Recently I’ve been sorting through some family papers and came across a copy of ‘The Cricketer’ magazine from December 1982. The magazine published a letter from my late grandfather regarding the origin of the ‘Ashes’ trophy. My grandfather was at one time journalist for the Gravesend Reporter and correspondent for the Kent Messenger and as such interviewed the widow of the 8th Earl of Darnley, a.k.a. the Honourable Ivo Bligh. Bligh captained the English side during the first ever Test series against Australia where the Ashes were at stake (1882-83). More on the ‘Origin of the Ashes’ in a future post but the letter contained a couple of other ‘Ashes’ related stories which I’ll share with you here.
On Bligh’s return from Australia his father, Lord John Stuart Darnley, had a wooden structure erected round a tall oak tree in Shorne woods (south-east of Gravesend) with a platform on top providing a panoramic view of the River Thames. It was named the “Crows Nest”. From this viewpoint Lord John watched the boat steaming up the Thames to Tilbury carrying home his son, his new Australian bride and the Ashes. He waved a large white tablecloth, and succeeded in attracting the attention of his son. Thereafter the Crows Nest became a favourite rendezvous for boys, including my Grandfather, although it eventually became unsafe and was dismantled.
Another famous cricketer lies buried in Shorne churchyard. George Bennett, nicknamed Cutter, was a member of H. H. Stephenson’s side which in 1861-62 was the first England team to visit Australia. Bennett played for Kent and later coached at Eton. During the winter months he returned to the Cobham Hall Estate (the home of the Darnley’s) to carry on his occupation as a bricklayer. It was many years afterwards that Major Robert Arnold, a well-known local cricketer who lived in Meopham, was instrumental in raising a fund to provide a tombstone. Some difficulty was experienced in finding the grave until Steve Waterman, a local cricketer who had helped carry Bennett to his last resting place, remembered the undertaker had carved a large letter ‘B’ on a fence opposite the burial mound.