Seven Cricketing Lives

Published: 2005
Pages: 22
Author: Goulstone, John
Publisher: Privately published
Rating: 3.5 stars

John Goulstone is a historian of the old school. Based in Kent he has spent years delving into the ancient history of our great game. He has produced one substantial book, Hambledon – The Men and the Myths, in 2001, and gave much assistance to former UK Prime Minister John Major in the writing of his lengthy 2007 treatise on the game’s earliest years, More Than a Game. But those two titles apart his not inconsiderable output has been restricted to small, usually privately published titles dealing with various aspects of his research mainly, but certainly not exclusively about cricket.

All Goulstone titles appear as limited editions. Of Seven Cricketing Lives there are but twenty copies, and while most expense has been spared in this very basic publication such is Goulstone’s reputation that his work is regarded as highly collectable, and despite its modest appearance and recent vintage this booklet would not change hands for any less than £100.

So whose are these seven lives? The names will not be familiar to many. I had heard of Benjamin Aislabie who is the first to be considered. By no means a great player Aislabie is best known for a cameo appearance in the famous 1857 novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays, and for his long tenure as secretary of the MCC. I had also heard of the Harbord family from Yorkshire, but not Edward who is dealt with here, although in reality he seems to have achieved much greater fame as a runner than ever he did as a cricketer. The other five men featured, Douglas  Kinnaird,  John Willan, William Borradaile, Vincent Cotton and Thomas Grimstead are all names I cannot put hand on heart and say I recognised before reading Goulstone’s brief accounts of their lives.

All seven men played as amateurs, and much of the interest in their lives lies outside their cricketing achievements – it would be interesting to know what today’s newspapers and social media trolls might have made of the story of Grimstead. Lurid and salacious at the same time his tale would be no less popular today than it was three hundred years ago, although doubtless the coverage would have been more explicit.

In some ways it is a slight drawback that Goulstone is as good a historian as he is. The essays are models of detailed  research, the fastidious quoting of sources and efficient  marshalling of known facts without any added speculation. Goulstone the biographer is very much a provider of information rather than entertainment, although to be fair that is why his work is so valued.

All of the subjects of Seven Cricketing Lives were born either during the 18th century or just into the 19th, so long before the game developed into the sport we know today. I certainly wouldn’t recommend Seven Cricketing Lives to everyone, and inevitably the vast majority of people will have much better things to do with their hard earned than go out in search of a copy, but for the more reclusive cricket tragics amongst us it is an interesting little booklet, and experience shows that Goulstones are, as cricketing bibliography goes, not a bad investment.

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