Edward Chandos Leigh was born in 1832 – at Stoneleigh Abbey, Lord Chandos Leigh’s second son. Edward was to become Stoneleigh Cricket Club’s most famous cricketer and administrator.
Edward’s cricket career started at Stoneleigh CC in 1839. Cricket was to become one of Edward’s passions for the next 76 years of his life, as documented in his autobiography ‘Bar, Bat and Bit’ published in 1913.
Edward followed his father and brother to Harrow School in 1847. He records in his autobiography how Bob Grimston, Frederick Ponsonby and the school cricket captain Henry Vernon came to his room. “There, Vernon, is the young cricketer”. For Edward this began his life-long love of cricket and his long association with the MCC and the I Zingari.
On this return home to Stoneleigh Abbey in 1848 a local cricketing revolution had started with the creation by John Wisden and George Parr of the famous Wisden & Parr ground at Royal Leamington Spa.
In 1848 at the age of 15 Edward was to play for the Leamington & District against arguably the best team in England, William Clarke’s All England Eleven.
In 1849 he played for the Gentleman of Warwickshire v the infamous I Zingari at Wisden & Parr. Most of the Gentleman of Warwickshire’s players went on to play for Stoneleigh Cricket Club v Rugby School.
Edward was to play for the Harrow XI in 1849 and was captain in 1850 and 1851. In Wisden, Edward was described as a popular and enthusiastic player, although his style of batting was described as “steady and awkward; but a fine hitter forward and leg”. He was regarded as an excellent fielder at long-stop, fielding left handed even though he batted right handed.
Between 1852-1854 he played for Oxford University and played Cambridge in 1852, 1853 and 1854. Oxford won all three matches by an innings although Eddy (as he was known) made only eight runs in total during these matches. Edward complained the Lords ground was as bad as the Harrow pitch before it was properly drained and mowed. He was Captain of Oxford in 1854.
In 1853 he was invited to play for the I Zingari and was to be an active playing member and secretary of this famous club for the next 20 years as they wandered and played at the country houses of England, the Canterbury Festival and Ireland. Edward captained the IZ’s on their visit to Paris in 1867 as part of the Paris Exhibition.
Between 1853 – 1872 Edward’s summer months were spent playing cricket for I Zingari. This is beautifully recorded in scrapbooks produced by John Lorraine Baldwin and Robert Allan Fitzgerald – Fitz – which are held at the MCC museum.
Fitz was a enthusiastic early photographer and pictures of Edward taken by Fitz depict a handsome man who invariably wore a grey bowler hat, with the IZ gold, black and red coloured ribbon around it, tilted over his nose. The famous picture of the IZ’s at Althorp with Lord Spencer in 1868 captures this pose perfectly.
Edward describes a match played in 1862 on Ladies Day at the Canterbury Festival when Harvey Fellows, one of the fastest bowlers of his era, endeavoured to bowl faster to show off before the ladies. Unfortunately for poor Edward he had a bad time at long-stop and broke a finger on his left hand. This is recorded in photographs taken in Dublin after the festival.
As the “Old Stagers”, members of the I Zingari performed amateur dramatics in Canterbury. On their tours around the country they performed on stage in the evening between the two day cricket matches. This included dramatics, song, verse and balls. At Croxteth Hall Edward and Fitz were to meet their future wives, the Rigby sisters.
In 1871, Edward married Katherine Rigby and in 1872 he brought his beloved I Zingari back to Stoneleigh Abbey to play the Gentleman of Warwickshire in celebration of Gilbert Henry Leigh’s 21st birthday. It was fittingly one of Edward’s last cricket matches.
In 1887 Edward was honoured as President of the MCC in recognition of his work on the MCC committee over a number of years. 1887 was the MCC’s 100th Anniversary and Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year.