Lord Brackley’s Cricket Tour to West Indies 1905Martin Chandler |
Author: Laughton, Tony
Publisher: Boundary Books
Rating: 4 stars
How many people are interested in a cricket tour to what was then a non-Test playing country that took place in 1905? Probably not all that many is the answer, so there isn’t a great deal of point in trying to publish an account of the trip if you want to sell a shed load of copies. Niche cricket publishers well know this problem and the answer, of course, is to publish a short run limited edition by an accomplished writer and historian to a high standard and watch them fly off the shelves.
Which is just what Boundary Books and Tony Laughton have done here. We know all about Mr Laughton’s talents from The Mac’s reaction to his splendid biography of Albert Craig, and mine to his history of Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game. Boundary Books have an impressive pedigree as well, publishing the Craig biography, and a number of other books that have scored highly in our reviews.
The subject matter of this one is clear from the title and in a couple of excellent introduction Laughton explains that Brackley’s trip to the West Indies was the fifth such venture from England, and he gives some brief background to the other four and also sets out the circumstances in which the 1905 trip came to be put together.
The bulk of the rest of the book falls neatly into two halves, almost exactly in fact. The first half contains detailed pen portraits of each of the sixteen members of the touring party. The playing strength was nominally thirteen, but the party also took their own umpire, John Moss, who played a couple of times and kept wicket and batted with some aplomb as well as, in all the other games, umpiring to, it would seem, the satisfaction of all. In addition there was a baggage man, William Beton, no more than a club cricketer in England but he was pressed into service in one match as well as a result of injuries. Similarly the scorer, Matthew Bellamy, played in one match. The stories of Moss, Beton and Bellamy are told in just as much detail as those of the other tourists although, one suspects, they would have required rather more research.
The side itself comprised twelve amateurs and two professionals. There was just one Test player with a sole appearance against Australia in 1896, Teddy Wynyard. Later Wynard added two more caps against South Africa and both the professionals, Surrey batsman Ernie Hayes and Northamptonshire all-rounder George Thompson, went on to play for England. Hayes was capped five times but did not enjoy much success. Thompson achieved just one more cap than Hayes, but the man who carried Northamptonshire cricket in their early years in the Championship achieved much in South Africa in 1909/10 and perhaps deserved more than his solitary, admittedly unsuccessful, appearance against Australia in 1909.
There was one more future Test player in the team and, as a cricketer, he is the most interesting of the lot. George Simpson-Hayward played through that 1909/10 series taking 23 wickets at 18.26 runs apiece and scoring some useful lower order runs. What is really interesting about Simpson-Hayward is that he was a lob (under arm) bowler, one of the few such to have appeared in the Test arena and certainly the last. Of the remaining nine men all were First Class cricketers, although only Middlesex batsman Cyril Foley and Hampshire quick bowler ‘Hex’ Hesketh-Pritchard played very much county cricket.
The old class system in England, and the long time distinction between professionals and amateurs has almost nothing to commend it, the only thing being perhaps the remarkably varied lives of some of those who did not play cricket professionally. Hesketh-Pritchard for example was a remarkable man who went on to become a writer, traveller and explorer as well as being an acknowledged expert on sniping. No less interesting is the life of George Drummond, the youngest of the tourists and, perhaps, the least accomplished cricketer in the party. Drummond came from from a monied background and was, it seems, a Nazi sympathiser in later life, and one who seems to have ‘got away with it’.
And what of the cricket itself? There were twenty matches altogether, twelve of them First Class. The tourists won eleven of the matches, a number by convincing margins, but they were defeated three times, by Trinidad twice and Barbados once. The star of the Trinidad side was a medium pace bowler, Archie Cumberbatch who, in the two matches, took 20 wickets for 197 runs.
In reconstructing the matches that Brackley’s team played Laughton is fortunate in having, perhaps surprisingly, a good deal of contemporary writing. Both Hayes and Wynyard regularly send reports back to English newspapers, Hesketh-Pritchard sent three feature articles home and, at the end of the trip, Foley presented each of the tourists with a souvenir of the trip that included his thoughts on each of the matches. Fortunate indeed is the man who has a copy of that one in his collection and, having had access to it, I assume that Laughton is one of the lucky few.
The accounts of the matches are very much of their time and generally represent what would be expected from what was in large part a goodwill tour, but there was a hard edge nonetheless. In St Vincent in particular there were on field and off field incidents that at best are described as gamesmanship, and at worst cheating. Inevitably in the circumstances that part of the tour is of particular interest.
The book concludes with the tour statistics and a report on a reunion match which was played at Lord’s just over a year later when Brackley’s side reconvened to play that year’s touring West Indians. It proved to be an exciting match with’ fortunes ebbing and flowing before, in the end, Brackley’s side ran out winners by two wickets.
So if you are one of the ‘not all that many’ I referred to in my opening paragraph Lord Brackley’s Cricket Tour to West Indies 1905, a comprehensive look at the tour and those who travelled to the Caribbean, is highly recommended. The book is produced in a A4 format in an edition of 70 copies all of which have been individually numbered and signed by Laughton. The cost of the book is £55 plus postage and package, so far from cheap, but the book is profusely illustrated and printed on high quality paper and will, I would suggest, prove to be a useful hedge against inflation, something we might all need as the 2020s unfold.