book_reviews_banner_image-81x81 A BIBLIOPHILE'S BLOG

Somerset in Print

Somerset County Cricket Club was formed in 1875, and first competed in the County Championship in 1891, the second summer of the formally organised competition. There have been a number of histories of the club, the first being Ron Roberts’ Sixty Years of Somerset Cricket, a comprehensive look back at the county’s years in the Championship, published in 1952.

Three of the game’s best writers have been Somerset men, David Foot and former players Raymond ‘Crusoe’ Robertson-Glasgow and Peter Roebuck. Foot produced the next detailed history of the club, Sunshine, Sixes and Cider in 1986.

Somerset were one of the counties who missed out on a book in the Christopher Helm series, the reason for that no doubt had much to do with the history published by Roebuck in 1991, From Sammy to Jimmy. The same year the club itself published A Photographic History Of Somerset CCC 1891-1991 to celebrate its hundred years in the Championship.

Foot revisited his subject in a slightly different way in 2006 when, together with Ivan Ponting, he wrote a season by season post war history of the club, Sixty Summers, and another pictorial book, Somerset County Cricket Club: The Return To Glory by Andy Lockyer and Richard Walsh appeared in 2015.

In terms of biographies two of the men who appeared in that first Championship campaign have been the subject of books, but I will begin with a man whose Somerset appearances predate that by several years. Ted Sainsbury was Somerset’s captain before later appearing for Gloucestershire and a David Battersby booklet, Edward Sainsbury, told his story in 2018.

Appearing in Somerset’s first Championship fixture was the Australian born all-rounder Sammy Woods. Woods played Test cricket for Australia against England and for England in South Africa. He also played Rugby Union for England and was Somerset captain for more than decade. A giant of the game literally and figuratively Woods published My Reminiscences in 1925, and in 1997 was the subject of a biography by Clifford Jiggens, Sammy: The Sporting Life of SMJ Woods.

Woods’ 1891 teammate, the elegant amateur opening batsman Lionel Palairet, had to wait rather longer for his life story to appear. The man who was capped twice by England in 1902 featured in the ACS Lives in Cricket series in 2016. Lionel Palarait: Stylist Par Excellence, was written by Darren Senior.

One more Victorian era Somerset player has been the subject of a full biography, that being the little known Henry Stanley. A loss in action in the Boer War at just 27 Stanley was a batsman with a modest record, but an interesting story, very well told by Barry Phillips in the self-published biography, Too Fond of Winning, in 2018.

Jack ‘Farmer’ White first appeared for Somerset at 18 in 1909, and it would be 28 years before he played his last game for the county. In the intervening years he was one of the best orthodox slow left arm bowlers in the country and his 15 Test caps included a leading role in the England side that won 4-1 in Australia in 1928/29 under Percy Chapman. A biography, A Somerset Hero Who Beat The Aussies, appeared from the pen of Basil Tinkler White in 2000.

Another amateur Jack, MacBryan, made his debut for Somerset in 1911 and played at least occasionally for the county for as many as twenty years. Wounds suffered in the Great War prevented opening batsman MacBryan from realising his full potential, but he did play for England once,against South Africa in 1924. Sadly for MacBryan rain ruined the match, only allowing time for South Africa to reach 116-4, so he never got a chance to show what he could do with the bat. He was one of the men who was the subject of David Foot’s triple biography, Cricket’s Unholy Trinity, that was published in 1985.

‘Crusoe’ Robertson-Glasgow was, as well as being a fine writer, an opening bowler who despite never being able to play regularly appeared for Somerset over 15 years. He took the best part of 500 wickets at less than 26 runs apiece so was a decent player. A man who suffered badly from depression Crusoe died by his own hand in 1965 at the age of 63. Seventeen years earlier he had written an excellent autobiography, 46 Not Out.

White was Somerset captain in 1927 when pace bowler Arthur Wellard made his debut. In a career that lasted until 1950 Wellard was capped twice by England and, as well as his reliable bowling, acquire a reputation as the biggest hitter in the game. A biography of Wellard, No Mere Slogger, was Barry Phillips’ first cricket book in 1996. Fifteen years earlier Wellard had also been the subject of a very limited and difficult to acquire monograph by playwright Howard Pinter.

Two years after Wellard Frank Lee came into the Somerset side. Lee was a reliable opening batsman who, for many years, opened the batting with his brother Jack. In time Frank became an umpire and stood in 29 Tests. An autobiography, Cricket Lovely Cricket, appeared in 1960.

The Hand That Bowled Bradman is one of the best titles for an autobiography ever thought of, and was chosen by Bill Andrews for his book, published in 1973. For many years Andrews opened the Somerset bowling with Wellard and, whilst not being quite as profligate with his six hitting as Wellard, he was also a crowd pleaser with the bat.

In the same season that Andrews debuted, 1930, wicketkeeper Seymour Clark made all of his five First Class appearances in Somerset colours. Over those matches he got to the wicket as many as nine times, but did not score a single run. Clark is the subject of a fascinating monograph by Irving Rosenwater, Seymour Clark of Somerset, published in 1995.

One of the very best cricket biographies is David Foot’s Harold Gimblett: Tormented Genius of Cricket, published in 1982. Gimblett made a sensational debut century in 1935 and thrilled crowds throughout the country for the best part of two decades. Foot’s book covers that remarkable day of course, but also examines the demons that prevented Gimblett achieving all that he was capable of, shortened his county career and eventually led him to, tragically, take his own life.

Jack Meyer is best remembered today as the man who made Millfield School what it was to become, one of the finest cricketing nurseries in England. In his youth Meyer was also a decent all-rounder and although he did not appear in county cricket until he was already 31 in 1936 he did much more than just make up the numbers for Somerset in the 65 matches he appeared in for Somerset between then and 1949. Michael Goater’s biography, Jack Meyer of Millfield, was published in 1993.

Yorkshireman Johnny Lawrence played once for his native county’s second eleven in 1937 but, as a wrist spinner, he was unable to progress his career in Yorkshire so he moved to Somerset where he played from 1946 to 1955. In 2020 Steve Bindman’s Schooled in Cricket: The Johnny Lawrence Story, appeared in the ACS Lives in Cricket series.

Although an Australian by birth, and indeed by virtue of a short but nonetheless impressive Test career in the years after World War Two Colin McCool gets a mention here by virtue of his five seasons at Somerset between 1956 and 1961. McCool’s autobiography, Cricket is a Game, was published in the final year of his stint in the West Country.

Dennis Silk was headmaster at Radley College for almost a quarter of a century and, between 1956 and 1960 whilst teaching at Marlborough, he appeared 33 times for Somerset with some success as a batsman. Silk was a great friend of World War One poet Siegfried Sassoon and whilst there is no biography of him Alan Gibson wrote a monograph in 1993 that was published by Richard Walsh.

By the time the Australian Bill Alley joined Somerset in 1957 he was already 38 and had played in just 31 First Class matches, more than half of them on tour with a Commonwealth XI in India in almost a decade before. It would be 1968 before Alley left the county, and during those eleven summers he was immensely successful with bat and ball famously scoring 3,019 runs in 1961. At the end of his career in 1969 Alley published My Incredible Innings before going on to enjoy a new cricket career as an umpire. A second autobiography, Standing The Test of Time, was published in 1999.

By the late 1970s Somerset had built a powerful side, ironically enough largely as a result of the efforts of Brian Close and Tom Cartwright, who will feature under Yorkshire and Warwickshire respectively. In time as many of six of their charges have featured in books.

Brian Rose was the first to debut, in 1969 and, conversely, the last to see his story appear in print, his collaboration with Anthony Gibson, Rosey, being one of the last books to appear under the ‘old’ Fairfield Books imprint in 2019.

In 1974 three very famous men began their Somerset careers, Ian Botham, Vivian Richards and Peter Roebuck. Botham of course is one of the biggest names of all, and not a man for whom it is realistic to list every book that concerns him. But let us start with his autobiographies, of which there have been two, or three if you count the 2007 published My Illustrated Life. Traditional autobiographies are My Autobiography in 1994 and Head On from 2007.

As for books about Botham there have been many. Patrick Eagar, Patrick Murphy, Bob Farmer and Done Mosey are four who have written about him, but the best is probably Simon Wilde’s Ian Botham: The Power and the Glory, published in 2011.

Richards has not been the subject of quite so many books, but there have been three autobiographies as well as Trevor McDonald’s 1984 biography, Viv Richards. The autos are Viv Richards, Hitting Across The Line and Sir Vivian published in 1979, 1991 and 2000 respectively.

Roebuck has written many books, all of them excellent and one with Botham, It Sort of Clicks, in 1986, although sadly it didn’t ‘click’ for much longer. Of Roebuck’s other books Sometimes I Forgot To Laugh in 2004 is the closest to a traditional autobiography. After Roebuck’s death a biography appeared in 2015, Chasing Shadows, by Elliot Cartledge and Tim Lane.

A year after Botham, Richards and Roebuck Vic Marks came along, another very fine writer now retired from journalism. Hopefully a few more books might follow the fine autobiography, Original Spin, that appeared in 2018. The final member of the sextet was Joel Garner, who came along in 1977. Big Bird Flying High was published in 1988.

And with one exception that is that for full length books about Somerset players. There is a thoughtful joint monograph about Mark Lathwell and Andrew Caddick from David Foot that was published in 1993, but the last man is Marcus Trescothick, whose brutally honest 2008 autobiography, Coming Back To Me, started a trend in sportsmen laying bear the stresses and strains that their mental health suffered in pursuing their dreams.

Turning to the question of biographical books that consist of short portraits there is the obligatory Tempus 100 Greats book, written by Eddie Lawrence, and another by him in the Fifty Finest Matches series in 2001 and 2002 respectively. David Foot had a try at that particular genre with From Grace to Botham, looking at cricketers from Gloucestershire and Somerset. Lawrence produced a smaller work on Somerset’s Cricketing Clergy in 2009. But towering above all them have been an outstanding series of five books by Stephen Hill (three with Barry Phillips) which cover every man who played for Somerset between the club’s inception and 2000, Reviews appear here, here, here, here and here.

There are a few other Somerset books worthy of mention. Firstly there is an entertaining miscellany, Charles Wood’s 2011 Bats, Pads and Cider. There are also some accounts of recent seasons. Anthony Gibson told the story of the 2019 summer in Somerset’s Summer, and Paul Baker has written four accounts on recent summers, one each on the County Championship campaigns of 2018, 2019 and 2020, and a separate book on the successful pursuit of the Royal London Cup in 2019. For a full look at all of the county’s near misses in the second decade of the twenty first century Thomas Blow’s recent book, Kings in Waiting, does that particular job very well indeed.

Choosing my two previously uncovered subjects for Somerset has proved trickier than for any other county, mainly thanks to Messrs Hill and Phillips producing so many fascinating vignettes in their four books. In the end I have opted first for a look at the Tremlett family, primarily Maurice of Somerset and England, although that will inevitably also feature son Tim of Hampshire, and grandson Chris of Hampshire, Surrey and England. I would also like to learn more about Dar Lyon, who enjoyed an interesting legal career as well his cricket career, but I have effectively bagged him already by selecting his brother Bev in Gloucestershire in Print, so my second choice is a biography of golden age all-rounder Len Braund, capped 23 times by England in the Edwardian era.

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Martin Chandler