Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Sevenoaks suffragette who helped set up the Women’s Cricket Association invited Australian team to practice in her garden

WOMEN’S cricket is now well and truly established in England and in recent years many schools around Sevenoaks have added it to the girls’ sports curriculum. The Women’s England team are the current world champions, although they are licking their wounds after being beaten in a test series against the Australians recently.

Frances Heron-Maxwell who was one of the driving forces behind getting women’s cricket in England off the ground.

But did you know that an International Australian Women’s Cricket Team came to the Sevenoaks area to practice back in the 1930s? They were invited to stay at Great Comp Garden in Platt which was the home of Frances Heron-Maxwell, one of the most influential people in the history of women’s cricket.

Frances, or ‘Max’ as she was better known, moved into the property with her husband Patrick in 1903, aged 39, and used it as her base to set about revolutionising women’s hockey and cricket in the country.

She was an energetic cricket player and even laid out her very own ‘Oval’ cricket pitch in the Great Comp garden.

Max, who was a suffragette, became a well-known figure in Kent in her distinctive outfit of tweed trousers and a trilby hat. She was a member of the Radical Dress League, helped form the Women’s Institute in Kent, and was responsible for setting up the Women’s Land Army in Kent.

As well as cricket, Max was a keen hockey player and earned a reputation as an ‘ace’ goalie. She founded The Pilgrims, a well-known hockey team that toured Britain (with her playing in goal) and she was also president of the Women’s All-England Hockey Association in 1913 before turning her attention to women’s cricket.

Taking the model used for the Women’s Hockey Association, Max was influential in setting up the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA) which targeted girls’ schools and universities to encourage take-up in the sport.

England sent a team to play Australia in 1935. This is a scene from their second women’s Test match in Sydney.

While Max was chair of the WCA, the government passed legislation that enabled women’s sports teams to apply for grants and land. There was a real upswing in interest in the 1930s and the WCA sent a team to tour Australia in 1934-1935. England won the series after winning both the first two Tests and drawing the third.

In 1937 the Australian Women’s Cricket team were invited to England and received a warm welcome at Great Comp where they practised and some of the players were billeted. 

Max and the WCA arranged for coaches to transport the Australian team around England so they could enjoy the beauty of the countryside. The team also met with Prime Minister Sir Stanley Baldwin in Downing Street. 

The Australian team must have enjoyed practising at Great Comp because they won the first match but eventually drew the series after a defeat and a draw in the next two games.

Great Comp Garden where Frances Heron-Maxwell laid out her own cricket pitch.

Many of the English women’s team members were either suffragettes or children of the suffragette movement. They were pioneering women who did their best to advance the cause of the women’s game, even in the face of resistance from the men involved in the sport at the time. 

Max passed away on the 5 July 1955 in Berne, aged 91 years, but her memory lives on at Great Comp Garden. With the recent Heritage Lottery Fund grant awarded to the Trust which looks after the 7-acre garden, a team is now delving into the history of the site and are keen to undercover more about the beginning of the International game.

Vikki Rimmer, publicist at Great Comp, said: “We are looking to collect together an archive of information on ‘Max’ and her time at Great Comp. The story of the visit of the Australian Women’s Cricket Team is of great interest to many, and we’d love to hear from anyone who knew Mrs Maxwell. Or if anyone has stories that were passed down from this time, we’d love to know more. We hope to put together an exhibition of her life, sometime in the near future.” 

* Great Comp is described as a ‘Paradise for garden lovers’. The grounds, set out around a 17th century manor house, are open daily 11am – 5pm until 31 October. Great Comp also hosts musical events and open-air theatre performances. For more information go to: greatcompgarden.co.uk/

Girls from two local schools playing Kwik Cricket at Hollybush Lane recreation ground in Sevenoaks. Kwik cricket is a faster paced version of cricket which encourages children to take up the game.

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