Monthly Archives: May 2010

Roses at Whitsuntide

 Until 1974 the village of Rimington  belonged to the West Riding of Yorkshire.  Southwards a mile down the lane towards the village of Downham a bridge marked the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire.   This had always been border land. 

Rimington lies on the even older border between the kingdoms of Mercia  and Northumbria .  Remote and far from the centres of authority, Rimington with its lead mines and even a silver mine in Stopper Lane had been a perfect place for coiners to do their secretive, counterfeit work. 

The secluded sites the the Rimington lead mines with Pendle Hill on sentry duty

The 1974 local government reorganisation transferred Rimington and its larger neighbouring village of Gisburn into Lancashire.  At Gisburn they flew the church flag at half mast for many years and tried their best to ignore the insult.

When a friend of Third Man’s moved into Rimington in the late Nineteen Eighties he wandered down to the Black Bull and took a seat at the bar beside a dour old farmer.  To open the conversation the incomer asked whether the farmer enjoyed cricket.  ‘Aye.’  And did he ever go to Old Trafford to watch Lancashire? 

‘Sum ov us go t’Headingley.’  And with this said, the farmer turned his back in disgust never to speak again to this ignoramus with the Brummy accent.

In the nearby small Lancashire town of Whalley the bunting is out in expectation of the start of the World Cup, but Third Man pretends it is in preparation for the fast approaching 143rd anniversary of the first Roses Match which was played at the town’s Station Road ground at the height of mid-summer in 1867.  Cricket Archive provides the scorecard and records that this was also ‘oh my’ Hornby’s debut.  See March posting.

This is a drawing of a cricket match in Brighton in the 1890s but the first Roses match at Whalley might not have looked much different

The first Roses Match to be played over the Whitsuntide bank holiday was in 1872.  By then Cricket Archive records that the match had moved to Old Trafford. 

One can imagine the huge crowds flocking there by tram, rail and on foot from across these two large and heavily populated counties.  In 1926, a record 78,617 spectators paid to watch the three day match. 

This is a photograph of the crowds watching the 1902 Test match at Bramall Lane. Crowds attending Roses matches were said to be greater.

In this match Leornard Green, the Lancashire captain,  batting when his side was 499 determined that it might be many years before Lancashire would again be in a position to score 500 runs against the old foe and, facing Wilfred Rhodes, pushed a risky single to mid-off and ran ‘like the wind’.

Wilfred Rhodes, left arm round.

Emmott Robinson, hurled back the ball striking Rhodes on the wrist while the Lancashire Captain dived to safety.  Picking himself up Green heard Rhodes muttering to himself “There’s somebody runnin’ up and down this wicket. Ah don’t know who it is, but there’s some-body runnin’ up and down this wicket.”

This story is recounted in a 1968 feature on Roses matches by Neville Cardus.  Tomorrow we shall go by train with the Mancunian t’Headingley at Whitsuntide in 1924.


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Dark Doings

Before the modernization of the old Mound Stand at Lord’s you could still pop into a tiny sweet shop under the seating, beside the print shop.

During a busy Test Match thousands would walk by without noticing it, doing that lunch time circuit in the hope of seeing a famous face or bumping into an old friend.

Even those who did venture in for an afternoon sugar boost may not have looked above the door to notice its name, ‘Dark’s’.

‘A bar of fruit and nut please.’

First they moved the print shop (twice) and finally Dark’s went.

Once, Third Man thinks you could have bought some batting gloves or a bat or a score book in Dark’s.  Eventually it was just sweets and now it’s where Security is based and the Green Team directed.

James Dark - good hitter and fieldsman, capable umpire - cricketing entreprenneur

In fact once, the whole ground was known as ‘Dark’s’.

James Dark had been a ten year old at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar when he was engaged by MCC to ‘field out to members at practice’.  He was therefore one of the original ground-boys. 

This would have been at Thomas Lord’s original ground occupying a field where Dorset Square is now.  Dark would have followed the Club when Lord, knowing that the landlord wanted the field back for development, rented Brick Field and Great Field at North Bank from the Eyre family’s St John’s Wood Estate.

When Parliament allowed the Regent’s Canal to be cut through the centre of this second ground, Lord was granted another plot by the Eyres and trundled the turf across the road to its present site in time for the opening of the 1814 season.

Although a commercial success in the next ten years, Lord decided he could make more by developing the ground for housing.  At this point the cricketing enthusiast William Ward stepped in.

‘Thinkin’ of buildin’ here, Lord?  How say you sell your interest to me for …’

‘It’d haf to be a decent figure, Mr Ward.’

‘Five thousand do ye?’


‘Give me pen and ink, Lord, and I’ll write you out a cheque this moment.’

And so ended Lord’s interest and involvement in the ground that now rather unfairly bears his name.

Dark had grown into a decent player, a good hitter and fieldsman and a ‘most capable umpire’.  But he didn’t play as often ‘as his skill enabled him to’.  He was already wheeling and dealing in this area, perhaps using his tips from the net practices to get himself started.

In 1835 Dark caught wind that Ward might be ready to sell his interest in the ground he bought the lease.

‘£2000 upfront, Mr. Ward, and I’ll pays you four-twenny-five each year ‘til the lease runs out in ‘94.’

‘From this Michaelmas Day 1835?  Let it be so, Jim.’

Dark immediately began investing heavily in the enterprise.  He clearly had a plan to increase the membership and the use of the ground, and had the resources to carry it through.  In 1838 he spent £4,000 on a tennis-court which seems to have pulled in more than 150 new members, many from ‘the first nobles in the land’ or Trollope’s 10,000.  

Dark's in the 1890s looking across (from where the Warner Stand is today) towards the Mound created from the soil from the foundations of the new Pavilion, with Dark's Tennis Court also in view.

For the comfort of these new and existing members he provided ‘100 warm and 100 cold baths per diem’, with dressing rooms.

He introduced turnstiles and also brought in one of the new mowing machines to replace the use of sheep to keep the grass in order.  This particular innovation did not go down well with the more conservative members.  Mr. Robert Grimson, leading the opposition, employed some navies working on the canal to destroy the mower.

‘Here’s a sovereign for you to go and smash up that infernal machine with your pickaxes.’

Dark, known as ‘Boss’, bided his time, filled in two ponds that formed part of the ground, brought back the mowing machine, subsidized the Gentleman v Players matches which the MCC would no longer fund and, among many other attractions aimed at the punters,  provided a shop selling equipment and sweets.

He died in 1871 in his home in St John’s Wood Road having transformed the ground that was known throughout London and beyond simply as ‘Dark’s’.

This is why Third Man, on a ground full of history, particularly misses that small sweetshop which to him offered the strongest sense of place of all.

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The Tennis Ball – A Tribute

Third Man always wanted to be able to thank Charles Goodyear who invented vulcanized rubber and thus played an important part in the development of the lawn tennis ball in around 1870.  Since then few schoolboys have been able to exist without one for long. 

Patron Saint of Tennis Balls and Childhood, Mr Charles Goodyear

Even at TM’s present stage in life a tennis ball could well remain his preferred item when Kirsty Young sends him to that desert island.  A beach, a rock wall and a tennis ball would be enough to provide hours of fun and occupation.  Who would need rescue or food?

When young, Third Man and his friends were rarely without an old tennis ball stuffed into a coat pocket.  Playtime without a tennis ball was beyond comprehension.  Stumps painted on walls throughout the playground, a dozen or more games of cricket going, balls whizzing in every direction that was our natural habitat.  Jrod at Mountain Chickens has an evocative picture of such a playground match as his banner.

Tennis balls were a dull grey or cream in those days as we encouraged rainwater and dirt to degrade the previously bleached felt.  Now they are ‘optic’ yellow.  The possibility of concealment as the light faded was part of their charm.

The Penn is mightier than the sword

Besides deliberate dunking to one side, other forms of ball tampering were also de rigueur. The felt was removed from the ball in search of pace.  Sellotape was painstakingly applied and reapplied to obtain much prized late swing.  (TM thinks he recalls the use of molten sealing wax, the burning of the felt and the melting of the rubber beneath, but his memory has been known to play tricks.)

For many years Third Man thought that the most important function of a mother was to find missing tennis balls lost under cars, in undergrowth, beneath lethal briars and ‘somewhere in that direction’ on bombsites.  Even today, when Third Man is hacking back some rampant shrub he’ll find two or three balls of various types lost months before by his son who not unnaturally has inherited Third Man’s inability to find stray cricket, golf, soccer, squash, table-tennis, rugby and tennis balls.

On this last Sunday, a tennis ball, hidden under a clump of irises, managed to be propelled by the rotary lawn mower at an impressive speed across the garden with a satisfying World War I ‘crumping’ sound. With two minds electrified by the possibilities, son and father immediately set to creating a hybrid bowling cum catching machine with 360 degree release.  (Expect a child-friendly version to be marketed in the next Romida catalogue.  With his permission, we are thinking of using the blades in Mr Dyson’s new fan.)

Inside a tennis ball factory

At the United Services Ground, Portsmouth, we small boys would rush out to the middle between innings to watch Doug Welch, the groundsman’s apprentice, drive the largest cricket roller in the world under the watchful eye of the Head Groundsman, Arthur Gawler. ‘Watchful’ because Mr Gawler knew our greatest ambition (yes, greater even than playing for Hampshire) was to manage to roll a tennis ball under the huge rear roller as Doug steered it patiently back to its shed.  Many tried … none succeeded.

It is good therefore to see that the tennis ball is coming back into fashion as a practice aid among professional cricketers.  Peter Moores, at Lancashire, has introduced them as a drill used in batting practice and yesterday, while the players were off the field for rain, over in the indoor nets, Paul Horton  was wielding a tennis racket to literally serve short and rapid tennis balls to Ashwell Prince – to get him bobbing and weaving.

In Australia, TM hears that professional tennis players are brought in to provide this practice.  Buck up Lancs..

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First Up

Today is the first day of the first Test Match in the English season of 2010.  It should be one of the most exciting days of the year for cricket lovers, especially for young people for whom this day may become an abiding memory, a first.

That it is not the first of a five match series, that it is against an emerging Test playing country, that it comes when lovers of cricket may be dangerously divided by their reaction to and support for the very short and the long forms of the game, and that its reach and impact is much reduced because it is not being broadcast freely to all who may wish to view it may take the some of the shine off the day, but it should not.

Recalling the first day of a series is different from recalling your first Test Match glimpsed on a screen or your first visit to a Test match.  These will be deeply imprinted and have their own special qualities. 

But noticing the sudden hush in the hubbub as the crowd settles, feeling the freshness of morning air, watching that first ball, sensing the start of the fast bowler’s run, discerning the sometimes immediate impact of bowler’s boot on virgin Test turf, hearing the crack of bat on hard ball and joining in the spontaneous release in tension as anticipation transmutes into observance form lasting connections that become over time a broad well beaten pathway in the brain.

For those who were there or lucky enough to be able to view it, who can forget the first moments of the 2005 Lord’s Test against the Australians: Circus and Theatre, Bear Pit and Altar.

Third Man’s earliest memory of a first session of a first Test was the one played at Old Trafford in 1963 when Frank Worrell, having won the toss, chose to bat and Conrad Hunte took guard to Trueman.

Not so much hunting for runs as never rejecting any offered to him

Hope turned to disappointment, then, to inspiration and finally to awe as Trueman’s early dismissal of Carew brought Kanhai to the wicket to join Hunte:   Freedom and Responsibility (with not a sign of Fairness for the rest of the day).

Kanhai blazed with extraordinary intensity and virtuosity, showing the value of domination as he hooked often without attention to balance, cut with a flashing blade and drove as if at the last possible moment.  Hunte, disciplined as a Jesuit at a party, accepting and celebrating only what was proffered but refusing nothing, scored 104 carefree runs.

Between them they put on 151 with Kanhai making 90 of these before his wild and reckless running yet again ended their partnership.*

Rohan Kanhai - once seen, never forgotten.

But this was all part of the experience of cricketing abandon that we would come to know and treasure by the end of the series.  They left us in September yearning to see more.

Butcher joined Hunte and with the fall of his wicket there appeared the loose limbed Sobers like nothing other than the big cat on his sponsor’s bat coming to life before our eyes.   Soon after, bad light ended play with the West Indies on 244 for 3 and Hunte having just reached his century in four hours, forty minutes.

The next day, Hunte reached 182 out of 398 in eight hours, twenty minutes.  The West Indies declared at 501 for 6 and bowled England out twice before completing their victory before tea on the fourth day by making 1 run in their second innings, scored appropriately by Hunte.

The West Indies went on to win the series by three victories to one, but the home side’s defeat had been sealed in that first session on June 6th in Manchester.

As England begin their innings today the memory factory goes back to work.

*During the fourth Test in Adelaide against the Australians in the famous ‘60/’61 series, Kanhai was on his way to his second century of the match.  Hunte was on 79 when between overs they agreed that there was a run if the ball was pushed gently wide of mid-off.  Kanhai duly hit it strongly straight to mid-off and to Hunte’s surprise set off for the run.  Hunte responded and the throw missed the stumps to the relief of both batsmen.  Shortly after, Kanhai repeated the manoeuvre but this time mid-off’s throw hit and Hunte was run out. 

The selfless West Indian openner, a recent convert to Moral Rearmament, decide that before he left the wicket he would go down to console Zanhai.  In the emotional confusion that followed, Hunte made his way to the boundary and found himself amid the laughing crowd down by the ‘wicket fence’ far from the pavilion gate.]

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Strange but True … They Say

If there are countless stories about Compton, there are a good few about George Brown, Denis’ dresser in Felixstowe.

Georgian stories have a capacity to develop a life of their own, but they bring an endearing character to life 35 years after his death.

An early legend had him leaving his home at Cowley aged 18 with a tin trunk, a bat, a pair of plimsolls and enough money to buy a single ticket to Southampton. 

By 2005 this had mutated in the imaginations of all who had heard and passed it on until it had taken the form of a young George walking 60 miles from his Oxfordshire home for a trial, hauling a tin trunk containing all his worldly belongings’ with the prospect of the return journey as the only incentive he needed to succeed.

As Diogenes reminds us in a recent comment, it was believed that George Brown had kept wicket in motorcycling gauntlets. Then that this had been in a Test match and finally that he was keeping to Larwood at the time.

This photograph is suggestive that the story is true though not conclusive. 

A Pair of Brown Gauntlets?

In the dining room in the old County Ground was a scorecard of the famous Hampshire v Warwickshire match recording the County’s lowest score of 15. Following on,  Hants had lost six second innings wickets and were still 31 runs behind the Bears when Brown began a famous counterattack, scoring 172 in a total of 521, and allowing Kennedy and Newman to bowl out the opposition for158, 155 runs behind.

Brown’s career spanned the period 1909 to 1933.  He was a true all-rounder. His top score was 232.  He made two other ‘doubles’ and shared in three huge partnerships; of 321 for the second wicket with E. I. M. Barrett against Gloucestershire at Southampton in 1920; 344 for the third with C. P. Mead v. Yorkshire at Portsmouth in 1927, and 325 for the seventh with C. H. Abercrombie v. Essex at Leyton in 1913.   In 1926 he scored over 2,000 runs.

For the county he held 485 catches and made 50 stumpings.  As a bowler he took 629 wickets with notable spells of six for 24 runs against Somerset at Bath and six for 48 against Yorkshire at Portsmouth, both in 1911.

Arlott told us that he was able to tear a deck of playing cards in his huge hands.  This strength came in handy when, in another match against Warwickshire, Brown going in at No 10  took with him a ‘strange ruin of a bat’ which soon split from top to bottom.  Undeterred, the batsman ripped the two parts asunder and, giving one half to the umpire, continued his innings with the other.

Compton should have been thankful that it was not this blade that George took with him to Felixstowe.


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Time Never Stands Still

Yesterday, we spent some time with a promising member of the Lord’s ground staff and took the train with him to an ‘out’ match in Felixstowe to watch him play against Suffolk.  By the outbreak of the Second World War, Denis Compton, had become an established player for both Middlesex and England with significant successes against New Zealand, Australia and the West Indies.

Today we meet another ground-boy, a few years junior to Compton.  Nick-named by members of the ground-boys room as ‘Mr’ Paul Brooks*, was highly rated by those at Lord’s.  Yet he was always listening to senior players and trying to improve his game.  He desperately wanted to know whether he would make the grade and longed to be tested.

In 1938 when the Australians came to Lord’s for practice, the youthful, eager ‘Mr’ Brooks was ordered into the nets at the old Nursery to bowl for Don Bradman.  In front of the viewing press, his left arm fast-medium, knocked out the Don’s middle pole making him for a short time a celebrity.

In Middlesex’s last Championship match of the 1939 season, Brooks was at last brought in to make his first class debut.  He joined Compton at the wicket and together for an all-too brief period they made hay in the last of the sunshine before the war clouds darkened the skies.   

“When he joined me at the wicket,” Compton wrote,  “I knew, from the look on his face, that he was enjoying the happiest moment of his life … he ‘wallowed’ in his batting, and with me as his partner, cracked up a wonderful unbeaten 45.”**

What fun they must have had, chatting between overs, sharing nods of encouragement as the fielders returned the ball from the boundary, taking in the cheers and heckles from the crowd in front of the Tavern, catching a glimpse now and then of Coach Archie Fowler looking on with pride from a gap in the stands.

“You’ve a big find there,” commented a Warwickshire player to general agreement among the Middlesex dressing room.

Were there drinks in the evening, paid for out of the season’s fines? Or were spirits too low, worries too considerable?  Within a few days all contracts at Lord’s had been cancelled.

In November Compton headed off to the Finsbury Park Labour exchange to sign up for the Royal Artillery – an apt outfit for an Arsenal left-wing.

If Martin Williamson at Cricinfo  is right, Brooks first joined the London Fire Service, representing them at Lord’s.  Cricket Archive  has him playing for the Lord’s XI between 1940-42 and around this date he must have ‘joined up’ as they then have him playing for the British Empire XI in ‘43 and ’44 and the Combined Services in 1944.  None of these matches were rated first class.

Compton takes up the story, “But Paul Brooks – God bless him! Never lived to enjoy the success he had earned, for after lying three months in a hospital bed in England, after receiving a spine wound while fighting in Italy, he passed away.”

Perhaps it is appropriate that for this one promising cricketer destroyed by war, with first class figures of matches 1, innings 1, not outs 1, Runs 44, Highest Score 44 not out; his average should be infinity.

*Compton spells his surname Brookes.

** Cricinfo and Cricket Archive say the score was 44 not out.

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The Stuff of Nightmares

It is every cricketer’s nightmare.  You are on a train travelling to an away match.  Your team are all about you their excited voices and banter filling the air.  Everyone is relaxed and enjoying the adventure … except you. 

There is a nagging undefined fear growing in your mind and preventing you joining in.  Something is wrong, but you just can’t put your finger on the cause.

It had begun the day before.  A chance to show people what you could really do.  You’d made the team you’d longed to be selected for and hurried home impatient to share the news.

“Very good dear,” your Mother had said.  “Just make sure your kit is clean and you are looking neat and tidy.”

“I’ll clean his pads and boots for him. Do you need new studs, boy? Ma, darn that hole for him.”

“Don’t fuss both of you.”

“Make sure you pack everything.  You know what you’re like.”

“We’ll pack his bag with him.  He’ll be fine.”

In the morning you’d picked up your bag from the hall and taken the bus to the meeting point.  

Now, on the train nearing the terminus, everyone is getting up, stretching and reaching for their cricket bags.

That’s it!  Where’s your bag?  A searing realisation burns the brain. 

“I’ve left it behind!”

That is exactly what happened to the 17 year old Denis Compton  in his third year on the MCC ground staff.  Coach, Archie Fowler, had told him he had been selected as one of three professionals for the MCC against Suffolk at Felixstowe. 

Denis with a 2lb 3oz bat that he has 'looked through the back of'. 'Seethru bats' are explained here:

Now, as he was about to play in a match that meant more to him than anything else, his bag was where he’d left it – in the grounds-boys’ room.

He wired Lord’s asking them to forward his bag.  Back came a reply, “Bag on way.  You’ll leave your head behind one day.”  They already knew him well.

“Ma le disgrazie non giungono mai sole”, as the Italians say.  MCC wickets were falling quickly with no sign of the missing bag.

Compton paced the dressing room, a boy among men; a boy without a bat, shirt, trousers, or boots.

One of the other professionals was George Brown.   Nearing his fiftieth birthday but still an imposing 6ft 3ins giant of a man who, because of his deep tan, high cheek bones and imperious nose, resembled a red Indian chief, George was one of the great characters of the game.

Utterly fearless, he had once got into a ‘set too’ with the Kent fast bowler Arthur Fielder.   Facing a fierce short delivery he dropped his bat to his side, stood up, took the ball full in the chest, and roared, “He’s not fast ” and then went on to score 71.

You will believe, then, that George seemed as broad as he was tall and supported his great frame in size 11 boots.

“Wear my kit, Denis,” suggested the veteran to the diminutive 5ft 8ins Compton.

“But George, it’d be like Oliver Hardy offering his suit to Stan Laurel.”

“Put them on Denis.  Make a go of it until your own kit comes.”

Denis clambered into the shirt as if it were a circus tent.  Then he climbed into the trousers which he turned up by about a foot.  He and George packed the boots with newspaper and strapped on the pads that, according to Compton, ‘appeared a little tight under the arms’.  

Next he endeavoured to pick up the Chief’s bat.  Denis even in his prime used a 2lb 3 oz blade.  He could barely lift George’s plank of a bat.

And out he struggled, a comic figure, in this the most important match of his life.

And back he marched, bowled first ball, the immovable bat unmoved.  “Better luck next time, lad,” said George. “You’ll do better when your kit arrives.”

If you thought that the first photograph was an exception this one should confirm Compton's head position 'cocked to one side'.

Brown was right.  In the second innings Compton redeemed himself with a score of 110.  There are six million Compton stories.  This has been one of them.


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