The Essential Denison

Published: 2008
Pages: 840
Author: Denison, William
Publisher: Christopher Saunders
Rating: 4 stars

The Essential Denison

William Denison was the first prolific cricketing journalist. He was also a regular player, although the scorecards of the eight first class matches in which he appeared between 1832 and 1847 do not suggest that he was anything other than a journeyman bowler. In the twenty-first century Denison’s name is well known only amongst cricket historians and book collectors. His ventures into publishing in the 1840’s are what Denison is remembered for now and this collection comprises copies of each of the four annuals that he produced between 1844 and 1847 together with copies of second issues of two those (which differ only slightly from the first issues) and a little book entitled ‘The Sketches of the Players’. The bulkiest item within the collection is its commentary by David Raven Allen which contains biographical details of Denison, a history of his publications and examples of his writings in newspapers and other periodicals.

This collection is the work of the same team who produced ‘Britcher’s Scores’ which has been reviewed on the site before. The standards of production here are every bit as high as on the Britcher project and it has a matching price of four hundred and fifty pounds. Whether this is a worthwhile purchase for any reader depends upon whether they have any interest in the game as it was more than thirty years before Test Cricket began, twenty years before over-arm bowling was legalised and less than a decade since round-arm bowling had first been permitted.

The annuals themselves broke new ground in that while they primarily, like Britcher, comprised a list of scorecards, each also contained a review of the previous season which neither Britcher, nor the likes of Epps, Bentley or any other early chronicler of the game, had ever attempted. Indeed even John Wisden left the readers of his early editions with nothing more than scorecards so Denison was some way ahead of his time.

The annuals themselves also contain a number of advertisements which range from the merely curious to the downright bizarre. No doubt these advertisements were included at the time in order to defray the cost of producing what was no doubt a relatively small print run but over 150 years on they are a fascinating part of the books.

David Rayvern Allen’s commentary is well researched and absorbing and the picture that he paints is rather more complete than that which he was able to construct for Britcher. The real gem in this collection however is the reprint of ‘The Sketches of the Players’ which, if one discounts Nyren’s ‘Cricketers of my Time’ is by some distance the first biographical work about cricketers ever published. There are 37 players featured in the book and short biographies, of no more than a few hundred words, are the order of the day, save for longer pieces on Fuller Pilch, Alfred Mynn, William Clarke and William Lillywhite. These accounts have been heavily relied upon by more modern writers who have tried to reconstruct the lives of those giants of the game’s early years, so the material is familiar, but there remains something compelling about reading these accounts as Denison originally wrote them.

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