbury provided this picture and stated ‘I have an oil painting (see below of my 2nd Great Grand Uncle John Mellick b.1788 – d.1837 in Bermondsey in which he appears to be playing Trap Ball. At the time of his birth they were playing Trap Ball in Newington Butts just down the road. John Mellick grew up to become a Felmonger in Bermondsey and had a yard and premises off of Bermondsey Street’. So, thanks to Roy Mellick, not only do we have a pic, but we actually know who the subject is. Notice also the similarity in the style of these two paintings. Going by the age of the subjects, these were done within a few years of each other. There was a stylistic convention in force at the time that whenever you did paintings of people in the outdoors you should have trees behind and to the left, bare ground for the subject, something to fill the bottom right. Then you have the picture receding from bottom left to middle right, where you must see rolling hills and interesting clouds in the distance, all of which are invented, of course. Notice that young John is holding a ‘short cricket bat’, like the boy in the picture below.
“Trap Ball” – From an original picture in the collection of George Watson Esq. The painting was by H. Thomson, and it also has the caption “London, published Jan 2, 1809 by the Engraver W. Say”. Note the “cricket bat”. Also note that the player is a child. The ball is the same colour as we used to use, too. Wonder where he got it? Can’t see any bite marks from the pub dog, though. That’s surprising, since the “pitch” doesn’t look very…um …flat – something a lot of us can relate to! It’s amazing to note that this painting was made only 71 years before Ted Long (photograph above) was born, and only 30 years before the invention of photography. So only two lifetimes take us from this painting to the photo of Ted playing in 1954 – and another one would take us another 20 years or so into the future. So three lifetimes gets us from this painting to men on Mars, perhaps. But we’ll still be playing this game. Tradition is a wonderful thing! This is the most important pic here, since it shows the combination of both cricket and bat & trap.
We are indebted to Martin Hoerchner from Canterbury for this picture.