FEW people now know the unique link between Oulton Park Cricket Club and the legendary Ashes urn, the trophy for which England and Australia battle at cricket.
The trophy is always kept, much to the chagrin of the Australians, in the museum at Lord's. It has recently under-gone some delicate restoration work, which is not surprising considering it is over 120 years old.
And the connection with Oulton Park? To explain this we must go back to 1882. In that year, the Australian captain William Murdoch led his side to victory in England. English cricket was in a state of shock and the journalist Reginald Brooks penned his now famous obituary notice in the Sporting Times:
In Affectionate Remembrance of English Cricket, which died at the Oval on 29 August 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances R.I.P. NB: The body was cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.
Brooks had no inkling to what he had set in motion. The notice was meant as a joke but had momentous consequences.
Later that year the Hon Ivo Bligh, the son of the sixth Earl of Darnley, led an English team to Australia. When he arrived in Australia, he made mention of recovering the 'Ashes'. He had, in fact, carried a joke into partial reality but there was no trophy, just a concept.
It was traditional at that time for the amateur members of the English touring side to spend the period between matches at country houses, and so it was on the 21 December the eight amateurs were invited to spend Christmas at Rupertswood in Sunbury, Victoria.
Rupertswood was the country home of the Clarke family, built by Sir William Clarke and wife Lady Janet Clarke in
1874. The estate consisted some 31,000 acres. Rupertswood became the social centre of the colony, entertaining governors, royalty and the rich and famous, and a private railway station was installed on the estate to bring guests from Melbourne to parties and functions.
On Christmas Eve 1882, a Sunday, the Clarke family and their guests attended the services of the local St Mary's Anglican Church and on returning to Ruperts-wood found Sir William had arranged a delightful afternoon's entertainment.
The eight English amateurs would play a side of Clarke's workmen and guests on the cricket paddock at Rupertswood.
The pitch was in excellent condition even though the ground was on a slight slope between the mansion and railway line. It was not an official encounter, merely a game put on for the amusement of those present. Needless to say, it proved a one-sided affair, the Ruperts-wood team retrieving many fours and sixes from the surrounding fields.
At the conclusion, it was decided to award the victorious captain, Ivo Bligh, with a small memento of this social encounter and what better way than to actually present the England captain with the very object, albeit mythical, he had come to Australia to retrieve.
Lady Clarke's great sense of humour could appreciate the occasion at hand, and having burnt a bail, she placed the ashes in a small urn and presented them
to Bligh as a personal gift. A piece of paper with the words 'The Ashes' was glued to the trophy. Ivo Bligh kept it for the rest of his life and, on his death, the urn was presented to Lord's.
Among the fielders rescuing the ball from adjoining fields was Sir William's son, Rupert Havelock Clarke. Some years later he married Aimée Mary Cumming, the daughter of the Hon Thomas Forrest Cumming of Victoria, but the marriage was not a happy one and they divorced. In 1909, Aimée Clarke left Australia and travelled to London, no doubt seeking a new life and, possibly, a new husband.
It was there she met and married Sir Philip Grey Egerton of Oulton Park. Lady Grey Egerton spent the rest of her life at Little Budworth before dying in 1958. She had a keen interest in cricket and
was also said to be rather eccentric. Joe Done, the captain of Cotebrook Cricket Club, remembered her presenting him with a winner's medal in the final of the Tarporley Hospital Cup in 1928 with a cockatoo perched on her shoulder.
She also kept two possums and a wallaby which roamed free within the Park.
Lady Grey Egerton had two daughters by her first marriage and both came to live with her at Little Bud-worth. On her husband's death, a magnificent silver trophy was presented by the estate to Oulton Park Cricket Club in memory of Sir Philip.
It is still presented to the best batsman at the club each year, a reminder of Oulton's link to the sport's most famous trophy.
For more information, read: Beyond Reasonable Doubt. The Birthplace of the Ashes, Joy Munns; Marching As To War. The Story of the Egerton Twins of Oulton Park, Roy F Ramsbottom.