The Oval is an international cricket ground in Kennington, South London. Home of Surrey County Cricket Club and a historical venue for many other sports.
In 1844, Kennington Oval was a market garden. The Oval was then (and still is) owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. In 1845, the Surry County Cricket Club signed a lease ‘to convert it into a subscription cricket ground’, for 31 years at a rent of £120 per annum plus taxes. Additional costs included 10,000 grass turfs from Tooting Common purchased for £300 to create its first ever playing surface.
By 1868 the game and the ground had grown and 20,000 spectators gathered at the Oval for the first game of the Aboriginal cricket tour of England, the first tour of England by any foreign side. Thanks to C. W. Alcock, the Secretary of Surrey from 1872 to 1907, the first ever Test match in England was played at the Oval in 1880 between England and Australia. The Oval thereby became the second ground to stage a Test, after the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Australia.
In 1882, Australia won the ‘Ashes Test’, at the Oval, by seven runs within two days. The Sporting Times printed a mock obituary notice for English cricket, leading to the creation of the Ashes trophy. The obituary stated that English cricket had died, and ‘the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia’. The English media dubbed the next English tour to Australia (1882–83) as the quest to regain the Ashes.
In addition to cricket, it has hosted many other important sporting occasions and can lay claim to be the most historically important general sports ground in the world. In 1870 it staged the first ever England football international, against Scotland. In 1876 it held England v Wales and England v Scotland rugby internationals, and in 1877 rugby’s first Varsity match.
It staged the first FA Cup final in 1872 when the Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers 1–0. This final was notable for the Engineers’ modern footballing style of teamwork rather than individual play. The ground hosted all subsequent FA Cup finals (1873 excluded) up until 1892.
Other events to be held at the Oval include Hockey, Australian Rules and a was even used as a training ground for a visiting American Football team.
The famous gas holders just outside the Oval’s wall are actually newer than the ground by several years, having been built around 1853. Now disused, there has been much speculation of late as to whether they should be demolished; however, many believe they are an integral part of the Oval’s landscape and therefore their future looks secure.
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