Lionel Palairet: Stylist Par Excellence

Published: 2016
Pages: 139
Author: Senior, Darren
Publisher: ACS
Rating: 3 stars


If a league table were drawn up of those cricketers who deserve to be remembered more than they are then, certainly in the opinion of this reviewer, the name of Lionel Palairet would be right up there at the top.

If you had thrown the name at me before I picked up Darren Senior’s first contribution to the ACS Lives in Cricket series I would certainly have recognised it, but would have thought first of brother Richard who, as ‘Plum’ Warner’s co-manager on the notorious ‘Bodyline’ tour of 1932/33, played a role in one of the game’s greatest controversies.

I always knew Richard had been the lesser player of the two brothers, and in years gone by those books I had read about the ‘Golden Age’ told me that the way Palairet batted was on occasion compared favourably with the immortal Trumper. But I had completely forgotten that in the 1902 series that cemented Trumper’s legend, Palairet had twice been called upon to play for England.

It is easy to overlook Palairet’s contribution to his two Tests, although both are amongst the most famous ever played. These were the days when England played Test cricket every third summer so in 1901, when Palairet had his best season ever, there were no Tests played. In 1902 he came into the side for the fourth and fifth Tests at a point when he had scored only two half centuries all summer. In his four innings in ‘Fred Tate’s match’ and ‘Jessop’s match’ Palairet scored just 49 runs, but in mitigation each time he took guard he was faced with very difficult batting conditions.

Against that background I suppose it was inevitable that I had never fully appreciated the extent of Palairet’s contribution to his county, Somerset, all of whose major batting records he held until Harold Gimblett peaked after World War Two. Indeed it has only been in my lifetime that he has started to slide down those lists.

Palairet was an old fashioned amateur. His father was a Judge, and he himself became a land agent. The story of his life and career is told here in strict chronological order, and whilst Palairet is a man whose life fully deserves a place in cricket literature it has to be said that Darren Senior’s book is not quite so stylish as his subject’s batting.

The author has made great use of contemporary sources to construct his book, both in relation to Palairet’s cricket and his life beyond the game, but I was surprised that the contemporary autobiography of his long time county captain Sam Woods does not appear in the bibliography. The bulk of the material in the book comes from newspapers, both national and local.

Sometimes modern biographies of those long deceased (Palairet died at 62 in 1933) are illuminated vividly by long lost family scrapbooks or diaries, or caches of correspondence. Even without such resources a sprinkling of descendants might still have the sort of memorabilia or important stories that can lift an otherwise unremarkable narrative. Unfortunately there is nothing from either category to assist Senior, which is perhaps a little surprising given that Palairet did have two children, but there is nothing in the book to indicate what became of subsequent generations.

There have been some excellent books in this series from the ACS. Lionel Palairet: Stylist Par Excellence is not one of them, but it is still a worthwhile addition to the library of anyone with an interest in Somerset cricket and/or the ‘Golden Age’. It is similar in format to its 43 predecessors save in one positive respect, that being a much improved reproduction and presentation of its selection of photographs.

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Martin Chandler