Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Today, the grand old cricket clubs of Germantown, Merion, and Philadelphia, with their handsome clubhouses and carefully groomed grounds, recall the enthusiasm for the game of cricket that many wealthy families dis­played in the nineteenth cen­tury. If the stately, ivy-covered walls of these venerable club­houses could speak, they would tell the proud and re­markable story of cricket in Philadelphia.

For more than a century cricket was the most distinctive feature of Philadelphia’s social life. It was the sport of choice for thousands of Philadelphi­ans of an earlier era, and en­veloped the lives of thousands more in its tradition of fair play and in its intense camaraderie. At least two hundred cricket teams, of every size and de­scription, could be found in the area. Teams were orga­nized for bankers, insurance clerks, railroad workers, high school students, and even young women. In the last century, cricket was so popular at Haverford College that baseball found no following on the campus for many years.

Enthusiasm for cricket was not unique to the Quaker city. Through the first half of the nineteenth century, the game was played in almost every region of the United States, from the villages of New En­gland to the frontier towns of Wisconsin. So many Ameri­cans played cricket in the dec­ade before the Civil War that its more enthusiastic sup­porters touted the game as America’s “national pastime of the future.” That prediction proved to be overly optimistic, and American interest in cricket eventually declined in all parts of the country – except in Philadelphia, and in Califor­nia where English actors played the game.

Why did Philadelphians continue to play cricket? One reason was the early and thor­ough “Americanization” of the game. From the very begin­ning, cricket at the large and more prestigious clubs was in the hands of native Philadel­phians rather than foreign­-born residents. The Young America Club – hailed as the “young turks” of Philadelphia cricket – would admit only native Americans. As late as the turn of the century the talented A. M. Wood was denied for many years a place on the all-city team because he had arrived from England as a professional. After surrender­ing his coveted classification, he was accepted as a valuable member of both the Belmont and All-Philadelphia teams.

The English millworkers of Germantown and Kensington may have been the first to bring cricket to the area, but native Philadelphians were soon playing it on Indepen­dence Day, before sprawling clubhouses brightly draped with red, white, and blue bunting and festooned with brilliantly colored pennants. In the absence of movie houses or summer camps, a summer afternoon cricket match was the center of activity for many late nineteenth century Phila­delphia families. Father might have played for the first team, uncle for the second, while elder son joined in with the junior side. As mother pre­pared refreshments for half-time, little brother may have helped grandfather keep score, or even played a sandJot game with his little sister behind the clubhouse.

Many of the region’s most distinguished families played or were involved with cricket, including both the patriarchs and scions of what contempo­rary social historians identify as the Philadelphia and, spe­cifically, Main Line “blue­-bloods”: the Wisters, Lippincotts, Newhalls, Clarks, Scotts, Thayers, Biddies, Browns, Scattergoods, Bohlens, and Morrises. These were the families that passed their fervent devotion to the game from generation to gen­eration. There could be no doubt that Philadelphians loved their cricket with pas­sion; they took great pride in the game and spared no effort to make it the best they could. The small, informal teams of the 1850s and 1860s rapidly evolved into the thriving, well­-organized cricket clubs of Germantown, Merion, Phila­delphia, and Belmont. The unpretentious, wood framed clubhouses of earlier years gave way to substantial club­houses of brick and oak that overlooked meticulously mani­cured playing fields.

The Halifax Cup competi­tion, an official city cricket championship established in 1880, was followed by orga­nized leagues for smaller clubs, second teams, and local schools. Haverford College and the University of Pennsyl­vania were charter members of a small but highly competitive intercollegiate league. This burgeoning popularity of cricket was given official voice through the American Cricketer, founded in 1877 and the coun­try’s first publication devoted exclusively to the sport. Phila­delphia was clearly Cricket Capital, U.S.A.

Unlike baseball, cricket was – and remains – a thor­oughly international sport, in which nations routinely com­peted against one another. Philadelphia had first ventured into international competition before the Civil War, although its record against foreign teams in those years was one of consistent and, not infre­quently, catastrophic defeats. A turning point of sorts oc­curred in 1878 when Philadel­phia played Australia’s national team – while the Aus­sies were en route home from England – to a hard-fought draw. However, a following decade of disappointing losses to visiting English, Australian, and Irish teams provoked serious doubt about the city’s ability to compete against first class foreign teams. Interna­tional success finally alighted on the grounds of the Germantown Cricket Club in 1891, as the city’s all-star team convincingly outplayed Lord Hawke’s strong English team, in a game witnessed by twenty-two thousand spell­bound spectators during its three days’ duration. Victories over Australia’s national teams in 1893 and 1896, and a win over Frank Mitchell’s English cricketers, seemed to justify, at long last, Philadelphia’s claim that its cricket had come of age.

There may have been lin­gering doubt about the city’s international competitiveness, but by this time there existed few, if any, qualms that Phila­delphia could produce cricket players as talented as any in the world. For example, George Patterson, high­-scoring opening batter of the Germantown Cricket Club, was for nearly a decade Phila­delphia’s most consistent and reliable scorer, able to produce runs with an almost workman­like precision. A competent bowler (or pitcher) and fine fielder, he was the “franchise player” of Philadelphia cricket. A less consistent but far more explosive batter was Patter­son’s Germantown Cricket Club teammate, Frank Bohlen. As a lower order batter, Bohlen developed a reputation as a “comeback” specialist, a batter who seemed to relish the chal­lenge of fighting from behind. When he “got going good,” as he described it, Bohlen was the one Philadelphian most likely to play the match­-winning innings or score the winning run to claim the trophy.

Heir to Patterson’s title as Philadelphia’s “crack bat,” Haverford College cricket prodigy John Lester emigrated from England to study at the school. Arguably the most technically correct of all Phila­delphia batters, Lester was also a knowledgeable student of the game and a shrewd field tactician. Despite his relatively short cricket career, he cap­tained Philadelphia to many of its most notable international victories for an entire decade.

Of Philadelphia’s many fine bowlers, Percy Clark was one of the best. In addition to the necessary talents of speed and accuracy, Clark sported a fast and deadly outswinger (or curveball), a pitch that could consistently baffle even the most experienced batter. A regular member of Philadel­phia’s all-city team from his early twenties, Clark claimed his finest moment in interna­tional cricket at the age of forty. As his team’s senior member in 1913, Percy Clark led the Germantown Cricket Club against Australia’s heav­ily favored national team in a victory that to this day is re­membered as one of the great­est upsets in cricket history.

For many years Philadel­phia lacked a world-class wicketkeeper, the equivalent of a catcher, until Henry Scatter­good appeared. A fine baseball catcher in his youth, Scatter­good took up cricket as a stu­dent at Haverford College, where he quickly developed into Philadelphia’s premier man behind the stumps. Scattergood was blessed with cat-like reflexes and rarely allowed a ball to get by him. In a game against Gloucester­shire in 1897, he allowed only one bye (or passed ball) in more than six hundred pitches!

One figure in the history of Philadelphia cricket towers above all others: the legendary John Barton King. A member of the Belmont Club, he was unquestionably the one Phila­delphia cricket player of “inter­national stature,” a term reserved for all-star players. An engaging, entertaining personality off the playing field, King was a relentless competitor during matches. Talented as both bowler and batter, he was one of the few players of his day who could single-handedly change the course of an entire game. According to P. F. Warner, captain of many English teams, King was the greatest swing bowler of all time, an evaluation shared by cricket critic George Brooking who, in 1948, honored King with a starting place on his all-time, all-world cricket dream team.

The availability of such talent swayed Philadelphia in its decision to dispatch a team to England to challenge the country’s best county teams in 1897. This first overseas foray against county strength oppo­sition gave the young Ameri­can team valuable international experience. With only two wins in eleven games, however, it failed to accomplish much else. None­theless, the results were looked upon favorably enough to lure the Philadelphians to England six years later for a second try. This time it all came together for Philadelphia cricket.

The many years of hard work and dedication Philadel­phia had invested in the game of cricket finally paid off dur­ing the beautiful English sum­mer of 1903. Throughout the tour the Philadelphians batted with confidence and aggres­sion, consistently scoring on the soft English wickets that had so troubled them six years earlier. King and Clark, bowl­ing in deadly tandem, formed a one-two punch that wreaked havoc on the strongest English lineups. When it was all over, the Philadelphians had de­feated six of England’s best counties, including first place Nottinghamshire and six-time national champion Surrey. In the match against Surrey, the cricket world witnessed – in King’s ninety-eight first inn­ings and one hundred and thirteen second innings run totals, plus his six wicket bowl­ing haul! – an outstanding individual performance combining batting and bowling.

Unfortunately, there would be no encore to the success of 1903. Five years later, during Philadelphia’s third and final series against county strength English teams, results were miserable. Plagued by cold and wet weather, and inex­plicably poor batting – captain John Lester suffered a terrible slump throughout the entire tour – tie Philadelphia entou­rage could manage no better than four wins in ten matches. For John Barton King, how­ever, it was a tour of destiny. Although nearly thirty-five years old, the Belmont star was still able to reap, match after match, a bountiful har­vest of English wickets with bowling of almost youthful fury and pace. So outstanding did King bowl that summer, that by the tour’s end he had established a new single­-season English bowling aver­age of 11.01. This meant that King gave up, on average, 11.01 runs for every batter he got out – a remarkable feat, comparable to a season ERA of 1.8 in baseball. King’s records would stand unbroken for years. But even as King was bowling his way to record­-breaking fame on the lush playing fields of England, cricket-and its popularity-in Philadelphia began to wane.

Initial symptoms seemed innocuous enough. Teams began to show up short­handed, or could not turn out to complete matches at mid­week. It was not long before more ominous signs appeared. Games were abandoned or forfeited outright, and sched­ules were not completed. Al­most as mysterious as cricket’s rise in Philadelphia was its rapid and precipitous decline. Little more than two decades after the splendid success of 1903, cricket had become much less important to Philadelphi­ans. The pace of American life was accelerating, and the lengthy time required by cricket had dampened both players and spectators ardor.

Tennis and golf, sports which had been slowly erod­ing the popularity of cricket since the 1890s, were now the sports of choice for twentieth century Philadelphians. The trend was irreversible. With each passing summer, fewer clubs fielded teams and fewer matches were played. The grand old cricket clubs of Germantown, Merion, and Philadelphia gradually con­verted their cricket lawns to tennis courts. Belmont, King’s old club, disbanded and sold its grounds in 1913.

Ironically, even ‘during the decline of cricket, Philadelphia continued to produce premier players. At the time Harold Furness was rewriting the record books at Haverford College, where he captained in 1910 and led the team in play against schools in England. While touring England with the Germantown Cricket Club the following year, several young players, including Fur­ness, were earmarked by Eng­lish critics as sportsmen of world-class potential.

The game experienced a modest revival following World War I, but only as a final act played to conclusion by the aging and long-serving vet­erans of earlier years. The end came, for all practical pur­poses, in 1926, the final year of the Halifax Cup competition. The American Cricketer, by then also reporting on tennis and golf, ceased publication in 1929. Serious cricket – as both a Philadelphia sport and tradition – had enjoyed its best days. But the legacy of Phila­delphia cricket continues to this day, if only as a shadow of its former self. In 1972 the game was revived on a modest scale at the Merion Cricket Club, and continues to be played, as it always has been, at Haverford College.

Nowhere is the cherished heritage of Philadelphia cricket more evident than at the Christopher Morris Cricket Library on the campus of Haverford College. Estab­lished in 1969 by former Haverford College cricket players, the internationally renowned library contains and exhibits a rich and diverse collection of memorabilia from the glory days of Philadelphia cricket. It also holds the largest cricket book collection in this country. Operated by an active association with world-wide membership, the library is the only organization of its kind in the United States specifically dedicated to the preservation of Philadelphia and interna­tional cricket history. To this end it has succeeded remarkably, keeping alive for future generations of Americans the memory of a unique and fasci­nating expression of the Amer­ican experience.


For Further Reading

American Cricketer: A Journal Devoted to the Noble Game of Cricket. Philadelphia: 1877-1929.

Brooking, George. Cricket Mem­ories. Liverpool, England: N. P., 1948.

Kirsch, George B. “American Cricket: Players and Clubs Before the Civil War.” Journal of Sport History. Volume 11, Number 1 (1984).

____. The Creation of American Team Sports: Base­ball and Cricket, 1838-1872. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

Leaster, John, ed. A Century of Philadelphia Cricket. Philadelphia: University of Penn­sylvania Press, 1951.

Marder, John. The International Series. London, England: 1968.

Sayen, Henry. A Yankee Looks at Cricket. London, England: Putnam, 1956.


The editor is greatly indebted to Murray D. Haines, secretary of the C. Christopher Morris Cricket Library Association, for his review of this article, as well as for the identification and lending of rare illustrations. The C. C. Morris Cricket Library, located on the grounds of Haverford College, was established to collect, document, preserve, and interpret objects and artifacts associated with the game. The library also houses the world’s largest collection of books dealing with cricket.


Tom Melville of Cedarburg, Wis­consin, is both a player and teacher of cricket, and has published several articles on American and Philadelphia cricket. His article devoted to the history of the game at the University of Penn­sylvania recently appeared in the Penn­sylvania Gazette, the university’s alumni magazine. The author learned to play cricket during graduate studies in England.