ico-h1 CRICKET BOOKS

Frank Gillingham: Clerical Cricketer or Cricketing Clergyman

Published: 2021
Pages: 164
Author: Bradbury, Anthony
Publisher: ACS
Rating: 3.5 stars

FrankGillingham

In many ways Frank Hay Gillingham is a good subject for a book, but one that perhaps should have been tackled half a century or more ago when some who knew him were available to his biographer. That comment is, I hasten to add, no criticism at all of the man who has ultimately taken on the task. Indeed the diligence with which Anthony Bradbury has researched his man is impressive, as is the way in which he has marshalled the material he found.

Born in 1875 in Japan, where his father was a businessman, Gillingham chose a career in the church. He was ordained in 1899 and Bradbury gives a seamless account of his early years over the opening chapters of the book. Always a keen cricketer it is a curiosity of the path in life that Gillingham chose that he was already 27 by the time he made his First Class debut for Essex.

Having made his bow it would be a quarter of a century before Gillingham left the First Class arena for the last time always, of course, appearing as an amateur. Over the years he was never able to play a full season, and depending on where his calling took him it was sometimes only a handful of games. Nonetheless he still scored found the time to score more than 10,000 First Class runs with 19 centuries and 47 fifties at an average of a tick over 30.

My familiarity with cricket history and the myriad of sources available to researchers means that I was not taken by surprise with the manner in which Bradbury was able to reconstruct Gillingham’s playing career. That he was able do the same with his journey with the church I did not expect, but that was certainly achieved, entirely appropriately given that that part of his life was very much Gillingham’s priority.

But what sort of man was Gillingham? That is where without contemporaries or descendants to ask Bradbury can’t really tell us, although with his judicial experience he is as well equipped as anyone to provide some impressions for his reader from the evidence he has gathered. It is also particularly unfortunate that there is no recording of Gillingham in existence. That would not be a surprise given how long ago he lived were it not for the fact that in 1927 he was the first man ever to provide live commentary on a cricket match. The game in question was played between Essex and the touring New Zealanders – as in so many areas however the BBC did not appreciate the significance of the moment, and it was not preserved.

There is a written record of some of Gillingham’s sermons. One of them, from 1915, is in many ways remarkable. It is more the sort of rallying call to arms of which Lord Kitchener would have been proud rather than the words of an Army Chaplain, but perhaps that is just a sign of the times. That said as Bradbury points out of the goodly number of photographs of Gillingham that are reproduced in the book display, with just one exception, a stern facial expression, so he certainly seems a man of firm views.

On the other hand Bradbury also reminded me of something I did know about Gillingham, that being the fact that the BBC dispensed with his commentary services after an incident when, during a lull in play, he took to describing the various advertisements around the ground. Was he naive or did he have a mischievous sense of humour? The former seems improbable, so I would like to think the latter, but of course we will never know.

Another interesting part of the narrative comes from the other end of the Great War. By then based in Surrey Gillingham approached Essex for their agreement to his representing Surrey in 1919. It is clear from the minutes of the relevant committee meeting that Essex were not happy about the prospect, but that is all that is said on the subject and a then 43 year old Gillingham turned out in as many as a dozen Championship matches that summer, and played occasionally for Essex for almost another decade, so he seems, as you would expect from a member of the clergy, not to be a man to involve himself in avoidable confrontations and to have accepted the committee’s decision with good grace.

In conclusion while aspects of Frank Gillingham remain elusive, his story has now been told, and told very well indeed in another thoroughly worthwhile book from Anthony Bradbury and the ACS.

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