Battersea born: How London’s most salubrious cricket club dragged itself out of the gutter

This is the story of Battersea’s most famous cricket club, the King’s Road Cricket & Social Club.

by excellent egg T.J. Parnell, Esq

It was 1854, and the smell of children’s sweat was in the air.

Street urchins with nothing but a smock crudely fashioned out of cobbles roamed London’s smog-filled streets selling cat tears to thirsty washer-women for thrupence a gallon.

Back in the day ... when Giles was but a nipper
Back in the day … when Giles was but a nipper

Haggard pox-ridden whores lined the pavements cavorting toothlessly with heroin-smothered sailors and criminals were subjected to proper punishments like hanging or a fierce prodding with a heated black Bernard.

But none of these contemptible activities so much as raised an eyebrow in the smoking room of the King’s Road Gentlemen’s Club, situated in a velvet-lined drawing room high above Battersea’s proletariat rabble.

Life was good for the eleven club members, all of whom had pots of money, knew the difference between a napkin and a serviette, and could tie a full Windsor without a mirror. A typical day began at 11am with a breakfast of poached eggs and kippers made by the staff and a large medicinal whisky, before settling down to a hard day’s reading the broadsheets while enjoying the club shag.

Mists of time ... well, Battersea Power Station in 2006 actually
Mists of time … well, Battersea Power Station in 2006 actually

However as the sun set over the cat and dog infested slums of Battersea on the evening of March 23, 1954 all was not well in the smoke-filled corridors of leisure. Club chairman Pongo Stiles, overcome with a growing sense of ennui, had actually left his polished leather armchair before the 3pm pre-dinner meal was served and was pacing the room furiously stroking his magnificent beard.

Suddenly slamming the balcony doors closed to shut out the noise of a street rake squeezing a kitten, Pongo turned to address the room, a mischievous smile playing around his lips.

Picking up a lump of coal from the fireplace Stiles deftly spun his arm, letting the nugget fly towards Tuppy Henderson, who had been snoozing merrily in the fading sunlight.

In a flash Tuppy’s eyes shot open, he grabbed an umbrella from the elephant-foot stand and played a magnificent drive which sent the coal flying out the window and straight down the throat of a passing charity worker, causing his untimely demise. An electric silence filled the room, such as had not been felt since the great marmalade scandal of 1829. There was fun to be had.

It's us ... the Battersea-based King's Road Cricket & Social Club back in the day
It’s us … the Battersea-based King’s Road Cricket & Social Club back in the day

The very next morning eleven proud men marched onto Battersea park, cricket bats in one hand, shotgun in the other, blasting away at the gathered ruffians trying to hawk them potted weasel noses and cockahoops. Their whites, washed and ironed by the staff, glistened in the rays of the rising sun and the newly formed King’s Road Cricket Club began its first practice.

The club was soon a smashing success, touring first the UK (but not Scotland of course), then the empire. The nubile gentleman athletes of Battersea notched up an unparalleled winning streak of 42 matches, not counting a game in Swaziland which had to be abandoned after a pitch invasion by angry “natives”.

By spring 1855 the King’s Road Cricket Club was the talk of London society and many women risked beatings and social disgrace by leaving the kitchen to catch a glimpse of the great Battersea team’s coach as it glid through town. Then, on a trip to play a crack team of desert cavalry in Egypt, fun struck.

Unable to find lodging in the Ritz Cairo due to an unfortunate incident with an egg strainer the year before, the team were forced to seek accommodation in a less reputable end of town. Coming home from their inevitable win team captain Pongo suggested a celebratory night cap in the Painted Veil bar, which adjoined their hotel.

Several dry gins, lurid belly dances and curled moustaches later and the King’s Road Cricket and Social Club was finally born (nine months before a host of illegitimate Egyptian babies with beards).

There you have it, young sir, the story of Battersea’s finest.

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