In 2007, a previously unknown William Bray diary, covering 1754-1755, was found in a garden shed. It is a fascinating document for many reasons. It was written by Bray when he was just 18 or 19, articled a solicitor in Guildford, travelling all over Surrey and also popping up to London to see David Garrick in the latest plays.
On Easter Monday 1755 he recorded playing Base Ball, somewhere near Guildford, with a group of friends. This is particularly interesting because it is the earliest known manuscript reference to baseball:
“Went to Stoke Ch. This morn. After Dinner Went to Miss Jeales to play at Base Ball with her, the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr Chandler, Mr Ford & H Parsons & Jelly. Drank Tea & stayed till 8 “
Over 200 newspapers, radio and TV organisations around the world reported the story in September 2007.
Subsequent research suggests that the match may have taken place at the Royal Grammar School in Guildford. Miss Jeale is most likely to be the daughter of Cornelius Jeale, the master at the school around the date of the match. Cornelius Jeale is referred to in a later Bray diary in his role as rector of Wisley, so Bray was acquainted with him. The Royal Grammar School as the location is interesting as it was Royal Grammar School boys playing cricket which supplied the earliest reference to this game; click here to read more about this early cricket reference.
William Bray wrote the History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, published in three large volumes between 1804 and 1814. This is still an important reference book for the history of many Surrey families.