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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2 responses to “Strange but True … They Say

  1. diogenes_1960

    they certainly look more like motorcycle than wicket-keeping gloves! I remember reading one of Arlott’s many tributes to Brown, where he talked about his characteristic shot – the whip – played from a ball rising to his head. he would step forward and just bash it to square leg…if he missed it would have hit him striaght between the eyes. Certainly a character…but was Arlott totally reliable in these matters? I am starting to think he was less the historian and more a hero-worshipping romancer…and all the better for that!

    • With some skill but not enough for 1st class cricket, Arlott was well placed to appreciate what cricket demanded of its players. He was fiercely loyal to them as a species and therefore the exact opposite of today’s ex-professional and over caustic pundits. Third Man can’t help feeling that those who watch cricket might prefer the Arlott approach of veneration and poetic metaphor to much of the critical, prejudiced and self-serving commentariat of today. Who among those being employed today will finish their last commentary session as he did his?
      Arlott once wrote that the first thing a writer should do was to describe the nature of the wicket that the game was being played on as this information was essential to the understanding of what followed in the day. Good advice. Especially when one considers the effort cricketers have always made early a match to guage the wicket.
      The death of his son affected him very deeply and surely it is impossible to understand him in later life without comprehending the agony and torment in which he lived. Did he feel some unjustified responsibility and continually punish himself?

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