Horse and Cart to Helicopter

Published: 2020
Pages: 144
Author: Chalke, Stephen, Dixon, John, Dolman, David and Taylor, David
Publisher: Lansdown Cricket Club
Rating: 4 stars

There are two reasons why, for the second time this year, I have chosen to depart from our policy of not generally reviewing books about club cricket. The first is the simple and self-indulgent one that I am a bit of a soft touch for a limited edition, but the more compelling one is the involvement of Stephen Chalke in this project. Stephen’s name has, over the years, become a byword for high quality and entertaining writing, and is a copper bottomed guarantee that any book that bears it will be worth reading.

The club that Horse and Cart to Helicopter celebrates is Lansdown, located in a suburb of Bath and which was, in 1825, the first cricket club to form in Somerset. Cricket arrived rather later in the South West of England than the South East and in their earliest days the club did not have much local competition, and was certainly representative more of the local gentry than the common man. The story of the club’s formation is an interesting one.

In common with most club histories this one will sell best amongst those who are connected to the Lansdown club or its environs in some way, but interest in the doings of the club is rather less parochial than in the case of most books of this type. There are, for example, as many as 18 Test cricketers who have represented the club, and some interesting names amongst them. Some will know that Viv Richards played for Lansdown whilst qualifying for Somerset, and the occasional appearances of Somerset players with Test experience will come as no surprise. On the other hand few would have expected Lord Hawke or Sir Geoffrey Boycott to figure in the list. Their stories, and those of the other Test men are, of course, all told.

In days of yore all three of the Test playing Graces, WG, EM and GF appeared for and against Lansdown and, before even their time, the ‘Lion of Kent’, Alfred Mynn, travelled to Bath. What I hadn’t realised before reading Horse and Cart to Helicopter was that one of those occasions was the infamous one when, amidst an attempt to arrest Mynn for an unpaid debt, something of a riot followed and subsequently a court case ensued. That story is, perhaps, the most entertaining of all that are featured.

When this book was in the planning stage one option was to issue a book covering only the last half century, and the new volume effectively therefore providing a continuation of a previous book that was published in 1970. That it did not is just as well as the earlier book is not easy to find and the story of the club’s first 145 years is a fascinating one. Social change over the period was, of course, enormous and the club’s fortunes rose, fell and then rose again with the changing times.

Since 1970 there has been even more upheaval. The appearance of Richards in 1973 was a highlight, but the most seismic in terms of the club’s on-field activities was the arrival of league cricket two years post Richards, and the rewriting of the traditional fixture lists of all of the clubs involved. The other significant difference with this part of the story is, naturally, that there are many still living who played in and/or watched the club’s progress over the period, and that inevitably changes the way in which the club’s recent history can be recorded.

It is the way in which the book is put together that most evidences Stephen Chalke’s involvement. The narrative is not seamless, rather there are a series of short essays on specific topics. These are interspersed with tables, pictures and other snippets of highlighted information. There is something of the way the wonderful Summer’s Crown was put together about the book which is, like that splendid tome, printed on high quality paper and very skilfully designed.

A stand out aspect? For once I am not going to give that nod to Stephen and, this time, am going to give that to the work of his partner, Sue Kendall, and her impression of cricket being played at Lansdown in the 1840s. As always with one of the few pieces of art that I find striking I am at a loss to articulate what it is that so impresses me about it, but I hope someone will let me know if a print is ever produced. 

For purchasers of the standard edition of Horse and Cart to Helicopter the book finishes at page 129. That book can be purchased through the club’s website and the price is £25, which sounds and is expensive, but as I say it is an excellent product. Also available, at £100, is the specially bound, slip-cased, multi signed and individually numbered limited edition of 70 copies. Also with this are an additional fifteen pages, which consist of a selection of scorecards and contemporary reports of some of the most notable matches that Lansdown have featured in.

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