Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Wizard of Notts recommends: Ashes 2013: the myth of the urn

The Telegraph - published July 10, 2013

Ashes 2013: the myth of the urn

The story behind how a Test match series between England and Australia became known as 'The Ashes' is a long and convoluted tale that can be traced back to Cobham Hall. The school's headmaster explains the history of the famous urn.

Unlikely as it may seem, Cobham Hall - now a private girls' school - played a key role in the origin and history of cricket's Ashes series between England and Australia.
The story dates back to August 1882, when England lost to Australia for the first time on home soil at the Oval in London.
Subsequently, the 'Sporting Times' newspaper published a satirical obituary bemoaning 'the death of English cricket', such was the horror at England suffering such a humiliating defeat.
'Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances', the obituary read, 'the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.'
A few weeks later, an English team, captained by Ivo Bligh - later the 8th Earl of Darnley - set off to tour Australia, with Bligh vowing to return with 'the ashes' and restore English honour.
It is here that Cobham Hall becomes involved, as this was the home of the Darnley family.
Bligh completed his tour, won the series 2-1 and following a social game which was not part of the 'official' series, he was presented with a small terracotta urn by a group of women from Melbourne as a symbol of the ashes that he had travelled to Australia to regain.
He brought the urn back to England and kept it at home at Cobham Hall.
Paul Mitchell, the modern-day Headmaster of Cobham Hall School, takes up the story:
"He (Bligh) actually brought it back here rather as a memento as much as anything else, and not only did the urn come back, he also brought back one of the ladies who had presented this urn to him. And later on she became his wife."
What the urn actually contained has also been a source of intense speculation down the years, with doubt cast over the claims that the ashes were those of a bail from the match where Australia defeated England.
"I've heard other stories which say that it wasn't a bail at all, it was part of an item of clothing from one of the ladies, they couldn't find a bail, couldn't get hold of one, so they burned an item of clothing," Mr Mitchell said.
"But when it was here, being kept here, the story is that the butler was cleaning the mantlepiece one day, knocked the urn over, spilling out the ashes, so what on earth could he do to cover up his misdemeanour he pushed some ash fro the fire back into the urn and put the top back in and left it, hoping no-one would notice," he added.
The urn stayed on the mantelpiece at Cobham Hall until Bligh's death, 43 years later.
At his request, Florence bequeathed the urn to the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and today, the tiny artefact resides in the MCC Museum at Lord's.
Over the years the urn came to represent much more than just an amusing anecdote from the nineteenth century and since there was no trophy for the winners of series between the two countries, it evolved into the role.
"It symbolises the rivalry between the two nations," says MCC curator Adam Chadwick, "It's been broken, it is very fragile, it's ceramic. It has only been put onto its wooden base - the wooden base that you see now - to strengthen it, so it would never work out as a trophy for the series."
The MCC closely guards the original urn and has resisted repeated requests for it to be taken back to Australia, even on a temporary basis.
There is an 'official replica', but that has now become so precious that the MCC is reluctant to see it go too far.
"I'll not forget 2005 when we leant the official replica to the England team," Mr Chadwick recalled.
"I think it was Andrew Flintoff who held it up to the camera and then blithely tossed it over his shoulder to Steve Harmison, who managed to catch it, but even so it came back to us in a pretty well-worn state."
The latest clash between England and Australia begins at Trent Bridge on Wednesday, the first of an unprecedented 10 Test matches in England and Australia over the course of the next seven months.

Source: APTN

1 comment:

  1. Loved this tale about the 'urn' ... thanks for sharing n x