The Cricketing Curate and the Cornstalks

Published: 2014
Pages: 24
Author: Tebay, K Martin
Publisher: Red Rose Books
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Cricketing Curate and the Cornstalks

In recent years Martin Tebay has written a number of slim volumes, according to my calculations 23, about various aspects of Lancashire cricket and cricketers from the dim and distant past. Some of these are unusual digressions on the lives of men whose names are familiar to anyone with a passing interest in cricket history, such as the original Archie Mac or the tragic all-rounder Johnny Briggs. The majority however concern aspects of the lives of men who will be unknown to anyone other than those of us who enjoy the minutiae of the Red Rose. An example can be found here, Martin’s account of a curious story involving the patriarch of the Westhoughton Tyldesleys.

Up until now I have taken the view, much as I have enjoyed reading Martin’s work that, looking at the booklets in the cold light of day without the benefit of my rose tinted spectacles, they are not of sufficiently wide appeal to justify a review here. I have made a different decision this time for a number of reasons. The overriding one is the story that Martin tells here is so remarkable, the sort that would simply not be believable if it were to be presented as a work of fiction. It is also a tale which, despite my lifelong devotion to all matters Lancastrian, I have to confess, had completely passed me by. In addition, and perhaps because of the quality of the raw material he had to work with, Martin has told the story extremely well.

So what is it of which I wax so lyrical? The answer is the story of a single cricket match, which is inextricably intertwined with the story of one of the participants. The match is that played at Old Trafford in May of 1888 between Percy McDonnell’s Australians and Lancashire. This was the two sides’ fifth meeting at First Class level, and the first of five victories for the Red Rose. Two of the other four were in the summer of the ill-fated Triangular Tournament in 1912, when the tourists were lacking six of their biggest names. Lancashire didn’t win again until 1972, and I well remember the celebrations that were prompted by that result, and the county won again in 1993, to date the last occasion on which the two sides met.

Lancashire won the low scoring encounter in 1888 due almost entirely to the efforts of three all-rounders. One of them, Briggs, I have already mentioned and a second, Allan Steel, was a gifted amateur with a fine record in the 13 Tests that his commitments outside the game permitted him to play. That much is no surprise, but the leading role was played by a man who only ever made four appearances in First Class matches, and the first two those had been seven years previously. The fourth and last came in a “Roses” match, five weeks after his triumph against the Australians, and he made a spectacular contribution to that contest as well.

The name of this remarkable man will inevitably mean little, but he was John Napier, a man of the cloth who at the time of his great triumphs was the Curate of a church at Preston. It must by now have been the greater part of half a century since the last survivor of those who witnessed Napier’s deeds for Lancashire departed this mortal coil, so there was no first hand testimony available to Martin, but he has assiduously tracked down all of the various newspapers that reported on the game, and performed a fine job of reconstructing the match for a 21st Century readership. He hasn’t quite managed to do a David Frith on it, but has come as close to it as any mere mortal can expect to.

The match report in itself is well worthy of the author’s efforts, but beyond that he has managed to uncover something of the life of Napier, relying in large part on an interview that the Reverend gave in later years whilst the Vicar of Old Windsor in Berkshire, and the four pages that comprise that essay are a satisfying addition to the gripping tale already told.

If you want to buy one of the 125 signed and numbered copies of The Cricketing Curate and the Cornstalks you can order it here, for a shade under a tenner, post free for those in the UK. It will be a shade more for those in the Southern Hemisphere as overseas postage is extra. But such a slim volume cannot be costly to post, and with exchange rates as they are it will cost the Mac just a few pennies to add this splendid little volume to his collection*.

*Order placed as soon as I perused this review – Archie Mac

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