England: A taste of heaven at Lord's

By Kevin Pilley

Years of history lie under the hallowed ground of one of the world's most famous cricket venues. But the best bit is the tea and scones ritual, writes Kevin Pilley.

You can now enjoy afternoon tea in the Victorian 'Long Room' of the historic terracotta-coloured main pavilion of the world's most famous cricket ground. Photo / British Tourist Authority
You can now enjoy afternoon tea in the Victorian 'Long Room' of the historic terracotta-coloured main pavilion of the world's most famous cricket ground. Photo / British Tourist Authority

Being watched while you eat is very unsettling. Especially if it's by a late Australian war hero and two dead and very dour Yorkshiremen.

Crumpets smothered in honey from the royal parks at Piccadilly's Athenaeum Club? Chocolate eclairs at the Savoy? Raisin and apple scones with clotted cream at Claridge's? A choice of 16 home-made jams at The Connaught? Or perhaps, pistachio macaroons and lemon drizzle cake in the Dorchester's Grand Promenade lobby?

You are spoiled for choice for afternoon tea in London. But how about Lord's Cricket Ground?

You can now enjoy the early 18th century ritual in the Grade 11-listed Victorian "Long Room" in the historic terracotta-coloured main pavilion of the world's most famous cricket ground. And raise your bone china cup to celebrate the bicentenary of the home of cricket.

Resident chef patissier, Parisian Thierry Besselievre, serves 50,000 teas a year, recommending his fruit scones, mini-mud cakes topped with vanilla cream icing and his speciality Jaffa cake made with blood oranges, tempered chocolate and almond sponge.

Sittings are from 1.15pm-4pm and 4.15pm-6.45pm. High tea costs £42 ($83). No jeans are allowed. Tickets are still available for August 10 and from October to December.

Also scheduled, on October 17, is a special "Bicentenary Tea" in a marquee on the outfield.

Tea at Lord's is taken under the scrutiny of some famous cricketers. Sir Len Hutton, Australian Keith Miller and other dignitaries look down on to the cake-stands from framed oil paintings adorning the Long Room's walls. As does the man who gave the north London ground its name, founder Thomas Lord.

After 200 years, he is still smiling. Perhaps at the prospect of dancing in the Long Room at the £200 black tie Bicentenary Ball on October 17.

From 1718, London's exclusive "White Conduit Gentlemen's Club" played cricket matches in a field now covered by King's Cross railway station.

Seeking more privacy and safety from highwaymen, the club asked its groundsman and net bowler Thomas Lord to find a new ground.

The club relocated to Dorset Square fields. Lord was a wine trader and his shop was at the entrance. The ground became known as "Lord's".

The club took on Middlesex at "The Old Ground" on May 21, 1787. It became known as "Marylebone Cricket Club", named after the village of St Mary at the Bourne. A year later, the MCC produced the first code of laws.

In 1810, following a rent dispute, Lord then obtained two fields in St John's Wood. Three first-class games were played there during the Napoleonic Wars before Parliament requisitioned the site to make way for Regent's Canal.

Not to be beaten, in 1814, Lord (who died in 1832) dug up the turf of "the Middle Ground" and relaid it just down the road on Lord's current site. Sheep were used to manage the grass.

The future of the ground was secured when the land, which included two duck ponds, was bought by MP and Bank of England director, William Ward, for £5000.

His score of 278 for the MCC against Norfolk in 1820 was the highest individual innings at Lord's until W.G. Grace's triple century in 1876. The ball used is believed to be the oldest in existence and is kept in the MCC Museum at Lord's.

Opened in 1953, it is the oldest sporting museum in the world. Entry is £7.50.

One of the museum's more unusual exhibits is a stuffed sparrow killed when it flew into the path of a ball bowled during a game in 1936.

Along with the original Ashes urn presented in 1882/3, it also displays memorabilia, clothes and equipment from famous players like W.G. Grace, Sir Jack Hobbs, Sir Donald Bradman and Shane Warne, who captained the MCC against a Rest of the World XI, led by Indian cricket legend, Sachin Tendulkar this month.

Marylebone won by seven wickets.

Ground tours are available all year round. Irving Bernard, 78, has been a guide for 21 years.

"We have a lot of architecture students. Every stand was built in a different era. There's the Pavilion, a fantastic Victorian red brick structure built in 1890, the bland functionality of the 1960s 'Tavern' and the futuristic £5 million Media Centre built in 1999."

The first Test match took place against Australia in 1884. But, you discover, Lord's also hosted archery during the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Hockey, bowls, lacrosse and even baseball have also been played on "the hallowed turf".

The £18, 90-minute tour takes in the dressing rooms, with their honour boards commemorating centuries and five-wicket hauls, the score-box and 1926 "Old Father Time" weather vane.

"The symbolism of the figure comes from Law 16(3) regarding the end of play," explains Irving.

"After the call of 'time', the bails shall be removed from both wickets. Father Time has been hit by lightning and also once got tangled up with a barrage balloon."

The Father Time weather vane represents the law ending a cricket game. Photo / Alamy

Irving delivers the history lesson at a ferocious pace. The facts and figures come thick and fast. Graeme Gooch scored the highest Test innings at Lord's - 333 v India in 1999.

Albert Trott is the only person to ever hit a ball over the pavilion. This happened in 1899.

"The ball landed in a garden behind the pavilion. But it was only considered a four as it counted as still being in the ground."

The oldest permanent annual fixture, Harrow v Eton, goes back to 1805. The poet Lord Byron played in the first game.

"A group of Native Americans from Iowa set up a camp on the hallowed turf for a week in August 1844," smiles Irving.

"The Nursery End is named after Henderson's agricultural nursery acquired in 1887. It has a second pitch used for the end of season Cross Arrows matches as well as the women's varsity match.

"The Mound Stand's predecessor, constructed in 1898, contained a bakery with a small underground railway to take produce to various points of sale. Food has always been important to Lord's!"

There is much to digest on a trip to north London.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies from Auckland to London.

Tours: Are available all year round, although timings vary depending on the time of year. See lords.org or phone 0044 (0)207 616 8500.

- NZ Herald

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