Surrey has a rich sporting heritage, from the earliest record of a cricket match played c.1550, preserved in the records of the borough of Guildford, to the speed and spectacle of the Olympic cyclists racing through the county in 2012.
The county boasts several famous sporting ‘firsts’. William Bray’s report in his 1755 diary of playing baseball with friends in Guildford is the earliest manuscript reference to the game. Until 1772 cricket was played with just two stumps and one bale, but when Edward (Lumpy) Stevens of Send famously bowled the ball between the stumps without dislodging the bale in a match against Hambledon Cricket Club, he forced a change in the rules. The first match played with three stumps and two bales took place between Chertsey and Coulsdon on 6 September 1776. The first recorded golf match in England was played at Hurst Park in Molesey in 1758. Marjorie Foster became the first woman to win the National Rifle Association Kings Prize at Bisley in 1930 and Mike Hawthorne of Farnham was the first Englishman to win the World Championship Motor racing title in 1958.
Brooklands was the world’s first purpose-built motor circuit, built by Hugh Locke King at Weybridge. Racing first took place there on 6 July 1907 and was described as a ‘Motor Ascot’. It drew upon horseracing traditions to attract an audience to this new sport. Cars assembled in the ‘paddock’, were ‘shod’ with tyres and weighed by the ‘Clerk of the Scales’. Drivers even wore colours silks to identify themselves. In 1926 Brooklands hosted the first ever British Grand Prix.
Mass football, traditionally ‘played’ on Shrove Tuesday, was played in several Surrey towns. In Dorking the day began with fancy dress procession of the ball, accompanied by musicians. The game started at 2pm, when the Eastenders and Westenders competed to retain the ball in their territory. By 5pm the crowd had swelled to several hundred players. Whoever had the ball in their territory when the church clock struck six had won.
Cycling was hugely popular in the late 19th century and The Anchor at Ripley became a favourite destination for refreshment for those heading down the Portsmouth Road from London. Horseracing has taken place on Epsom Downs since 1661 and in 1780 the name of a new race for three-year old colts was decided by the flip of a coin between Sir Charles Bunbury and Lord Derby. The world-famous flat race continues to be a highlight of the English social and sporting calendar.
To discover more themes in Surreys history see the Themes section on the Exploring Surrey's Past website.