Former curator of Dutch & Flemish collections at the British Library Dr Jaap Harskamp has written a guest post on the blog European Languages Across Borders about the roots of cricket and the way it connects medieval England and Flanders.
The post describes how cricket developed during the medieval period, when Flanders imported English wool for its textiles industry, while England imported Flemish cloth. The game arose in the sheep-rearing country of the South East of England, where fields of short grass made the game convenient. A ball of wool was bowled at the wicket-gate of the sheep pasture, which was defended with a shepherd’s staff.
Harskamp cites 16th century sources attributing the introduction of cricket to immigrant Flemish weavers. The phrase ‘met de krik ketsen’ literally meant ‘to chase with a curved stick’, later becoming shortened to ‘krikets’, and finally the word cricket.
Initially seen as a boys’ game, it appears to have emerged as an adult sport in the early 17th century. Between 1831 and 1852 Nicholas Felix, a man of Flemish origin, grew to be one of Kent’s legendary cricket players. Felix was also a skilled artist, depicting fellow players in his artwork and publishing a manual on the game in 1845. He was responsible for several cricketing innovations including the ‘Catapulta’ bowling machine and various items of protective clothing.