The headquarters of Nottingham cricket during the 1830s was the Bell Inn in the Old Market Square. The landlord was William Clarke, who in about 1830 assumed the captaincy of the Nottingham Old Club. As captain and someone who was on the watch for any opportunity to make money out of cricket, he must have compared the way cricket was conducted on the Forest in Nottingham with what occurred at Lord’s. In Nottingham 20,000 spectators could watch the match free of any charge, the cricketers having to make what money they could through betting. At Lord’s the public paid an admission charge, a much more satisfactory and certain way of earning a penny.
The death of Jane Clarke in 1836 left William Clarke a widower with five children under the age of 14. In December 1837, Clarke married Mary Chapman (nee Singlehurst) a widow ten years his senior. She was the landlady of the Trent Bridge Inn. She had some cricketing connections in that her first husband, Samuel Chapman, had played in local matches in the 1820s and the son of that marriage, John Chapman, now aged 23, was a more than useful player. Clarke moved from the Bell Inn to the hostelry run by his new wife.
In May 1838, the Forest Club played South Nottinghamshire on Clarke’s new ground at Trent Bridge’. Later in the season he played for Holme Lane, a hamlet a mile or two from Trent Bridge against Bingham and scored 128 out of 248, the first recorded 100 at Trent Bridge. The newspaper report noted: ‘It is but justice to Mr Clarke to say that he has displayed great judgment in laying out the Trent Bridge Ground and the admirable condition in which it is kept renders it a delightful place for this healthiest and most manly of British sports.’
It is thus regarded that 1838 was the year in which the Trent Bridge Ground was founded, but it must be borne in mind that as early as 1783 Nottingham played a match ‘near Trent Bridge’ and in 1822 West Bridgford played Samuel Chapman’s XI in a ‘field near Trent Bridge’. In the 1830s matches were played in a close of Mrs Chapman’s at Trent Bridge. The exact year in which cricket was first played in the field at the back of the Trent Bridge Inn is open to debate, but it was in 1838 that the field was enclosed as a cricket ground, thus changing from a piece of land on which cricket matches sometimes took place to a site specifically designated as a cricket enclosure.
The foundation of the new cricket ground was not in fact the financial success which Clarke presumably expected. Unlike Lord’s, the number of important, paying, matches which could be staged at Trent Bridge in any single season was very limited. It was easy enough to persuade the Nottingham players to quit the Forest in favour of Trent Bridge, because the gate money enabled Clarke to pay the players, but the public took more persuading, having been used to watching cricket for free. In the eight summers during which Clarke ran the ground only ten major matches took place at Trent Bridge. The Nottingham Amateur Tradesmen’s Club was formed about 1840 and used the ground for its home matches, which provided some income for Clarke, but the spectators for the few Nottingham (or Nottinghamshire) matches were counted in hundreds rather than thousands who had previously gathered on the Forest.
In 1846, Clarke went to London as a professional bowler on the Lord’s staff. The object behind this move was to get to know better the leading cricketers of the day and thus to set up his All England Eleven. The rest is history.
Nottingham’s only match of 1838 was against the Next 22 in September and took place at Trent Bridge. Clarke played for the 22, who won by 194 runs.