Exhibit of the Week: Divided cricket skirt, Scarborough Collections

Divided cricket skirt from the Scarborough Collections which was worn in a women's Test match played at Scarborough in 1951.
Divided cricket skirt from the Scarborough Collections which was worn in a women's Test match played at Scarborough in 1951.

This summer cricket fans are enjoying a feast of domestic and international cricket. At the moment we are in the throes of the Women’s World Cup with England and Australia facing each other at Bristol tomorrow, Friday. Back in 1951 the two national sides met in Scarborough in a Test match.

Women’s involvement in the game of cricket arguably goes back to its start. The game as we would know it emerged in the 1700s. The first recorded women’s cricket match took place in 1745 “between eleven maids of Bramley and eleven maids of Hambledon, all dressed in white.” Two years later two women’s teams were invited to play at the Artillery Ground, an honour equivalent to playing at Lords today. Indeed the game aroused such passion that fighting broke out in the crowd.

In the 1700s women’s teams frequently featured in matches described as ‘Married v Single’ or ‘Married v Maiden’. Sadly, in the following century women’s cricket saw a marked decline. The increasingly strict moral attitudes of the Victorians discouraged women’s participation in sport in general, as it went against all the ideals of fragile femininity.

Women’s cricket, however, re-emerged in the 1880s and 1890s. As women took their first steps into the professions, they took up physical sports once more; playing tennis and riding bicycles as well as playing cricket. The first known women’s cricket club was the White Heather Club, formed in 1887 in Yorkshire. In 1890 two professional teams were formed. Known as the Original English Lady Cricketers, they toured England playing a series of exhibition matches and reportedly making substantial profits before their male managers absconded with the money.

The first women’s cricket international was the women’s test match between England and Australia in December 1934. Women’s cricket was now taken seriously and the series was a great success. Before the tour the Women’s Cricket Association decided that the team should have an official uniform and a special committee was formed to select a suitable playing outfit. Eventually they settled on white blouses, white divided skirts (culottes), and white knee-length socks. It was specified that the skirts should be no shorter than four inches from the ground when kneeling. Women cricketers in their desire to be taken seriously knew that image was important. All too often the newspapers printed pictures of women playing cricket in bathing suits or other equally unsuitable outfits. On the other hand, they wanted to be distinct from the men and maintain their femininity. The divided skirt, such as the one worn in 1951, may not have been the most practical piece of clothing for playing cricket in, but it remained part of the official kit until 1997 when it was finally replaced by trousers.

As the first Test match was played in Scarborough in June 1951, women’s cricket was entering a golden age. The game (and the series) ended in a draw, but the summer saw some terrific cricket. Highlights of the match at Scarborough included Cecilia Robinson’s 105 and Myrtle Maclagan’s five wickets for 43 runs for England. One of the stars for Australia was Betty Wilson who scored 81. Betty was without question one of the greatest women cricketers of all time. She had postponed her wedding for the third time so she could tour England in 1951 (she never did marry). In the 1957/58 series against England she became the first cricketer, male or female to take ten wickets and score a century in a Test match.

The skirt and programme are part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.