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.
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.