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All Blacks and Kent Cricket Team enjoy sport on Goodwin Sands near Deal

by Gregory Holyoake

The Goodwin Sands, which have claimed the lives of countless ships and sailors, lie concealed beneath the waves, four miles east of Deal.

A summer picnic around 1920 on the Goodwin Sands
A summer picnic around 1920 on the Goodwin Sands

At certain times in summer months, however, these menacing sandbanks are uncovered and provide an unique adventure playground for intrepid sportsmen in the English Channel.

Carefree folk have ventured to the Sands on balmy days to enjoy breezy picnics and partake of a variety of sports including football, tennis, croquet and boules on the hardened rippled surface.

The most frequent game played there, however, is cricket.

The first recorded match took place on August 12, 1813, when Thomas Elgar with four friends from Ramsgate challenged George Witherden and his team from Thanet. The latter won by a single run: 22 to 21. Winners and losers drank the health of King George III, `three times three`.

The umpire in top hat signals `Out` in this engraving of a cricket match from 1854
The umpire in top hat signals `Out` in this engraving of a cricket match from 1854

A second team of cricketers set sail from Ramsgate in the summer of 1824 under the direction of the harbour master, Captain Kennet Martin. Risking high tide and quicksand, these intrepid sportsmen enjoyed a serious game in which all rules were strictly observed. One player achieved sixty-seven runs! Play over, corks were drawn and the toast was to King George IV.

A third match played in 1839 almost ended in disaster for the daring Deal youths who ventured forth in an open boat to the Goodwins. Their game was hugely enjoyed and refreshments followed from a well stocked hamper.

Storm clouds darkened the summer sky and the wind strengthened with alarming speed but no one appeared to care. Unwisely, the youths ignored the warnings of the experienced boatman to make for the shore. Luckily, friends on the mainland raised the alarm and the terrified pranksters were rescued by a hovelling lugger.

Two elevens from Margate competed on this hazardous pitch in August 1844. The site chosen for this fourth match was adjacent to Captain Bullock`s Refuge Beacon.

On August, 10, 1854, a fifth match was arranged by two Walmer gentlemen, named Thompson and Hammond. Twenty-four players were recruited, including Captain Pearson and the crew of the `Spartan`, a splendid local lugger.

The first cricket match played in the 20th century was in 1959
The first cricket match played in the 20th century was in 1959

Teams landed on the Sands around 5pm and suitable territory was located for their match to begin in earnest. Play lasted until sunset, the winning team scored 57 runs and the party returned to the mainland by moonlight.

Three foolhardy cyclists from London rode round the Goodwins on August 31, 1887. They presented a remarkable sight as they alighted from their boat, bicycles on backs, wading knee deep in seawater.

Keeping close to the perimeter they jauntily cycled round wrecks but dismounted whenever their wheels sank in soft sand. One cyclist managed a mile in three and a half minutes flat.

Veteran boatman, Joe Mercer, a stalwart member of the Walmer lifeboat crew, ferried out an elegant female cyclist in his galley punt on August 7, 1906. Elegantly attired in blouse, tie, cycling skirt and straw hat, this daring lady retained her poise as she cycled along the hard, undulating surface.

A game of bowls was attempted on the Goodwins on July13, 1913. A faded foxed photograph records the event when cloth capped, pipe smoking men attempted this gentle sport close to the remains of a partially submerged wreck.

A game of croquet on the sandbank
A game of croquet on the sandbank

The `All Blacks` touring team played an exciting game of rugby on Boxing Day, 1921. The team had been taking a midwinter break when they decided suddenly to venture out to the Goodwin


They were ferried out by a trio of motor boats from Deal: Golden Spray, Skipjack and Moss Rose.

"It was a brilliantly sunny day," recalled one elderly inhabitant. "The teams returned to New Zealand with tales of the day they threw a ball about in the English Channel."

Four golfers, members of the Royal Cinque Ports Club at Deal, headed by the amateur champion, W. I. Hunter, played a round on the shoals on July 19 the following year. Cricket was revived on the Sands in June 1959. Alderman Eddie Butcher, Mayor of Ramsgate, captained a team in opposition to his Chaplain, Rev. J.C.F. White.

This event was to celebrate the bicentenary of the construction of Ramsgate`s Royal Harbour and the 75th Anniversary of the Incorporation of the Borough. Play lasted just half an hour, watched by inquisitive seals. The Mayor`s team won by four runs.

Princess Margaret ventures to the Goodwin Sands
Princess Margaret ventures to the Goodwin Sands

Yet another game was played on July 3, 1975. Crews of the Royal Navy Survey Ships, `Echo`,

`Enterprise` and `Egeria`, having spent months charting the locality, played cricket with a soft ball on the sandbank.

Dressed in mock period costume - top hats, flapping shirts and knee length trousers - the crews enjoyed a vigorous match lasting a full hour.

The self styled `W.G. Grace`s XI` scored 68 runs in twelve overs but then their opponents, `Sir Len Hutton`s XI`, knocked up 76 runs in nine overs. Returning to the safety of their ships, the sportsmen left their stumps to sink beneath the Channel waters.

Two summers later (July 5, 1977) a crew of Royal Marines from Walmer also endeavoured to play cricket on the Sands. Her Majesty`s rowing boat, `Hannah Snell`, conveyed a contingent of Royal

Marines Commandos prepared for an amphibious assault on the Goodwins.

Youngsters paddling mid channel
Youngsters paddling mid channel

The Captain traced out a pitch with his boot before play commenced, supervised by an umpire garbed in `foulies` and waders. At the tea interval a loyal toast was drunk to Queen Elizabeth II.

Kent cricketers made a surprising expedition to the Goodwins on Monday, July 1, 1985. A fleet of fishing boats transported spectators to the Sands in idyllic weather conditions.

Kent XI challenged a Select XI composed of members of various clubs from Thanet. The event had been organised to raise funds for a grandstand at the St. Lawrence Ground, Canterbury.

Captain of the Kent team, Chris Cowdrey, opened the batting, equipped with snorkel and flippers but Derek Underwood, normally a deadly bowler, struggled with his delivery.

Stumps were drawn around 7 pm with an unexpected win for the Select team by three wickets.

Afterwards, the parties returned to the mainland for a champagne reception at Deal castle.

The world`s largest hovercrafts - `Princess Margaret` and `Princess Anne` - regularly transported pleasure seekers to the northerly extremity of the Sands. Bizarre activities took place, including strawberry teas, wine tasting, tap dancing, kite flying, handbell ringing, aerobic displays, tug of war contests and fancy dress competitions.

In summer 2006, cricket played on the Goodwins brought risk to the players. BBC`s `Coast` recorded a match while its presenter explained features of the east Kent coastline. Just as the tide began to turn, players and film crew were advised to leave promptly. As they loaded their inflatable dinghy with camera and sound equipment, they found it had stuck fast in the mud.

Rescue services were alerted as the entire group was stranded mid Channel. They waited anxiously for the Ramsgate lifeboat to bring them home safely. The cricketers were praised for their `stoicism` but, in reality, they had not realised the danger of ignoring the skipper`s warning to `make for the shore.`

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