Glamorgan Cricketers 1889-1920Martin Chandler |
Author: Hignell, Andrew
Rating: 3.5 stars
Between 2016 and 2019 Halsgrove published four books containing biographies of every single man who appeared for Somerset between 1882 and 2000. Uniformly excellent the books attracted praise from all who reviewed them and, from many, the observation that the exercise should be repeated for all the other counties. It is a journey that has begun for Warwickshire and Kent, and now also for Glamorgan.
The appearance, feel and layout of Glamorgan Cricketers 1889-1920 is, unsurprisingly given that they have the same publisher, reminiscent of the Somerset books. The only real differences are that the exercise of reproducing the signatures of all the men featured is not repeated and that unlike previously some of the biographies are very brief. The reason for both is understandable in the circumstances, and neither observation should be treated as criticism.
The author of this book is Andrew Hignell a man who, as scorer and archivist at Glamorgan, is ideally placed to write it. That said his task is a challenging one because his book covers a period during which Glamorgan were not a First Class county and whilst some of the players featured were to appear after the Welsh county’s Championship bow in 1921 a significant majority did not.
Perhaps because of that lack of First Class status the introductory paragraphs to each year covered by the book is particularly valuable, reporting as it does the progress of the journey towards First Class status be it an advance or, as on occasion, a backward step.
All told there are approaching 240 men featured in Glamorgan Cricketers 1889-1920 so the content is rather more concentrated than in the Somerset books and, as indicated, a number of the biographies give little of their subjects. That however is clearly because of a paucity of material rather than any lack of care put into the writing and, having read Hignell’s work before, I have no doubt that his research did not lack diligence. It is still a shame however that there is simply no further detail that can now be ascertained about the life of, say, Wyndham Lewis who, in 1903, appeared once against Monmouthshire without batting, bowling or holding a catch – Wales’ very own Fred Hyland.
There are interesting and satisfying biographies however. An example is Tom Whittington, a Neath solicitor who was one of the driving forces behind the 1921 elevation and whose playing days lasted long enough for him to lead the county in 1922 and 1923, albeit by then with no great success with the bat. Another professional man, dentist Norman Riches, also worked tirelessly for the county off the field and led the side in 1921 and 1929 (by which time he was 51). Riches was alsoa batsman but, with all due respect to Whittingham, a distinctly classier cricketer.
Are there as many eccentric characters as in the Somerset books? The answer to that must be no, but there are still some entertaining stories and one in particular that rather took me by surprise, that of Bill Bestwick. I did know that before the Great War Bestwick had been a tireless and effective fast medium bowler for Derbyshire for a number of seasons. I also knew that after the war he had, just once, opened the Derbyshire attack with his son Robert. I had also read that Bestwick had a reputation as a heavy drinker.
What I did not know about Bestwick was just how heavy a drinker he was, the personal tragedy he suffered in 1906 when his first wife died and that he once killed a man in a drunken fight with a knife only escaping a criminal trial when an inquest jury reached the conclusion he was acting in self defence. Nor did I know that Bestwick left Derbyshire in 1909 and moved to South Wales where, in 1914, he played for Glamorgan in the Minor Counties Championship. I now understand why, although I know not whether it is ever likely to see the light of day, that a full biography of Bestwick has been mooted.
In conclusion I have to say that Glamorgan Cricketers 1889-1920 is not quite as compelling a read as the Somerset volumes, but it is recommended nonetheless and, as the series moves on to the era when all those featured are First Class cricketers, I suspect it will go from strength to strength. A word of praise also for the publishers who, as with the Somerset volumes, have produced a well illustrated book on decent quality paper at a very reasonable £16.99.