History and role
The origin of MCC was as a gentlemen's club that had flourished through most of the 18th century, including, at least in part, an existence as the original London Cricket Club, which had played at the Artillery Ground through the middle years of the century. Many of its members became involved with the Hambledon Club through the 1770s and then, in the early 1780s, had returned to the London area where the White Conduit Club had begun in Islington. It is not known for certain when the White Conduit was founded but it seems to have been after 1780 and certainly by 1785. According to Pelham Warner, it was formed in 1782 as an offshoot from a West End convivial club called the Je-ne-sais-quoi, some of whose members frequented the White Conduit House in Islington and played matches on the neighbouring White Conduit Fields, which had been a prominent venue for cricket in the 1720s. Arthur Haygarth said in Scores and Biographies that "the Marylebone Club was founded in 1787 from the White Conduit's members" but the date of the formation of the White Conduit "could not be found".
This gentlemen's club, which was multi-purpose, had a social meeting place at the Star and Garter on Pall Mall. It was the same club that was responsible for drafting the Laws of Cricket at various times, most notably in 1744 and 1774, and this lawgiving responsibility was soon to be vested in the MCC as the final repose of these cricketing gentlemen. When the White Conduit began, its leading lights were George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea (1752–1826) and the Hon. Colonel Charles Lennox (1764–1819), who later became the 4th Duke of Richmond. White Conduit was nominally an exclusive club that only "gentlemen" might play for, but the club did employ professionals and one of these was the bowler Thomas Lord, a man who was recognised for his business acumen (he became a successful wine and provisions merchant) as well as his bowling ability.
The new club might have continued except that White Conduit Fields was an open area allowing members of the public, including the rowdier elements, to watch the matches and to voice their opinions on the play and the players. The White Conduit gentlemen were not amused by such interruptions and decided to look for a more private venue of their own. Winchilsea and Lennox asked Lord to find a new ground and offered him a guarantee against any losses he may suffer in the venture. Lord took a lease from the Portman Estate on some land at Dorset Fields where Dorset Square is now sited; and the ground was prepared and opened in 1787. It was initially called the New Cricket Ground, perhaps because it was off what was then called "the New Road" in Marylebone, when the first known match was played there on 21 May but, by the end of July, it was known as Lord's. As it was in Marylebone, the White Conduit members who relocated to it soon decided to call themselves the "Mary-le-bone Club". The exact date of MCC's foundation is lost but seems to have been sometime in the late spring or the summer of 1787. On 10 & 11 July 1837, a South v North match was staged at Lord's to commemorate the MCC's Golden Jubilee. Warner described it as "a Grand Match to celebrate the Jubilee of the Club" and reproduced the full scorecard.
On Wednesday, 25 April 1787, the London Morning Herald newspaper carried a notice: "The Members of the Cricket Club are desired to meet at the Star and Garter, Pall Mall, on Mon., April 30. Dinner on table exactly at half past five o'clock. N.B. The favour of an answer is desired". The agenda is unknown but, only three weeks later on Saturday, 19 May, the Morning Herald advertised: "A grand match will be played on Monday, 21 May in the New Cricket Ground, the New Road, Mary-le-bone, between eleven Noblemen of the White Conduit Club and eleven Gentlemen of the County of Middlesex with two men given, for 500 guineas a side. The wickets to be pitched at ten o'clock, and the match to be played out". No post-match report has been found but, as G. B. Buckley said, it was "apparently the first match to be played on Lord's new ground".
A total of eight matches are known to have been played at Lord's in 1787, one of them a single wicket event. The only one which featured the Mary-le-bone Club took place on Monday, 30 July. It was advertised in The World on Friday, 27 July 1787: "On Monday, 30 July will be played (at Lord's) a match between 11 gentlemen of the Mary-le-bone Club and 11 gentlemen of the Islington Club". Buckley stated that "this is the earliest notice of the Marylebone Club". As with the inaugural match at Lord's, no post-match report of the inaugural MCC match has been found.