The Forgotten Captaincy of J. H. Cameron

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The West Indies team in June 1939: Back row: W. Ferguson (scorer), G. E. Gomez, J. B. Stollmeyer, L. G. Hylton, T. F. Johnson, C. B. Clarke, H. P. Bayley, E. A. V. Williams. Middle row: G.A. Headley, I. M. Barrow, R. S. Grant (captain), J. M. Kidney (manager), J. H. Cameron, L. N. Constantine, E. A. Martindale. In front: K. H. Weekes, J. E. D. Sealy, V. H. Stollmeyer.

John Hemsley Cameron first made a name for himself when he took all ten wickets in a schoolboy cricket match at Lord’s in 1932. He cemented his reputation when he was the match-winner for Cambridge University in their annual match again Oxford University in 1935. But Cameron came from a much different background to most public school and university cricketers in England during the inter-war years. The son of a doctor who played for the 1906 West Indies team, he was born in Jamaica. When awarded his blue, he became one of the few non-white and probably the only black player (although to be accurate, he was almost certainly mixed race) to represent Oxford or Cambridge before the Second World War. Cameron also played for Somerset, making him the only black player to appear in the County Championship between the wars. While he certainly faced racism in England, matters became more complicated once he returned to Jamaica.

Cameron graduated from Cambridge in 1937 and having left the university, he lived in London for a time. In early 1938, he married Kathleen Cecilia Jones in Paddington. Having been living at 24 Porchester Place, Connaught Square in London, he departed for Jamaica on 3 April 1938, having accepted a job teaching at Cornwall College, a boys’ school in Montego Bay. David Foot suggested in 2000 that disillusionment with his lost bowling skill prompted his return home: “Dispirited by his markedly declining [bowling] tricks, he became a schoolteacher and returned to Jamaica.” But it is hard to imagine that someone of Cameron’s wealthy background would have remained in England simply to play cricket. Additionally, Somerset were already resigned to his departure after the 1937 cricket season and it is most likely that Cameron simply wished to get on with his life and career.

Within a few weeks of his arrival in Jamaica, Cameron was playing cricket; but his involvement in the game was hampered somewhat by his job, which meant that he lived some distance from the main cricket centres. During late 1938, two of his former teams toured Jamaica: a party from Taunton School and a combined “Oxford and Cambridge Universities” side. Cameron appeared against the latter team, alongside his brother, for Kensington Park, but after that he switched to play for the universities team against Kingston Cricket Club and then in two first-class matches against the Jamaica team. These were his first such games in Jamaica, and his only ones before the war. In the first he scored 62 and 44 not out and had match figures of five for 120.

But Cameron was soon catapulted back into the cricketing limelight. The West Indies were scheduled to tour England during the 1939 season, the team’s first visit since 1933. Selection for the tour involved as much politics as sport; Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and British Guiana each expected the team to comprise a certain proportion of their players (although only one player from Guiana was selected, the other three colonies had five players each). But the most political decision — not that the selectors permitted any debate — was that of the captaincy.

In the early days of West Indies cricket, at a time when racism and prejudice were rife among the game’s administrators, captains were exclusively white. Not only was this the case for the Test team, but also for Jamaica, Barbados, British Guiana and Trinidad; the only exception to before 1939 was when “Snuffy” Browne captained Guiana in one match in 1922 before an objection to a non-white captain was unofficially raised by their opponents. For the West Indies, the first Test captain was Karl Nunes in 1928. After an untidy 1930 Test series against England when the team was captained by four different men, the next long-term appointee was Jackie Grant who led in three Test series — against Australia (1930–31) and England (1933 and 1934–35). The only time a black captain ran the team was when Grant briefly left the pitch against England in 1935 during the fourth Test; he asked Learie Constantine to lead in his absence, during which time the West Indies won the match and series. For the 1939 tour of England, Rolph Grant, the younger brother of Jackie, was appointed as captain.

A portrait of Cameron from 1932 (Image: Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 13 August 1932)

As usual, there was a great deal of speculation over the composition of the team. Although Cameron had never played for Jamaica, because of his vast experience of English cricket, he was always a likely candidate for the tour. He was asked to play in the trial games organised to assist the selectors, but he was unavailable as he could not get time away from work. This did not count against him, and he was picked for the team, although there were question marks over his availability. His selection was received with some surprise. There was even more at a report in the Barbados Advocate that Cameron had been appointed as the vice-captain. This was followed up by the Jamaica Gleaner; one writer wondered if the West Indies were following the practice of England in that both Grant and Cameron were former university blues. However, there was no official announcement that Cameron would be vice-captain, and while there is no doubt that he fulfilled the role on tour, it is unclear when the position was decided. Given the context of the times, this is quite an important point.

Part of the problem was that there was no clear candidate whom the West Indies Cricket Board would have viewed as acceptable. Both from a viewpoint of tactical know-how and playing skill, the obvious appointments to any leadership role would have been Learie Constantine and George Headley. In fact, either would have made a far better captain than Rolph Grant, but there was no way they would have been appointed given that both were black. It is also doubtful that the West Indies Board would have considered them suitable for the role of vice-captain, although Headley had led Jamaica in two matches played in preparation for the tour. But the dilemma for selectors who wished to maintain the status quo was that none of the white players had played any previous Test cricket, nor toured England before. The most likely vice-captain would have been Cyril Merry, who had toured England with moderate success in 1933 and had captained Trinidad. But Merry was omitted; he travelled to England anyway and played club cricket. Another potential candidate might have been the wicket-keeper Ivan Barrow, who had played ten Tests (making him the team’s most experienced player after Constantine and Headley), had toured England in 1933 and had scored a Test century. But Barrow was Jewish, which almost certainly ruled him out.

Given this background, Cameron was perhaps the best candidate as he had more experience of English conditions than any other players apart from Headley and Constantine. Not only that, he was a Cambridge blue and a member of the MCC. But even so, would the selectors have appointed a black player to the role? There had been previous occasions when they chose a white player with no cricketing credentials but a good social background to perform the role. As far as I can tell, no press reports named a vice-captain; if Cameron was appointed, he was done so with little fanfare.

In whatever role he was selected, Cameron managed to get time away from work to take part in the tour. It is possible he resigned his position at Cornwall College; he took up a new job later that year. Kathleen accompanied him throughout the tour, which might indicate that they treated it as a holiday.

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The West Indies team at the start of the tour. Note that Cameron occupies a less important position in this photograph. Back row: G. E. Gomez, C. B. Clark, J. B. Stollmeyer, T. F. Johnson, H. P. Bayley, K. H. Weekes, E. A. V. Williams, L. G. Hylton, J. H. Cameron. Seated: E. A. Martindale, G. A. Headley, J. M. Kidney (manager), R. S. Grant (captain), L. N. Constantine, I. M. Barrow, J. E. D. Sealey.

For much of the tour Cameron, fulfilled the same role he had at Cambridge; batting at seven or eight and bowling regularly. After some early warm-up games, he played little part in the opening first-class match, when Worcestershire won easily. But in the second game, against Lancashire, his 45 helped the West Indies to a small first-innings lead. He followed with five for 23 in Lancashire’s second innings.

But this match brought the question of vice-captaincy into the open, and suggests that Cameron was given the role during, not before, the tour. In the game against Lancashire, Rolph Grant was injured while fielding in the first innings. The man to take charge of the remainder of the match was Learie Constantine. This may have been because Constantine was the senior professional in the team, but made little sense if Cameron was indeed the official vice-captain. However, Constantine instructed his batsmen to play for the draw on the final day rather than chasing 247 in three hours. For the following game, against the MCC at Lord’s — one of the most important games of the tour outside of the Tests — Cameron captained in Grant’s continued absence. Constantine did not captain again on the tour. The reason given to Constantine for what was effectively a demotion was that he had been too negative against Lancashire. Constantine, however, suspected that colour played a part; he wrote in Cricket in the Sun (1947): “To be brown-skinned, that is to say to have any trace of white blood in one [i. e. like Cameron], always gives a man an advantage in the West Indies.”

From that point, Cameron captained regularly in Grant’s absence — eight games overall, four which were first-class (in which he scored 196 runs at an average of 65.33 and took six wickets at 21.83). Did Grant and the tour manager J. M. Kidney promote Cameron during the tour? Did word get back to them that Constantine was not acceptable as vice-captain after the Lancashire game? Or was Cameron always the choice, and Constantine performed the role in that game as a courtesy to his position as “senior professional”?

However Cameron came to do the job, he became the first appointed (as opposed to stand-in) non-white captain of the West Indies team in first-class cricket. Yet here is another curiosity. The topic of captaincy of the West Indies team was a controversy that burned until the appointment of Frank Worrell in 1960. Yet in the many words written on the topic then and since, few have recognised that Cameron was not white. For example, Michael Manley, in his A History of West Indies Cricket, lamented (with good reason) that neither Constantine nor George Headley were considered for the captaincy in 1939: “In 1939 these were regarded as revolutionary notions or, worse, merely stupid. Hence, those who controlled the game selected R. S. Grant as captain and J. H. Cameron as vice-captain.” He continues to explain that Grant, although “a man of great decency and intelligence”, owed his position entirely to his influential family, but makes no further mention of Cameron. In his biography of Constantine, Peter Mason wrote of the decision not to give the captaincy to Constantine in 1939: “To his disgust, he was replaced a skipper for the next game loads by another white Cambridge man, the even more inexperienced [than Grant] John Cameron.” A 2009 article in the Guardian by Andy Bull, on the history of white players in the West Indies team, discussed the period of white-only captaincy, including the time under Rolph Grant, but made no mention of Cameron. No academic studies of the West Indies captaincy, or the role that race played in the history of the team seem to have paid much attention to Cameron. For example, Brian Stoddart, in an article written in 1988, wrote: “Quite simply, the cricket captaincy had been long regarded and preserved as the fief of the dominant white elite, a symbol of its control of matters West Indian.” But he did not mention Cameron.

Footage of the MCC v West Indies match at Lord’s, the first time Cameron captained the team; he can be seen fielding at slip

Partly, this may have been owing to his limited impact — as we shall see, he hardly set the world alight in 1939. Or maybe because he was not appointed “officially”. But perhaps it was also because Cameron did not quite fit into preconceived notions. He was clearly recognised as non-white when he played in England before the tour; for example, a review of university cricket by “A Country Vicar” in The Cricketer in 1939, observed that Cameron was “a West Indian by birth”. Worse, he was known by his contemporaries as “Snowball” and “Monkey”. If most reports of his time at Taunton, Cambridge or Somerset made no mention of his colour, it was occasionally highlighted.

Yet for the undoubted prejudice that he faced, his experience was hardly typical for black West Indian cricketers. As a public schoolboy and Cambridge blue, he tended to be categorised with white players, not least because he was light-skinned and — as Constantine put it — had “a trace of white blood”. Nor was he representative of the black majority. This may have made him more acceptable to white administrators than Constantine or Headley. Perhaps the closest parallel to his place in West Indian cricket was the experience of C. R. Browne, a qualified barrister from a wealthy background whose colour prevented him from a captaincy role for British Guiana or the West Indies.

But however he came to the role, and however it was that his contemporaries viewed him, Cameron’s selection as vice-captain was a step forward for West Indies cricket. An even bigger one was taken when Headley was appointed as captain for one Test in 1948, but a hardening of attitudes after that meant that it was another twelve years before Worrell took the role.

Cameron was part of the tour selection committee in 1939, alongside Grant and the manager Jack Kidney; Constantine and Headley were also co-opted onto the panel. He scored 438 runs at 20.85, hitting a century while he was captain against Oxford University, and took 31 wickets at 21.41, with a best return of six for 57 in an innings win over Middlesex. These were solid, if unspectacular figures, but most critics thought he bowled well, and had improved considerably since his time in England. We cannot be sure precisely what bowling style he used. An article in early July by “County Amateur” (who was probably Charles Bray of Essex) in the Dundee Evening Telegraph — the thrust of which was that the West Indies team was not good enough to play Test cricket — stated: “The spin attack is negligible, only little ‘Snowball’ Cameron being able to control length as well as spin. When at Cambridge University this little man used to bowl leg spinners, but since he has been back in his own country he has taken to off spinners with an occasional ‘tweaker’ thrown in.” This matches what later sources said about his bowling, but is offset by reports in The Times and Manchester Guardian which continued to describe him explicitly as a leg-spinner and discuss his googly. While he may have used both styles, his improved accuracy may have been a result of his switching to orthodox off-spin for much of the time.

Cameron was chosen to play in the first two Test matches against England. He made his Test debut at Lord’s, scoring 1 and 0 but taking three for 66, largely through flighting the ball, out of England’s 404 for five declared. In his first over in international cricket, he bowled his former Somerset team-mate Harold Gimblett with a leg-break. That match was lost by an innings, but the second was a rain-affected draw: Cameron scored 5 and bowled just three overs for 22. That was the end of his brief Test career. Immediately after that match, he captained the team against his old county, Somerset. But a hand injury during the game — he split his hand while fielding — effectively ended his tour; he played just once after, in a non-first-class match against Wiltshire, and was unfit for the third Test.

R. C. Robertson-Glasgow wrote in Wisden after the season: “J. H. Cameron, who captained the side when grant was absent, showed a certain maturity of form. He was a most useful all-rounder, and had the advantage of an intimate knowledge of most of his opponents and their methods.” Elsewhere in the almanack, the main report on the tour was harsher: “Cameron, well acquainted with the game in England from experience similar to his captain’s as a Cambridge blue after being at school in Somerset, was not reliable with either bat or ball. He scored one of the three centuries hit for the side at Oxford, but did little else, and, except at Lord’s, his bowling seldom caused much trouble.” The review in The Cricketer annual described Cameron’s loss through injury as a handicap for the team.

As the threat of war grew, the tour was abandoned after the final Test. There was almost a tragic sequel. The team — apart from Constantine and Martindale who lived in England — travelled by train to Greenock to catch the first available ship, the SS Montrose, which departed for Canada on 26 August. Two days after their departure, the Admiralty recalled the ship to port, but six hours later reversed the decision and permitted it to continue. Had they returned to Greenock, they would probably have taken the next ship available, the SS Athenia. Two days after the Montrose arrived at Montreal, Britain declared war on Germany. Meanwhile, the Athenia left Greenock on 1 September. A few hours after the declaration of war on 3 September, the ship was sunk by a German submarine. Of the 1,418 on board, 117 were killed — mainly in incidents involving life boats.

From Montreal, most of the team travelled by train to New York. Cameron stayed there for a time, accompanied by his wife, while the others continued their journey. The early return of the team was met with some disapproval at home, both on the grounds that it looked like cowardice and that the cost of the circuitous route via North America was unduly extravagant. Gordon Scotter in the Jamaica Gleaner was particularly scathing.

When Cameron and his wife arrived back in Jamaica in mid-September, he refused to answer questions on the tour, perhaps feeling constrained by the presence at the dockside to greet him of N. N. Nethersole, a member of the West Indies Board of Control, who reminded him that he was still under contract. All he felt able to discuss was the trip home — and his visit to the World’s Fair in New York — and how calmly England had dealt with the incipient war.

Later that year, Cameron moved to a new job, working at Munro College in St Elizabeth. The next few years are a mystery, although he played for Kingston in local cricket with some success, whenever he was available; the distance from where he worked reduced his availability. He continued to work as a teacher, and appears to have been on the fringes of the Jamaica team. He and Kathleen had their only child, Geoffrey Vaughan Hemsley Cameron, in June 1940.

In 1946, Cameron made his only first-class appearance for Jamaica, when the Trinidad team visited to play a three-match series. Cameron played in the first game, but contributed little apart from returning three for 22 in Trinidad’s second innings. He missed the other games with an injury and was replaced by his brother Jimmy, who made his first-class debut.

Millfield School, photographed in 2010 (Image: Brookie on Wikimedia Commons)

In late September 1946, Cameron and his wife returned to live in England where he began to work at Millfield School in Street, Somerset, at the invitation of the eccentric headmaster, R. J. O. Meyer, another Somerset cricketer. There were expectations that Cameron would play for Somerset again, and he made three appearances during the school holidays during the 1947 season. He bowled just 32 overs (taking one for 101) and had a highest score of 38 not out. That was the end of his association with Somerset, although he continued to play occasionally for the MCC and in club cricket. He also made appearances for teams of West Indian cricketers playing in friendly matches. But he largely disappeared from the public eye.

However, there may have been something else going on behind the scenes. Meyer had been Somerset’s official captain in 1947 but was unavailable for much of the season. The Somerset Committee could not find a suitable replacement for 1948 and took the unprecedented — and rather strange — decision to appoint three people to the role, on the grounds that they could not find a suitable amateur — and a professional was unacceptable. According to some versions of what happened next, Cameron offered to take on the captaincy, but the Committee declined. The suspicion, then and later, was that his colour was the reason. This is the line taken by Somerset Cricketers 1919-1939 (2017) by Stephen Hill and Barry Phillips. Robert Brooke, in Cameron’s Cricketer obituary, made no mention of any such episode. Perhaps the most definitive statement came in his Wisden obituary: “[Cameron] unsuccessfully applied to be both Somerset’s captain and secretary.” But David Foot said, in Cameron’s obituary in The Guardian: “It was sometimes implied that Cameron was the victim of the colour bar and that his supposed application for the Somerset job of secretary and captain on his post-war return to England was turned down because of it. ‘Not at all true. I’d come to carry on with my teaching and had no intention of going back fulltime into cricket,’ he told me.”

From reports in the local press, it seems that he was asked to play for Somerset in August 1948 but a thumb injury meant he could not play. Instead he played for Street purely as a bowler who was scheduled to bat at number eleven; he took four for 101, coming under heavy punishment from a batsman called J. Illes who struck ten sixes in his century, six of which came from Cameron.

But perhaps the fact that he never played for Somerset again after 1947 might be the strongest indication that something happened to sour the relationship. Later, he moved to Essex where he taught at Chigwell School where he worked until he retired. His Wisden obituary stated: “He was much liked, but as David Foot wrote: ‘In private moments, he would confide his unhappy experiences at the wrong end of the colour bar.'” Foot also related that he was somewhat worn down by his experiences and subject to bouts of depression. The obituary in The Cricketer went further: “[He] encountered mixed fortunes off the cricket field and was once found destitute in London.” Although he recovered from this episode, which no other source mentions, it suggests that all was not well. Nor can it have been easy when his son Geoffrey died in 1994 at the age of 53.

After his retirement, Cameron moved to Chichester. He died in March 2000 at the age of 85 — according to Foot, “surrounded by his cricket books and his classical and big band records.”

The Schoolboy Who Took All Ten: The Rise of J. H. Cameron

J. H. Cameron bowling in 1932 (Image: The Sketch, 10 August 1932)

A large part of the complicated history of the West Indies cricket team concerns the issue of captaincy. The first West Indies captains, at a time when every cricket-playing part of the Caribbean was dominated by the minority European colonial rulers, were all white. There were a few reluctant concessions: Learie Constantine was the on-field captain when the team recorded its first series win because the official captain, Jackie Grant, was injured; George Headley was asked to lead the side for one Test in 1948. But it was not until 1960, when Frank Worrell was belatedly appointed, that the West Indies team had a black captain. This tale is relatively well-known and has been discussed at length. But often overlooked is the story of John Cameron of Jamaica. The son of a former player, he had an extremely unusual background for a black cricketer in this period. He was a schoolboy prodigy who achieved great feats in English public school cricket. He was a match-winner in the prestigious University match between Oxford and Cambridge. He was the only black player in the County Championship in the period between the wars — a distinction that inevitably brought racism. And in 1939, in a selection long-forgotten, he was appointed as the vice-captain of the West Indies team that toured England.

John Hemsley Cameron was the son of Dr John Joseph Cameron and Lily Lucile Blanche Hull. Dr Cameron was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1882. His education took him around the world: first Wolmer’s School in Kingston, then Toronto University in Canada, Edinburgh University in Scotland and several other places. He was also a good cricketer; while studying medicine in Toronto, he played for Canada against the United States of America, taking nine wickets in an innings win. And while he was at Edinburgh in 1906, the second tour of England by a West Indian cricket team was taking place, and he played several matches for the team. He remained in England until 1908, playing a handful of first-class matches, some of which were alongside W. G. Grace; he also appeared in some minor matches for London County, Grace’s unsuccessful attempt to start a new county club. After his return to Jamaica, he played first-class cricket for the island in 1909 against the touring “Gentlemen of Philadelphia”.

In 1911, Dr Cameron married Lily Hull, the daughter of a vicar; she too was born in Jamaica and educated at Wolmer’s Girls School. Her family then travelled to Canada, where she attended Havergal College for Girls in Toronto. Her brother, Edward Hall played also cricket for Jamaica in the first decade of the 20th Century — and played alongside Cameron senior for Canada in 1905 — before emigrating to the United States. Although it is hard to be certain given the prejudices of the time, it looks as if this was a “mixed marriage”; Cameron was black, or at least mixed race, and Hull was white. The second of their four children, John Hemsley, was born in 1914. His younger brother Francis James (“Jimmy”) also played cricket for Jamaica and the West Indies.

Dr Cameron had a prominent role in the First World War, serving in the Second Jamaica War Contingent as their Principal Medical Officer. On his return, he held other senior roles in Jamaica and British Guiana, and worked for the Government Medical Service. Additionally, he was involved in charity work with the Church of England. He continued to take an interest in Jamaican cricket; he resumed his first-class career in 1925, when he travelled to Barbados with the Jamaican team, and he seems to have been an unofficial vice-captain to Karl Nunes. His only first-class fifty came in his final appearance, against an English team organised by Lionel Tennyson which toured Jamaica in 1928. After this, he continued to have success in Jamaican club cricket. As a defensive batsman of some note, he played in the Senior Cup until the 1940s and was one of the first players to score 1,000 runs in a season in that competition. But in 13 first-class matches, he averaged 14 with the bat and took only ten wickets with the ball — five of which came in a single innings for the Gentlemen of England against Surrey in 1908. More importantly, as his obituary in the Jamaica Gleaner said in 1954: “He was the pioneer of the Jamaica Cricket Association and served as its first secretary.” But in later years, he was more often remembered as the father of John.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, J. H. Cameron was educated at Taunton School in Somerset, England. Although not one of the famous public schools, it had produced some good cricketers, including Jack White, who played for England and captained Somerset between 1927 and 1931. Whether or not Cameron was the only non-white pupil is hard to say; it was not unknown for students to attend English public schools from all over the world, but it was rare. Most British colonies, including Jamaica, had schools modelled on their British counterparts, which offered an education at least as good, meaning there was usually little need for parents to send their children to England.

Whatever the reason that Cameron’s parents chose Taunton, it made him a famous cricketer from a very early age. Without ever having received any formal coaching, except that given by his father, Cameron found that he could naturally bowl finger-spun leg-breaks. Such a style was rare, and had only been perfected at the top level of cricket by Sydney Barnes; trying to replicate this style had driven Ian Peebles almost to despair. But Cameron simply had the knack; he later said: “I could hear a little click in my fingers.” For variety, he learned how to bowl the googly, and the result was devastating at school level. His father paid for him to receive coaching in London, and he worked with A. G. Marshall, the Taunton schoolmaster who played for Somerset as an amateur.

What might have helped is that Taunton did not play any prestigious school opposition, but generally played strong teams and was quite good in this period. Whoever the school played though, Cameron was far too good for them and established a reputation as a bowler that never left him. His first appearance in the Taunton first eleven was in 1927 when, as a thirteen-year-old, he took 14 wickets at an average of 19.71. He improved his record in 1928, taking 56 wickets at 13.53 but it was in the following two seasons that he reached his peak as a schoolboy bowler. In 1929, he took 108 wickets at 8.06 which earned him a passing mention in Wisden’s school section, when A. Podmore singled him out as one of the most promising slower bowlers. His form for Taunton earned him a selection in a match at Lord’s for the best under-sixteen schoolboys. In a two-day match he appeared for C. F. Tufnell’s XI against “Lord’s XI”; his figures were six for 41 and five for 62.

Podmore mentioned him again in the report on 1930: “[Cameron] frequently beat both batsman and wicket-keeper with his googlies.” There was also a brief report on Taunton’s season, which attributed the school’s good results (winning eleven of fifteen matches) to Cameron’s bowling; his best returns were seven for 47 against the MCC, seven for 57 against Blundell’s School and nine for 23 against Kingswood School. In total, he took 91 wickets at 6.98. For the first time, he also appeared near the top of the Taunton batting averages with 227 runs at an average of 20.63. This performance was recognised many years later when, in a 2021 retrospective in Wisden, Cameron was named as the “School Cricketer of the Year” for 1930.

There was almost an incredible sequel. At this time, the West Indies Cricket Board was assembling a team to tour Australia during the 1930–31 season. After seeing Cameron’s figures for 1930, R. H. Mallett, an influential member of the board and who would be the tour manager, wrote to Dr J. J. Cameron to ask about his son’s bowling. It soon emerged that Cameron would not be available, but the publicity attached to Mallett’s letter caused something of a stir; the Sporting Chronicle of Trinidad and Tobago expressed particular consternation at such backroom manoeuvres, how this would fit into the team (which had already been selected) and not a little scepticism regarding Cameron’s ability.

A portrait of Cameron from 1932 (Image: Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 13 August 1932)

A wet season in 1931 caused problems for several schools, and Podmore wrote in Wisden that Cameron “hardly came on to the extent anticipated”. Even so, he took 63 wickets at 9.95 and his batting continued to develop. He scored 421 runs at 32.38, heading the Taunton batting and bowling averages, and scoring his first century for the team. He was also chosen to play for the “Young Amateurs” against the “Young Professionals” at Lord’s, taking seven for 91. But 1932 brought him much wider recognition. For Taunton, he took 61 wickets at 10.31 and scored 412 runs at 37.45, again heading both sets of averages. More importantly, he was chosen for representative cricket when he was included in the annual two-day match at Lord’s between “Lord’s Schools” (the elite public schools who there, such as Eton and Harrow) and “The Rest” — the inferior public schools. A wet pitch suited Cameron’s bowling perfectly, and he baffled the Lord’s Schools batsmen, taking all ten wickets for 49, an unprecedented feat in the fixture. He also took the only two wickets to fall in the second innings (the match was drawn) to return match figures of twelve for 72. This performance meant that he was chosen to play for the Public Schools team against The Army; he batted at number eleven and took five wickets for 156 in 38 overs, despite suffering from a cold.

Nevertheless, there was considerable excitement about this young leg-spinner; Pelham Warner was particularly impressed, and The Cricketer kept a close eye on him. His name appeared in many newspapers and he was briefly famous; some publications carried a brief interview in which he discussed his coaching and how he had played for the Somerset Stragglers. For some time, whenever he was referred to, it was as the schoolboy who took all ten.

A few weeks later, he was selected to play for Somerset in the County Championship. Aged just eighteen, he made his first-class debut against Warwickshire. His figures of two for 88 and none for 34 were not too impressive, but he bowled alongside Jack White and Somerset won by an innings. He also played in the following match against Sussex, but bowled just four overs (for 27 runs) in the match.

In his final year at Taunton, Cameron captained the team. The Wisden report for 1933 noted that Cameron had “lost much of his spin”. And his bowling record was relatively poor: 32 wickets at 22.56. But there was some compensation as he headed the batting averages with 614 runs at 55.81. And he could always look back at the 425 wickets he had taken in seven seasons with the school.

The reason for his loss of bowling form, according to his later recollection, was that he lost the ability to bowl a leg-break: “I wasn’t what they call a wrist-spinner. I did it all with my fingers. Now I’d lost all control with them. I think the trouble was that they got too fat.” For some time, he tried to recapture his bowling. David Foot later wrote:

“[Cameron senior] sent his son for indoor cricket tuition in London and Maidstone, where Tich Freeman was asked, but failed, to rediscover for Cameron the arcane wiles of leg spin. At one net session, being taken by Wilfred Rhodes, he produced such a disguised and beautiful googly that the master stopped in his track and asked: ‘Hey, young man, did you really mean that?'”

The Perambulators, one of the teams in the Cambridge trials in 1934. Back row: G. H. Chase, T. R. Garnett, J. W. T. Grimshaw, D. Rought-Rought, W. Wooller, J. W. Anson, J. H. Cameron. Front row: G. W. Parker, A. G. Powell, A. G. Pelham (capt), F. E. Covington, F. King. (Image: The Tatler, 6 June 1934)

Cameron went from Taunton to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge University. In contrast to his possible experience at Taunton, he would not have been the only non-white student. The number of overseas students at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities grew rapidly in the late nineteenth century, to the consternation of many in the university establishment. Several pointed attacks and mocking articles appeared in student publications denigrating the “foreign element”. Between two to three per cent of students to attend Oxford or Cambridge in the first two decades of the twentieth century were Indian, and there were also a small number of Africans in a similar period. One study suggests that 30 per cent of entrants to Oxford in 1920 were from overseas (although many of these would have been white). In terms of cricket, very few non-white students progressed as far as the university first eleven. Other than Cameron, the only non-white Oxford or Cambridge blues between the wars were Duleepsinhji (who was the nephew of Ranjtisinhji and, like Cameron, went to an English public school), the Nawab of Pataudi (the ruler of an Indian Princely State), Fredrick de Saram (from what was then Ceylon but is now Sri Lanka) and Jahangir Khan (who had already played Test cricket for India when he got his blue). Several others missed out; Sabdharatnajyoti Saravanamuttu (from Ceylon), like Cameron, attended St Catharine’s college and played a handful of first-class matches for Cambridge in 1923, but was never awarded his blue.

Very little is known about Cameron’s time at Cambridge. There are no details of what he studied, but he must have passed some kind of entrance examination and he graduated in 1937. Given his record as a schoolboy cricketer, he might have been expected to reach the Cambridge first team at once. But the loss of his leg-break presented difficulties. Later accounts insist that at this point, he switched to bowling off-breaks. However, contemporary reports generally referred to him as a leg-break and googly bowler, even during the 1939 West Indies tour. The picture is not quite clear though, and he may have bowled off-breaks at times. The most likely scenario is that he continued to bowl leg-breaks, but rather than use his fingers as he did at school, he bowled orthodox wrist spin which was never as effective. Several accounts suggest that he lacked accuracy, and his bowling often seems to have been slow and very flighty rather than dangerous.

In the university trial matches to select the cricket team at the beginning of the 1934 season, Cameron did well, scoring 0, 84 and 65 and taking ten wickets in three innings. He appeared a few times in the University first team but was unable to secure a permanent place and missed his blue; an average of 19 with the bat (and a top score of 41) and 13 wickets at an average just over 37 (while conceding four runs per over) were unimpressive. Even so, he played for Somerset when the Cambridge season was over. He scored just 91 runs at 9.10 and took 9 wickets at 49.44. His best return was in his first Somerset game when he took six for 143 in an innings against Glamorgan.

But 1935 was a different story. Four wickets in a trial match gave him a run in the Cambridge team from the start of the season and this time he received his blue. Five for 133 against the touring South African team, and four for 61 against Yorkshire a week later guaranteed his place and he took wickets steadily, including four for 63 against Somerset, four for 22 against the MCC and four for 43 against Sussex. But his best performance came in the most important game — the annual match against Oxford at Lord’s. Even before the game, his leg-breaks (the reports are quite explicit about what he bowled) were recognised as the potential match-winner for Cambridge; he did not disappoint. In Oxford’s first innings, he took seven for 71 in 25 overs, causing problems with the amount of turn he found. One of his wickets came with a full toss, and at one point he came under fire as Oxford counter-attacked, but when he switched to bowling round the wicket, he removed the top-scorer (de Saram of Ceylon) before polishing off the tail. He took two wickets in the second innings as Cambridge won by 195 runs. He was the first Jamaican cricketer — and although it went unremarked at the time, the first non-white West Indian cricketer — to be awarded a cricket blue at Oxford or Cambridge. His wickets were recognised as a key part in the win, and his bowling all season received praise. He was the leading first-class wicket-taker for Cambridge that year — 44 at 20.06 — although he scored just 195 runs at 10.26, always batting low in the order.

After the university season, he returned to the Somerset team. After taking five for 50 (and eight in the match) in his first game, against Glamorgan, he fell away and was very expensive in several matches. Writing about Cameron in 2000, David Foot observed: “For Somerset, opposing old pros — insensitive to signs of what they saw as public school precocity — they at times went after him with predetermined relish.” But there was an unexpected consolation. Although his batting had always been good at school, he had been given little opportunity in first-class cricket, batting in the tail for Cambridge and Somerset. Having batted at nine or ten for Somerset in 1935, he was suddenly promoted up the ordering in August. Against Nottinghamshire, whose attack included the England bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, he scored 111 batting at number five, his first score over fifty in first-class cricket. But even so, his record for Somerset was 326 runs at 18.11; with the ball, his erratic length left him with 16 wickets at 40.50. An appearance for the Gentlemen against the Players in a match at the Folkestone Festival ended his season.

The Cambridge University team in 1936. Back row: N. W. D. Yardley, J. M. Brocklebank, R. P. Nelson, A. F. T. White. Middle row: J. H. Cameron, M. Tindall, H. T. Bartlett (captain), M, Jahangir Khan, W. Wooller. Front row: J. H. Pawle, P. A. Gibb. (Image: The Cricketer Annual 1936–37)

Cricket was not Cameron’s only sporting accomplishment. While at Taunton, he had represented the school at rugby, but always preferred football. In 1934–35, he was selected in a few football matches for the Cambridge first team. Although he did not play the following season, he was a first-team regular in 1936–37 at outside right. But he could not maintain his place in the team and missed out on his football blue.

There was no question of his place in the cricket team though, and he received blues in his final two years at the university, although his record was not especially impressive. In 1936, he played some useful innings with the bat down the order, and was more valuable than indicated by his figures: 213 runs at 14.20. Not quite as important a member of the attack as in 1935, he was used mainly as a back-up bowler, taking 25 wickets at 38.88. When he returned to the Somerset team, he barely bowled and took no wickets. Nor did he offer much with the bat, scoring 274 runs at 14.42 and failing to pass fifty. The story was similar in 1937; for Cambridge, he was again something of a utility player. He batted fairly well, scoring 289 runs at 22.23, including his first fifty for the university, and took 17 wickets at 28.47. His best figures, four for 66, came in the University match — in which he also scored 48 and 22 but could not prevent an Oxford win — but he generally conceded four runs per over; expensive in this period. But for Somerset, he had his best season. He scored 574 runs at 26.09, including two centuries — against Kent and Sussex — and finished fourth in the team’s averages. He bowled more regularly and took 17 wickets at 32.94.

There was, however, recognition in Somerset that Cameron was unlikely to be available for much longer, and these appearances in 1937 were his last for the county for ten years. What was his time in county cricket like? He was the only black cricketer in the County Championship in the inter-war period; although West Indies Test players including Learie Constantine, George Francis, Edwin St Hill, George Headley and Manny Martindale made their homes in England at this time, they solely played league cricket. The only other non-white players to appear in the County Championship were C. H. Gunasekera (from Ceylon, who played for Middlesex), Duleepsinhji (for Sussex) and the Nawab of Pataudi (for Worcestershire). We know little about what these men may have experienced in terms of racism. But in the case of Cameron, there are a few hints. Foot wrote: “His pleasing personality made him popular with the game’s cynical old pros.” But this may be simplistic. Although newspaper coverage of his feats at Taunton, Cambridge and Somerset very rarely — if at all — mention his colour, county dressing rooms were a different matter. The two nicknames by which he was known — “Snowball” and “Monkey” — suggest more than a touch of racism. Nor were they hidden: newspaper profiles in the 1930s call him “Snowball Cameron”, and more disturbingly, both Foot (in his 1986 book Sunshine, Sixes and Cider: The History of Somerset Cricket) and Wisden (in the 1996 obituary of his brother Jimmy) openly refer to him as “Monkey Cameron”. By the time of Cameron’s death in 2000, Foot and Wisden acknowledged the overtly racist overtones of the nicknames. Nor were these names the only instances of racism encountered by Cameron, as we shall see.

There is no record of what Cameron did over the winter of 1937–38; he was living in London and married in early 1938 before returning to Jamaica in April. Other matters are also unclear. According to the St Catharine’s College Society Magazine, Cameron was elected to membership of the MCC in 1937. Given that it usually took years to be elected, and Cameron’s cricket was hardly distinguished enough to earn him membership, this is a mystery. It is possible his father had applied years before. In later years, however, his membership was often overlooked. For example, when Cyril Browne was elected to the MCC in 1941, the Jamaica Gleaner — which of all publications should perhaps have known better — stated: “This exclusive honour [Browne] shares [among West Indies cricketers] with Sir Harold Austin, of Barbados, Sir Pelham Warner (Trinidad), Sir William Morrison and R. K. Nunes, former West Indies Captain (Jamaica) and the late Sir Edward and Lieut. Col. Ivan Davson (British Guiana).” Cameron was also one of the very few non-white members of the MCC in this period; it is likely that he and Browne were the only black members for many years.

Nor do we know if Cameron expected to return to England as he departed for Jamaica in 1938. But he would be back in 1939. Despite his mediocre record in first-class cricket, he was selected as the vice-captain of the touring West Indies team, entering the world of international cricket. And for the West Indies in this period, this was never a straightforward matter…

Note: Thanks to Andy Carter for providing invaluable background information regarding public schools and universities in the inter-war period.

The Scandalous Death of Herbert Rhodes

Herbert Rhodes, from an illustration of the 1876 Cambridge University Boat Crew (Image: Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 8 April 1876)

Among the many amateurs to play first-class cricket in Victorian England was an obscure man called Herbert Rhodes. Like several of his contemporaries, he was a former Public Schoolboy who was independently wealthy. Not all amateurs in this period were rich — some struggled to afford to maintain a lifestyle to match their social status, whereas others were surreptitiously paid to play for a county. But some were very rich indeed, and Rhodes numbered among these. A good number of this group of amateurs would probably never have played first-class cricket but for their wealth and privilege. Rhodes was a slightly different case: he achieved sporting fame through rowing, and cricket was never his driving passion. He was a reasonable but fairly unnoteworthy cricketer who would not usually merit more than a few words. But far more remarkable than either his rowing or his batting was the strange manner of his death, which seems to have had a connection both to a scandalous and hidden side of Victorian London, and the glamorous and salacious world of Society divorce cases.

Born on 11 January 1852, Herbert Edward Rhodes was the son of John William Rhodes, a merchant and magistrate originally from Leeds, and Sarah Brooke from Chapel Allerton, who was the heiress to the Birks Hall Estate in Halifax. The family lived at Hennerton House in Berkshire, and Rhodes was the youngest of their nine children. Their wealth is unquestionable. When Rhodes’ father died, his estate was valued at “under £120,000” (which means that it was somewhere in that vicinity, worth over £11 million today). Rhodes’ first school was an establishment in Hove on Lansdowne Place. Rhodes’ father died in 1863, but this would have made little financial difference to the family; Sarah Rhodes had her own wealth and the 1871 census records that she had “income from various properties”. She was certainly able to afford the fees for Eton College; Rhodes went there in 1865 and remained until 1868. Other than playing cricket for his house — Thackeray’s — he made little impression as a sportsman. Possibly this because he left early when he was just sixteen; at a time when Eton sport was strong, he would have been unlikely to reach the school’s cricket first eleven or rowing eight until he was at least seventeen.

In 1871, presumably having had a private tutor or being admitted to a “cram school” to pass the entrance examination, Rhodes was admitted to Jesus College, Cambridge. At that time, going to Cambridge University was less about academic ability and more about being able to pay, although there was still the matter of passing exams if you wished to stay. Between his other commitments, Rhodes did enough work to meet the requirements and was awarded his degree in November 1876. However, he had a bigger impact in sport. He played some cricket for his college but his real talent was in rowing. For four successive years, he was awarded his “blue”, taking part in the famous annual Boat Race against Oxford University between 1873 and 1876, during which time Cambridge won three times. Except in his final race, he took the “stroke” position, which was usually filled by the best rower. Further reflecting his preeminence, he was named the Cambridge University Boat Club President in 1875, and his Jesus College crew won several competitions at the prestigious Henley Regatta.

Herbert Rhodes in 1873 (Image: Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide)

Rather less successfully, Rhodes also made his way into the world of first-class cricket. Although he never made the Eton first eleven, he must have played cricket in his youth. CricketArchive records that he played twice for the Yorkshire Gentlemen, an amateur club based in York, in 1875, but his first big games were two trial matches in 1876, when he represented the “Cambridge University Next XVIII” against the university first eleven. Scores of 34, 25 and 6 were respectable but not enough for him to be chosen for the Cambridge team. Later that year, he played for the “Gentlemen of West Riding” against Eton and in a single match for Staffordshire. In 1877, after leaving Cambridge, he played two minor games for the MCC, of which he was a member, and various other teams, some of which included famous cricketers. If Rhodes was not exactly setting the cricket world on fire, there is an upward trend in the quality of matches, and in 1878 he made his first-class debut, playing for the MCC against Cambridge (he scored 10 and 0). He played a few more minor matches for the MCC that summer, and towards the end of the season, he played for Yorkshire against a strong MCC team in a twelve-a-side first-class match at the third Scarborough Festival.

Having left Cambridge, Rhodes settled in London, where he lived at 17 Charles Street, a five-storey Georgian terrace in Mayfair. As if to emphasise his life of wealth and privilege, in 1880 he was appointed as a Second Lieutenant in Berkshire’s Yeomanry Cavalry and joined the Freemasons. On the night of the 1881 census (he listed his “occupation, rank or profession” as “BA, Jesus College, Cambridge”), he was at home with a visitor — Robert Corrie, a 23-year-old hop merchant — and his 30-year-old housekeeper, Susan Edwards.

17 Charles Street, a five-storey Georgian Terrace built in 1753, photographed in 2013. Since 1970 it has been a Grade II Listed Building. (Image: Uploaded by Jerry, via British Listed Buildings)

Over the following few years, Rhodes played regularly for the MCC in minor and first-class cricket, as well as appearing occasionally for Yorkshire. His ten appearances for the county all came at the Scarborough Festival in matches against the MCC or I Zingari (the touring amateur club) between 1878 and 1883; as he was born outside Yorkshire and lived in London after leaving Cambridge, the MCC rules at the time meant he was not qualified to play in matches between counties. Rhodes also played for a handful of other clubs in first-class cricket, including for the “Gentlemen of England” in games against the Universities. He twice reached fifty in first-class cricket, on both occasions for Yorkshire against I Zingari (in 1879 and 1882). And for that county, he averaged 17.93, a more-than-respectable figure in this period — albeit coming in matches which may have lacked the competitive edge of county games. But his overall first-class average of 11.45 in 25 matches suggests a casual cricketer who owed his place purely to status.

Away from the top, he played plenty of club cricket, appearing regularly for the Orleans Club, a London-based team connected with C. I. Thornton, the founder of the Scarborough Festival. Two of Rhodes’ games for this team — against both University teams in 1883 — were considered to be first-class matches. He also appeared for a club called “Will o’the Wisps”. But after 1881, he played with decreasing frequency. His final first-class appearance was in 1883, and according to the CricketArchive database (which does not have all of Rhodes’ matches), his last games for the Orleans Club and the MCC were in 1884 and 1886 respectively. Nevertheless, he played semi-regularly for Henley between 1883 and 1886 and for Will o’the Wisps until 1888.

What manner of player was he? It is hard to say. Cricket called him “useful” and “a cricketer considerably above the average”. In some games, he played as a wicket-keeper, although this was not a role he performed regularly. But there were few other comments about his cricket, and he was far more famous for his rowing than his batting. Nevertheless, aside from his two first-class fifties, there are some hints at talent. In minor cricket he scored at least two centuries: 151 for the Orleans Club against the Belfast Wanderers in 1881 and 103 for “Mr Rhodes’ XI” against “Mr E. Rutter’s XI” in 1887. He had also accepted an invitation to tour India during the winter of 1889–90 which had been organised by G. F. Vernon and Lord Hawke. Perhaps if he had played more regularly, he would have been quite good, but cricket was clearly never his priority and his interest seems to have faded throughout the 1880s.

Instead, he had begun to coach the Cambridge crew informally before each Boat Race. According to Sporting Life: “In this department he was unrivalled, as he not only knew exactly what men ought do, but he had the power of imparting to them the knowledge of how to do it, a much rarer form of ability.” The same publication said that he was a member of the Leander Boat Club and the London Rowing Club, while he also took interest in “all aquatic matters, and was a keen follower of field sports.” In early 1889 he purchased a 40-tonne yacht called Sleuthhound, from the executors of the late Lord Francis Cecil, which he sailed at the most important regattas that year. Clearly, yacht racing was becoming his biggest interest.

But any future plans he may have had never saw the light of day, owing to the strange events which led to his death.

On Monday 9 September 1889, while at home in Charles Street (known briefly as “Carlos Street” in this period), Rhodes asked his housekeeper, at that time a widow called Fanny Cole, to pack his bag as he was going to Henley-on-Thames and would return the following day. Mrs Cole later said that Rhodes “seemed rather worried, but he said he was all right and told me not to worry about him”. Around seven that evening, a woman called Mrs Manley arrived in a cab and he left with her around an hour later. She had told Mrs Cole that Rhodes was to marry her sister, which came as a surprise to the housekeeper, who had been unaware that her employer was engaged.

Later that evening, the Dover Castle Hotel received a telegram from Rhodes asking for two rooms to be reserved for that night. He arrived in Dover with Mrs Manley around 12:40am on Tuesday morning via the 9:00 train from London. George Mackey, the hotel porter, took the bags upstairs to the rooms — he later said that Rhodes seemed “slightly the worse for liquor”. Mackey retired to bed, but around 1:10am, he was woken by the hotel bell. This was Hector Gillespie, a telegraph messenger, who told Mackey that there was a man lying in the road in front of the hotel. It looked as if the man had jumped from the hotel windows. Mackey sent Gillespie for a policeman, woke one of the hotel waiters for some moral support and went to look outside. He saw it was Rhodes, and when the policeman arrived with a light, they saw that Rhodes was dead — “his brains were lying on the pavement”. A quick investigation by the policeman revealed that Rhodes’ room had a balcony, and that his body lay seventeen feet directly below it.

Around twelve hours later — which may seem remarkably rapid to modern eyes but was fairly common practice at the time — an inquest was held by the coroner before a jury at Dover’s Hotel Paris. Mrs Cole had come from London to give evidence, and both Mackey and Gillespie described what had happened. But most of the background information came from Mrs Manley.

She revealed herself to be a widow called Beatrice Manley who lived at 29 Tennyson Road in Willesden, London. According to her testimony, she had known Rhodes for “some years” and had visited him the previous evening by appointment. Rhodes wanted to talk to her about her sister, Vera Hodge, to whom he was engaged. Mrs Manley told the court (according to the Dover Express of 13 September 1889): “She is living at Ostend. The deceased told me that there had been some little difference between them. He said that he wanted me to go to Ostend to smooth over any difficulties that they might be married at once. He intended to go to Ostend that night.”

Mrs Manley related that they left Rhodes’ house around 8pm and went to the nearby telegraph office at Charing Cross. She sent a message to her mother and Rhodes also sent one, although she did not know to whom. When they reached the railway station, they discovered that the Dover boat train had already departed, so they decided to catch the next available train and stay overnight in Dover; Rhodes then sent a message to the Dover Castle Hotel to reserve rooms. According to Mrs Manley: “He seemed to be in very good spirits in the train, but I think he had had a little too much to drink. He kept on referring to my sister all the time.”

The Dover Castle Hotel pictured in an 1879 advertisement in the Dover Express. Note the balcony on the first floor. (Image: Dover Kent Archives)

When they arrived in Dover, they went straight to the hotel, where Rhodes had a brandy and soda. He and the porter first took Mrs Manley to room number four before they took Rhodes’ bags to room number two. After the porter left, Rhodes returned to Mrs Manley to ask if she was comfortable in her room. She said that she was, and he once more went to his room. Almost immediately, he returned and asked Mrs Manley to swap, to which she agreed. Mrs Manley gave no indication of the reason, but had told the court that room number two was a front room while number four overlooked the back.

After the swap, Mrs Manley put Rhodes’ bag (which he had left behind) outside the room and locked her door. A few minutes later, he was back again; he knocked on the door to ask for his luggage, which she told him was in the corridor. She did not open the door. She told the court: “He then said do come into the sitting room, I want to talk to you about Vera. I declined to go, and he gave two knocks and then went away.” She heard nothing more until she was woken shortly after to be told that Rhodes “had met with an accident”.

Police Constable Filcher, who attended the scene, told the court that the door to room number four was open, Rhodes’ clothes were on the bed (the reports stated that he was only wearing his “night attire” when found in the street) and there was a lighted candle in the sitting room opposite (which overlooked the front of the hotel and was presumably next to room number two). All the windows were closed, but he followed a corridor to the balcony, the door to which was open. Part way along the balcony was a partition separating it in two, and Rhodes was lying directly underneath. Contemporary drawings from an advertisement for the hotel reveal that the only balcony was on the first floor, which must have been where Rhodes and Mrs Manley had their rooms.

The coroner concluded that Rhodes had gone onto the balcony with the intention of reaching Mrs Manley’s room, and fallen in the process of trying to climb over the partition. The simplest explanation seems to have been accepted — that Rhodes wished to talk more to Mrs Manley about Vera and died in his clumsy attempt to do so. If there are vague hints that he had other intentions, they were irrelevant to the inquest. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

As Rhodes was unmarried and had no children, his estate was administered by his brother John William Rhodes. At first, it was worth £95,423 but it was “resworn” in March 1890 at £94,657. Several “deceased estate notices” appeared in newspapers from Rhodes’ solicitors, requesting that anyone with “any claim against the estate” be sent to them. He also had effects worth £2,000 in Ireland. His total estate was equivalent to around £11 million today.

Overall then, if Rhodes’ death — a brief syndicated report of which appeared in many newspapers across England — was described as “strange”, “mysterious” or “tragic”, it seems to have been a fairly straightforward story involving drink and a man’s slightly peculiar obsession with his fiancé.

But not everything is as it seems. Why did he tell his housekeeper he was going to Henley-on-Thames and would be back within 24 hours? What led to the apparent last-minute change of plan — they both needed to send telegrams —to go and see his fiancé in Ostend? To whom did Rhodes send his first telegram? How could his housekeeper not know he was engaged? What lay behind the mysterious room-swapping in the minutes before his death?

Most of these questions cannot be answered now, but there might be some hint of what lay behind all this mystery. The key to the story is Mrs Manley. For a woman to be visiting a single man so late in the evening would have raised more than a few eyebrows in 1889. And although she was a widow, she was perhaps not what readers of her testimony would have envisioned: at the time of Rhodes’ death she was only 29.

Beatrice Thayer Hodge was born in Torquay in 1860, the third child of George Hodge, a draper-turned-auctioneer. At Exeter in 1883, she had married a widowed solicitor’s clerk called George Manley, with whom she had five children before his death from tuberculosis in 1889. She had moved from Devon to London between the birth of her second and third child, sometime in 1885. But more relevant may be her family. The 1871 census records Beatrice, her four sisters and one brother living in Paignton with a governess — the “head of the family” was recorded “absent”. Curiously, her parents were a few miles away in Torquay, at the address where the family had lived in 1861. Even more interesting are the names of her sisters recorded on that 1871 census: Fanny, Annie, Mahala and Jennie. There is no sign of a sister called Vera; nor does anyone called Vera Hodge appear on any census return in this period, nor among birth and marriage records.

The only other public mention of anyone called Vera Hodge comes in December 1889, during the divorce hearing of a former MP called Robert French-Brewster. In a complicated case, reported with relish by the press, French-Brewster and his wife accused each other of adultery. Part of the evidence against him was that he had gone to the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne in late December 1888 with a woman called Vera Hodge; one witness, a chemist called Benjamin Nicholls who had read of the case in newspapers, stated that he knew that Hodge was a “loose woman”. Hodge lived at the time on Maddox Street in the house of a “Madame Blore” who operated what she claimed to be a millinery business but was apparently a brothel: according to police who had watched the house, women came and went at all hours of the night. Hodge was not summoned to give evidence (Madame Blore ignored a subpoena), and it is impossible to say with certainty whether this was Rhodes’ fiancé. But there is one very strong connection: Maddox Street is around half a mile from Charles Street, just on the other side of Berkley Square. It would be quite a coincidence for two people calling themselves Vera Hodge to have such a link to Charles Street, and for both to be in the news separately in 1889.

If this was Rhodes’ fiancé, “Vera” would not have been the only Hodge sister to appear in scandalous newspaper stories in this period. The youngest, Jennie Hodge, was born in 1866. The 1881 census records her living with her sister Mahala as an apprentice draper working in Ilfracombe.

Baroness Jeanie Frerichs (née Hodge) pictured during the 1894 divorce case between Mr and Mrs Dunhill (Image: Reynolds’s Newspaper, 27 May 1894)

Remarkably, given this humble background, in May 1887 she married Baron Hermann Frerichs, an officer in the German army whom she had met a year earlier. She gave her address on the marriage certificate as the “Parish of St George, Hanover Square” — the parish which included Maddox Street and Charles Street. But in 1890 the Baron began divorce proceedings on the grounds that Jennie — now known as Baroness Frerichs — had committed adultery with Dr Gilbert Lynch. The divorce was granted in 1891 but the Baron offered to pay her an allowance as she had “lived with him as his mistress before marriage”. That was not the end of the adventures for Jennie (or Jeanie as she began to call herself). In 1894, another divorce case came before a court; Mrs Alice Dunhill charged her husband, William Dunhill — a wealthy man whose occupation was simply “gentleman” — with adultery. The “other woman” was Baroness Frerichs.

Mr and Mrs Dunhill had met the baroness in 1889 while all three were staying at the Hotel Metropole in London. The two women had become very close, which must have made it especially difficult when Mrs Dunhill found Jennie with her husband at his second home, and discovered that they had travelled to Nice together, pretending to be married. Several salacious details and accusations were made in court, including some hints that Mrs Dunhill and the Baroness were more than just friends. The Baroness denied adultery with Mr Dunhill, but had to face suggestions in court that she had been involved with at least one other married man, by the name of Farnham, around the time of her divorce. Farnham had been supporting her financially — she claimed to have been bankrupt, although there is no indication that she had been declared so — and gave her money to keep his name out of the 1890 divorce. No one in court used the word “blackmail”, but there was a definite hint. And the representative of Mrs Dunhill, questioning the Baroness, accused her of formerly being a prostitute. She denied this, but admitted living with her husband before marriage. The jury did not even need to retire before pronouncing that Dunhill and the Baroness were guilty of adultery and a divorce was granted.

In 1896, Jennie married again — a man called Hastings Scott who was a lieutenant in the army. The couple soon moved to Australia and settled in Queensland, although Scott lost most of his money in a failed business venture involving gold mining in the first decade of the twentieth century. Jennie died in 1934, by which time she was living in Brisbane.

Of the rest of the family, there is little trace. Bessie disappears after being listed on the 1871 census; Fanny, was dead by 1876. In 1881, Annie — like Jennie and Mahala, although at a separate establishment — was working as a draper’s assistant. Neither Annie nor Mahala seem to be recorded on any census after 1881. Could one of them have been “Vera”, having changed their name for reasons lost to us? Both of them worked at draper’s in 1881, and Vera Hodge in the French-Brewster case was working for someone who claimed to be a milliner. There was an association — as was noted to general amusement in the French-Brewster case — between millinery and prostitution; the link definitely existed although by no means all milliners were prostitutes. While there is no evidence that either of the establishments at which the three Hodge sisters worked in 1881 were anything other than reputable clothing businesses, it is not impossible that they travelled to London where they were drawn into some form of prostitution through trying to find work as drapers. It would certainly not be a stretch to suggest that this was how Jennie — also a draper in 1881 — found herself living with a German baron by 1886; given the address she gave at the time of her marriage, it is even possible she lived at Madame Blore’s, but that speculation goes much further than the evidence can safely take us. It may also be relevant that Mrs Manley must have come to London around the same time as Jennie; perhaps several of the sisters, including “Vera”, moved together.

There are certainly enough parallels between “Vera” from the French-Brewster case and Jennie to reinforce the idea that they were indeed sisters — making Rhodes’ fiancé the woman from Madame Blore’s. Again, it should be stressed that the evidence does not allow for any certainty, but “Vera’s” involvement with Rhodes would fit a pattern.

Rhodes was another rich man, like French-Brewster, like Baron Frerich, like Mr Dunhill. Could he, as a single man with time and money to spare, have visited Madame Blore’s and met “Vera”? The French-Brewster case revealed that she was no longer living at Maddox Street in late 1889, which would fit with Rhodes having a fiancé abroad. This would explain why his housekeeper did not know about his “engagement” — either she was unaware that he was spending time with prostitutes, or she wished to protect his posthumous reputation by professing no knowledge. Or was Rhodes’ fiancé actually Jennie? She was involved with two, possibly three, men by 1890. Did she also begin an affair with Rhodes? It seems unlikely; given her identity as the Baroness Frerichs, she would not have been able to spare much time for Rhodes without someone noticing. But it is not impossible. Maybe he was never formally “engaged”, but simply regularly seeing “Vera” — whoever she was.

Which brings us back to the question of how Rhodes died. The inquest concluded that it was an accidental death, despite an investigation that was no more than cursory. This remains the most plausible scenario. Suicide is unlikely; even if something had caused Rhodes to despair — such as problems with “Vera” or the threat of blackmail — a seventeen-foot leap from a first-floor balcony is not an obvious method. It is possible he was pushed, but the only possible suspect — Mrs Manley — had no motive.

The most likely explanation — as the coroner suggested — is that he was trying to get into Mrs Manley’s room. This would explain why he was so eager to swap rooms — room two had a balcony which he would have been able to access from the sitting room. The question remains: why? To talk about “Vera”? If this was the reason, there must have been something urgent to discuss beyond what Mrs Manley told the inquest. Was he making an accusation? Had he discovered the truth, whatever that might have been? Was he being blackmailed? Given what happened to Mr Farnham after being involved with Jennie in 1890, it is not implausible. The other possibility is that he wanted to see Mrs Manley for other reasons, which would explain his “night attire”. Perhaps he was simply overcome by drunken lust. Maybe there was even a struggle on the balcony. Or perhaps there was something else going on; it is not impossible he was trying to leave rather than enter Mrs Manley’s room — we have only her version of what happened. Is it even possible that “Vera” never existed and Rhodes was in a relationship with Mrs Manley? It would explain her late evening visit, the secretive trip away and why he would want to get into (or out of) her room via the balcony.

Whatever lay behind Rhodes’ appearance on the balcony, he fell to his death; most likely his drunkenness played a part. The full story never came out, but it seems highly likely it was somehow connected to the strange adventures of the Hodge sisters. They clearly sought the company of rich men. Rhodes may well have been another. Did he simply fall for a “loose woman”? Was he the victim of a scam, some elaborate blackmail scheme? Or is this really the story of a romantic escape which enabled girls from Devon to mix with the rich and famous and live a life which must have resembled a fairy tale compared to their early lives as drapers?

Mrs Manley was living with her mother and her children in London by the time of the 1891 census, at the same address she gave at Rhodes’ inquest, and her occupation was “dressmaker”. By 1901, she was the proprietress of a boarding house and on the 1911 census, still living with her mother, she employed a servant and listed herself as being of “independent means”. Another unexplained ascent by a Hodge sister? One other curiosity is that her adult son left home in 1900 and had no apparent contact with the rest of the family. Even when he married and had his own children, he never mentioned his relations.

As for Rhodes, he was buried in Dover, although he had no connections with the town. There was some brief sadness; G. F. Vernon lamented his absence from the tour of India, and Sporting Life said: “His untimely death will be mourned by all who knew him, and his place at Putney next Spring very difficult to fill.” But he was quickly forgotten, as was the strange — and still unexplained — story of his scandalous death.

“Why do you rub ’em all up the wrong way?”: Who was the real Charlie Parker?

Charlie Parker (Image: Wikipedia)

Charlie Parker, the Gloucestershire left-arm spinner, is famous for two reasons: being third in the list of all-time first-class wicket-takers and for allegedly assaulting Pelham Warner in a lift. While his 3,278 wickets in a 32-year career are indisputable, the lift incident has a more dubious provenance. Although something probably happened involving Parker and Warner, the entire story has a slightly questionable basis, even if it is an entertaining one. A little more unjustly, the “assault” has overshadowed the rest of Parker’s life and career. David Foot wrote about him at length in Cricket’s Unholy Trinity (1985), and it is from this admirable book that most of our information about Parker comes, but even he could only uncover a shadowy outline of who the man actually was. If Foot could only give a partial picture, even having spoken to some of his old team-mates, we are unlikely to be able to fill in all the gaps. However, we can illuminate a few aspects of Parker’s life, including one major incident which Foot did not discuss — possibly as he was unaware of it, but more likely because he discreetly omitted any mention of it. And we can look beyond the lift incident to acquire a more rounded picture of the man.

Foot spoke to several people who played alongside Parker, and his major source was almost certainly Reg Sinfield, who was as close to Parker as any of his other Gloucestershire team-mates. The result is a very well-informed biography, the details of which can be corroborated and supplemented by materials that were unavailable to Foot, such as census returns.

Charles Warrington Lennard Parker was the first of nine children to Lennard Parker and his wife Sarah Jane Kitchen. The marriage was clearly hasty, as Parker was born at Prestbury, near Cheltenham Racecourse, less than nine months after his parent’s wedding. He was raised in a family home which they named (ironically) “The Workhouse”. Although Foot records that Parker’s family were farmers, Lennard Parker was actually an agricultural labourer who later became a nursery gardener. Foot relates how Parker “won a place at Cheltenham Grammar School”, presumably as a scholarship.

As for the rest of the family, Foot states that at least one of his sisters was musical, one of his brothers was nicknamed “The Poet” and most of the family did well at school. The family also had a clear love of golf. The 1901 census records the 18-year-old Charles working as a golf caddy and by 1911, Arthur had become a professional golfer, while two of his younger brothers were caddies. Arthur later became the golf professional at the Cotswold Hills Club, and Charles always enjoyed the game. Incidentally, several of the Parker siblings lived past 1960, and Emily lived until 1981 (Parker’s parents wrote on the 1911 census that they had ten living children and one who had died; there is no record of a tenth who was alive on that date).

That 1911 census records Parker as a professional cricketer. He first played for Gloucestershire in 1903, recommended to the county, according to his Wisden obituary, by W. G. Grace. In this period before the First World War, he was a medium-paced swing bowler of limited effectiveness. Between 1908 and 1914, he took over fifty wickets each season and generally averaged in the mid-twenties with the ball; it was a respectable record but nothing more, and he made little impression on anyone.

Foot is a little vague about what Parker did during the First World War, except to say that he was turned down twice by the army before joining the Royal Flying Corps. We can add a little more detail to these bare bones. On Christmas Eve 1914, Parker married Daisy Helena Gardener at Cheltenham Parish Church. She was the youngest child of a boarding house owner; the marriage certificate records Parker living at their Cheltenham lodging house in 1914. After this, according to his Royal Flying Corps record, he worked as a colliery stores clerk. He may have moved to Yorkshire in this role. We certainly know that his first child, Pauline, was born in Hemsworth, near Wakefield, in March 1917. But for Daisy, it was not an easy pregnancy. She was seriously disturbed by the presence of Zeppelins while they were living in nearby South Kirkby, to the point where she had a breakdown and had to return to her parents in Cheltenham after giving birth.

On 1 January 1918, Parker joined the army, but by February he had transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (Daisy’s address when he signed up was in Cheltenham; presumably that was his address too, but it is not listed). There is no record of where he served during the eleven months of the war in which he was a member of the armed forces, but it seems likely that he was in France. He was moved to the Royal Air Force Reserves in March 1919 and officially discharged in April 1920.

When county cricket resumed in 1919, Parker made a change to his bowling style; he abandoned swing, slowed his pace and concentrated on spin. This made an enormous difference. Of his 3,278 first-class wickets (taken at an average of 19.46), 2,811 came after the war at an average of 18.43. In every season between 1920 and his retirement in 1935, he took over a hundred wickets; five times he exceeded 200. For a man with such a record, it is strange that he only played one Test match — against Australia in 1921 when his figures against an extremely strong Australian team were 28–16–32–2. The “lift incident” is often cited as the reason, but that is not quite a convincing claim as he was picked for England — but left out of the final eleven — after the alleged assault took place. In reality, the picture is slightly more complicated; there were sound cricketing reasons for Parker’s repeated omission.

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Parker photographed around 1925

Before the war, there is no question that Parker never approached Test standard, and afterwards there was always someone in the way who was a better batsman and fielder. For example, in 1920 and 1921, Wilfred Rhodes and Frank Woolley were ahead of him in the reckoning; their records as left-arm spinners were superior to Parker (Rhodes took 1,459 wickets after the war at an average of 15.63 and Woolley, although his career as a front-line bowler was over by 1924, took 1,231 at 20.75). More importantly, both men were worth their places in an England team as batsmen as well — Rhodes averaged 32.61 after the war, Woolley 43.25. And between 1924 and 1926, Roy Kilner was preferred as England’s left-arm spinner (his post-war bowling average was 17.99); he too was an all-rounder. When Parker was finally picked in 1926, he was omitted from the final team by Arthur Carr in a move that went a long way to costing him the England captaincy. The amateur Jack White then held a Test place for a few years; he was England’s vice-captain on the 1928–29 tour and a better batsman and team-man than Parker, although probably an inferior bowler (post-war bowling average 18.41). After 1930, Hedley Verity, whose county record dwarfed even that of Parker (his bowling average was 14.90) was the first-choice left-arm spinner until the Second World War. When other spin bowlers, such as Parker’s Gloucestershire team-mate Tom Goddard or a succession of amateur leg-spinners like Ian Peebles and Walter Robins, are added in to the mix, there was little room for Parker.

Perhaps for similar reasons, Parker was never chosen for the Gentlemen v Players match at Lord’s. He played in the lesser Gentlemen v Players match at the Oval in 1926, but otherwise only represented the Players at festival games. Nor was he ever selected for a Test trial; the closest he came to any recognition was being chosen to represent “The Rest of England” in the annual end-of-season match against the County Champions (in 1922, 1925, 1927 and 1930). And his only overseas tour was an unofficial one, a private tour of South Africa organised by Solomon Joel in 1924–25. Nevertheless, for all these times that he did not play, it is worth pointing out that in three successive home Ashes series (1921, 1926 and 1930), he either played or was selected without making the final eleven.

Charlie Parker bowling (Images from Cricket’s Unholy Trinity by David Foot)

Nevertheless, there were some question marks over Parker’s ability which might account for his lack of representative cricket. Partly, this was because he played most of his home matches at Bristol, a notoriously poor pitch in this period, which offered too much help to spin bowlers. Between 1919 and 1935, he averaged 17.37 at home and 19.55 away. Thoughtful critics had other reservations. These included Parker himself: Foot relates that Parker always believed Rhodes was his superior and worried that he was less effective against left-handers; he particularly brooded after being harshly dealt with by Frank Woolley on more than one occasion. Foot also documents other limitations: that he “spun the ball better than he flighted it”; that Jack Hobbs never had any trouble facing him; that he was reluctant to vary his pace or line.

Bob Wyatt, never shy of offering a technical opinion in later years, also spoke to Foot about Parker, discussing Wyatt’s decision to leave him out of the playing eleven for the final Test at the Oval in 1930: “‘Charlie Parker was a magnificent bowler, you know,’ went on Wyatt. He paused before completing a sentence which I assumed had already finished. ‘… if the batsmen let him.'” Wyatt explained how he believed that Parker did not like to be attacked by batsmen:

“You had to know how to play him. I think I did. I used to go after him. Move down the wicket, if I could, and hit the ball back over his head. No, he didn’t like that. It could affect him. His next delivery might be short, then. His length might suffer. Wally [Hammond, Parker’s team-mate at Gloucestershire] could get quite irritated when a batsmen attacked Charlie and he lost his control as a result.”

For all these reservations, there is no doubt that Parker was one of the best county bowlers in England between the wars. However, he was also a somewhat dour character who was not easy to get along with. And whether he attacked Warner or not, this may have accounted for his frequent non-selection. Alan Gibson summed this up in his Cricket Captains of England (1979): “The reasons why Charlie Parker, of Gloucestershire, played only once for England (in 1921) are clear enough even to anyone writing, as I am, from the west. He was a poor fieldsman and a difficult man.”

Perhaps the war made a difference, as it did for so many others. Foot wrote of Parker in 1919: “He was back from the war, gloomy of feature and fluent of tongue. There was plenty for him to talk about: the human folly and wastage of the trenches, and friends from Cheltenham and Tewkesbury he had lost forever.” Foot went further:

“The war hadn’t so much changed Parker as solidified his opinions of life. As part of his developing self-education he read with a ferocity noted by his teammates. The sweeping events of 1917 absorbed his interest. No one ever went so far as to call him a Commie but his admiration for the Bolshevik triumph was never disguised. Charlie’s family tilled the soil in their modest way; his sympathy for peasant radicalism was honest and straight from the gut. And the war had also made him more outspoken, though some would say his invective, when aroused, was in the championship class from the day he first took the tram from Temple Meads to the county ground.”

He was not afraid to confront the Gloucestershire Committee on behalf of the other professionals, and Foot suggests that on at least one occasion, he managed to negotiate a pay rise. While the other professionals were rather intimidated by the County Secretary, “Parker would bang on the door and stride in.” As a result of what Foot calls his “class complex”, he rarely deferred to amateurs, as professionals were still supposed to in the 1920s and 1930s. “The result was that he sometimes bristled unnecessarily and this looked very much like a form of discourtesy.”

“‘Why do you rub ’em all up the wrong way?’ a Gloucestershire pro once asked him, discussing Parker’s brittle relationship with a great many of the amateurs.
‘Because of their privileged backgrounds. What do those buggers know about life?'”

On more than one occasion, Parker was summoned before the County Committee to explain himself, or to be disciplined for insubordination — although despite several threats, the county never dismissed him for his behaviour. But the attitude was not limited to the cricket field. On one occasion in 1926, Parker and several of the Gloucestershire team were invited to take part in a match organised by the owner of a local coal mine. At the dinner after the game, their host made some disparaging comments about miners in a speech; Parker jumped to his feet and gave a speech of his own in which he eviscerated the man, to the shock of everyone present. And once, when he and Sinfield were invited out by a music professor in Nottingham, he openly questioned the expert’s opinions, making Sinfield very uncomfortable. On the walk back to their lodgings, Sinfield said: “You shouldn’t have done that, you know.” Parker replied: “The old fool just didn’t know what he was talking about.”

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Parker in the 1930s

But he got on well with Bev Lyon, one of Gloucestershire’s captains and verbally attacked Wally Hammond on one occasion when he criticised the former’s captaincy. The only time he and Lyon briefly clashed was when the latter had arranged to have Parker flown from London to Bristol, to play for the county in the event that he was not picked for the fifth Test of 1930. Parker refused to co-operate, prompting an angry outburst in a newspaper from Lyon, who had enjoyed the publicity associated with the enterprise; but he was criticised by the local press for daring to question Parker’s loyalty to the club.

There are tales of occasional flashes of ferocious temper, of grumbling in the dressing room, of standing up to Gloucestershire’s amateur captain or the Committee. Of team-mates treading carefully around delicate topics such as his omission from the England team at Headingley in 1926. Reg Sinfield told Foot of a time, after his final first-class match, when Parker was being baited by a drunk opposition supporter in a bar; he grabbed the man by the collar and punched him in the stomach, leaving him gasping while he and Sinfield left the bar. There was one story about Parker which came from his sometime team-mate Graham Parker, in his history of Gloucestershire. The county was a notoriously poor fielding side — and Charlie Parker was no exception. On one occasion, he watched Alf Dipper, George Dennett and Percy Mills, three senior professionals never noted for their agility and probably into their forties when the story took place, ineffectually and reluctantly chasing a hit off his bowling. He stood with his hands on his hips and proclaimed: “There go my greyhounds.” He was quick to blame fielders for missed catches, no matter how difficult, and for any runs conceded.

Not everyone was critical. For example, Wyatt, who captained Parker a few times, told Foot: “He was certainly quick-tempered but I didn’t find him difficult. One had to treat him gently and encourage him.” And R. C. Robertson-Glasgow, who was always charitable about cricketers, said of Parker in an article written in 1939: “[He] was more apt [than Jack White] to allow his temperament to break through his outer crust, and he was given, in moments of stress, to ‘making allusions,’ which were apt but far from puritanical. A very great artist.”

Parker was also a man whose interests extended beyond the cricket field, and not just into politics. Foot wrote on more than one occasion that Parker was self-educated (although this does not quite square with his place at Cheltenham Grammar School, which was hardly an educational backwater); colleagues averred that he could quote from the Bible and the classics, and was familiar with symphony music. But the combination of superior alternatives to Parker in an England team, the question marks over his actual ability and his difficult reputation — even ignoring any incidents with Pelham Warner in a lift — make it perhaps understandable why he played so little representative cricket. And he would not have been the only cricketer in the 1920s to lose out on a Test place for reasons unconnected to ability.

For Gloucestershire, Parker was immense in the inter-war period. Even so, apart from a few years on either side of 1930, the county were often in the mid-to-lower reaches of the County Championship and generally struggled financially. One match illustrates both his effectiveness and the problems that he had playing for his county. This was his benefit match, which was the game against Yorkshire in 1922. Although rain restricted the first day, Parker made the game memorable by taking nine for 36 on the second. At one point, he took four wickets with five consecutive deliveries, all of which were bowled. In fact, he hit the stumps with all five deliveries but the second was a no-ball; he took a hat-trick with the next three (this almost set an unequalled record; to date, no-one has taken five wickets with consecutive balls is first-class or List A cricket). This gave Gloucestershire a lead of 106 on first innings but Rhodes bowled out the home side for 58. Yorkshire carefully knocked off the runs on the third day to win by four wickets. The game raised £1,075 — a fraction of what a professional at a county like Yorkshire or Lancashire would have made.

At the end of the 1934 season, Parker asked for either a second benefit or a testimonial in view of his long service; the Gloucestershire Committee turned him down. This must have been a blow; although he was never in serious financial difficulty, he rarely had a lot of money to himself. Reg Sinfield remembered, when talking to Foot, that Mrs Parker rarely attended her husband’s cricket matches; one one of the rare occasions she did, Parker borrowed some money from Sinfield to take her out to dinner.

The decision not to award another benefit may have contributed to Parker’s sudden decision to retire after the 1935 season. According to Sinfield, Parker was finding it increasingly physically difficult to keep going. He was 52 years old, and despite a good record that season of 108 wickets at 26, he knew that it was time to stop. There was no announcement at the end of the season, and he kept Gloucestershire in the dark; The Cricketer Annual for 1935–36 stated that he was “still indispensable” to the county. In December, there was widespread surprise when Parker was named on the first-class umpires list for the 1936 season.

He duly took up his new role (having done a little coaching for Gloucestershire as well) at the beginning of 1936. But after seven games, his season was tragically interrupted.

A Pathé feature on Gloucestershire before the 1935 season, showing Parker bowling in the nets

Parker’s wife is largely absent from Foot’s biography, other than the mention that she rarely watched him. After the birth of Pauline in 1917, she and Parker had three more children: Zara (1924), Charles (1927) and Geraldine (1931). There is no indication whether or not Mrs Parker had any other mental health problems after those she suffered in 1917, but that must be a possibility.

In the 1930s, Mrs Parker bought a greengrocers shop in Bristol, borrowing some money from a friend called Mrs Rice to get it started and employing a manager, the 55-year-old Arthur Robert Branson, who originally lived at Mrs Rice’s house but later moved to live in the greenhouse of Mrs Parker’s house. Around June 1936, Mrs Rice had asked Mrs Parker if she could pay back the money, but she had been unable to. This played on Mrs Parker’s mind and she began to suffer from what Branson called “ill health” and “fits of giddiness”. On 9 July, Mrs Parker was seen entering Mrs Rice’s house, where she took a pound note belonging to Mr Rice. Detectives were watching — suggesting that this was not the first time something had occurred — and she was arrested. Branson bailed her out and when he asked her why she had done it, she said that “her head went wrong and she did not know what she was doing”.

Mrs Parker came to the shop, but later left to get her handbag from her home. When Pauline arrived at the shop, Branson told her what had happened, and she went to the house to find two notes from her mother. One note was to Pauline — saying: “Mr. Branson is the best friend I have ever bad. He is the perfect gentleman. I cannot face the Court with such disgrace. Sorry. Mum.” The second was to Branson, telling him how to dispose of her property. It suggested that the detectives had accused her of stealing from Rice for six months, which she denied to them and to Branson. She said that the children would be “better off with their father … let the children go to their father.”

That evening, Mrs Parker’s body was found floating in the River Avon; on the bank, next to her hat and handbag, was a postcard, with another message to Branson: “Tell Pauline to look after the children. I am a failure. Love, Daisy.” She was just 47.

At the inquest, it was revealed that she had died from heart failure caused by the shock of entering the cold water. Other than the doctor who had conducted the post mortem, Branson was the only witness. No-one appears to have questioned the bizarre arrangement which saw him living in Mrs Parker’s greenhouse. The Australian-born Branson was himself an interesting character. His real name was Arthur Robert Chong; his father was a Chinese immigrant to Australia. Chong/Branson joined the Australian army during the war, but settled in England afterwards. In the 1920s or 1930s, he adopted his mother’s surname of Branson. Despite his strange living arrangements, he was married with children on his own, and by the time of the 1939 Register was living with them rather than with other families.

The conclusion to the inquest was moving. As the coroner was summing up, Parker stood up at the back of the room and asked to give evidence. He related how his wife had been badly affected by the Zeppelins in 1917; he said, “She was a very virtuous woman and I cannot understand it all,” before breaking down in tears and returning to his seat. The jury rejected Branson’s claim that the request from Mrs Rice for the money and caused Mrs Parker’s suicide, and returned the verdict, endorsed strongly by the coroner: “We further find that deceased took her life during a fit of depression caused by recent events and ill-health.”

It is curious that she left no note for Parker; the phrasing of her other messages might indicate that she did not live with him anymore. That she felt the need to steal money — probably more than once — might also be evidence that she had separated from Parker, as might Branson’s presence in her greenhouse. It is unclear what exactly was going on, or what really drove Mrs Parker to her sad end. In any case, perhaps that particular part of the story is better left without being disturbed any more.

Foot, unsurprisingly, says nothing of this, presumably out of discretion. He, or at the very least Parker’s team-mates, would likely have been aware of what happened; Mrs Parker’s death was widely reported. Instead, Foot refers to it indirectly (although he was apparently misinformed about how many children Parker had): “There are numerous reports of how, after the death of his wife, [Parker] knuckled down to looking after his son and daughter [sic]. He was too proud and independent to look around for any help. He got the meals and washed the clothes. He was father and mother, and he clearly did it very well.”

Parker resumed his umpiring after the inquest, and continued in the role until the 1939 season was curtailed by war. According to Foot, he “did his job with unsmiling efficiency”, turning down vociferous appeals but, according to one player, he “displayed a faint bias in favour of bowlers”. When the 1939 Register was taken, Parker was living with three of his children (whose names are obscured on the records currently viewable, indicating that at least until very recently, all were alive) at Vernon Lodge in Bristol, and listed his occupation as: “Cricket Umpire, now unemployed. Last winter, metal stamper, aeroplane works”. Pauline was living in Ramsgate, Kent, working as a factory hand.

After the war, Parker took up a role as coach at Cranleigh School in Surrey; for at least part of the time, his youngest daughter seems to have accompanied him. He lived in a council house and was popular with his neighbours, although he kept very much to himself. The boys whom he coached liked him; although they knew he had once been a cricketer, they never realised how famous he had been. He died at Cranleigh, aged 76, in July 1959. The Manchester Guardian, one of many newspapers to print obituaries, related how in his later years, he loved telling stories against himself. Pauline died in 1994; I have no further information on the other children; some may still be alive.

There is no doubt that Parker has not been well-served by the focus on the Warner incident. And he was not particularly well-served by the cricket authorities — not in terms of non-selection, but in how he was taken for granted by Gloucestershire and not well rewarded for a long and successful career. Even his name was not especially respected: during his playing days, he was listed on scorecards as C. L. Parker, rather than his full initials, C. W. L. Parker, which is how he is recorded today. But even modern databases are not accurate: his third name is spelt as “Leonard” when it was actually “Lennard” (after his father, who was in turn named after his mother, Ann Lennard). Also forgotten — and unmentioned by Foot — is that he wrote semi-regularly for local newspapers, including after his retirement as a player. But perhaps these many omissions and injustices are a strangely appropriate legacy for a complicated and sometimes troubled man who was far more than he seemed.

Hanged for Murder: The Story of Edmund Kesteven

A sketch of Edmund Kesteven from 1895, printed in the Nottinghamshire Free Press (reprinted in 1985 in the Sutton Free Press)

Below the level of the first-class game in late-Victorian England, there was a somewhat murky world occupied by professional cricketers not good enough to reach the top. It included former county players, those whose careers were drawing to a close and those who never made it at all. This was the world of umpiring, coaching and scoring — anything to make ends meet while remaining in cricket, which offered better wages than any other job that they could reasonably have found. Many of the professional cricketers in this sphere found employment at local cricket clubs, where their role not only included playing but also coaching members and looking after the ground. They had a heavy workload but the pay was reasonable. For anyone who could play the game to a decent standard, there was the prospect of making a living. It was not easy; even county professionals such as Luke Greenwood and Alfred Smith came to financial grief, so club professionals must have had an even greater struggle. But there were many such players in England at this time, most of whom we know little about; for the 1881 census, over 150 men listed their occupation as cricketer, and few of these played for counties. In 1895, one of these otherwise anonymous professionals who never played first-class cricket became notorious across the country.

Edmund Kesteven was born in 1855, the third of six children to Edwin Kesteven and his wife Dorothy Sales. The family lived in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, working as framework knitters. This occupation, mainly found in the East Midlands, involved using a knitting frame to make stockings and other delicate items, and could be difficult and unpleasant. Although people worked at home rather than in a factory, costs were high and the entire household had to work in order to earn enough money to live.

The family had an interest in cricket, which was very popular in Sutton-in-Ashfield. Several famous players came from the town in this period: the Test players Johnny Briggs, Fred Morley, Billy Barnes and Wilfred Flowers (the latter was raised, but not born there); the county players Jack Crossland and Tom Wass; and the umpire Frank Farrands. Another county player was John Kesteven, the nephew of Edwin and the cousin of Edmund, who played three first-class matches for Nottinghamshire in 1876, finishing with a record of 24 runs in four innings. He continued as a professional cricketer until the late 1880s, mainly working as a coach at several schools, but after the death of his wife he returned to live with his widowed mother and resumed working as a framework knitter.

As for Edwin, regarding his cricket career, all we have to go on is a pseudo-obituary written in 1895; according to this, he went to work as the assistant professional at Hampstead Cricket Club in 1879. This began a professional career which lasted until 1891 without reaching any great height. We have no indication of how much money he earned, but he never appears to have had any financial problems. This may be because he continued to live with his parents and presumably continued with framework knitting when not playing cricket.

In 1880, Kesteven was employed in Cockermouth, according to the obituary, “as a professional to a private gentleman”. This might have meant working for someone who ran a private cricket team, or being employed as a coach. The obituary stated that he stayed there for “five or six seasons” but this cannot have been quite correct. Traces of his career can be found in newspapers, although this is made more complicated by the presence of his cousin John, whose career overlapped. But we can be fairly certain that in 1881, Kesteven was a professional at Church Cricket Club (at a time before the Lancashire League had come into existence). The club’s website lists the professional that year as J. T. Parnham but at least one local newspaper lists “Kesteven” as a second professional. And CricketArchive has a handful of scorecards for Church in 1881; two include someone called Kesteven playing for Church and two others name him as E. Kesteven.

At some time in the early 1880s (certainly before 1883, as we shall see), he spent at least a year as a professional in Leeds. His obituary says that he was at Holbeck Cricket Club. A professional named Kesteven was playing for Hunslet in Leeds in 1882, according to a report in the Yorkshire Post on 13 June 1882. Possibly the obituary named the wrong club, or perhaps Kesteven was in the area for a few seasons (assuming that this is the same man). His obituary adds that his time at Holbeck was cut short by “a blow on the head with a cricket ball”. This may have been more serious than anyone realised at the time.

After leaving Holbeck, Kesteven worked as the professional at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Mansfield; one account suggests that he scored a century for the school. The obituary then becomes vague: after his time at Mansfield, “an odd season at home completed his his cricketing performances in Nottinghamshire, and, after two seasons spent with the Grammar School, Kesteven again assisted at Hampstead, finally going to Reading, to become professional to the Reading Town Club.” It is almost impossible to expand or verify these claims. Contemporary newspapers are not much help as they rarely give the first names of professional cricketers, and most mentions of anyone called Kesteven refer to John. According to the Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club website, John was the professional at Sefton Park, Liverpool, between 1881 and 1884; he appears in several newspapers playing in the Liverpool area in this period. Less clear-cut is the Kesteven playing for Cockermouth in 1889; John was a professional in Oxford by then, so this was most likely Edwin returning to his former club. We can also date Edwin’s time at Hampstead to 1890 when Cricket records someone called E. Kesteven playing for that team. He played only four times, but his role at the club may have been more of a groundsman who filled in when the main players (who included the England batsman A. E. Stoddart) were unable to appear. Perhaps he played at Reading in 1891, although as we shall see, there are a few problems with this. Or maybe he was at Reading in 1890 and filled in occasionally at Hampstead. It is impossible to know.

While it is hard to build up a clear picture, it appears that Kesteven was successful enough to sustain a career as a professional for at least eleven years, even though there are very few details of his performances. On the few scorecards which refer to him, he appears to have been an all-rounder — bowling regularly (there is no indication of his bowling style) and batting in the middle order or opening the batting. Although never famous, he would have been a familiar name in several places around the country. According to several people who knew him, he could at times become quite “boastful” of his cricket performances.

But there were a few hints that all was not well. In 1883, Kesteven’s brother-in-law — Arthur Bristol, who was married to Kesteven’s sister Ada — travelled back to Sutton-in-Ashfield with Kesteven, having attended a cricket match at which he was playing. When they arrived home, Kesteven “seemed very strange”, and told Bristol that he was afraid of being arrested by two police detectives from Leeds. A few days later, Bristol was called to a public house to deal with Kesteven, who was quite sober but brandishing a whetstone (a stone used for sharpening blades) at the people there, and “dancing with his feet”. Kesteven had threatened to kill the first person to enter the room, but Bristol and another man managed to take him home and eventually calm him down. Bristol related how Kesteven had several other strange episodes, such as suggesting — with no foundation in reality — that he had taken part in several cricket tours abroad, and made a great deal of money from them. He also continued to be in constant fear of detectives from Leeds, although Bristol was not aware of anything which would have cause the police to be looking for him. On another occasion, he told Bristol that he would like to “die like a cat”, whatever that meant. Furthermore, Kesteven was unusually fascinated by murder stories in the press, and would sometimes go for days without eating solid food.

There was another curious incident which took place around 1884 or 1885. Around midnight one Sunday, a policeman heard someone running down a street in Sutton-in-Ashfield shouting “Murder!” and “Police!” It was Kesteven, who ran into the policeman and was clearly seriously disturbed, although not obviously drunk. A cursory investigation revealed nothing amiss in the area, although the policeman did not make any enquiries the following day. He concluded that Kesteven was “wrong in the head” and took him home. At some point around the same time — possibly connected with that incident or the earlier ones witnessed by Bristol — Kesteven was under the care of the local surgeon, being of “unsound mind”. The surgeon later reported that this was unconnected with alcohol or alcoholism, and considered having him admitted to a lunatic asylum. However, Kesteven recovered after two or three weeks. He later claimed to have been suffering from erysipelas, a skin infection which can cause severe discomfort and a fever.

Sarah Oldham (née Shaw) in an undated photograph printed in the Nottinghamshire Free Press (reprinted in 1985 in the Sutton Free Press)

As Kesteven’s career drew to a close — he seems to have given up cricket after 1891 — he began a relationship with a resident of Sutton-in-Ashfield called Sarah Shaw, the daughter of a publican who ran the Robin Hood Inn. In 1877, she had married a man called Frederick Oldham who worked as a tailor and brewery agent. But for reasons that are unclear, the couple separated in 1880; by 1883, he had emigrated to America with another woman from Sutton-in-Ashfield whom he subsequently married (bigamously). Such circumstances were common for women in this period, and she seems to have followed the only course available (divorce was almost impossible in that scenario in Victorian times); around 1890, she began cohabiting with Kesteven.

Sarah Oldham worked as a dressmaker, but later sources suggest that she owned the house as well as several other properties. The most likely explanation is that her parents left her quite a bit of money. When her father died in 1874, he left over £1,000 in his will (around £94,000 today); her mother left just over £500 when she died in 1890 (worth £55,000 today). This would have been shared between her and her two sisters, Kezia and Harriett (they had a brother but he drowned at sea having joined the navy).

According to those who knew them, Sarah and Kesteven lived together in Reading for a time while he was the professional there. It is not clear when this was; if Kesteven was in Hampstead in 1890, he can only have played in Reading for the 1891 season, although the 1891 census (which was taken on 5 April) records him living with Sarah Oldham (listed as her boarder) in a house on Penn Street in Sutton-in-Ashfield. His occupation was listed as a framework knitter rather than a cricketer. Perhaps they moved to Reading a little later as this was taken before the cricket season would have got underway.

Kesteven had certainly given up cricket by the end of the 1891 season (although it is unclear whether that was through choice or an inability to find a position), but his relationship with Sarah Oldham did not run smoothly afterwards. He began drinking heavily, and from contemporary descriptions seems to have been aggressive and unpleasant under the influence of alcohol. Friends related how he sometimes disappeared for a week at a time in heavy drinking sessions. He and Sarah had frequent and sometimes violent arguments when they had been drinking; on one such occasion, Kesteven had smashed a piano that was in the house. He had also threatened Sarah with a knife, which he said he would use on her one day. At other times, he accused her (with little basis in reality, according to people who knew the couple) of being with other men, which had led to several arguments. Sarah’s sister Kezia had urged her to leave Kesteven several times. However, most people who knew them — including Kezia — agreed that they got on well for the majority of the time; they described Kesteven as “attentive”. And all agreed that throughout 1894, the relationship had improved and the arguments had stopped.

At some point — it is unclear when, but most probably in 1894 — Kesteven was involved in a serious incident; he was boasting about money and a group of men tried to rob him. He was stabbed in the struggle, and later was charged with assault, but the case never came to court owing to a lack of evidence.

The climax of what was clearly a long decline for Kesteven at the end of 1894. In the week leading up to Christmas, he spent more time than usual in public houses. He also visited a friend, Harry Else, who said that he was “acting in a funny manner”, although he had not been drinking. He again engaged in fantasy, telling Else how he had made lots of money from a cricket tour of Australia and became angry when he did not believe him.

On Christmas Eve, Sarah spent some time shopping in the market with her sisters; she also bought some food for Kesteven’s supper — “something he would like”. Meanwhile, Kesteven had been to see the to pick up some medicine that had been prescribed for Sarah after he had summoned the surgeon a few days before; several people described Sarah as seeming somewhat ill as Christmas approached. The surgeon later said that Kesteven’s manner was “strange” and there was something about “the way in which he kept rolling about” that attracted his attention.

After their day of shopping, Sarah’s sisters took her home before returning to Kezia’s house, just a few doors away. Kezia and her husband were entertaining friends until after midnight at what was clearly a Christmas Eve party. Harriett was present for a time, but on her way home briefly called on Sarah, seeing her and Kesteven eating supper; both seemed sober and peaceful.

Just after midnight, as Kezia’s party was beginning to wind down, Sarah burst in through the unlocked back door and stumbled into the front room, in front of the horrified guests. She had a severe wound in her throat — it had been cut — and she was unable to speak. She sat in a chair but shortly after collapsed to the floor unconscious; she never woke up. In the panic, Kezia’s husband, John Dove, went to Sarah’s house. When he knocked, the door was answered by Kesteven. Dove said: “Good God, Ted, what have you been doing?” Kesteven accompanied Dove to his house, and was present when his wife died shortly afterwards. He admitted to several people — including among others John Dove, Harriett (who was called to the house when the alarm was raised) and a policeman — that he had done it, and made no denials. He was heard by several people, including Dove’s daughter, to say that Sarah had “deceived him and had been “with the two Keelings” (Not that this would have excused his actions, but everyone interviewed about the murder agreed that there was no basis to the accusations). Most damningly for his later defence, he stated: “She deserved it, and I ought to have done it sooner.” Everyone agreed that he was sober, and when his friend Harry Else arrived, Kesteven said to him: “Shake hands with me for the last time.” Amid the confusion and shock, Kesteven remained calm and detached.

When a police sergeant arrived, he inspected Sarah’s house and in the bedroom found blood and the damaged razor with which Kesteven said that he had inflicted the injury. The bedclothes and floor were saturated with blood, but there was no sign of a struggle. A post-mortem indicated that the cause of death was a combination of blood loss and asphyxia. The local doctor later revealed Sarah had suffered badly from insomnia. While in prison awaiting trial, Kesteven told another doctor — who had come from the lunatic asylum to assess his sanity — that Sarah had kept him awake for several nights with her insomnia; she kept getting in and out of bed which kept him awake, and had been doing so the night that he killed her.

The “Christmas Eve Tragedy” was reported widely in newspapers, and local coverage was extremely detailed. There was little doubt about what had happened, particularly as Kesteven had confessed immediately. When he was tried in early March 1895, he pleaded not guilty but seems to have done little to defend himself. Some of his friends arranged for him to be represented in court. His defence counsel argued that Kesteven was insane, describing some of his strange actions over the previous ten years. It was made clear that, while Kesteven was a heavy drinker, his bizarre behaviour happened when he was sober. Kesteven gave no assistance to his counsel, and indicated several times in conversations that he would rather be hanged than spend the rest of his life in an asylum. There were also suggestions, as it was generally assumed at the time that insanity was hereditary, that his maternal aunt spent ten years in a lunatic asylum before her death; his paternal uncle died of epilepsy, which was also assumed to have a connection with insanity.

Wilfred Flowers, pictured in 1896, was present at the trial (Image: Wikipedia)

Despite this defence, the facts as presented meant that, according to the law, it would have been very hard to rule that Kesteven was legally insane. The jury took just ten minutes to find him guilty of murder. Before the judge passed the sentence, he asked Kesteven if he had anything to say; he replied that he would prefer to be hanged than to spend the rest of his life in an asylum. The judge duly sentenced him to death. But as a further sign that all was not well, before being taken away, Kesteven looked around the court and noticed Wilfred Flowers, the Nottinghamshire cricketer, who was present in the public gallery (presumably as an interested local). He called out: “Good benefit to ye, Flowers!”

In the last of his three weeks at Bagthorpe Gaol, Kesteven was visited by his father and mother, and on another occasion by his older brother Frederick and his wife. A few days before the execution, he was visited by other family members and a few friends. But he wrote no letters, and never gave any further clue as to what lay behind his actions. The only thing which appeared to affect him was when some of his numerous nephews and nieces sent him some floral arrangements. Otherwise, he remained calm and composed throughout. He was hanged by the executioner James Billington without saying anything further about the murder or about Sarah. Newspaper coverage continued to be extremely detailed, and the story was carried across the country. The local press provided in-depth reports of the trial and the execution.

Bagthorpe Gaol, date unknown (Image: via Nottingham Post)

Kesteven was survived by his mother (who died in 1903) and father (who died in 1905). His brother Frederick died in 1901, but his three sisters lived for many more years; Ada died in 1938, Sarah Ann in 1939 and Betsy in 1946. His older brother Joseph is more mysterious; he was raised by his maternal grandfather and became a teacher. For the 1881 census, he was in Scotland, listed as a “schoolmaster out of employment” and as far as the records indicate, he died in 1898 while visiting a village in Derbyshire called Hathersage; the burial record has a note: “A stranger, died suddenly”. As for Sarah Oldham’s family, Kezia died in 1902 and Harriett in 1933; both left estates worth around £500, another indication that their parents left a substantial amount of money to their three daughters.

The murder of Sarah Oldham remained a quite well-known story in later years, given the sensational nature the case, its occurrence on on Christmas Eve and the relative celebrity of the culprit (although some sources later erroneously suggested that he was a famous county cricketer). But, like the baffled witnesses at the time, no-one has ever been able to explain Kesteven’s motive. Other than his jealously, there were no apparent problems between the couple. He had no obvious financial worries — particularly as Sarah owned the house in which they lived and may have had money saved. He did not benefit from the murder, particularly given that he attempted neither to flee nor to deny having done it. He did not kill her in a drunken rage, nor are there any signs that they had one of their arguments. The only suggestion of something unusual was that Sarah had not been sleeping, and may have kept him awake on the night of her murder. This was hardly a motive to kill someone brutally.

The only clues lie in Kesteven’s strange behaviour — since 1883 and most notably in the weeks before the murder — which suggests that something was deeply wrong. Possibly this was connected with his alcoholism — and he exhibited signs of delirium tremens when he was in prison — but it is equally likely that the head injury he received from a cricket ball while playing in Holbeck may have affected him badly. All the incidents date from after his return from Leeds (and his fear of detectives from Leeds may be connected somehow). During the trial, this injury was not made part of the defence (and only the obituary written after his execution makes any mention of it). His counsel probably thought that he had a better case with hereditary insanity, and it would not in any case have changed the verdict of the jury; they did not believe that Kesteven was legally insane. But that blow might give the only explanation we are ever likely to find as to why Kesteven killed Sarah. Perhaps a combination of his heavy drinking, lack of sleep, unfounded jealousy and years of mental illness drove his actions that Christmas Eve. But if the doctor who assessed him around 1885 had sent him to an asylum (as he probably should have done), the murder would probably never have taken place.

Note: There are only a few cases similar to that of Kesteven, in which a cricketer was charged with murder or manslaughter. As far as I am aware, the only other cricketer to be executed for murder was the West Indies Test bowler Leslie Hylton in 1955; Hylton had shot his wife in a jealous rage. The Derbyshire bowler Billy Bestwick was charged with manslaughter after killing a man during a fight in 1907, but the jury returned a verdict of “justifiable homicide”. The Sussex and Northamptonshire amateur Vallance Jupp was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to nine months in prison in 1935; he collided with a motorcycle while driving his car on the wrong side of the road, killing the pillion rider. And in 1949, the Dutch cricketer Arie Molenaar was sentenced to ten years for his involvement in the murder of a shopkeeper during the Second World War.

Ian Peebles, Donald Bradman and the Missing Leg-break

Peebles bowling at Old Trafford in the fourth Test against Australia in 1930 (possibly showing the googly Peebles bowled which defeated Bradman and went for four byes)

When Ian Peebles moved from his native Scotland to London in 1926 at the age of eighteen, he began working with the former Test all-rounder Aubrey Faulkner at his indoor school. The two men hoped that Peebles would emulate the success of Sydney Barnes, regarded for most of the twentieth century as the greatest bowler of all time. Peebles, when he joined Faulkner, could bowl the same finger-spun fast leg-break that made Barnes so formidable. But although he could produce this delivery at will in the indoor nets, he soon completely lost the ability to do so outdoors in competitive cricket. Although Peebles was successful using other bowling methods — from fast-medium seam to off-breaks to orthodox wrist-spin — he was never to master Barnes’ finger-spun leg-break. After several years of desperate experimentation to find the best method, Peebles finally cut his pace and settled for slow-medium leg-spin using the the orthodox method of spinning the ball from the wrist. Around the same time, he and Faulkner fell out and, after playing two seasons for Middlesex, Peebles passed the entrance examination for Oxford University.

By the start of the 1930 cricket season, Peebles had completed two terms at Oxford, where he was supposedly studying law. In his autobiography, Spinner’s Yarn (1977), he discusses his disastrous performance on the Easter exams. When Peebles asked his tutor how he had performed, he was told: “You got one per cent in one subject, but you were not quite so successful in the others.” After success in some trial matches, Peebles was included in the Oxford University cricket team (his main motivation for being at Oxford) and was quickly among the wickets. He took seventy first-class wickets for the University, culminating in match figures of thirteen for 262 in the University Match against Cambridge. He followed this with six for 105 in the Gentlemen v Players match at Lord’s. This was enough for him to be selected for England in the fourth Test of that summer’s Ashes series.

For that match, England almost completely changed their bowling attack. The problem they faced was a young batsman called Donald Bradman, who was taking part in his first tour of England. In the first three Tests, his scores had been 8, 131, 254, 1 and 334. The England selectors cast around desperately for bowlers capable of troubling the Australian batting; only Maurice Tate had been selected for each of the first four Tests. Bowlers such as Harold Larwood, Gubby Allen, Jack White, Richard Tyldesley and Walter Robins had been tried and discarded. The press seem to have viewed Peebles selection as being specifically aimed at Bradman, and although he had played twice against the Australians early in the season, he was viewed very much as England’s “secret weapon”.

The fourth Test was ruined by rain, although that does not mean that the game was quiet and uneventful. On the face of it, Peebles’ figures of three for 150 from 55 overs were unimpressive. But they disguise a more complicated tale. If Peebles’ job was to remove Bradman, he succeeded. Bradman came out to bat with Australia’s score 106 for one. The pitch was damp, although not “sticky”, and Peebles had caused a few problems for the Australian captain Bill Woodfull, who could not pick his googly. As soon as Bradman came out, Peebles made him look very mortal:

“One could feel the tremendous tension as I ran up to deliver my first ball to him. The only plan of attack which I had was to drop a googly at him right away before he was settled, and this I did. It pitched outside the off stump, and he moved across his wicket and ‘shouldered arms’. But he had gone so far that he left all three stumps visible. The ball nicked back behind him, and went so close over the middle stump that George Duckworth let it go for four byes … although Bradman was already much too shrewd a tactician to show it, this hazardous start may well have disconcerted him, for he then made several mistakes, and was clearly ill at ease.”

During the 4th Test of 1930, the teams were entertained at Jodrell Hall in Cheshire. In a rather unconventional practice session, Peebles bowls in front of Duleepsinhji (far right), Ranjitsinhji (second from right) and fellow leg-spinner, the Australian Arthur Mailey (standing side on to the camera on the far left). Mailey offered some advice to Peebles, to the irritation of the Australian tour manager. (Image: Spinner’s Yarn (1977) by Ian Peebles)

On ten, Bradman edged a drive off Peebles but was dropped by the usually brilliant Wally Hammond at first slip. The next ball almost bowled him, but when he drove a Peebles full toss for four, he looked to be settling. Repeating his attempted drive a few moments later, he edged once more; this time Duleepsinhji held on at second slip and Bradman was out for 14. The crowd roared with delight, and newspaper headlines proclaimed Peebles’ success. Some acknowledged that the state of the pitch helped Peebles, but as The Times put it: “If only temporarily, the spall of Bradman’s invincibility was broken.” Neville Cardus, who had written to Peebles the previous season to congratulate him on his bowling and took a keen interest in his leg-spin, put it more dramatically in the Manchester Guardian: “‘God bless thee, Bradman,’ one thought; ‘how thou are translated!'” Bradman later admitted that he could not pick Peebles’ googly at Old Trafford: “Definitely this day his bowling was too good for me. I had a most unhappy time.”

Peebles’ next three deliveries all struck the new batsman Alan Kippax on the pad, but his appeals for lbw were declined. The Wisden report said: “On for an hour before lunch and an hour and a quarter afterwards, Peebles took only one wicket during this time but he bowled well enough to have obtained five or six.” Kippax hung around for some time, and although Peebles struck again later, Alan Fairfax and Clarrie Grimmett ensured a recovery from 190 for five to 345 all out. Before rain ruined the match, Australia were well on top as England’s supposedly strong batting collapsed again — an enduring theme for the series.

However, the tactics used by England, and the bowlers’ failure to dismiss the Australian tail brought, condemnation upon Chapman’s captaincy. The most damning criticism came from the pen of Pelham Warner, writing for the Morning Post and The Cricketer that summer. He argued that Chapman’s field placings for Peebles were wrong: he did not place enough men in the deep; the lack of an extra-cover cost Peebles 60 to 70 runs; his over-commitment to having a fielder at silly-point left gaps in the field exploited by the Australian batsmen; and the mid-on when Peebles was bowling should have been wider to take account of his googly. Warner excused Peebles from any blame in the setting of his field as he was too young to do so effectively. Warner concluded: “Chapman, on this occasion, appeared unobservant and lacking in tactical sense.”

Given Warner’s role in championing Peebles, it is perhaps unsurprising that he was sensitive to how Chapman used his discovery. He was similarly defensive of Gubby Allen, another of his Middlesex protégés, earlier in the series. But Warner was not a lone voice. Percy Fender, the Surrey captain, also wrote about the series collected his reports in a book, The Tests of 1930. He believed that Peebles was over-bowled, but partially excused Chapman on the grounds that the bowler was causing problems for the Australian batsmen so “it was very difficult at the time to know just what to do.” Fender also criticised the field placing, and concluded: “Chapman did not have a good match as captain.”

Peebles was aware of these views, and wrote in Spinner’s Yarn: “Percy Chapman came in for a lot of adverse criticism, chiefly on account of his field placing for me. He loved to field at silly mid-off right on the bat, which he did with the utmost brilliance, but I sorely needed an extra cover against batting of this calibre. Thus I was largely the unwitting cause of Percy’s downfall.” It may be revealing that Peebles’ analysis followed so closely that of Warner in 1930.

Chapman was sacked as captain before the final Test and replaced by Bob Wyatt. Although many factors were bubbling away in the background, and there were many possible reasons for the selectors to have misgivings about Chapman, no definitive reason has ever been put forward for his dismissal. While Peebles’ claim to be the cause of the sacking is too simplistic, Chapman’s supposed mis-use of his “secret weapon” would have certainly played a part in the deliberations of the selectors.

As well as bringing in Wyatt, the selectors shuffled the pack for the fifth Test. Peebles was retained, but was now part of what was effectively a three-man bowling attack alongside Maurice Tate and Harold Larwood; back-up came from Wyatt, Hammond and Maurice Leyland, but the main three were expected to do the bulk of the work. This was quite a gamble as, with the series level at 1–1, the final Test was to be played to a finish, no matter how long it took. The pitch at the Oval was notoriously good for batting; England had struggled to dismiss the opposition all summer, so the three-man bowling attack would be under enormous pressure.

Footage of the Fifth Test; there are several shots of Peebles bowling before the selected clip of him bowling to Bradman

What did not help was another England batting collapse on the first day; only a big century from Herbert Sutcliffe, supported by a dogged innings from Wyatt in a partnership of 170 for the sixth wicket, ensured that England reached 405 in their first innings. It was nowhere near enough. Australia scored 695, helped by several dropped catches by the wicketkeeper George Duckworth; Bradman recovered from his lapse at Old Trafford with an innings of 232. Peebles took the first three wickets, but Australia had already scored 263 by that point, and a partnership of 143 between Bradman and Archie Jackson took Australia into the lead. In this period, Peebles was as helpless as the other bowlers. But he stuck to his task, and was rewarded with three quick wickets as the Australian innings came to an end. His final figures were six for 204 from 71 overs; Peebles remains only one of two English players (alongside Ian Botham in 1987) to concede over 200 runs in a Test innings. But the Wisden correspondent thought he was the only bowler who looked capable of dismissing Australia for a reasonable score and noted: “Although expensive he did fine work”.

Even so, there were hints of the problems which would blight Peebles’ later career. Cardus reported: “Peebles was rather exasperating because of his persistence with the ‘googly,’ which he exploited ball after ball. The whole point of the ‘googly’ surely is that it should be a masked ball. To bowl a ‘googly’ repeatedly is as though a man of felonious intent should go about perpetually disguised, nobody but himself knowing that his whiskers were false.”

During the match, Peebles stayed at Pelham Warner’s house. When the fifth day’s play was washed out, Warner’s wife suggested they go to Lord’s, where the 57-year-old Sydney Barnes was playing for Wales against the MCC; this was to be his final first-class match, although his professional career continued until 1935. Mrs Warner, who knew Barnes, introduced the pair and they had a long conversation in one of the bars, during the course of which Barnes demonstrated his various grips and they discussed techniques. Unfortunately for Peebles, the press learned of the meeting, and presented it as a story by which Barnes was describing how he would dismiss Bradman. Barnes was angry that Peebles was the source, but Warner was eventually able to convince him that it was nothing to do with Peebles. The version of this story presented by Peebles in his obituary of Barnes in The Cricketer in 1968 suggests that he was indeed the source of the story of their meeting, but not of the idea that Barnes knew how to dismiss Bradman.

England were bowled out on the sixth day of the match after rain affected the pitch, and Australia won by an innings and 39 runs to win the series 2–1. Some excellent performances for Middlesex — match figures of thirteen for 72 against Worcestershire immediately after the fourth Test and eleven for 95 against Warwickshire at the end of the season — took Peebles’ final record for 1930 to 133 wickets at 18.44. He was named as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year for his performances that season. The citation said: “In both [Test matches] he bore the brunt of the work and by general consent — although his analyses did not suggest it — he was the best bowler on the England side. Moreover, playing for Middlesex, after the term at Oxford had finished, he helped that county to retrieve to some extent a truly deplorable season.”

There was, however, a tragic end to the season. Aubrey Faulkner, who had struggled with his mental health for some time, was depressed after two operations the previous year. He had also been working too hard, and had threatened suicide before. During the fourth Test, when he was working as a journalist, Peebles met him by chance and they spent some time together, having apparently overcome whatever caused their fall-out in 1928. But that was the final time they met. With the cricket season drawing to a close, Faulkner was found dead in the bat drying room of his cricket school on 10 September, having gassed himself. He left a note for his secretary — “I am off to another sphere via the small bat-drying room. Better call in a policeman to do the investigating” — and an estate worth just over £270 to the wife he had married just two years previously. She later told Peebles that one of the few things to cheer Faulkner near the end had been reading of Peebles’ performances in the newspapers.

Meanwhile, realising that his academic career was unlikely to progress at Oxford, and that he needed to find a way to earn a living, Peebles requested to take part in the MCC tour of South Africa in 1930–31 for what he later called a “last fling”. The tour, led by Percy Chapman (who had been appointed before his sacking for the final Test of 1930), was not a success as England lost the Test series 1–0. But Peebles was one of the star performers; he took 18 Test wickets at 25.88, including his best Test figures of six for 63, and 66 first-class wickets at 19.30. The following summer, having managed to find work as a journalist, he took 139 wickets at 18.51, his best seasonal return in first-class cricket. In the three-Test series against New Zealand, he took 13 wickets at 25.00. At Lord’s in the first Test, he took five for 77 in the first innings but was expensive in New Zealand’s second: he took four for 150 as their batsmen staged a remarkable recovery to draw the match having conceded a first innings lead of 230, and their strong performance prompted the authorities to arrange two further Test matches (only one had originally been scheduled).

Douglas Jardine (Image: Wikipedia)

Peebles’ account of the series in Spinner’s Yarn is one of the few in-depth descriptions of Douglas Jardine’s captaincy written by someone who played under him. He wrote: “While not a bully, [Jardine] despised weakness and, in one’s dealings with him, one had to stand firm at all points within reason, an attitude which he appreciated and which made for good relations.”

The last Test of that summer was the final one of Peebles’ career. Already, by the end of the season, his shoulder was very painful. And over the winter, his life began to move on. He began working for Ladbrokes the bookmaker, spent time with Percy Chapman, began sharing a house with the journalist E. W. Swanton, and took part in a highly sociable cricket tour of Egypt. On the journey home, he “embarked on the first real affair of my life” as he fell in love with the daughter of a peer, and on his return was caught up in the social life of London which, as he wrote, “did not make for good training”. There is just a hint in Peebles’ writing that cricket had lost some of its all-consuming interest for him.

A result of these events, and the impact of a shoulder that continued to trouble him severely, was that although he took wickets quite regularly at the start of 1932, he was not happy with his bowling. He was selected in a Test trial, playing for the South against the North, and bowled poorly (despite sympathetic captaincy from Jardine which came as a surprise to Peebles). He described the game as “a turning point in my cricket career”. As a result of his poor form, he was not picked for the Test match played against India that season and drifted out of the reckoning for a place on the tour of Australia during the 1932–33 season. But he still had an impact in that his success in 1930 had created an idea in the minds of the selectors that Bradman had a weakness against wrist spin. Therefore Freddie Brown of Surrey (another Faulkner pupil) and Tommy Mitchell of Derbyshire (who was chosen after Walter Robins proved unavailable) were included in the England team, but Jardine had a very different strategy in mind.

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Peebles signing an autograph in 1939 alongside Beet Chapman (Percy Chapman’s wife) and Gubby Allen.

Peebles’ shoulder problem, which was not properly diagnosed at the time, badly affected his bowling. “Although I had many years of happy cricket of all sorts before me I never did regain my true form.” At this point, his autobiography moves away from his cricket career and describes his gradual absorption into the establishment. Given Peebles’ reputation as a man who enjoyed himself, the question does arise as to whether his lifestyle played a part in his loss of form. The fact that Peebles addresses this possibility suggests that it was a popular theory: “There were those who attributed my decline to the good life and the bright lights, but this was not so. I did enjoy life tremendously but I always trained hard and kept in first-class physical shape.” This does not sound entirely convincing. And interestingly, Peebles immediately follows this with a slightly enigmatic comment: “The Press had always been good to me in the good times and never tried to make any capital out of my troubles.”

In Cricket Between Two Wars (1942), Warner has a slightly different take on why Peebles faded so quickly: “He did not eventually fulfil my expectations. Perhaps he went to South Africa at too young an age; perhaps he played too much cricket, and certainly he was overworked to a horrible extent at Faulkner’s School, but no one could have bowled much better than he did in the test match at Old Trafford and the Oval [in 1930].” E. W. Swanton, writing in The Cricketer in 1980, also attributed his shoulder problems to his time with Faulkner.

Whatever the cause or nature of Peebles’ shoulder injury, it entirely robbed him of the ability to bowl a leg-break. In his autobiography, Express Deliveries (1949), Bill Bowes mentioned a number of occasions when he saw bowlers reduced to tears through their misfortunes:

“But I think the most remarkable case was that of Ian Peebles when, early in the 1930s, he suddenly lost the art of bowling leg-breaks. Ian was a splendid leg-break googly bowler, but he began to allow his wrist to go fully over and bowled a long succession of googlies, which, without the leg-break, lost 80 per cent of their value. Day after day he went to the nets at Lord’s and practised, but so far as he could tell, without avail. He wept in frustration and disappointment, and while sympathising, I admired him for feeling so deeply about his art.”

Given his original hopes to copy Barnes’ finger-spun leg-break, it must have seemed cruel that he could not bowl the delivery at all by 1932. For the rest of his career, he relied almost entirely on the googly.

Peebles managed 82 wickets at 22.06 in 1932, but over the following few years, his number of wickets fell and his average crept up. He played less frequently, and although he was surprisingly recalled for the final Test of the 1934 Ashes series — a decision which even Peebles himself was at a loss to explain — he was left out of the final eleven. He was also picked but omitted from the team for the first Test of 1935, but that was as close as he came to an England recall. Two years later, he played once for Scotland: against the New Zealanders in a first-class match during the 1937 season. While this was not an official international match, Cricket Scotland counts him as a capped player.

Meanwhile, Peebles took part in several leisurely tours, such as those of Julien Cahn’s team in North America in 1933 and to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Malaysia in 1937. He also took part in the somewhat more prestigious tour by Lord Tennyson’s team in India during 1937–38, but he only played a few games and his wickets were expensive.

In 1939, Peebles was appointed Middlesex captain, and played a full season, although he bowled infrequently; Wisden later described him as “really no more than a change bowler”. Nevertheless he led Middlesex to second place in the County Championship (the fourth season in succession in which the team finished as runners-up). Writing in Wisden, R. C. Robertson-Glasgow said: “Middlesex owed much to the personality and leadership of I. A. R. Peebles. Unlike some captains, he never stretched the bow too tight, but was nevertheless an observant and understanding leader, equally unworried in defeat and success.”

During the war, Peebles was injured during an air raid and lost an eye. He returned to play a few times for Middlesex after the war; his last appearance was in 1948. According to John Arlott, Peebles later had a shoulder operation which cured the problem that had ended his hopes of a long Test career, although it was after his serious playing days were over.

Establishment Man: Peebles at the christening of his son in 1948. Left to right: E. W. Swanton, Peebles, Colonel H. P. Hopkinson, Ursula Peebles, Gubby Allen, Mrs Hopkinson. (Image: Spinner’s Yarn (1977) by Ian Peebles)

In 1947, Peebles married the remarkable Ursula Tulloh who had been born in India but raised in Scotland after her parents died while she was young. Her first marriage lasted just over a year before she divorced. She worked as a teacher in Hong Kong and Singapore and travelled widely through India and China. When the Second World War broke out, she refused to return to Britain and worked as a cryptographer in various locations including Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) and Indonesia. After the war, she moved to London where she met Peebles at a dinner party. They married and had two children.

In later years, Peebles worked in the wine trade and became a respected journalist, writing primarily for the Sunday Times, although he was very much an establishment man who was content to give the viewpoint of Lord’s. He was very close to E. W. Swanton and Gubby Allen, two pillars of the cricket establishment. Nevertheless, he wrote some well-received cricket books, helped by an easy and readable style, most notably on the throwing controversy of the 1950s and 1960s. He remained intrigued by Sydney Barnes, much as Faulkner had been; for example when he wrote an obituary of Barnes for The Cricketer in 1968, he spent several paragraphs discussing his technique, and his delivery of the fast leg-break. In later years, as well as writing for The Cricketer he wrote fairly regularly for The Guardian. His 1977 autobiography, Spinner’s Yarn, was also very well received. The cricket sections sparkle and are among the most revealing pieces of writing about cricket in the late 1920s and early 1930s; the later pages are more concerned with the social side of his life and he indulges in plenty of name-dropping.

Sydney Barnes (left) chats with Ian Peebles during the 1950s. Peebles captioned the photograph: “In the presence of the prophet. My fingers twitch as I listen to Sydney Barnes.” (Image: Spinner’s Yarn (1977) by Ian Peebles)

Peebles died in 1980 at the age of 72. His wife was heartbroken but later remarried; she lived until 1994. Tributes to Peebles dwelt at length on his success in 1930, and particularly that brief duel with Bradman at Old Trafford. There were also words of regret that his shoulder injury curtailed his career, but little about his early attempts to copy Sydney Barnes. None quite managed to capture the lost potential of Peebles’ early bowling. The man himself did a rather better job three years earlier when he concluded Spinner’s Yarn by attempting to put his career into perspective:

“By the standard to which I aspired, and briefly glimpsed, I was a good might-have-been, or maybe a might-have-been great. Had I progressed from the stage I had reached when I went to the Faulkner School I sincerely believe that I might have made the top flight which Faulkner and other good judges so confidently predicted. When I altered my style to slow-medium I think that, but for the breakdown of my shoulder, I would have reached the top in this line. But that is a large claim too.

My sudden descent from cricket’s pinnacle was an appalling shock, but I was always buoyed by the thought that the shoulder would mend and that I would return. When it became clear that this would never be so I had achieved a philosophical attitude and was happy and grateful in more modest successes. But still in my dreams I am, to my surprise, summoned to play for England.”

In Search of Perfection: Peebles, Faulkner and the Spectre of Barnes

Ian Peebles in 1931 (Image: Spinner’s Yarn (1977) by Ian Peebles)

“I may as well admit that for the first time in my life I was unable to detect a bowler’s leg break from his ‘bosey’ … Neither by watching his hand nor the ball could I detect it, and definitely this day his bowling was too good for me. I had a most unhappy time.”

While such sentiments are hardly unusual, the writer of those words was not just any batsman. In 1930, Donald Bradman had scored 974 runs at an average of 139.14, a total still unmatched in a Test series 91 years later. He wrote those words in Don Bradman’s Book, published late in 1930. The bowler in question was Ian Peebles, and Bradman was describing a short passage during the fourth Test of that summer’s Ashes series. Peebles’ performance caused great excitement among the English press as it seemed that Bradman had finally been tamed. He hadn’t, although that only became apparent later. But Peebles made quite an impression in 1930. Years later, his Wisden obituary began: “Ian Peebles was for a short time one of the most formidable bowlers in the world and one of the few who could make Bradman look fallible. A tall man with a beautifully easy run-up and a high action, which gave him a particularly awkward flight, he bowled leg-breaks and googlies, and in an age of fine leg-spinners he was, for a while, the equal of any.” Those qualifications — “for a short time”, “for a while” — indicate that Peebles was a passing phenomenon, a mayfly of a cricketer. And to explain the impact of Peebles, it is necessary to go further back than 1930, and look at the careers of two other men.

The story of Peebles should begin with Sydney Barnes. The latter — whose record as a Test bowler still towers above that of almost everyone else — was regarded for at least two-thirds of the twentieth century as the greatest bowler who ever lived. Part of his mystique, other than his deliberate decision to avoid regular first-class cricket, arose from his bowling method, which has never really been replicated. Barnes bowled finger-spun leg-breaks; rather than imparting spin with his wrist like a conventional leg-spinner, he used his fingers in a twisting motion. This way, he could bowl both leg-breaks and off-breaks with almost no change in his action. More importantly, it enabled him to bowl the “holy grail” of cricket deliveries: the fast leg-break, almost impossible to bowl if the wrist is used to spin the ball. Using his fingers allowed Barnes to bowl leg-breaks at well-above medium pace (and the distinction between spin and “cut” — where the fingers are rolled across the ball, a technique still used today — was well-understood in Barnes’ time). This was something that many critics regarded as impossible; fast off-spinners were common at the turn of the 20th century, but there were no equivalent leg-break bowlers.

Sydney Barnes in 1910 (Image: Wikipedia)

Barnes also found that his technique allowed him to drift the ball both ways through the air. When it pitched, it broke back in the opposite direction. The combination of pace, drift, spin and his incredible accuracy made him a formidable proposition. Those who played with and against him were almost unanimous in the opinion that he was the greatest bowler of all; Neville Cardus once spoke to Wilfred Rhodes, probably at some time in the 1950s or 1960s: “I asked him his opinion of Sydney Barnes as a bowler. ‘The best of ’em today is half as good as Barnie.’ He intended this as a compliment to the champions of today.”

Barnes’ record against South Africa is almost unbelievable. In three Tests in England as part of the 1912 Triangular Tournament, he took 34 wickets at an average of 8.29. During an MCC tour of South Africa in the 1913–14 season, in four Test matches (he missed the fifth owing to a dispute with the South African authorities over money), he took 49 wickets at an average of 10.93. These were the only games he played against South Africa; he took a total of 83 wickets against them at 9.85. Now, there are some qualifications about these figures. The 1912 South African team was exceptionally weak, and while the 1913–14 team was stronger, the games were played on matting pitches which gave Barnes an enormous amount of assistance. These facts are sometimes overlooked when historians rhapsodise about Barnes, but to offset this, he took 106 wickets against Australia at 21.58; 77 of these came on in thirteen Tests in Australia at an average of 22.42 (for context, even today, Barnes is the equal-second-highest non-Australian wicket-taker in that country in Test matches, and only six overseas bowlers who played Test cricket after the 19th century have a better average in Australia). His most famous performance was on the opening morning of the second Test of the 1911–12 series; after Australia won the toss and batted, his first spell of 5–4–1–4 reduced them to 11 for four on a blameless pitch. This helps to understand why so many people rated Barnes so highly for so long.

What does this have to do with Ian Peebles? Quite simply, it is impossible to understand Peebles without understanding Barnes. And it is worth sticking a little longer with those matches Barnes played against South Africa. During the 1912 Triangular Tournament, the South African team included Aubrey Faulkner, a formidable all-rounder who was one of the first googly bowlers to succeed consistently at Test level. His batting was functional rather than inspiring, but there is no arguing with his Test record: 1,754 runs at 40.79 and 82 wickets at 26.58. In those three Tests against Barnes, Faulkner managed 46 runs at 7.66; Barnes dismissed him in five innings out of six. The South African was left with a strong belief that Barnes was the greatest bowler who ever lived.

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Aubrey Faulkner in 1907

After the First World War, during which he repeatedly caught malaria, which left him physically weak, Faulkner was unable to continue as a top-level cricketer, although he still had the occasional success — most notably for Archie MacLaren’s team which famously defeated Warwick Armstrong’s 1921 Australian team. Faulkner had by then moved to England and in 1925 he set up an indoor cricket school, the first of its kind in the world. His coaching drew praise from everyone who saw him. Pelham Warner, who observed him at work many times, wrote in Cricket Between Two Wars (1942): “Aubrey Faulkner was, I should imagine, the best of all coaches. And how he worked! When his right arm gave out he bowled with the left, and a good length too. No day was too long for him. He gave his all to his pupils.”

There, his coaching methods benefitted an impressive number of future Test players; leg-spinners were his particular passion and his pupils included the future England cricketers Walter Robins, Freddie Brown and Doug Wright. But none of these men had the same intense relationship with Faulkner as perhaps his most famous student. Because another graduate of Faulkner’s school was none other than Ian Peebles.

Ian Alexander Ross Peebles took an unusual route to the top of English cricket. He was born in Aberdeen, the son of a minister in the Church of Scotland. At the age of nine, his family moved to Uddingston near Glasgow; they also spent summers in Inverness. His father was a keen cricketer and encouraged his children to play the sport. Although Scotland saw little top-class cricket, Peebles had the opportunity to see some of the world’s best cricketers when his father took him to see two Australian teams: the Australian Imperial Forces team in Glasgow in 1919 and Warwick Armstrong’s team at Partick in 1921. Peebles was also able to watch some county teams when they visited Scotland — Nottinghamshire in 1921 and Leicestershire in 1923. On the latter occasion, two Leicestershire professionals, George Geary and Ewart Astill, gave Peebles tips about spinning the ball. Meanwhile, Peebles, by his own admission, did poorly at school despite being intelligent. His father secured him a position at the Bank of Scotland, “but it was soon apparent to all concerned that, apart from a few blots in the ledger, I was not going to make my mark in banking.” As he related in his very readable autobiography Spinner’s Yarn (1977), he was more interested in reaching the first team for Uddington Cricket Club and potentially playing first-class cricket for an English county.

At the age of seventeen in 1925, after seeing an advert in The Cricketer, Peebles travelled to London in the hope of being coached by Faulkner. Peebles described what happened in some detail in Spinner’s Yarn. Although underwhelmed by the grim surroundings of Faulkner’s school — an old garage in Richmond — he was given an opportunity, alongside two others, to bowl in front of the man himself. He described what happened:

“At seventeen and a half I had grown to my full height of six foot two and, being exceptionally supple, was said to have a perfect action. I had acquired the knack of bowling the leg-break at fast-medium without the orthodox bent wrist, but showing the palm of my hand to the batsmen, in the manner of the great Sydney Barnes himself. The fast matting pitch was ideal for this type of bowling and straight away I beat the batsmen, and then knocked his stumps down. I was aware that Faulkner was observing me keenly but supposed he regarded all newcomers with interest. When the batsmen was bowled Faulkner came up to me and said, ‘Was that leg-break?’ I was surprised, not realising that by this particular method it was not easy to detect. When I said it was he smiled and seemed very pleased. He was, in fact, delighted, and long afterwards his chief assistant … told me that Faulkner had, at that point, summoned him from his coffee break, saying, ‘Come and see what I’ve found.'”

Peebles was initially unaware of how impressed Faulker was, but a few days later, the latter proposed that he moved to London to play club cricket and work as his secretary.

“This was the most intoxicating prospect. ‘If I did,’ I asked, ‘do you think I would ever play for a county?’ He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment. ‘If you come to me,’ he said, ‘you’ll go a darn sight further than that.'”

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Batsmen being coached at Faulkner’s Cricket School in 1930

After getting the reluctant agreement of his parents, Peebles moved to London in early 1926 and joined Faulkner, being paid £3 per week as his secretary. In Spinner’s Yarn, he wrote admiringly of the coaching methods of the man he called “the finest coach I have ever seen.” The two men boarded in the same house and later shared a flat. Peebles worked closely with Faulkner on his own skills, attempting to reproduce the methods of Barnes.

The relationship between the two men, as Peebles describes it, must have been intense. Peebles admitted to being a terrible secretary; he also related that Faulkner was not an easy man to know, and could be difficult to work with. We only have Peebles’ side of the story, but it looks as if Faulkner became obsessed with producing the new Barnes; it went beyond trying to develop a good bowler and seemed to turn into something like an attempt at alchemy — to re-create the ultimate bowler. Perhaps revealingly, Peebles tells of a time he consulted a gimmicky “fortune-telling” book while staying at someone’s house on his first trip to London. He asked the book “Shall I fulfil my greatest ambition?” In other words, would he bowl like Barnes. “In due course, I found the answer, and was snubbed. ‘No,’ said the prophet. ‘The results would not be at all satisfactory.'” That Peebles remembered such an incident fifty years later when he included it at the end of his autobiography might hint at the obsession which gripped both him and Faulkner.

And his path quickly became bumpy. While he could bowl the fast leg-break perfectly in the indoor nets, Peebles’ attempts to replicate this outdoors in matches during the 1926 season were embarrassing failures; the pressure was too great. Of his first outdoor appearance in club cricket, Peebles wrote:

“My performance was a caricature of its true potential. The pitch looked thirty yards long, the ball felt like a cake of soap, a gentle breeze became a gale and my timing and rhythm had fallen apart. Nor did my talent ever return. I could bowl seamers,nor did my talent ever return. I could bowl seamers, off-spinners and googlies, but the quick leg break had gone for good. Occasionally I would bowl a few fairly respectable leg breaks, but without any great life and with no lasting confidence or control.”

As soon as he returned to the indoor nets, Peebles once more could bowl in the Barnes style, but it repeatedly deserted him in match situations. “All our hopes would vainly rise again, to evaporate on my next appearance.” Faulkner found these failures almost as difficult as Peebles: “It was a phenomenon which Faulkner himself could not explain nor with which he could cope.” That is all Peebles says about Faulkner’s reaction to his troubles, but those few words hint at a whole world of meaning. To further increase Peebles’ problems, the huge volume of work he undertook in the indoor school, bowling to batsmen who had paid for coaching, began to cause him shoulder problems which ultimately ruined his career.

Peebles’ bowling in the nets was still impressive enough for his reputation to grow, but the contrast with his actual performances embarrassed him. He was also troubled by the thought that, before coming to Faulkner’s indoor school, he had almost mastered the style which had now deserted him. He resorted to using a mixture of methods: orthodox leg-breaks, off-breaks and even medium-fast seamers. He wrote: “Bowling fast-medium seamers or quick off-spinners I was a good bowler by any standards, but my ambitions were set a great deal higher than that.”

Peebles was still torn between the different styles when Faulkner recommended him to Pelham Warner, the extremely influential former captain of Middlesex, in 1927. Warner played alongside Peebles in several club matches and saw the same potential identified by Faulkner. Peebles was not yet qualified for the county as he had not lived long enough in London, so at Warner’s prompting he was given his first-class debut in the Gentlemen v Players match at the Oval in 1927, appearing for the amateur “Gentlemen”. Figures of one for 95 in 25 overs were hardly spectacular, and the press were bemused by his selection. But the endorsement of Warner and Faulkner, and some very good performances in club cricket, meant that he was increasingly seen as promising, although the majority of commentators were unconvinced by the hype. He played a further two first-class matches at the end-of-season Folkestone Festival, again proving unsuccessful, but was also included in a Scarborough Festival match played by members of the MCC team that was to tour South Africa over the winter. Once more, he failed — he ended the season with three first-class wickets for 323 runs from 90 overs — but it was announced in early September that he would be joining the MCC team in South Africa to act as the secretary of the captain, Guy Jackson (although the intention was always that he would have a playing role).

This curious episode may originally have been designed to alleviate the pressure on Jackson, who was struggling with the idea of being England captain (and eventually pulled out of the tour to be replaced by Ronald Stanyforth), but it was a chance for Peebles to develop further. Warner, the driving force behind the pseudo-selection, thought it was a worthwhile experiment; Faulkner was also supportive, optimistically hoping that the matting pitches still in use in South Africa would allow Peebles to find his indoor form and bowl as Barnes had done. Peebles’ tour was a mixed bag on the field; he had some success, and made his Test debut, but was never especially effective; nor could he settle on one bowling style. But he was reunited with George Geary and Ewart Astill, who were also part of the MCC team; they worked with him as they had in 1923.

Peebles bowling medium-fast in South Africa in 1927 (Image: Spinner’s Yarn (1977) by Ian Peebles)

The retrospective highlight of the tour was almost certainly his scorecard entry for one minor match, when he had gone to a nearby river, not expecting to be needed while his team were batting. The MCC collapsed, Peebles was nowhere to be found, and the scorers recorded him as “absent bathing”.

Wisden later said about the Peebles of this period:

“It is no secret that at the outset very many people were under the impression that the abilities of Peebles as a leg-break and googly bowler had been over estimated. Certainly, there was nothing in his early performances to justify the eulogies about his bowling which at that time were being expressed in some quarters … [In South Africa] he did not meet with much success in representative engagements, his five wickets costing 246 runs, but in all matches he took thirty-four wickets for just over 19 runs apiece … Still, he did enough to show that those who had previously spoken well of him were by no means so far out as had been thought.”

When Peebles returned to England, he continued to work for Faulkner, but the two men soon fell out; Peebles does not say why, except that “the casus belli was something trivial, but what with his impatience and my resentment all the friction of years flared up, and this time I felt sufficiently well-established to resign.” One possible connection may be that in 1928 Faulkner, who divorced his first wife in 1920, remarried. Perhaps he had less time to seek the perfection of the new Barnes. Whatever the cause, Peebles left Faulkner’s school shortly after Easter 1928.

Now qualified for Middlesex, Peebles only played a few games as an amateur for the county before the furniture magnate Julien Cahn offered him a well-paid job with his company in return for playing for his own personal cricket team. His brief efforts in first-class cricket were respectable enough to suggest he had a future at that level. At the end of 1928, he returned home and his parents suggested he should go to Oxford University. He passed the entrance examination, and spent the 1929 season playing for Middlesex. He continued to bowl at a brisk pace, taking the new ball on one occasion, but was determined to persevere with his attempts at fast leg-breaks. Having taken just over 50 wickets at an average of 25 in the first part of the season, he finally decided to slow his pace. Mid-match, against Leicestershire, “I cut my run by half, and my pace by roughly the same margin, and wound up with six for 56.” He persevered with this style and took thirteen wickets in the following game.

Peebles’ new slow-medium style was successful and he ended the season with 107 wickets at 19. Wisden reported: “He fully justified not only himself but those two good judges [Faulkner and Warner] … who stood to their guns through thick and thin.” But Faulkner was unlikely to have been happy that he had abandoned his pursuit of recreating the method of Barnes.

Sir Pelham Francis Warner
by Bassano Ltd
half-plate glass negative, 28 July 1937
NPG x21820 © National Portrait Gallery, London

While Peebles wrote at length about his search for the fast leg-break, he was generally modest about his own performances. However, he made clear that others thought highly of him. And this can be corroborated from other sources.

In late 1927, the Middlesex batsman Patsy Hendren told an Australian audience: “There is a young amateur named Peebles, a Scotsman, and if you saw him run up the crease to deliver the ball you would swear it was Sid Barnes come back again. He has just the same style and tricks, and although he may never be another Barnes, he will do quite well if he is half as good.” And a comment by “Pavilion” in the Sporting Times at the time of Peebles’ selection for the 1927 Gentlemen v Players match suggested that not everyone was surprised by his call-up: “I. A. R. Peebles’ selection for the Gentlemen in this year’s game, although a surprise to the general public, is thoroughly well deserved. As readers of these columns are aware, Peebles has bowled remarkably well in good-class club cricket this summer, and in a recent match for the Middlesex Club and Ground took eight wickets for 10 runs.” The preview of the MCC tour of South Africa in The Cricketer said: “[The Gentlemen v Players match] was a severe ordeal, and he was somewhat unfortunate in finding the Players in their best run-getting vein. His analyses were not things of beauty, but sound judges were unanimous in declaring that his bowling was better than his figures would suggest. He is, in fact, regarded as a young player of unusual promise”.

After his performance in 1929, he was selected as one of “Five bowlers of the year” in the Cricketer Annual for 1929–30. The author (who may have been Pelham Warner) observed of the 1927 Gentlemen v Players match: “He bowled well on a perfect Oval pitch and earned the praise of a strong professional batting side. It was a trying ordeal to come straight from club cricket into a first-class game of such importance … Though he met with no success [in the end-of-season games in 1927] it was obvious that he was a young bowler of high promise … Some of the best judges in South Africa, notable, H. W. Taylor, formed a high opinion of him, and he often beat the batsmen without hitting the stumps.”

The article continued to describe his bowling style: “Six feet two inches tall and with long powerful fingers, he has every physical advantage, and his action is easy and natural, the ball being delivered from a great height. His pace is slow to medium, and besides being able to spin the ball both ways his flight is deceptive and he can keep a length. At one time he was inclined to bowl too fast, and his run up to the wicket was exaggerated, but experience in first-class cricket, and many a wise and kindly word from his captain, N. Haig, gave just that extra touch which was needed to bring out to the full his natural ability … At all events, on last season’s form he was, in the judgement of many of the most famous batsmen of the day, a great bowler in embryo, if he has not already arrived.”

The clearest praise (albeit retrospectively) comes from Warner’s Cricket Between Two Wars (1942). Of Peebles in 1929, he wrote: “Peebles was, at this period, one of the best young bowlers I have ever seen. He had everything in his favour, height, a lovely action, spin and flight, which made him a good bowler ‘before he pitched,’ as [Frank] Woolley put it.” None of these sources mention any instances of Peebles bowling embarrassingly, or any struggles with finding the right pace or experimenting with different styles. Which might suggest that his struggles were internal as much as external, and his battle to bowl like Barnes went unnoticed.

During the 1930 season, Peebles came to much wider notice; for a time, his name was on everyone’s lips — not because of his similarity to Barnes, the greatest bowler, but because of his impact on the greatest batsman. It would be the highest point of Peebles’ career, but he was not to remain long at the peak. Nor would Faulkner be there to see his rapid decline …

“Bowled out by adversity”: The Misfortunes of Luke Greenwood

Luke Greenwood in 1884 (Image: National Library of Australia)

Lascelles Hall is a tiny village — so small it does not always appear on maps — near the town of Lepton on the outskirts of Huddersfield. It was named after the manor house to be found there; the current building dates from the 18th century, but there has probably been a hall on the site since around 1175. Formed from the weavers’ cottages which were built around the hall, this obscure village was the birthplace of many cricketers who went on to play for Yorkshire. Lascelles Hall Cricket Club (founded in 1825, making it one of the oldest clubs in England) was extremely strong in the 1860s and 1870s, and produced many county players; in 1874, there were six Lascelles Hall players in the Yorkshire team. Famous, albeit long-forgotten, players from the village included John Thewlis, Ephraim Lockwood, David Eastwood, Andrew Greenwood, Henry Lockwood, Allen Hill and Billy Bates; of those, Hill and Bates played for England. But the first man from Lascelles Hall to achieve cricketing fame was Luke Greenwood, the uncle of Andrew. Greenwood’s long professional career included spells as player, Yorkshire captain, umpire and coach, but also encompassed a remarkable degree of bad luck, illness, financial distress and self-inflicted drama.

Luke Greenwood was born in 1834, the son of Richard and Grace Greenwood, in the part of Lascelles Hall known as Cowmes. He came from a family of handloom weavers at Lascelles hall; his brother Job Greenwood was the first Lascelles Hall resident to become a professional cricketer. Alfred Pullin wrote in his Talks with Old English Cricketers (1900):

“Like most of the youth of the famous village, [Greenwood] was brought up to handloom weaving, and made cricket his constant recreation, playing on turnpike roads, with crewelled balls and such primitive bats as it was possible to improvise from hedge-stakes and palings. The modern match ball and cane-handled willow were not luxuries by which the youth of the ‘nursery’ obtained the training which made them famous cricketers the world over.”

The area of Lascelles Hall where Greenwood was born, photographed in 2005; the large building is a former Providence Chapel and the row of houses to the left are former weavers’ cottages. Greenwood was born in this terrace, although the house is not visible in this photograph. (Photo © Humphrey Bolton [cc-by-sa/2.0])

A feature on Greenwood in Arthur Haygarth’s Scores and Biographies published in 1877 recorded that he appeared on scorecards in that publication as early as 1856. When interviewed by Pullin in the late 1890s, Greenwood explained how he had seen an advertisement in 1858 from the Duke of Sutherland in Staffordshire, requiring a professional bowler. He successfully applied and held the position for four years before taking a similar job with Lord Lichfield. One of his games for Lord Lichfield’s team (in either 1860 or 1861) catapulted him to the top level of cricket at the time.

The All-England XI was a famous team of professional cricketers, managed at that time by George Parr, which toured the country each season, playing against various local teams. Greenwood took five wickets for around 30 runs against the team, impressing Parr who arranged for him to play for Broughton Cricket Club, near Manchester. From 1861, Greenwood was also regularly involved in All-England XI matches; but rather than representing Parr’s team, he usually played for the opposition. As a result, he appeared for teams including Whitehaven, Liverpool, Barnsley and Dudley. Parr used several players in a similar way, including Isaac Hodgson and George Pinder of Yorkshire. The idea was that “loaning” of players from the All-England XI strengthened opposition which would otherwise be outclassed; the matches would thus be more attractive to spectators.

Whether playing for or against Parr’s team, Greenwood would have been guaranteed a better wage than was available in county cricket at the time, but his growing reputation meant that he was also selected for a team representing Yorkshire during that 1861 season. There was no official county club until 1863, but he played for a Yorkshire team against Hallam, scoring 25 and 63. A few days later, he made his first appearance in what has retrospectively been recognised as a first-class match. This was against Surrey at Sheffield in July 1861. A few days later he played for “Yorkshire with Stockton-on-Tees” against Cambridgeshire; this match too has been given first-class status. Greenwood was not successful with the bat in either game, nor did he bowl regularly for Yorkshire, despite being primarily known as a bowler.

Greenwood continued to play for a bewildering variety of teams over the next few years, including the United England XI, another professional touring team which operated as a rival to that of Parr. His 1862 season was cut short by illness, and when Yorkshire County Cricket Club played its first matches in 1863, Greenwood was overlooked. But there was a hint that he was gaining wider recognition when he played twice for the North against Surrey in first-class games.

Greenwood’s breakthrough came in 1864. While continuing to play in All-England XI matches, he played four times for the official Yorkshire team. He scored 65 against Surrey (which earned him a collection of £5) and 59 against Cambridgeshire, his first half-centuries at first-class level, and also took a few wickets. Then in the return match against Cambridgeshire, he took nine wickets in the match (four for 48 and five for 46). He also appeared for the North against the South at Sleaford but was again taken ill; he missed the return match with Surrey and could play no more cricket that season. To offset this, a match was played at Lockwood in Huddersfield on 7 October between “Eleven Huddersfield Players” and “Seventeen Gentlemen of Huddersfield and Greenwood” which raised £17 to help Greenwood through the winter. These themes of misfortune, illness and financial necessity would be constants over the next forty years.

Greenwood played regularly in 1865, including nine first-class games. Most importantly, he was chosen to play in the Gentlemen v Players match at the Oval — which was incidentally W. G. Grace’s first appearance in the fixture. These matches between the leading amateurs and the leading professionals were the most prestigious in the cricket calendar in a time before international cricket was even dreamed of. Greenwood also played several times for Yorkshire; his only score over fifty in the season was his 83 against Surrey, which remained his highest first-class score, while his best figures with the ball were his seven for 43 against Nottinghamshire. He averaged just 13 for the county with the bat but this was no huge disgrace given that Yorkshire’s highest average among those scoring over 100 runs was only 17. But his overall bowling average of 23 (which rose above 26 in Yorkshire matches) was poor for this period of extremely low-scoring games.

Greenwood’s first-class appearances were more limited in 1866; in four games he averaged 21.33 with the bat but took just five expensive wickets. His only fifty of the season — and as it transpired, the last of his first-class career — came when he played once more for the Players against the Gentlemen at the Oval. Possibly his reduced playing time was connected with his marriage on 25 June to Amelia Jessop. At a double wedding, his sister was also married, in her case to William Shotton, one of Greenwood’s Yorkshire team-mates. That there was more to the story than we are aware becomes clear on 16 September when the couple’s first child, Emma, was born — less than three months after the wedding.

George Freeman, who played alongside Greenwood and supported him after his accident in 1867 (Image: Wikipedia)

In 1867, Greenwood scored a respectable 147 runs in eight matches at an average of 16.33, but had by far his best season as a bowler, taking 34 wickets at 10.82. His best figures — eight for 35, for which he was rewarded with the presentation of a rug — came against Cambridgeshire, but he also took eleven wickets in the game against Surrey and seven against Lancashire. In the latter two games, Greenwood bowled unchanged with George Freeman throughout the match. Perhaps his most prestigious game was played at Lord’s when he appeared alongside W. G. Grace, E. M. Grace and several other leading cricketers in a side representing “England” against Middlesex. In all matches, according to Scores and Biographies, “it was stated that his bowling was fatal to 300 wickets”. Scores and Biographies also gives an indication of the type of cricketer he was in this period. “He is an excellent batsman and a hard hitter, besides being a fast and straight round-armed bowler. In the field he is generally at short leg or slip, but can take all places … Height 5ft 9in or 10½in, and weight 12st (or between 13st and 14st) … Is a weaver at his native place, and as honest and sterling a cricketer as Yorkshire has ever produced.”

In truth, although Greenwood played for another eight seasons, that was the end of any success he enjoyed at first-class level. His batting average was usually in single figures thereafter, and he never managed more than eight wickets in a season. Nor were his career figures especially impressive: in 69 matches recognised as first-class, he scored 1,244 runs at an average of 11.96 and took 113 wickets at 18.28. For a period when runs were extremely hard to come by, his batting average is low. His bowling average is also a little high, certainly compared to his team-mates Allen Hill (average of 14.26), Tom Emmett (13.55) or George Freeman (9.84). He gradually drifted out of the Yorkshire team over the next few years, playing occasionally but never regularly.

The turning point was 1868. Shortly before the cricket season, Amelia Greenwood’s gave birth to their second child, John Herbert. Whether this affected Greenwood is unclear, but his form with the bat was poor that year; his highest score in first-class games was 8, and his best innings in matches on the CricketArchive database was 28. A combination of off-field misfortunes then began to gather around him

On 3 August, he was involved in an accident at Alfreton in Nottinghamshire. He had been playing cricket at Somercotes, where the local team took on the All-England XI. Greenwood, as so often before, played for the opposition, scoring nine runs on the first day. At the close of play, he and several of the team were driven to their lodgings in an omnibus belonging to a local man, Mr H. Cupitt, the proprietor of the George Hotel at Alfreton, who had organised transport to and from the ground throughout the day. Alongside Greenwood, the passengers included his fellow Yorkshire players Emmett and Freeman. As the omnibus was travelling down a hill near Outseats Terrace, around halfway between Somercotes and Alfreton, the “experienced” driver lost control, perhaps owing to the poor state of the rear wheels. One wheel broke and the omnibus turned over. Greenwood was seriously injured, while Emmett and Freeman also received cuts and bruises. Other passengers were also reported to be hurt, including a police sergeant and a local doctor. The latter was bruised but was able to attend to Greenwood; his actions probably saved the latter’s life.

The George Hotel in Alfreton, pictured in 2010 (Photo © Dave Bevis [cc-by-sa/2.0])

Greenwood’s injuries were serious enough that initial reports suggested he might not survive — at least one newspaper reported that he had been killed — but he gradually recovered, resting at the George Hotel before he was well enough to return to Lascelles Hall. He was unable to play again that season, and Freeman opened a subscription to support him. There may also be more to the story. In an obscure but interesting book called Huddersfield’s Nineteenth Century Yorkshire XI (2004), J. R. Ellam relates how, during his recovery, Greenwood was advised to seek compensation for his injuries, but he was “found to be contributory negligent and advised to abandon the claim.” The subsequent legal bill of almost £80 left him in serious financial difficulty. Unfortunately, Ellam does not give a source for this tale, and I have been unable to corroborate it elsewhere. Contemporary reports suggest that the faulty wheel was the cause of the accident, and it is hard to see how that could have been Greenwood’s fault.

But this was not the end of Greenwood’s misfortunes in 1868. On the morning of 22 November, Greenwood was caught in the company of three others — one of whom was James “Messy” Castle, a notorious poacher — on the land of a man called John Holroyd, and over which Edward Leatham, the long-serving MP for Huddersfield, had shooting rights. Castle was carrying a shotgun and used it to strike the gamekeeper who challenged them. Castle had to pay 40 shillings and costs when the four men appeared at the Huddersfield Police Court in early December; the others, including Greenwood, only had to pay 9s 6d expenses as it was their first offence. Oddly, the Huddersfield Chronicle, the only newspaper to print the story, makes no mention that this was Luke Greenwood the cricketer; it merely describes him as a weaver of Lascelles Hall. But as there do not appear to have been any other men in the area called Luke Greenwood, and as he was definitely a weaver, it is almost certain that the offender was the cricketer. Perhaps the incident was connected to his growing financial problems. Ellam suggests — again with no source — that he was merely working as Castle’s “beater”.

Greenwood returned to the cricket field in 1869, but played less frequently than in previous years. Possibly, he was still suffering from the effects of his accident the previous year, but equally possible is that off-field concerns dominated his attention. In August, his daughter Emma died, just before her third birthday. And throughout this period, he was falling increasingly into debt. By December, his creditors had taken him to court and early in 1870, he was declared bankrupt. Details are scarce. The only clue regarding what might have been going on comes from Greenwood’s bitter complaints when interviewed by Alfred Pullin in November 1896 for the “Talks with Old English Cricketers” series in the Yorkshire Evening Post. He told Pullin how a professional’s match fee of £5 could be quickly spent on travelling the country; he related how, in the course of one week he had travelled from Preston to Brighton, from there to Cornwall and finally to Sheffield. The combination of railway and hotel expenses took most of the wages of a professional.

Perhaps prompted by the need for more money, Greenwood began to play for the United North of England XI from the 1870 season. It had been set up by the Yorkshire players George Freeman and Roger Iddison, with the backing of Lord Londesborough (one of the founders of the Scarborough Festival), to compete with the All-England XI, but never quite took off owing to the declining interest in touring teams. Greenwood again found both runs and wickets hard to come by. However, his highest score of 44 was crucial in Yorkshire’s one-wicket win over the MCC at Lord’s.

Over the next three years, Greenwood played very little cricket, first-class or otherwise. He played occasionally for Yorkshire and occasionally for the United North of England XI, but far less regularly than previously. Given this, and his infrequent selection for Yorkshire in this period, it is hard to understand why Greenwood was appointed as Yorkshire’s captain for the 1874 season. It is likely that the reasons are lost to history, but it still looks an odd decision.

In these early days of county cricket, the principle of amateur captaincy had not been established, particularly in counties such as Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire which had a strong core of professional players. Since the foundation of the club in 1863, Yorkshire had been captained solely by professionals: Roger Iddison held the role until 1872 and Joseph Rowbotham took over in 1873. There is no explanation of why Rowbotham was replaced for 1874 — the Committee did not apparently discuss the appointment — particularly as he continued to appear in the Yorkshire team that season. Nor is it clear why Greenwood, who had his 40th birthday during the season and had not played regularly for years, was chosen. His playing contribution was negligible; he batted in the lower order — often at number eleven — with a batting average just over eight, and took five expensive wickets. However, under his captaincy, the team was relatively successful. Yorkshire played fourteen games, winning ten, losing three and drawing once. Only Gloucestershire — who beat Yorkshire twice — had a better record. Although there was still no official County Championship in place, several newspapers recognised Gloucestershire as the Champion County that season. W. G. Grace, Gloucestershire’s captain, actually thought that Yorkshire were the best team while other authorities identified Derbyshire — who only played four games but were unbeaten, winning three of them — as the champions.

More importantly for his future, Greenwood was given a benefit match in 1874, the potentially lucrative one against Gloucestershire at Sheffield in July. It raised £300, which was a somewhat disappointing figure; the days of highly organised Yorkshire benefits which raised four figures were some way in the future. The match was low-scoring and Yorkshire were outclassed, losing by an innings. Only W. G. Grace’s innings of 167 ensured that the game lasted the full three days (although it ended early on the final morning).

To add to the mystery over Greenwood’s captaincy, Rowbotham was reappointed to the role for 1875. Greenwood never played for Yorkshire again (although he played one final match recognised as first-class, for the United North of England XI against Derbyshire in 1875). It is unclear whether he retired or was sacked. By then, Greenwood had two more children to support: Polly, born in June 1870, and Grace, born in August 1874.

Another avenue Greenwood pursued in this period was coaching. After spending time working at Dublin University in 1865 and 1866, he coached at Stonyhurst College (1867–68), Marlborough College (1869), Rugby School (1870–72) and Winchester College (1873–74). He also turned increasingly to umpiring. He stood regularly in matches for the United England XI, the All-England XI and the United North of England XI throughout the 1860s and 1870s, as well as a handful of other games. In this capacity he also umpired some first-class games for the All-England XI, and two games between the North and the South. Between 1873 and 1875, he also umpired a few Yorkshire first-class games, and in 1876 he stood in a Lancashire match.

Greenwood continued to play for various teams in 1875 and 1876, including “Yorkshire United”, another touring team comprising mainly Yorkshire players. But after 1876, he appears to have retired entirely from professional cricket, although he occasionally turned out for Lascelles Hall.

Greenwood’s only association with cricket after 1876 came through the visits of Australian teams to England. The first official visit by the Australians was in 1878. Greenwood told Pullin that he umpired a few matches for the Australians that summer; these must have been non-first-class matches as there is no surviving record of him doing so. It is unclear how he became involved; after 1876, he never umpired another county game. Perhaps when the Australians played Batley or Elland, he stood as a local umpire. But he clearly impressed the visitors. When a second tour took place in 1880, the Australians used him regularly as an umpire: three times in first-class matches (against Gloucestershire, the Players of the North, and Nottinghamshire) and in nine others. The success of the two tours — the latter of which included the first Test match to be played in England — encouraged regular repeats, and when the team returned in 1882, Greenwood was very much one of their favoured umpires. That summer, he stood in thirteen of their first-class games and two others. Most importantly, he umpired alongside Bob Thoms, one of the most respected umpires in England, during the only Test match. This game became famous as the “Ashes” match, narrowly won by Australia in an agonisingly close finish.

The Australians were motivated in the tense final stages by the dubious run-out of Sammy Jones by W. G. Grace. Jones had left his ground to pat down the pitch, thinking the ball was dead, and Grace had knocked over the stumps. Thoms gave Jones run out. There was endless discussion of the controversy, to which Greenwood added his views when he spoke to Pullin for his Talks with Old English Cricketers. He said that, in contrast to the action taken by Thoms, he would not have given Jones out as the ball “was to all intents and purposes dead, and there had been no attempt to make a second run.”

Greenwood with the Australian team of 1884. Back row: J. M. Blackham, H. J. H. Scott, L. Greenwood (umpire), W. E. Midwinter, P. S. McDonnell, G. Alexander. Middle row: G. Giffen, H. F. Boyle, W. L. Murdoch, G. J. Bonner, G. E. Palmer. Seated on floor: A. C. Bannerman, F. R. Spofforth. (Image: National Library of Australia)

This was the only Test match umpired by Greenwood but if there was any official concern over the umpiring in the match, it was not shared by the Australians. When the team returned in 1884, Greenwood was asked to umpire nine of the first-class games (and one other); and when yet another Australian team toured in 1886, he umpired another seven first-class games. But that was the end of his umpiring owing to problems with his eyesight. His career as a match official was an unusual one as he never performed the role regularly, and largely did so at the invitation of the Australians: of the 46 first-class games umpired by Greenwood, the last 32 involved touring Australian teams. He said to Pullin of the Australians: “They always behaved like gentlemen to me, and I never saw teams work better together.”

Away from cricket, Greenwood had turned to managing public houses. By the time of the 1881 census, he and his family had moved to Ossett where Greenwood ran the New Inn, which was perhaps inconveniently very close to the police station. In 1882, he was fined by the Lepton School Attendance Committee after his children had failed to attend any of the 40 days required days at school. He was therefore also subject to an attendance order issued at Huddersfield Police Court. By the time of the 1891 census, Greenwood was in charge of a different public house in Ossett, the Carpenter’s Arms. He also kept dogs, and his name regularly appeared in local newspapers when he was successful in dog competitions at local shows.

But Greenwood was in the middle of yet another difficult period; money had once more proved scarce and by 1896 he was forced to leave the Carpenter’s Arms. In November 1896, he appeared at Dewsbury Bankruptcy Court. According to his evidence, he had been running the Carpenter’s Arms successfully until it changed hands in 1886 and he was forced to switch the brewer who provided his ale. The newspaper account, widely published in the area, said: “He attributed his failure to having had to pay too much for his goods and not being allowed any discount for spirits, &c.” Although the new owners had reduced his rent from an annual £95 to £25, and had kept the rates about the same, Greenwood stated that “his business declined during the last two or three years” which he blamed on “complaints made about the beer he had to sell”. He also told the court that there had been “much sickness” in his family. The Official Receiver noted in passing that Greenwood’s accounts “were as complete as he had met with in the case of a publican”. But his catalogue of excuses might suggest that he was concealing at least part of the reason for his difficulties.

Greenwood was subject to a Receiving Order, and found himself in severe difficulty. It was around this period that he first spoke to Alfred Pullin for his series in the Yorkshire Evening Post. The article, printed under three weeks after his bankruptcy hearing, began:

“Luke Greenwood, the old Yorkshire cricketer, who captained the county eleven just over 20 years ago, has, in the phraseology the game, been cleaned bowled out by adversity. Until a very short time ago he was the landlord the Carpenters’ Arms, Ossett, where for the last 16 years local cricketers have wont to foregather to occasionally hear of something of the battles of the giants in the early days county cricket. But repeated misfortunes, for which Greenwood has not been in the least degree responsible, have driven him into the Bankruptcy Court. He has just recently come through this ordeal without means enough to keep him outside the workhouse. In fact, as he pathetically remarked to me … it is only through the charity of friends that he and his wife and three daughters are enabled to obtain shelter in their native town.”

He also told Pullin that he and Amelia were forced to live separately owing to their financial plight. Pullin questioned him regarding a potentially delicate subject — alcohol — to be informed that Greenwood had not touched any “intoxicants” for twenty years “and is a non-smoker into the bargain”. Greenwood went further in a second interview, held in 1898 but published two years later in Pullin’s Talks with Old English Cricketers: “Yet it is not my fault. I was in [the Carpenter’s Arms] twenty years, and never had a single glass of drink! It is not many cricketers can say that. We are too often blamed, and rightly so, for insobriety and improvidence, but neither charge can be brought against me.” There is a slight sense of a man protesting too much.

Ellam goes a little further in Huddersfield’s Nineteenth-Century Yorkshire XI: “Rumours soon started going round that Greenwood had wasted all the money on drink. But this was far from the truth. He was less professional behind the bar as he was on the cricket pitch, and only had a few drinks when he joined his old Lascelles Hall team-mates for the usual Christmas get-together at the Tandem, Waterloo.” Ellam gives no source for this information, nor for his suggestion that Greenwood had been reduced to laying cricket pitches and tennis courts to earn money. Greenwood told Pullin that he had been to watch Yorkshire in recent times, but owing to his impoverished state had been unable to afford a train: in 1897 “I walked to Leeds and back twice, to Bradford and back twice, to Huddersfield and back once; and I was going to set off on the Sunday night to walk to Sheffield to see the match with Sussex, but when I found that Ranji was not playing I did not go.”

Greenwood photographed for A. W. Pullin’s Talks with Old English Cricketers (1900)

Pullin’s interviews with Greenwood provoked a reaction as people tried to help him. For example, in December 1896, Brighouse Cricket Club made a presentation of a gold purse to him at their annual dinner, a gesture widely applauded at the event as Greenwood had formerly played for the club. And the interviews with Greenwood and other former Yorkshire cricketers reduced to living in poverty produced something of a backlash against the county, who took steps to improve the lives of their former professionals. In late 1899, the Yorkshire Committee agreed to provide Greenwood with a pension of 10 shillings each week over the winter, and secured an easier job for him as groundsman at Morley Cricket Club. Therefore, he and his family moved from Ossett to Morley. The 1901 census records Greenwood living on Fountain Street with Amelia, their four children and a lodger. Greenwood felt no bitterness against the county, and told Pullin in 1897 “they always behave to me like gentlemen, and send me a card every year.” Ten years later, he walked to the offices of the Yorkshire Evening Post to contribute to a fund to thank Lord Hawke for his services to Yorkshire cricket.

One final tragedy touched Greenwood before the end; his daughter Polly died in 1904 at the age of 33.

Greenwood died on 1 November 1909, having been troubled with heart problems, failing eyesight and, latterly, dropsy. He spent his last weeks confined to bed. His funeral at Kirkheaton Parish Church was attended by Yorkshire’s secretary Frederick Toone, the current player George Hirst and the former player Louis Hall. He was buried in the churchyard, although in more recent years his headstone was removed — according to Ellam — “to make the churchyard look a bit better in wedding photos.”

Of the rest of the family, Greenwood’s wife Amelia died in 1910 at the age of 72. John, who had a brief spell as a professional cricketer in the early 1890s but worked as a labourer in a quarry once the family moved to Morley, died in 1913, aged 45. Grace married a man called Bedford Moss in 1905, and lived until 1935. Annie is a little harder to trace, but seems to have lived until 1937.

“A grand fellow”: The later years of Manny Martindale

Martindale bowls to Len Hutton at the Oval in the third Test of the 1939 series (Image: Leeds Mercury, 21 August 1939)

By the mid-1930s, the undisputed fastest bowler in the world was Manny Martindale of Barbados and the West Indies. Admittedly, there was not a great deal of competition at that time, but Martindale established a good reputation during the West Indies’ 1933 tour of England and a fearsome one when West Indies defeated England 2–1 in the 1934–35 series, particularly after breaking Bob Wyatt’s jaw. Following this performance, he was signed by Burnley Cricket Club to play professionally in the Lancashire League between 1936 and 1938. By the time he had completed three largely successful seasons at the club — albeit ones in which might have been viewed as slightly disappointing given his status — he had moved his entire family to live in Burnley and make a new life there. But looming over the 1938 season was the question of the forthcoming tour of England by the West Indies in 1939. The West Indies Board of Control were keen for Burnley to allow Martindale to play, but nothing was certain; Learie Constantine, for example, had missed most of the 1933 tour owing to his commitments with Nelson Cricket Club.

Negotiations over Martindale’s place on the 1939 tour went on through the 1938 season. There were some suspicions in the West Indies that Burnley were reluctant to release him, but the delay was largely over whether he would be released from his contract completely, or just for the Test matches. The Burnley President, at the annual meeting, emphasised that the club would never stand in the way of any player appearing in Test matches. He said that the club had agreed to release Martindale, whose wish to take part in the tour was given precedence; he would be available for the entirety of the 1939 tour. Amar Singh was to be his replacement for 1939, and the position of professional for 1940, when Martindale was expected to be available, would be reviewed later.

Behind the scenes, however, the problem lay not with Burnley but with the West Indies Cricket Board, and the issue of paying the three professionals in the team — Martindale, Constantine and Headley, who played league cricket in England. The rest of the West Indies team was entirely amateur and required no money other than expenses; the professionals would have to be paid if the West Indies Cricket Board was to have their services. Furthermore, the presence of all three men was essential to the success of the tour. They were well-known in England and were guaranteed to draw crowds; and if the West Indies were to have any chance of on-field success that summer, they would depend heavily on the trio.

All three of their clubs — Burnley, Rochdale (for whom Constantine played in 1938) and Haslingden (Headley’s club) — were happy to release their players, all of whom expressed the wish to join the West Indies. They also agreed a pay cut, but while the Board offered Constantine £600, it offered only £500 to Headley and Martindale. When the latter two became aware of the gap, they were not happy and Martindale wrote a letter to the WICB, in which he said: “My remuneration in a league season exceeds by a big margin whatever I shall receive for playing with the West Indies, with much less cricket. Therefore considering all of the above-mentioned circumstances, I feel I am doing West Indies cricket a great favour in deciding to play on tour, for which I must be paid £600 and expenses.” The WICB conceded and offered £600 to all three players, but Headley and Martindale held out a little longer, requesting the same £50 clothing allowance offered to the amateur players. The WICB, run by white Europeans, was reluctant to concede; their attitude was doubtless driven by racism and issues of class, but in the end they had little choice but to agree.

This, in turn, angered Constantine, who had been given an informal guarantee to be the best-paid professional owing to his senior status. Although the WICB suspected the three professionals had conspired to force up their wages, they added the £50 allowance to Constantine’s contract. But the unpleasantness led to a falling-out between Constantine and Martindale. Peter Mason, in his 2008 biography of Constantine, relates:

“[Constantine] was not afraid of breaking up with valued friendships if necessary, as surviving correspondence between himself and his erstwhile West Indies bowling companion Manny Martindale attests. Martindale … had a bitter falling out with Constantine. This was partly over the fact that the former had appeared to use Constantine’s pay negotiations during the 1939 Test series to hold out for extra money himself, partly due to what Constantine perceived as Martindale’s easy-come-easy-go attitude to their friendship. The often vituperative correspondence, in which Constantine gave as good as he got, showed a hard-edged side to him that was rarely revealed.”

But any schism between Martindale and Constantine was not, as we shall see, long-lasting. Furthermore, such challenges to the ruling bodies of cricket were exceptionally rare at this time, and had never taken place in West Indies cricket before. That the three professionals were the undoubted winners can be established by a comparison to the wages for MCC tours; the English professionals who toured Australia on the Bodyline tour of 1932–33 received a basic wage of £400, although bonuses could raise this above £700 for the top performers. Similarly, the nominally amateur Australian team which toured England in 1930 were paid £600.

With his place on the tour settled, Martindale and his family remained in England over the winter of 1938–39; in fact, they did not return to Barbados until 1964. When snow fell that winter, the local press reported that Gillan Martindale and their three children were seeing it for the first time. Meanwhile, in the West Indies, a team was assembled after the usual trial matches. Alongside Martindale, who was to be the spearhead of the attack, the selectors included three other fast bowlers: Leslie Hylton of Jamaica, who had been devastating in the 1934–35 series; E. A. V. “Foffie” Williams, who had played alongside Martindale for Empire Cricket Club and for Barbados; and Tyrell Johnson of Trinidad. Constantine, in contrast to his first three tours of England, was now generally a medium-paced bowler with an occasional faster ball rather than a genuine fast bowler.

Martindale and Derek Sealey sign autographs during the 1939 tour of England (Image: Newcastle Chronicle, 15 July 1939)

However, the 1939 tour was a disappointing one for Martindale. He took just 34 first-class wickets at an average of 34.50, while in the three Test series that the West Indies lost 1–0, he took four wickets at 78.50. England easily won the first Test and were on top in the second, which was ruined by rain. Only in the third were the visitors able to give England a fright, and that was largely owing to a commanding batting performance. Any hopes the West Indies may have had of a repeat of the success of the pace strategy of 1934–35 were dashed by the poor returns of not only Martindale, but also Hylton (39 wickets at 27.71 in the first-class games but only three at 55.66 in the Tests), Williams (14 wickets, and only one Test match) and Johnson (16 wickets, and only one Test match). Williams and Johnson only appeared intermittently throughout the tour. Only Constantine, who took over 100 wickets, and the leg-spinner Bertie Clarke were consistently among the wickets.

As for Martindale, he began the tour quite well, but was a little expensive, and the wickets dried up as the season progressed. In the later games, he was only used sparingly. His only five-wicket return was five for 57 against Leicestershire. Nor did his batting success in league cricket translate to first-class level, and he averaged just 12.43 with the bat. The Wisden report on the tour was scathing: “Unlike Constantine, Martindale failed to profit by his experiences in English Saturday afternoon games. He did not approach his previous success on tour when, strangely enough, he took 103 wickets, the number claimed now by Constantine at smaller cost. Martindale fell off in pace and accuracy.” It is not clear what caused such a falling off; he was still only 29 and should have been near his peak. Part of the reason may have been a very wet season which hardly suited fast bowlers, but most observers concluded he was simply not as fast as he once was. Perhaps it was because he had been not played Test or first-class cricket since early 1935. Four years is a long time to be away from the top level; had he played regularly in that time, maybe he would have maintained his pace and form. Whereas Constantine had adapted his bowling completely to league cricket, and found a way to make it work at first-class level too, Martindale may have lost out in altering his style to suit Burnley. Or maybe he just had a bad season.

Embed from Getty Images

The 1939 West Indies team. Back row: W. Ferguson (scorer), G. Gomez, J. B. Stollmeyer, L. G. Hylton, T. Johnson, C. B. Clarke, H. P. Bayley, E. A. V. Williams. Middle row: G. Headley, I. Barrow, R. S. Grant (captain), J. M. Kidney (manager), J. H. Cameron, L. N. Constantine, E. A. Martindale. On floor: K. H. Weekes, J. E. D. Sealy, V. H. Stollmeyer.

Martindale played in the drawn Oval Test, but that was his final first-class game. With the Second World War imminent, the last matches of the tour were abandoned, and he never played another game at that level. Most of his team-mates departed for home. But he and Constantine had by then made a life in England; Martindale returned to Burnley, where he is recorded living with Gillan and their children on the 1939 Register. The family had expanded by then; their second daughter, Carol, was born in early 1939. She was followed by Monica Yvonne in 1942 and Pamela in 1944.

During the war, Martindale remained in England. He was not the only West Indies Test player in the country. Constantine began working for the Ministry of Labour, among other roles. Edwin St Hill also continued to live in England. He initially joined the army and, after being discharged, worked as a machinist. Ellis Achong played professional cricket in Lancashire. Bertie Clarke returned to study medicine in London. And throughout the war, all of them were in considerable demand as cricketers as the public looked for distractions from their troubles.

For the 1940 season, Martindale signed for Bingley in the Bradford League, one of the few places to offer professional cricket during the war. He was not alone; Constantine signed for Windhill Cricket Club (which had been a rumoured destination of both him and Martindale before war broke out) and many English professionals flocked to the League, making it the best place to see international cricketers playing competitively. Both Martindale and Constantine proved enormously popular and the matches between their two clubs were keenly contested. Martindale, who was paid less than Constantine, managed to secure local sponsorship, and his photograph advertised “Sharples Warehouse” in Bingley. On the field, he scored 449 runs at 24.00 — which included an undefeated century against Bowling Old Lane; with the ball, he took 59 wickets at 12.62, finishing seventh — one place behind Constantine — in the league averages. But he proved enormously popular with the club.

Martindale remained with Bingley in 1941, returning similar figures with the ball — 60 wickets at 12.75, 17th in the averages — but falling off with the bat, scoring 260 runs at 16.25. His wage demands caused a few financial problems for his club, and they decided not to renew his contract for the following season. However, he remained in the Bradford League, signing for Keighley for 1942. His 69 wickets at 9.79 played a large part in the club securing promotion to the “A” Division at the end of the season. He remained there in 1943, taking 73 wickets at 10.47 but averaging under 5 with the bat.

For 1944, Martindale left Bradford, moving to Radcliffe in the Central Lancashire League; Constantine also joined that league, playing for Crompton. It is not impossible that they chose to move together, indicating that any issues over the 1939 tour had long been resolved. Martindale took 71 wickets at 8.67 (10th in the averages) and scored 236 runs at 13.88. Radcliffe won the league, remaining unbeaten all season. He re-signed with the club for 1945 and despite what The Cricketer called a slow start to his season, took 68 wickets at 10.08 (although Radcliffe fell to fifth in the league).

The “Dominions” team which played at Lord’s in 1943; Martindale stands second from the left on the back row. His team-mates included D. P. B. Morkel, the former South African Test player (fourth from the right, back row); Keith Miller who played for Australia after the war (third from the right, back row); and the former New Zealand batsman C. S. Dempster (second from right, front row). Also in the team were his West Indies team-mates C. B. Clarke (second from right, back row) and Learie Constantine (far left, front row). (Image: Australian War Memorial)

If Martindale’s average looks impressive during the war, it was perhaps helped by impact of so many men being away on national service. The quality of league cricket doubtlessly suffered as the war progressed, which may explain how Martindale was able to return such spectacular figures. Perhaps more representative of his ability at this stage of his career was his record in the numerous wartime charity matches played between 1940 and 1945. He played frequently for “West Indies” or “Empire” teams, usually alongside many of his former Test team-mates. For “West Indies” teams, usually against high-profile opposition, he averaged over 40 with the ball; in all wartime charity games, he averaged around 22. In many games, he played alongside Learie Constantine, another indication that the two had made friends again, and Martindale was part of the latter’s team which toured Scotland in both 1945 and 1946. Other frequent team-mates included Edwin St Hill, Achong and Clarke.

In 1946, Martindale returned to the Bradford League, where he joined the now-amateur Constantine at Windhill, heading the league averages with 56 wickets at 9.80. He was the best-paid player in the league that season. This was not the only time the pair were associated; as Richard Bentley writes in A War to the Knife (2019): “Clearly relations improved … because Martindale worked for a short stint with Learie Constantine in the managing of a hostel in Bolton, before working as a supervisor at Lucas’ Electrical in Lancashire.”

In August 1946, Martindale agreed a return to the Lancashire League when he signed a two-year deal with Lowerhouse, to begin in the 1947 season, when he would be 37 years old. In reporting the signing of his contract at his home in Burnley, the Burnley Express stated that his salary — which was not revealed — was to be the highest ever given to a Lowerhouse professional. There was some confusion at Windhill, the secretary of whom revealed to a Bradford Observer journalist that he knew nothing of any such deal.

Despite his age, Martindale had an extraordinarily good season at Lowerhouse, using his years of experience of league cricket to great effect. With the ball, he took 106 wickets at 10.16 — his best total and average in the Lancashire League — and scored 532 runs at 24.18. He was third in the league bowling averages, with the second highest wicket total, and 28th in batting. Lowerhouse played Burnley, Martindale’s old club, three times that season; in each game he took six wickets. Although Lowerhouse only finished sixth, their season was very good: they recorded a record profit of £583 and at the annual meeting, the president, T. Redman, reflected on how well the club had recovered from being on the brink of financial collapse in 1933 — incidentally, the last time they had a West Indian professional (Edwin St Hill). Redman also enthused about Martindale’s role, calling him a “grand fellow” who had not given the club any trouble. Presenting the prizes at the same meeting, Martindale in turn offered his own praise, expressing pleasure at the playing and financial results of the season, modestly playing down his own achievements, and said that he had enjoyed his season with Lowerhouse more than that with any other club: “When we have done well we have been pleased, and when we have lost we have pulled each other’s leg. Altogether we have been one happy family.”

Martindale may have been telling the truth rather than simply being polite, because something about Lowerhouse continued to bring out the best in him. Although the club dropped to ninth in 1947, his own form — although falling away slightly from the very high peak of the previous season — was good. He scored 447 runs at 21.28 (25th in the batting averages) and took 83 wickets at 13.63 (15th in the bowling averages). Consequently, he signed a two-year extension on his contract; he also was engaged for two hours per week coaching pupils of Burnley Grammar School. He had another excellent season in 1949, scoring 589 runs at 23.56 (27th) and taking 85 wickets at 11.94 (6th). Martindale was now a distinct bridge between two eras; as a pre-war Test player, he now bowled at post-war stars including Everton Weekes and Vijay Hazare. To his credit, he continued to perform well against such cricketers; for example, he trapped Hazare lbw for 17 in one match and bowled Weekes for 5 in another. But Lowerhouse remained in ninth position.

His final season with Lowerhouse was 1950, by which time he was 40 years old. He took just 33 wickets at 21.33 (37th) and scored 532 runs at 38.00 (11th). The team were joint-eleventh and chose not to renew Martindale’s contract, instead signing another West Indian, Roy Marshall, as his replacement. For Lowerhouse, Martindale had scored 2,100 runs at 25.60 and taken 307 wickets at 12.79; in 2021, he remains 12th on the list of leading wicket-takers for Lowerhouse.

Martindale presented the prizes at a ceremony for the Burnley and District Sunday School Cricket League in 1954 (Image: Burnley Express, 16 October 1954)

But Martindale was not quite finished, and he returned to the Bradford League. He signed for Keighley in a dual role as professional and coach for 1951, and his 56 wickets at 14.28 helped the club to win the Second Division title. He was also able to use his influence to encourage several of the 1950 West Indies team to play a challenge match against his team.

But Keighley decided to become an all-amateur club over the winter of 1951–52 — mainly for financial reasons as they could not afford to re-sign Martindale — and so Martindale headed to the North Staffordshire Cricket League, something of a step down in terms of cricketing prestige. Keighley reversed their decision before the 1952 season, singing a cheaper professional, which may suggest that their change of policy was only temporary in order to remove Martindale’s wages from their books. Martindale, meanwhile, played for Norton from 1952 to 1954. In 1953, his 82 wickets at 9.60 and 394 runs at 28.10 (the best all-round record in the competition) helped the team to the league title. He also appeared once in the Worsley Cup for Lowerhouse in 1953, playing as an amateur; although this was only a one-off, it was possible because he still lived in Burnley and the mid-week Worsley Cup games did not clash with his professional commitments at the weekend. While his figures were rarely spectacular at Norton, he continued to hold his own at that level. In 1954, he scored 312 runs at 20.80 and took 43 wickets at 15.00.

Despite his clearly fading powers, Martindale had one final season in the Lancashire League when Bacup signed him as a replacement for the unavailable Everton Weekes. The gamble was unsuccessful and his record was poor: he scored 342 runs at 16.28 and took 46 wickets at 20.34. That was the end of Martindale’s career at the top level of league cricket, but his record in the Lancashire League is impressive: he played a total of 200 league matches in his three spells as a professional, scoring 4,274 runs at 24.99 and taking 573 wickets at 13.99.

After this, although Martindale remained a professional cricketer, he becomes harder to trace as he moved to more obscure leagues. He certainly continued to play; for example, we know that he had two seasons for Great Harwood in the Ribblesdale League in 1962 and 1963. And throughout this period, he remained living in Burnley where his children were raised and went to school. For example, Carole and Norma attended Burnley Wood Modern Secondary School and received some newspaper coverage when both won sports awards in 1952.

The Lowerhouse team receive the cup for winning the inaugural “A” team competition in 1949. Fred and Colin Martindale are part of the group (Image: via Lowerhouse Cricket Club)

Meanwhile, Martindale’s two sons had followed him in playing cricket for Lowerhouse. Both were involved in the inaugural “A” team competition for Lancashire League teams in 1949, and soon began to feature in the first team. Alfred (known as Fred) played for Lowerhouse as an amateur from 1949 until 1958 before moving to Burnley, where he played until 1965. He was a batsman, averaging 13.71 across his career, with one century. Colin played for Lowerhouse between 1950 and 1958 before he too moved to Burnley, for whom he played until 1964. He averaged 10.41 with the bat and 30.86 with the ball. As this overlapped with their father’s career at Lowerhouse, Fred appeared alongside him several times in 1949 and 1950. In one 1950 game against Haslingden, both sons played with their father. Neither showed any inclination to turn professional and, encouraged by their father, pursued other careers: Fred became a solicitor and Colin a teacher. Carole and Yvonne also became teachers, the latter moving to Barbados in the early 1960s to continue her career. Pamela became a secretary.

By 1964, Martindale’s playing career was at an end. That year, he and his wife returned to live in Barbados, having spent 28 years in Burnley. But he continued to be involved in sport; he worked for two years as a coach in Bermuda and then with the Barbados Government Sports Department. He also managed the Barbados National Stadium. But the most important thing for him in these years was his family. In A War to the Knife, Richard Bentley includes the memories of Martindale’s grandson Roger:

“[Roger] lived with his grandfather in Barbados and vividly remembers his grandfather taking him to the Merrivale Preparatory School, located at Pine Road, Belleville, St. Michael. Roger describes his grandparents as being ‘inseparable’ and ‘living for each other and their six children.’”

When Gillan died in December 1971, aged just 61, it must have hit Martindale hard. He never really recovered, and he died four months later in March 1972 at the St Joseph Mercy Hospital in St Peter, Barbados.

At the time of his death, and for some time after, Martindale was remembered for his contributions to the early history of the West Indies cricket team. But if he was discussed in newspapers quite regularly, and if old-timers still talked about him, his move to England, and his long-term success in league cricket there was often overlooked. The bravery of him and Gillan in building a life for themselves in a foreign country was rarely mentioned.

However, it is doubtless in the international arena that he made the greatest impact, and in many ways he was the prototype — alongside Constantine, Griffith and Francis, albeit more successfully than any of these — for the West Indies pace bowlers who dominated world cricket for over sixty years after his last Test. And descriptions of him suggest that he would not have been out of place in any of the famous bowling attacks. His technique appears to have been quite modern, from “the fashionable West Indian jump in the middle of [his run]” reported by “Second Slip” in The Cricketer in 1933 to the longer description by “Old Ebor” in the Yorkshire Evening Post during the same season:

“[Martindale] has a long but smooth run, and delivers the ball with a concentration of energy which suggests that bowling is real delight to him, whatever it may be to the man at the wicket. He could make the ball rise just that uncomfortable height that made the batsman play it whether he liked it or not. There were short pitched ones, but none that a skilled and experienced batsman would not have been able to deal with.”

Had he played more regularly, had the West Indies been given more Test matches in the 1930s, and had he maintained the form he showed in his first two series, Martindale would have had exceptional statistics. As it is, we have to base our judgements on the little cricket he could play. And there is no question that Martindale was one of the best bowlers in the world during his brief time at the top, and almost certainly the fastest. Where this places him in the line-up of great West Indian bowlers is an open question. He should certainly be part of the conversation, but after so many years, he has been forgotten. Of all those to fade from the memory in this way, Martindale — perhaps more than most — deserves rediscovery.

“I have occasionally hit batsmen, but never bowled with that intention”: When Manny Martindale was the fastest bowler in the world

Martindale photographed in 1933 (Image: Illustrated London News, 19 August 1933)

Manny Martindale was the first West Indies bowler to have consistent success at Test level. Plucked from relative obscurity in Barbados for the 1933 tour of England, he took over 100 first-class wickets during the tour and twice took five wickets in an innings against a strong England side. Perhaps a little surprisingly, he was not chosen as one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of the Year, but he finished the tour with an established reputation that would only grow over the following years. He turned down the opportunity to play professional league cricket in England, preferring to return to Barbados and spend time with his wife Gillan and their young family. But having made the breakthrough in 1933, he went from strength to strength over the following two years.

Upon returning home, Martindale continued to be a leading bowler. In the Intercolonial Tournament held in Trinidad during January and February 1934, he took 16 wickets at 20.31. But that was relatively low key compared to what came next. An MCC team had last toured the West Indies in 1930, taking part in the West Indies’ first home Test series (What would today be called England teams toured under the name and colours of the MCC in this period; only during Test matches were they called England). For the 1934–35 season, another MCC team toured, and this was a much stronger combination than that which visited in 1930. Although not quite a full-strength England team — which was usually only chosen for tours of Australia — it nevertheless included the majority of England’s first-choice batsmen and some promising bowlers. The MCC team was captained by Bob Wyatt, who had been appointed to the role at the beginning of the 1934 season after the retirement of Douglas Jardine. His side were expected to win comfortably enough, but the West Indies had some surprises in store.

When the MCC arrived and opened their tour with two first-class games against Barbados, Martindale began poorly; in the two matches, he did not take a single wicket and conceded 170 runs. But it was a different story when the four-match Test series began. The first Test was played in Barbados, but rain badly affected the pitch and led to some of the most bizarre tactics seen in Test cricket. The West Indies were bowled out for 102, but after England collapsed to 81 for seven (Martindale three for 39), the captain Bob Wyatt declared to force the West Indies to bat again while the pitch was almost unplayable. Jackie Grant reciprocated, declaring when his team had scored just 51 for six, leaving England needing 72 to win, in conditions that still heavily favoured the bowlers. The Wisden report said: “That the conditions remained helpful to the attack was soon demonstrated, Martindale and [Leslie] Hylton making the ball rise in disconcerting fashion”. Wyatt promoted two tail enders to open the batting in an attempt to hit the bowlers off their length, but the tactic was not a success. Martindale, who Wisden said “bowled at a tremendous pace”, took five wickets as England slumped to 48 for six. However, Wally Hammond scored an unbeaten 29 and won the match by driving Martindale for six. Nevertheless, Martindale’s figures were five for 22 from 8.3 overs.

Although England had won the first Test by four wickets, West Indies levelled the series with a 217-run win in the second. Martindale took just one wicket as several bowlers chipped in, but they were assisted by some very strange tactics from Wyatt, whose decision to practically reverse the batting order, for no obvious reason, on the final day was a big factor in the loss. More importantly for the prospects of the series, Martindale and Hylton — the two West Indies fast bowlers in the first Test — were joined by Constantine, who had just arrived from coaching in India. They formed an extremely fast, hostile, three-pronged pace attack that was easily the best in the world at that time. The only comparable three-man pace attack seen previously in Test matches had been that of England’s Harold Larwood, Bill Voce and Gubby Allen in the 1932–33 Ashes series. Only Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald, bowling for Australia in 1921, had perhaps formed a similarly intimidating attack. During the 1935 Test series, neither the West Indies nor England bowlers used bodyline tactics, but the home bowlers frequently dropped intimidatingly short. Wyatt later wrote that Martindale was never quite as quick as Larwood had been in his prime — at a time when most cricketers believed Larwood was the fastest bowler of all time — but came very close.

Bob Wyatt is carried unconscious from the field after a delivery from Martindale broke his jaw (Image: Jamaica Gleaner, 16 March 1935)

The third Test was drawn; although Martindale, Constantine and Hylton shared eight wickets in England’s first innings, neither side could force a win in a somewhat cagey match. But the final Test, played in Jamaica, was decisive. George Headley scored 270 not out, West Indies reached 535 for seven declared, and England lost by an innings and 161 runs. Martindale took seven wickets in the match, but his key contribution came on the second evening. Bob Wyatt later wrote that during this game, Martindale bowled faster than he ever had before. He was very well qualified to make this judgement as he suffered a serious injury facing Martindale. Opening the England batting, Wyatt was struck on the jaw by a short, rising delivery from Martindale (some accounts suggest that Wyatt ducked into a ball which he expected to rise more sharply than it did). He collapsed to the floor unconscious with blood pouring from his mouth. His jaw was broken in several places and he played no further part in the game. When he woke up, he wrote a note to Martindale, absolving him of any blame.

The rest of the batting crumbled after this shock, and Martindale ended with match figures of seven for 84. In the series, he had taken 19 wickets at 12.57, heading the bowling averages; Constantine (15 wickets at 13.13) and Hylton (13 wickets at 19.30) also had formidable records.

The West Indies won the series 2–1, and Wisden was scathing about England’s performance:

“The fact remained, however, that our batting was generally at fault, breaking down badly against the concentrated attack of fast bowling represented by Martindale, Constantine and Hylton, a combination described by Wyatt himself as the best of its kind in the world. While the West Indies never resorted to the packed leg-side, and orthodox placing of the field was usual throughout the tour, some of the England players complained of occasional attempts at intimidation in the matter of short-pitched deliveries and full-tosses directed at the batsmen. Whether or not they resorted to those tactics, the three fast bowlers certainly played a big part in the success of the West Indies, claiming in the four Tests all but 17 of the 64 England wickets that fell to bowlers.”

Another view came from Douglas Jardine, who wrote to Wyatt commiserating at the result, and asked: “Am I right in supposing that, apart from being given quite inadequate slow bowling, we lost in the West Indies through inability to play and stand up to fast bowling? Was there anyone who didn’t run away but yourself and Maurice Leyland?” Certainly no England batsman averaged 29; Jardine’s remarks might have been aimed at Hammond in particular, who never really shook off the suspicion that he did not like fast bowling; even his admirers such as Les Ames conceded that it was a weak point in his game.

If the 1935 series was the peak of Martindale’s career, the nature of international cricket in the 1930s meant that the West Indies did not play another Test match until 1939, when he was past his best. But Martindale had decided that it was time to make a living out of cricket. His career was clearly becoming a concern; the Daily Gleaner of Jamaica reported in 1935 that he was considering moving to Trinidad to take a job there, but he ultimately decided to become a professional cricketer in England.

Until then, like most of the West Indies team, he played as an amateur. But after Learie Constantine and George Francis moved to England in 1929 to play professional league cricket, several others followed in their footsteps: Edwin St Hill (1931), George Headley and Ellis Achong (both 1934). In July 1935, it was announced that Martindale had signed for Burnley to play in the Lancashire League for the following season. Constantine had played a key role in the negotiations, as he had with other West Indian cricketers who joined the leagues. Martindale agreed a contract worth over £500 for the season. Having been in a precarious financial position, Burnley had needed to prepare carefully to be able to offer such a sum, and hoped that it would bring success both on and off the field. There were several features in Lancashire newspapers, including a reprinted interview from a Barbados newspaper with Herman Griffith, who talked about Martindale’s younger days. As a precaution, Martindale did not resign from his position as a sanitary inspector immediately; his employers held the job open for him in case his league career did not work out.

Martindale bowling in 1939 (Image: Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 2 June 1939)

In January 1936, Martindale played his final game for Barbados, when Trinidad defeated them in the Intercolonial Tournament; as a professional, he was not subsequently allowed to play in that competition. Although Barbados lost, and Martindale was expensive with the ball, he made it a memorable farewell, hitting his only first-class century in the fourth innings. Chasing 409 to win, Barbados had collapsed to 108 for seven when Martindale came out to bat. He and “Foffie” Williams shared a partnership of 255 for the eighth wicket; Martindale scored 134, but once he was out, the last two wickets fell quickly and Barbados lost by 36 runs. Martindale’s performance was loyally reported in the Burnley Express, as the Burnley supporters followed the performances of their new signing.

In early April 1937, Martindale travelled by boat to Plymouth before spending a few days in London. He then travelled to Burnley by train, coincidentally sharing a carriage with the Indian professional bowler Amar Singh, who was also travelling to Lancashire for the cricket season; he was beginning his second season as Colne’s professional and the two men struck up a friendship on the journey despite never having previously met.

When Martindale arrived, he was given a grand reception by Burnley Cricket Club. He made a distinctly favourable impression with his modesty, and a journalist who interviewed him “came away with the impression that Burnley’s new professional has a personality which will be well to the liking of East Lancashire cricket crowds. Quiet and unassuming, difficult to drawn into discussion of his past achievements, and keen start on his new job, he is very anxious justify the confidence of the Burnley Cricket Club. He was greatly impressed by the warm and homely reception that had been given to him, and said had been prepared by Constantine to expect great friendliness from the Lancashire people.” Inevitably, in his interview he talked about the English weather — which he had experienced in 1933 — and compared Barbados league cricket to that of the Lancashire League (Barbados cricket was also played on Saturdays but consisted of two-innings matches played over three consecutive weekends). He also discussed “bodyline”: “Martindale dislikes the term, ‘body-line bowling.’ ‘I am a fast bowler,’ he said, ‘and, like all fast bowlers, can never be sure what the ball is going to do when it leaves the ground. I have occasionally hit batsmen, but never bowled with that intention, and I would certainly do all that I could to avoid such a mishap.”

Martindale’s wife did not accompany him in that first season, but he told his interviewer that he hoped to bring her to England if his first season was a success. He also discussed his two sons, the elder of whom, Fred, was two years old and the younger, Colin, eighteen months. Although he did not mention it, his wife was also about to give birth to their third child, a daughter. It must have been difficult for him to leave his wife and young family to live in a strange country. And although few people commented on this at the time, for a player such as Martindale, moving to another country to play cricket would have been a huge upheaval. Apart from the differences in weather and culture, the expectations on a professional would have been far different to his previous experiences as a cricketer.

Like many professionals who played in the Lancashire League, Martindale might have been surprised by the quality of play, and by some of the issues facing international bowlers in league cricket. For a fast bowler, the surest route to success was to hit the stumps because slip fielding in the leagues was notoriously unreliable, particularly when the ball was travelling at the pace at which Martindale delivered it. This latter point was one made by both Martindale and the Burnley chairman at a meeting before the 1938 season; the Burnley slip fielders simply could not catch the ball and many chances went down off Martindale’s bowling. While there were certainly batsmen of quality in many teams, Martindale’s most dangerous deliveries would probably have been too good for the batsmen even to get a touch on. Therefore it was not unknown for some of the world’s best bowlers to have relatively disappointing returns in the Lancashire League. Constantine himself wrote how each team contained at least one or two good batsmen. He added:

“Then the bowler, fast, medium or slow, will find more often than not that league batsmen have no respect for him or his reputation. They are out to play Saturday-afternoon cricket beginning at two and ending at seven, 30 runs is a pretty good score, but 20 is by no means to be despised, and the resolute batsman who can hit the ball and is not afraid to take a chance will often get 20 runs. Add to these one or two batsmen who will stand and play the bowling properly, and an absolutely first-class bowler will find his work cut out to prevent an opposing side getting 150 runs — and 150 runs under ordinary circumstances is a winning score.”

He argued that accuracy and careful placing of the field were what brought success for the league bowler, and in some ways it was harder to get large numbers of wickets in the Lancashire League than it was in county cricket.

Martindale also was expected to contribute with the bat. In first-class cricket, he was generally a tail-ender who liked a hit. For Burnley — and for the entirety of his league career in England — he batted in the top order: occasionally as opener but usually at number three or four. In this role, he generally played aggressively, but simple slogging would not have been good enough and so he was forced to develop his batting skills; that he was successful at this is indicated by a respectable batting record wherever he played professionally.

The huge local interest in the Lancashire League might also have been unexpected for Martindale. Matches attracted large numbers of spectators, and teams had often fanatical supporters. The local press covered matches with the same dedication that other newspapers monitored first-class cricket. And the activities of the professionals were also reported; Martindale was no exception, and like other overseas players, he played a part in the local community, attending events, making presentations and becoming a well-known figure in Burnley. Additionally, he would have been involved in coaching the team and club members. He seems to have adapted to the role very quickly and made a very favourable impression.

It should also be remembered that, during his time in England, Martindale almost certainly would have experienced racism. Although it was increasingly common for West Indies cricketers to play in England, there would have been very few other black people living in Burnley. While black professionals seem to have been to some extent insulated from any racism through the respect people had for them — Constantine for example later said that he only once encountered outright racism on the field while playing professionally in England — it is likely that there would have been countless incidents of prejudice or ignorance which might have made life unpleasant for Martindale. Again, Constantine is the only player who ever spoke openly about this, writing about abusive letters he received, or the discrimination he faced in everyday life. Martindale never discussed his experiences other than to express pleasure at the welcome he received, but at a time when racist attitudes were common and even to some extent socially acceptable, it is hard to imagine that nothing unpleasant ever occurred. On the other hand, he might have discovered — as did Constantine — that he enjoyed more freedom than he would have been allowed at home, where power and opportunity was entrenched in the hands of the white minority who ruled Barbados.

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Martindale photographed in 1933

Whatever impact these many background concerns might have had on Martindale, he knew that his main role was to take wickets for Burnley. But he might have been affected to some extent by the unfamiliar situation; on the field, his first season was only a qualified success. In his second match, played against Church, he took nine for 62, but in an indication of the way his season would go, Burnley still lost by 39 runs. Although primarily used as a fast bowler, he batted high in the order, generally between number three and number five. While he was rarely as devastating as might have been expected, Burnley were happy enough to offer him a three-year contract extension in June.

But results were poor; Burnley finished the season in 13th place (out of 14), two places lower than the previous year. Martindale took 73 wickets at an average of 14.41 (18th in the averages), and scored 560 runs at a very respectable 24.34 (in 28th position). This was certainly an adequate return, but there was a sense that he could have done better. He had a better record in the Worsley Cup, in which Burnley did relatively well; he took 18 wickets at 7.11 in three matches. Overall, perhaps he did not make the impact that might have been expected from one of the world’s best bowlers, but this was often the case with new signings in the league.

Off the field, Martindale’s signing was a success, and Burnley greatly increased their membership and their gate receipts, returning a £243 profit on the season. The committee believed much of this was owing to the spectacle of Martindale. The end-of-season meeting suggested that he “had kept the spectators in a constant state of interest and anticipation” even though the wickets had not suited his fast bowling. It conceded: “Though he had not done so well in bowling as he himself admitted he would have liked, they believed that his first year on unaccustomed wickets and in such inclement weather as must particularly affect anyone brought up under warm, sunny skies had not presented him with a full chance to display his best.” However, they expected him to shine in better weather, and were happy that he had signed his new contract.

It is certain that Martindale was comfortable at Burnley, who made a big effort to make him feel welcome. Even when he sailed home in mid-September, they did what they could to make the journey easier. He was given sealed letters from twelve of his new friends in Burnley so that he would have something to open on each day of the voyage home. And during the English winter, some members of the club went on a cruise in the Caribbean; they made a point of visiting Martindale and his family when they reached Barbados.

When Martindale returned in April 1937, he was accompanied by his wife Gillan. He was given another reception, during which the Burnley Cricket Club chairman, Mr Maudsley, said that the welcome extended to Martindale:

“… was every bit as hearty, if not heartier, than the welcome they gave to their professional 12 months ago. The reason was that they knew him better now and they had learned to appreciate him. Wherever he was — at the nets, playing in matches, or in the social club ‚ he was no longer to them E. A. Martindale, famous West Indies cricketer, he was ‘Mannie’ Martindale, one of the team and one of them. He played the game for the game’s sake, and that was one of the things they could appreciate in Burnley.”

Maudsley also suggested that the presence of Martindale’s wife would make him more settled and propel him to greater heights. Several speakers also welcomed Mrs Martindale, and hoped she would settle quickly. Martindale gave a gracious response and thanked those members of the club who had visited him in Barbados.

Burnley rose to sixth in the table in 1937. Martindale took 68 wickets at 15.58 (13th in the averages) and scored 722 runs at 34.38, making him Burnley’s leading run scorer (and second in their averages), which placed him 15th in the league averages. He also scored a century — the only one he managed in the Lancashire League — against Todmorden during a period when he opened the batting. He was very consistent with the bat, passing 20 in nine consecutive games. His best bowling figures were six for 41 against Enfield early in the season, but he took six wickets in two other games. His best performance came in August; he took six for 59 against Constantine’s practically invincible Nelson team. He caught-and-bowled Constantine for 9, and his 54 with the bat went a long way to inflicting Nelson’s first defeat in over a year.

But again there was a slight feeling that Martindale was not quite as effective with the ball as Burnley had hoped. Mid-season, rumours circulated in the Lancashire press that Burnley were trying to terminate his contract a year early, but the club issued a denial to the Lancashire Daily Post and Martindale gave an interview to the Lancashire Evening Post in which he emphasised how happy he was at Burnley. At the annual meeting, the club president suggested that they had still not seen the best of Martindale, but expected that with his growing experience, his bowling would assist Burnley in challenging for the league title the following season.

Martindale and his wife returned to Barbados for the winter, but it would be their last visit for some time. They returned to England in April 1938, accompanied by the whole family: Fred, Colin and the one-year-old Norma. Their intention was to permanently settle in Burnley; it would be 1964 before Martindale and Gillan returned to live in Barbados.

Burnley largely maintained their position in 1938, falling one place to equal seventh. Martindale had his best season with the ball for the club, taking 79 wickets at 13.21, placing him thirteenth in the league averages. His batting was marginally less effective than before: he scored 550 runs at 22.91 (26th overall in the league). But circumstances outside anyone’s control meant that this was his final season with Burnley; he was with the West Indies team in 1939 and then war intervened. In three seasons, he had taken 220 wickets at 14.34 and scored 1,832 runs at 26.94. Even today, he remains 27th on the list of Burnley wicket-takers in league matches.

But one issue bubbling in the background was the tour of England by the West Indies team, scheduled for the 1939 season. The West Indies Cricket Board of Control wrote to Burnley over the winter of 1937–38 to request that he be released from his contract for 1939 to allow him to join the team. Negotiations stretched over the 1938 season and lead to something of a falling out between Martindale and Constantine…