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Death on the Road

Vallance Jupp

Vallance Jupp. The name is now barely remembered despite an impressive cricketing pedigree. Perhaps it is just that he played out most of his career with Northamptonshire, who finished with the wooden spoon in the County Championship eight times between the wars, next to last a further five times, and were never higher than eleventh during that period. It will no doubt also be the case that the events of the night of 12 January 1935, and Jupp serving a nine month prison sentence for his part in them, contribute to his low profile.

Jupp was born in Sussex in 1891 and made his debut for the county of his birth when he was 18. He was on the county’s professional staff at that time and between then and 1913 he played an increasingly useful role for the Martlets without giving any indication that he was a star in the making. In those days he was a useful late order batsman and occasionally effective right arm bowler, a little quicker than medium pace. His 24th year, the final season before the Great War closed the First Class game down for four summers, was his breakthrough. A higher place in the batting order meant that he more than doubled his tally of runs to 1605, and also had his best season to that date with the ball. He took only 56 wickets, but paid less than 20 runs each for them.

During the war Jupp served in the Royal Engineers and obtained a commission, before taking the unusual step late in the conflict of transferring to the RAF as a cadet. He was back with Sussex, this time as an amateur, after being demobbed in July 1919 and went from strength to strength, doing the double for the first time in 1920 and earning an invitation to travel to Australia with Johnny Douglas’ 1920/21 side. Due to business committments Jupp had to decline the invitation, although as Douglas’ men became the first to lose a Test series 5-0 he probably did well to miss it. The following season was the best of his career. He did the double again but, in scoring more than 2,000 runs it was a particularly memorable achievement.

The disarray that the Test team were in after the defeat in 1920/21 meant that in the return series the following summer no less than 30 men were tried as the selectors desperately cast around for a side to compete with Warwick Armstrong’s side on level terms. Jupp was chosen for the first and third Tests. He did not disgrace himself, but failed to fully grasp his opportunities.

That 1921 season marked the end of Jupp’s Sussex career as he accepted an offer from Northants to become their secretary. By now he was running a successful electrical business in Northampton, the increasing demands of which made a move north inevitable. Accordingly he played very little cricket during 1922 while he was acquiring the residential qualification he then needed to play for his new employers, but to show there were no hard feelings from his old county he did turn out in one County Championship match for Sussex as an amateur, and he was also invited to tour South Africa with Frank Mann’s side in the winter of 1922/23.

Jupp played four more Tests in South Africa. Again he did not set the series alight, although what was to prove to be his highest Test score, 38 at Newlands, was a vital contribution in a low scoring match that England eventually won with their last pair at the crease. In 1923 he was still qualifying for Northants but when he was finally able to assume the captaincy in 1924 he held the county together. By now bowling off breaks he did the double eight times in the next nine years, and his total of ten doubles is exceeded only by the famous Yorkshire pair of George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes.

A good illustration of how vital Jupp was to Northants is the match against Kent at Tunbridge Wells in 1932. Kent won the toss and batted and scored 360. Jupp’s figures were 10-127. It was enough however for Kent to win by an innings, despite Jupp top scoring in both Northants innings.

In terms of the sort of cricketer Jupp was Wisden’s obituarist wrote of his batting;
Jupp could vary his style to suit the occasion. He watched the ball with extreme care and was able to play a rigidly defensive game, but on true, fast pitches he scored with easy freedom, being strong in driving.
. On the subject of Jupp’s bowling the comment was few bowlers of his day were able to turn the ball to the same extent.

1928 saw Jupp enjoying his best ever season with the ball, as he took 166 wickets at a fraction over 20. He also received another England call up for the first two Tests against the touring West Indians. With the bat he disappointed again, but a match haul of 7-103 in the first match meant he was England’s most successful bowler in a comfortable victory.

The final double came in the season of 1933, by which time Jupp was 42. He did not play at all in the 1934 season due to health problems. The exact nature of his difficulties are not clear, but as early as May of that year The Cricketer was reporting that he had been ill for 14 weeks, so it must have been serious, and at this distance one cannot help but wonder whether it may have contributed to his fatal error of judgment.

Before dealing with what happened on 12 January 1935 it is worth relating an illuminating story about Jupp and his attitude to travelling by car. The tale comes from another former Northants captain Alex Snowden, whose memoirs appeared in a series of articles in The Cricketer in 1975.

Snowden was a 17 year old amateur in 1931 when he made his debut for the County. In July, after a defeat to Warwickshire at Coventry the team had to make their way to Hove to play Sussex the next day. The professionals travelled by train, leaving Snowden to travel with Jupp in his American Overland Whippet, a small car by US standards, but a substantial one for English roads. There weren’t, of course, very many cars on the road in those days, but then there were no motorways or dual carriageways, and the 160 mile trip to the south coast took several hours.

The Warwickshire game had finished just before lunch thus permitting an early start to the journey, although Jupp stopped off after just a few miles at a hotel owned by a good friend of his. Snowden reports that they were entertained at the hotel until four o’clock, with drinks poured and reminiscences flowing back and forth.

Jupp and Snowden then meandered south. There was a break for tea and cakes in Banbury, before another lengthy stop at a hostelry near Guildford. There was a discussion with locals during which Jupp downed a few large whiskies before, at closing time, the pair embarked on the last forty miles of their journey.

At this point Snowden describes the weather as raining woofers and pussies and the Whippet as having one head light not working and the other pointed hopefully towards the sky. Neither did the windscreen wipers work. Remarkably they arrived in one piece, at 2.00am. Perhaps it was not surprising that Northants took a mauling at the hands of Maurice Tate, but rain took enough time out of the match for the visitors to emerge with a draw.

Poor old Snowden had to travel with Jupp again after the close on the third day, this time bound for Peterborough, 150 miles away, for the return fixture with Warwickshire that was due to begin at 11.30am the following morning. They stayed overnight at a hotel in St Albans and eventually arrived at the game just before lunch, their team mates having been in the field without them for the best part of two hours.

On that Saturday night in January 1935 Jupp had been to a club in Northampton. We do not know how much he may have had to drink, as the possibility that Jupp was under the influence was never part of the prosecution case, but it seems unlikely that he drank nothing at all. What we do know is that shortly before 11.30pm Jupp, driving a 12 horse-power Vauxhall, overtook an 18 horse power Talbot. Before he could regain his own side of the road Jupp collided with a BSA motorcycle. Jupp was injured, although not as badly as the motorcyclist. Tragically the pillion passenger died.

George Vials, who had skippered Northants before the Great War, was Jupp’s solicitor. He instructed Norman Birkett, later a well-known cricket loving Judge, and then a leading King’s Counsel, as well as junior counsel, Arthur Ward. Sadly for Jupp however even such a heavyweight as Birkett was unable to shake the resolve of the driver of the Talbot and his passenger, both of whom said that they did not see any attempt by Jupp to get back onto the right side of the road. The sight next of the motorcyclist coming into court to give his evidence in a wheelchair must have made Birkett’s heart sink, and hardened those of the members of the jury against Jupp.

His defence was that Jupp had two problems that night. The first was that his visibility was impaired by the dazzling effect of the undipped headlight of the Talbot in his rear view mirror. When he then went into first one skid, and then another, he was unable to take any steps to avoid the collision. Four witnesses were then called to testify as to the slippery road surface and the Northants President, Stephen Schillizzi, was called as a character witness, and he confirmed Jupp’s excellent reputation but, more relevantly, described him as an extremely careful and very thoughtful driver. It is difficult to see how the Club President would really have been able to comment meaningfully on that subject, or that Jupp’s general reputation would ever have been in question. Logically the better character witness would seem to have been the Club Captain, who would regularly have driven with Jupp. The then current skipper however was Snowden, thus making the choice of character witness rather more explicable.

The Judge’s summing up did not help Jupp, as he made the observation that if Jupp’s explanation of the mechanics of the accident were correct the sooner we go back to the old days of a man waving a red flag in front of each motor car the better. It took the jury just 35 minutes to convict Jupp of manslaughter and a sentence of 9 months imprisonment followed.

A couple of points illustrate the way the law has changed in the three quarters of a century that have passed since Jupp’s case. Firstly the trial began a mere 12 days after the accident. These days a delay of six months would not be unreasonable. The summing-up also jars the senses of a 21st century lawyer. The need for a man with a red flag to walk in front of a road vehicle had been abolished in 1896. The Judge’s comment was of no help to the jury and was immensely prejudicial to Jupp’s case. If something similar happened today the defence would have had their Notice of Appeal winging its way to the Court office by the time the jury left the building, and it is difficult to imagine the Court of Appeal being anything other than horrified by the remark. In 1935 such things were commonplace, and I am reminded of a comment once made by John Parris, who defended Christopher Craig in the notorious trial that saw Craig’s co-defendant Derek Bentley hanged in 1953; The Judge’s summing-up in most cases is nothing more than a second speech for the Prosecution. Lest I be misunderstood that is most certainly not the case now.

Jupp served half his sentence, so would have been released in early June. Not unnaturally he did not turn out for Northants in 1935 but, rather more surprisingly, despite by then being 45 he did play reasonably regularly in 1936 and 1937 before ending his career with a couple of matches in 1938. Jupp was 69 when he collapsed and died whilst gardening at his home in Spratton, a village seven miles north of Northampton.

Eleven years before the fatal accident that Jupp was involved in a former Sussex and England teammate of his, wicketkeeper George Street, had died on the road. Street had gone to South Africa with Mann and Jupp and played a lone Test there. He was 34 when, just over a year later, he met his end. A few days before the start of the new season he was on his way home on his motorcycle. At a crossroads he encountered a lorry and, in trying to avoid it crashed into a wall and was killed instantly. No prosecution followed so we are left to assume that the lorry had right of way.

Reginald Northway was a new member of the Northants side who Jupp joined when he came back into the team in 1936. Northway had previously played, without conspicuous success, for Somerset. That season Derbyshire won the Championship for, to date, the only time in their history. Northants finished last and did not win a match all season. The meeting between the two at Chesterfield looked a mismatch but in the end, thanks largely to a superb 241 from 27 year old Fred Bakewell, Northants came close to defeating the champions elect.

Northway owned a two seater sports car and he set off with Bakewell at around 11pm to return home. Just before midnight, near Kibworth in Leicestershire, the car went over a humpback bridge, narrowly missed a telegraph pole and then swerved. It then crossed the road and mounted the verge on the other side before crashing into some kerbstones, turning on its side and finally ending up with its radiator in a hedge. Both men were flung from the car. Northway’s body was found in a nearby ditch. Bakewell was in the road, unconscious with a fractured skull and a serious injury to his right wrist. He too would have died had teammate John Timms, driving ahead of Northway and concerned when his headlights disappeared, not turned back. As it was Bakewell was on the critical list for several days and had to undergo surgery. In the end his strength got him through it, but the effect of the arm injury meant he never played again.

How did the accident happen? Again one suspects that there was a celebration after the match that would have involved the imbibing of at least some alcohol. Bakewell’s view was that his friend fell asleep at the wheel, but he himself was asleep at the time, so that can only be speculation. Thirty years later Bakewell had another bad experience when travelling in a friend’s car. This time the car hit a lamp post and Bakewell lost an eye. Had it not been for that tragic night in August 1936 the man who averaged 45 in his six Tests might have become a great player. ‘Crusoe’ Robertson-Glasgow must have had a bit of grit in his eye when he wrote it, but the comment When his mind and his fortunes were warm, he could have batted with Bradman on not uneven terms. leaves no doubt as to how highly Bakewell was regarded.

A week after Northway was killed the English game was in mourning again as, whilst driving home after the final match of the season, the 25 year old Gloucestershire captain Dallas Page was killed. Page drove into a wall five miles from Cirencester. The reason, if known, is not recorded. Two seasons before Page had captained Gloucestershire against Essex, who had in their ranks a former Gloucestershire batsman, Dudley Pope, who was 27 and had matured as a batsman that summer, ending up with 1,750 runs. The final issue of The Cricketer for 1934 noted sadly that on the evening of Saturday 8th September Pope was killed instantly in a motor smash.

With the death of Page it was doubtless hoped that the Grim Reaper might have finished stalking the highways of England looking for further victims amongst the cricketing fraternity, but there were to be two more before he looked towards World War Two for easier pickings. The first was the great Australian fast bowler Ted MacDonald, who spearheaded the Lancashire attack in the county’s heyday in the 1920s.
When he was driving home from a charity match in the early hours of 22 July 1937 MacDonald passed a fellow motorist who had broken down. Despite his mephistophelian reputation, and indeed appearance, McDonald was a man of generous spirit and stopped his own car a little further on. He got out and was walking back to assist when he was struck by another vehicle and killed. He was 46.

Charlie Bull of Worcestershire was the kind of cricketer that is seldom seen nowadays. Aged 30 at the time of his death in May 1939 he was an opening batsman who, after playing a few games for his native Kent, served Worcestershire loyally through the 1930s. He never managed to average more than 30 for a season, and scored only five centuries all told in his 175 First Class appearances. A journeyman most certainly, but one who was valued greatly by a side who in his time were traditionally one of the weaker ones in the County Championship.

After spending all day in the field on Saturday 28 May there was an accident in a village near Chelmsford in which Bull was killed, and another occupant of the vehicle, wicketkeeper Syd Buller, was seriously injured. Buller was back before the season was out and went on to become very well known as an umpire in the 1950s and 1960s. The players left the golf club they had dined at around 11pm. Buller was in the passenger seat of a two seater sports car driven by another man. Bull sat on his lap. The time came on the journey when the driver was dazzled by the lights of an oncoming vehicle and drove into the rear of an unlit lorry he could not see.Bull died instantly.The following year Bull’s estate received substantial damages following a civil case (the equivalent of more than GBP150,000 at 2013 values) against the insurers of the lorry. The driver of the sports car was exonerated from any blame, an outcome that would have been very different now, as would the fact that there appears not to have been an argument about let alone any finding of contributory negligence on Bull’s part.

At the beginning of the 1930s there were 2.3 million car drivers in the UK, and more than 7,000 road deaths each years. Nowadays the number of drivers has increased more than tenfold, yet thanks to changes in vehicle design, road safety and medical science the number of deaths is half what it was 80 years ago. To give a couple of examples it was not until 1935 that it became compulsory for drivers to pass any sort of test of competence to drive, and two years later before it became obligatory for a car to be equipped with a speedometer. Road deaths amongst those involved in the game have of course continued since the War, but as far as I can establish in the 68 years that have passed only one current county cricketer has died as a result of a traffic accident in the UK. That one was a particulary tragic case, England Under 19 Test player, Richard Edmunds. At the time of his death in 1989 Edmunds was not yet 20, and about to receive an award for being the young fast bowler of the year. He suffered severe chest injuries in an incident near to his home in Oakham, and died after being in intensive care for some time.


A very different piece from your usual fare Fred

Comment by smalishah84 | 12:00am BST 25 February 2014

Jack Iddon, who had played one match in 1945 and was expected to continue as an occasional amateur for Lancs, was killed in a car accident before the 1946 season.

Comment by AndrewB | 12:00am BST 25 February 2014

Out of interest does anyone know when drink-driving laws were introduced in Britain? I imagine there would have been some sort of legislation in place by 1930.

Comment by stumpski | 12:00am BST 26 February 2014

There were various acts, including the Road Traffic Act of 1930 (making it an offence to drive while incapable of proper control of the vehicle due to drink). Before that it was an offence to be drunk in charge of a vehicle.

Comment by AndrewB | 12:00am BST 27 February 2014

The first offence of drink driving of the sort we have now (ie there was a mandatory disqualification if convicted) was introduced in 1925, although there was an offence of being drunk in charge of a carriage etc that dated back to the 1870s – the blood/alcohol limit came in in 1967 – before that the police did all those tests about walking along a straight line and picking up a coin at the end and the like, and that meaningless soundbite that they trot out to this day first found its way into common usage “his speech was slurred and his eyes were glazed”. In those days you could elect trial by jury for drink driving (you can’t now) and all the young barristers used to cut their teeth on drink/drive cases – rural juries tended to be rather more forgiving than urban ones

Comment by fredfertang | 12:00am BST 27 February 2014

Nice piece Martin, greatly enjoyed reading it …

Comment by boy_briggs | 12:00am BST 4 March 2014

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