The Devon team at the 1900 Olympics
When Devon's cricketers won Olympic gold
By Laura Joint
Cricket has only been an Olympic sport once - in 1900 - and the event was won by a Devon team.
With the London 2012 Olympics just around the corner, there are moves afoot to have cricket included as one of the sports.
If that happens, GB would be effectively defending the Olympic title they have held since 1900 - the last and only occasion that cricket was an Olympic sport.
The team which won gold for Britain was Devon County Wanderers, made up of part-time cricketers from Devon and Somerset.
They were on a tour of France at the time and were asked to compete for GB before they set off. They were generally known as Devon and Somerset Wanderers, but on this occasion they competed as Devon County Wanderers.
There was only one game - against a France side comprising largely of English ex-pats living in Paris. They played under the name of All-Paris.
The amazing story has been researched by writer Keith Gregson, who has published a booklet on it, entitled A Great Day For England.
Keith is still researching the game ahead of the 2012 Olympics, which could see a re-enactment of the 1900 encounter. There are also hopes that cricket - possibly the 20/20 format - might be an Olympic Sport in 2012.
The team was awarded models of the Eiffel Tower
"I'm really interested in finding out more," said Keith from Sunderland. "A lot of people have never heard of this story and I reckon it would make a great film.
"At first, four teams were due to compete - Britain, France, Belgium and the Dutch. But then Belgium and the Dutch pulled out in a huff.
"So it was just us and France. It was by chance that Devon and Somerset Wanderers were on tour in France at the time, so they represented Britain and won."
The historic match was held at the Velodrome Municipal de Vincennes in Paris on 19-20 August 1900, and, unusually, there were 12 players on each side.
The Devon players included John Symes (from Crediton), captain Arthur Birkett (Exeter), William Cuming (Bradninch), Montagu Toller (Barnstaple), Charles Beachcroft (Starcross and Exeter) and Arthur Powlesland, who was born in Broadwoodkelly.
They helped the GB team score 117 in their first innings, and then bowl France out for 78.
Britain then made 145-5 in their second innings before bowling France out for just 26 to claim an emphatic win. Montagu Toller took seven wickets in that second innings rout.
To add to the tension, Britain won with just five minutes left to play.
"Imagine playing a game which nobody was watching apart from some gendarmes, because no-one in France understood the game," said Keith.
"After they won, the GB team suddenly realised they'd really achieved something. They went out and celebrated in style, and the gendarmes joined in.
Devon's William Cuming looked like Andrew Flintoff
"Their transport was a coach and horses, and the driver had obviously celebrated a bit too robustly because the carriage went off the road."
Some of the team were old boys of Blundell's School in Tiverton, and one of them later wrote up an account of the match.
But what became of these Olympic heroes? "Only two of them went on to play cricket at any sort of level," said Keith. "It would be lovely to find out more about the team.
"One of Devon's players was William Cuming and he was a big lad with a shock of blond hair - he looked just like Freddie (Andrew) Flintoff."
Archivists at Devon County Council are also keen to find out more about the cricketers - and the whereabouts of their prizes.
It's believed the players received gold medals at a later date, but nobody knows where they are. It's also thought they each received models of the Eiffel Tower as a reward for winning the competition.
Councillor Sheila Hobden, the council's executive member for culture, said: "The big mystery is – were the Devon County Wanderers presented with gold medals?
"And if so, what has happened to them? Perhaps one is lying un-noticed in a Devon attic or maybe someone has old photographs or family records to give us some clues."
If you can help, you can ring the council's archivists on 01392 384216.
For more about Keith Gregson's book, visit the website which is linked from this page.
Who's who in the top photo: Back Row: M Toller, F Burchell, F Christian, A Powlesland.
last updated: 22/08/2008 at 12:21