Last updated

Stoolball is a sport that dates back to at least the 15th century, originating in Sussex, southern England. It may be an ancestor of cricket (a game it resembles in some respects), baseball, and rounders; stoolball has been called "cricket in the air". There is a tradition that it was played by milkmaids who used their milking stools as a "wicket" and the bittle, or milk bowl as a bat. Hence its archaic name of bittle-battle. [1]


The sport of stoolball is strongly associated with Sussex; it has been referred to as Sussex's 'national' sport [2] and a Sussex game [3] or pastime. [4] The National Stoolball Association was formed in 1979 to promote and expand stoolball. [5] The game was officially recognised as a sport by the Sports Council in early 2008. [6] The National Stoolball Association changed its name to Stoolball England in 2010 on the advice of the Sports Council and was recognised as the national governing body for stoolball in England in 2011.

The game's popularity has faded since the 1960s, but continues to be played at a local league level in Sussex, Kent, Surrey and the Midlands. Some variants are played in some schools. Teams can be ladies only or mixed. There are ladies' leagues in Sussex, Surrey and Kent and mixed leagues in Sussex.


Medieval and Tudor references

1767 Illustration of Stoolball in the children's book A Little Pretty Pocket-Book ALPP - Stool-Ball.png
1767 Illustration of Stoolball in the children's book A Little Pretty Pocket-Book

Stoolball is attested by name as early as 1450. Nearly all medieval references describe it as a game played during Easter celebrations, typically as a courtship pastime rather than a competitive game. The game's associations with romance remained strong into the modern period. Written by William Shakespeare and the Sussex-born playwright John Fletcher, the comedy, The Two Noble Kinsmen used the phrase "playing stool ball" as a euphemism for sexual behaviour. [7] [8]

Early competitions and establishment of codes

Stoolball makes an appearance in the dictionary of Samuel Johnson, where it is defined as a game played by driving a ball from stool to stool.

Stoolball seems to have been one of the earliest sports in which women participated. Activities for women before about 1870 were recreational rather than sport-specific in nature. They were typically non-competitive, informal, rule-less; they emphasised physical activity rather than competition. [9] In contrast, stoolball allowed women to participate in competitive sport.

A “fine match of stoolball” is recorded as having been played in June 1747 by a total of 28 women at Warbleton. [10] The first inter-county stoolball match took place between the women of Sussex and Kent in 1797 at Tunbridge Wells Common on the historic border between the two counties. [11] Sussex women wore blue ribbons to represent the county while the women of Kent wore pink ribbons. [11]

Andrew Lusted argues that between 1866 and 1887 the Glynde Butterflies stoolball team were the first women in England to be considered sports stars. [10] In 1866 the first recorded stoolball match took place between teams of named women representing villages as the Glynde Butterflies took on the Firle Blues. [12] Other teams included the Chailey Grasshoppers, Selmeston Harvest Bugs, Waldron Bees, Eastbourne Seagulls, Danny Daisies and Westmeston. [10]

The sport's modern rules were codified at Glynde in 1881 where the two slightly different sets of rules in the east and the west of Sussex were brought together. [13] In 1867 the rules in the east of the county were compiled by the Rev William de St Croix, the vicar of Glynde, and were the first rules to be established. [10]

20th century revival

A Sussex Stoolball League was established in 1903. [4] Initially played by women only, men joined in shortly afterwards. [4] Modern stoolball is centred on Sussex where the game was revived in the early 20th century by Major William Grantham. [14] [15] Grantham wore a traditional Sussex round frock and beaver hat to stoolball games. [5] In 1917, Sussex County Cricket Ground in Hove hosted a match between young men who had lost one arm in First World War action at a temporary hospital in Brighton's Royal Pavilion, “damaged by wounds”, and a team of older lawyers, “damaged by age”. [5] The soldiers won and were deemed to be 'heroes'. [5] In 1919 a demonstration match was held at Lord's and the game was also played near the trenches of the battlefields of the First World War. [16] [4]

First played in 1923, the League Championship Challenge Cup is open to the winning teams of the five leagues of the Sussex County Stoolball Association - North, East, West, Mid and Central. [17] By the 1930s stoolball was being played in the Midlands and the north of England. [4] Since 1938 Sussex and Kent have competed annually for the Rose Bowl, which was presented to Sussex by Major William Grantham. This is sometimes a team representing Sussex and sometimes one of Sussex's five leagues may represent the county against Kent. [11] Grantham founded the Stoolball Association of Great Britain at Lord's in 1923. [16] By 1927 over 1,000 clubs were playing stoolball across England, however in 1942 the Stoolball Association of Great Britain ceased to function. The National Stoolball Association was founded on 3 October 1979 at Clair Hall in Haywards Heath attended by 23 people from nine different leagues. On the advice of the Sports Council the governing body was renamed Stoolball England in 2010. [5]

In the early 20th century stoolball was also played outside England, including in France, Japan and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). [18]

Description and rules

Stoolball is played on grass with a 90-yard (82-metre) diameter boundary, and the pitch is 16 yards (15 metres) long. Each team consists of 11 players, with one team fielding and the other batting. Bowling is underarm from a bowling "crease" 10 yards (9.1 metres) from the batsman's wicket, with the ball reaching the batsman on the full as in rounders or baseball rather than bouncing from the pitch as in cricket. Each over consists of 8 balls. The "wicket" itself is a square piece of wood at head or shoulder height fastened to a post. Traditionally this was the seat of a stool hung from a post or tree; some versions used a tall stool placed upright on the ground.

As it is played today, a bowler attempts to hit the wicket with the ball, and a batsman defends it using a bat shaped like a frying pan. The batsman scores "runs" by running between the wickets or hitting the ball beyond the boundary in a similar way to cricket. A ball hit over the boundary counts for 4 runs if it has hit the ground before reaching the boundary, or 6 runs if it landed beyond the boundary upon first contact with the ground. Fielders attempt to catch the ball or run out the batsman by hitting the wicket with the ball before the batsman returns from his run.

Originally the batsman simply had to defend his stool from each ball with his hand and would score a point for each delivery until the stool was hit. The game later evolved to include runs and bats.

Confusion with the game of Stoball

According to Alice Gomme, the earliest references show that the game was called Stobball or Stoball, [19] and was a game peculiar to North Wiltshire, North Gloucestershire, and a little part of Somerset, near Bath: but although 17th century antiquarian John Aubrey describes a game called "stobball", played in this area, his description of it does not sound like stoolball, [20] and another contemporary text from the same region characterises "stoball" as a game played mainly by men and boys. [21] The Oxford English Dictionary considers it unlikely that "stool ball" could have been corrupted into "stobball". [22] Stobball could very well instead be the game Willughby called "stow-ball," which resembled golf.

See also

Related Research Articles

Glossary of cricket terms

This is a general glossary of the terminology used in the sport of cricket. Where words in a sentence are also defined elsewhere in this article, they appear in italics. Certain aspects of cricket terminology are explained in more detail in cricket statistics and the naming of fielding positions is explained at fielding (cricket).

The question of the origins of baseball has been the subject of debate and controversy for more than a century. Baseball and the other modern bat, ball, and running games — stoolball, cricket and rounders — were developed from folk games in early Britain, Ireland, and Continental Europe. Early forms of baseball had a number of names, including "base ball", "goal ball", "round ball", "fetch-catch", "stool ball", and, simply, "base". In at least one version of the game, teams pitched to themselves, runners went around the bases in the opposite direction of today's game, much like in the Nordic brännboll, and players could be put out by being hit with the ball. Just as now, in some versions a batter was called out after three strikes.

History of cricket Historical summary of cricket

The sport of cricket has a known history beginning in the late 16th century. Having originated in south-east England, it became the country's national sport in the 18th century and has developed globally in the 19th and 20th centuries. International matches have been played since 1844 and Test cricket began, retrospectively recognised, in 1877. Cricket is the world's second most popular spectator sport after association football (soccer). Governance is by the International Cricket Council (ICC) which has over one hundred countries and territories in membership although only twelve currently play Test cricket.

Short form cricket is a collective term for several modified forms of the sport of cricket, with playing times significantly shorter than more traditional forms of the game.

In the sport of cricket, a leg bye is a run scored by the batting team if the batsman has not hit the ball with their bat, but the ball has hit the batsman's body or protective gear. It is covered by Law 23 of the Laws of Cricket.

Cricket is a multi-faceted sport with different formats, depending on the standard of play, the desired level of formality, and the time available. One of the main differences is between matches limited by time in which the teams have two innings apiece, and those limited by number of overs in which they have a single innings each. The former, known as first-class cricket if played at the senior level, has a scheduled duration of three to five days ; the latter, known as limited overs cricket because each team bowls a limit of typically 50 overs, has a planned duration of one day only. A separate form of limited overs is Twenty20, originally designed so that the whole game could be played in a single evening, in which each team has an innings limited to twenty overs.

Comparison of baseball and cricket

Cricket and Baseball are the best-known members of a family of related bat-and-ball games. Both have fields that are 400 feet (120 m) or more in diameter, offensive players who can hit a thrown ball out of the field and run between safe areas to score runs (points), and have a major game format lasting about 3 hours.

History of cricket to 1725 Origin and development of cricket (to 1725)

The earliest definite reference to cricket is dated Monday, 17 January 1597. It is a deposition in the records of a legal case at Guildford, Surrey, regarding the use of a parcel of land in about 1550 in which John Derrick, a coroner, testified that he had played cricket on the land when he was a boy. Derrick's testimony makes clear that the sport was being played by the middle of the 16th century, but its true origin is unknown. All that can be said with a fair degree of certainty is that its beginning was earlier than 1550, probably somewhere in south-east England within the counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Unlike other games with batsmen, bowlers and fielders, such as stoolball and rounders, cricket can only be played on relatively short grass, especially as the ball was delivered along the ground until the 1760s. Forest clearings and land where sheep had grazed would have been suitable places to play.

Michael Yardy English cricketer

Michael Howard Yardy is an English cricket coach and former professional cricketer who played limited over internationals for the England cricket team between 2006 and 2015. He played as a left-handed batsman and captained Sussex County Cricket Club. His unusual batting technique attracted a great deal of attention due to a pronounced shuffle from leg to off immediately prior to the bowler releasing the ball. Yardy also bowled slow left arm with a characteristic round armed action, and was used as a bowling all-rounder in England's One Day International and Twenty20 International teams. Yardy retired from professional cricket at the end of the 2015 season.

Luke Wright English cricketer

Luke James Wright is an English cricketer. He is a right-handed batsman and a right-arm medium bowler. Born in Bottesford near Grantham, Wright joined Sussex in 2004, having started his career at Leicestershire. He was named in England's squad for the Under-19 World Cup in 2004, and joined the International Twenty20 squad for the 2007 Twenty20 World Championship in September 2007. He made his One Day International debut on 5 September 2007 against India.

The 2006 English cricket season was the 107th in which the County Championship had been an official competition. It included home international series for England against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. England came off a winter with more Test losses than wins, for the first time since 2002-03, but still attained their best series result in India since 1985. The One Day International series against Pakistan and India both ended in losses.

The Napoleonic Wars had deprived cricket of investment and manpower, particularly after 1810 as the conflict in the Peninsular War reached its height and the invasion of France followed. A recovery began in 1815, the year of the Battle of Waterloo, and a more widespread return to normality can be observed from 1816, although it was not until 1825 that inter-county matches were resurrected when Kent played Sussex.


Vigoro is a team sport, played mainly by women in Australia, that originally combined elements of cricket and tennis, although in its current form it may be more similar to cricket and baseball.

Mitch Claydon Australian-born English cricketer

Mitchell Eric Claydon is an Australian-English first-class cricketer. Although he was born at Fairfield, New South Wales he holds a British passport. Claydon is a left-handed batsman and a right-arm medium-fast bowler. Claydon currently plays for Sussex County Cricket Club.

Cricket Team sport played with bats and balls

Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players on a field at the centre of which is a 22-yard (20-metre) pitch with a wicket at each end, each comprising two bails balanced on three stumps. The batting side scores runs by striking the ball bowled at the wicket with the bat, while the bowling and fielding side tries to prevent this and dismiss each batter. Means of dismissal include being bowled, when the ball hits the stumps and dislodges the bails, and by the fielding side either catching the ball after it is hit by the bat and before it hits the ground, or hitting a wicket with the ball before a batter can cross the crease in front of the wicket. When ten batters have been dismissed, the innings ends and the teams swap roles. The game is adjudicated by two umpires, aided by a third umpire and match referee in international matches.

Adam Rouse

Adam Paul Rouse is a Zimbabwean-born English former professional cricketer. Rouse played as a right-handed batsman who fielded as a wicket-keeper, although he was considered versatile enough to play solely as a specialist batsman. Rouse played for England at under-19 level and made his first-class debut in 2013 for Hampshire County Cricket Club. He played for Gloucestershire in 2014 before joining Kent County Cricket Club ahead of the 2016 season. He retired from professional cricket at the start of the 2020 season.

Sport in Sussex forms an important part of the culture of Sussex. With a centuries-long tradition of sport, Sussex has played a key role in the early development of both cricket and stoolball. Cricket is recognised as having been formed in the Weald and Sussex CCC is England's oldest county cricket club. Slindon Cricket Club dominated the sport for a while in the 18th century. The cricket ground at Arundel Castle traditionally plays host to a Duchess of Norfolk's XI which plays the national test sides touring England. The sport of stoolball is also associated with Sussex, which has a claim to be where the sport originated and certainly where its revival took place in the early 20th century. Sussex is represented in the Premier League by Brighton & Hove Albion and in the Football League by Crawley Town. Brighton has been in the Premier League since 2017 and has been a League member since 1920, whereas Crawley was promoted to the League in 2011. Brighton & Hove Albion W.F.C. play in the FA Women's Super League from 2017. Sussex has had its own football association, since 1882 and its own football league, which has since expanded into Surrey, since 1920. In horse racing, Sussex is home to Goodwood, Fontwell Park, Brighton and Plumpton. The All England Jumping Course show jumping facility at Hickstead is situated 8 miles (13 km) north of Brighton and Hove.

Cricket in Sussex

Cricket in Sussex refers to the sport of cricket in relation to its participation and history within Sussex, England. One of the most popular sports in Sussex, it is commonly believed that cricket was developed in Sussex and the neighbouring counties of Kent and Surrey. Records from 1611 indicate the first time that the sport was documented in Sussex; this is also the first reference to cricket being played by adults. The first reference to women's cricket is also from Sussex and dates from 1677; a match between two Sussex women's teams playing in London is documented from 1747. Formed in 1839, Sussex County Cricket Club is believed to be the oldest professional sports club in the world and is the oldest of the county cricket clubs. Sussex players, including Jem Broadbridge and William Lillywhite were instrumental in bringing about the change from underarm bowling to roundarm bowling, which later developed into overarm bowling. For some time roundarm bowling was referred to as 'Sussex bowling'.

2020 Bob Willis Trophy 2020 cricket tournament

The 2020 Bob Willis Trophy was a first-class cricket tournament held in the 2020 English cricket season. It was separate from the County Championship, which was not held in 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom. The eighteen county cricket teams were split into three regional groups of six, with the two group winners with the most points advancing to a final held at Lord's. The maximum number of overs bowled in a day was reduced from 96 to 90, and the team's first innings could be no longer than 120 overs.

In 2020 Kent County Cricket Club were scheduled to compete in Division One of the County Championship, the Royal London One-Day Cup and the 2020 t20 Blast. However, the season was heavily disrupted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, with no county cricket fixtures played until August. For the shortened season, the majority of counties voted on 7 July to play first-class and Twenty20 cricket, with the Royal London One-Day Cup being cancelled. Instead of the County Championship this year, the 18 first-class counties competed for the Bob Willis Trophy, which consisted of three regional groups of six teams and a final at Lord's.


  1. History And Antiquities Of Horsham, Doreathea E. Hurst, Farncombe & Co, Lewes, Sussex 2nd Ed (1889) page 257
  2. Coates 2010 , p. 79
  3. Gomme 1894 , p. 219
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Locke 2011 , p. 203
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 "History of Stoolball England". United Kingdom: Stoolball England. Archived from the original on 2012-05-03. Retrieved 2013-03-20. Stoolball England was formed as the National Stoolball Association on 3 October 1979. ... The aims laid down in the inaugural meeting of the National Stoolball Association in 1979 [included]: The promotion and expansion of stoolball; To seek to link together existing associations and to encourage the formation of others.
  6. "Medieval game gets sport status". BBC News . 31 March 2008. Retrieved March 28, 2009.
  7. Block, David (2006). Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN   978-0-8032-6255-3.
  8. Tony Collins; John Martin; Wray Vamplew, eds. (2005). The Encyclopedia of traditional British Rural Sports. Routledge Sports Reference. ISBN   978-0-415-35224-6.
  9. Bell, Richard. "A History of Women in Sport Prior to Title IX". The Sport Journal. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  10. 1 2 3 4 "The much-loved Sussex sport of stoolball". Sussex Express. 17 July 2015. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  11. 1 2 3 "Matterface Cup and Veterans Cup 2008". 28 July 2009. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  12. "The Glynde Butterflies 1866-1887" . Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  13. Collins 2005 , p. 251
  14. Locke 2011 , p. 203
  15. Nauright 2012 , p. 194
  16. 1 2 Collins 2005 , p. 252
  17. "Sussex County Stoolball Association League Championship, 2014 Season" . Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  18. Russell=Goggs, M.S. "Stoolball in Sussex, by M S Russell-Goggs" . Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  19. Gomme, Alice Bertha (1894). The traditional games of England, Scotland, and Ireland: with tunes, singing-rhymes, and methods of playing according to the variants extant and recorded in different parts of the Kingdom. David Nutt (publisher), London. Archived by on June 26, 2007 and viewable here
  20. "Stobball-play is peculiar to North Wilts, North Gloucestershire, and a little part of Somerset near Bath. They smite a ball, stuffed very hard with quills and covered with soale leather, with a staffe, commonly made of withy, about 3 [feet] and a halfe long... A stobball-ball is of about four inches diameter, and as hard as a stone."
  21. From a Berkeley manuscript of c.1641:"The large and levell the vale of this hundred..doe witnes the inbred delight, that both gentry, yeomanry, rascallity, boyes and children, doe take in a game called Stoball... And not a sonne of mine, but at 7. was furnished with his double stoball staves, and a gamster therafter." John Smyth, The Berkeley manuscripts: the lives of the Berkeleys, lords of the honour, castle and manor of Berkeley in the county of Gloucester from 1066 to 1618...: printed for subscribers by John Bellows, Gloucester, 1883–1885.
  22. It suggests instead an etymology of the latter word from "stob" + ball, where "stob" means a stump or stub of wood, and refers to the club used to play the game."† stow-ball, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. 21 September 2012 <>.