Who’s Who of Warwickshire Cricketers 1894-1939

Published: 2019
Pages: 224
Author: Sheen, Steven
Publisher: Sheen, Steven
Rating: 4.5 stars

Sheen copy

Back in 1993 a second edition of a Who’s Who of Cricketers was published. With more than 1,200 pages the book was a monument to the unstinting efforts of its compilers, Philip Bailey, Philip Thorn and Peter Wynne-Thomas. It must be the broadest book in my collection, and for many years was the one I consulted the most. It contains basic biographical details, as far as are known, for every man who had played First Class cricket in England up until its publication date, together with their career details and, in many cases, a sentence or two about them.

Despite the use it got back in the day when I tried to find the weighty volume, in order to check the details I have quoted, I was unable to find it. I can only assume that, with a small number of duplicates and other books I am confident I will never need to refer to again, it has been consigned to my storeroom. The internet, and more particularly a Cricketarchive subscription, have consigned it to history. Yet despite this the cricketing ‘Who’s Who’ is back in vogue, the four splendid volumes of Stephen Hill’s on Somerset cricket showing just what can be achieved.

Like Hill’s efforts Steven Sheen’s does provide the basic statistics, and again after Hill’s example Sheen illustrates his book with an autograph and photograph for each of the 214 players who appeared at least once for Warwickshire between their acquiring First Class status in 1894 and the eve of the Second World War. Indeed there is a nod in Hill’s direction as his name gets a mention in the acknowledgments, but if the two authors’ aims are the same there are differences in approach.

In today’s internet age it would be possible, with a modest cricket library and subscriptions to the aforementioned Cricketarchive, the British Newspaper Archive and ancestry.com to put together a half decent book on this theme without actually having to try too hard. Where men like Hill and Sheen do so well however is that despite those resources being available to them they still put in the hard yards in terms of their research, and every single one of these pen portraits is, like Hill’s are, a gem.

Some of the cricketers Sheen features are reasonably well known, but few readers are likely pick up the book with a detailed knowledge of any of the subjects other than Frank Foster, Sydney Barnes and Bob Wyatt. Foster in particular is a fascinating figure, both in terms of the cricket he was involved in for the few seasons before injury ended his playing career at 25, and the scandals in which he played a role in later life. One thing I did know about Foster was that he had a brother who played once for Warwickshire and, by virtue of Sheen’s mission statement there is a full page devoted to Arthur Foster as well. The younger Foster sibling, and this I certainly didn’t know, turns out to have been just as extraordinary a character as his more illustrious brother.

As is only to be expected in a cricket book the biographies contain details of what their subjects’ on field roles were, and occasionally dwell on notable performances but, as in Hill’s books, much interest lies in the stories of what these men got up to outside of the game and how they lived their lives. Without wishing to put forward any sort of ‘batting order’ in terms of the appeal of the stories the ‘riches to rags’ tale of Norman Partridge particularly caught my eye. I was also interested in what Sheen would have to report on the Quaife family, the lack of a book concerning whom I have been known to bemoan in the past. I had always assumed the reason for this notable omission from the game’s literature was probably that the family’s lives outside cricket contained little of interest. In that belief I was wrong, as the entries in respect of brothers Walter and William and William’s son Bernard indicate there would be no shortage of material for a budding biographer.

Another pleasure of books like this are the obscure nuggets of information that crop up from to time, and which are testament to the diligence of the author. One example is the occupation of the nephew of Cyril Goodway, whose photography launched the careers of ladies like Linda Lusardi and Samantha Fox. Perhaps rather more in point is the not entirely enviable batting record held by the son of Richard Sale. That said one point worthy of mention about Sale Jnr may have been omitted, that being that I am pretty confident he was the Charles Sale whose biography of the legendary Essex fast bowler Charles Kortright was published in 1986.

Steven Sheen’s Who’s Who of Warwickshire Cricketers 1894-1939 is an excellent book that I unhesitatingly recommend. Is it perfect? Possibly not quite. Sheen gives himself something of a straitjacket in adopting a format of strictly one page per player. For the majority it works perfectly well, and some of the more obscure have room to spare, but there are a few, Frank Foster foremost amongst them, where the reader is left feeling that the constraints of space have prevented the inclusion of everything Sheen would have liked to say, and I did end up wishing that perhaps a select few could have been granted a second page.

The above said there is of course something attractive about the page by page approach, and there is also much to be said for the egalitarianism that involves. The book itself is a substantial hardback. At £25 a copy it is not cheap, but is a very attractive book, well laid out and printed on good quality paper. Alternatively, for those of us who like that sort of thing, there is, housed in a slip case, an individually numbered limited edition of 75 copies signed by the author and 16 of the county’s modern greats. The book is not, as far as I can see, available on Amazon or its ilk, and the best way to secure a copy is via Sheen’s own website.

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