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Cricket Lore

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I am a great admirer of The Cricket Quarterly. That it is my favourite cricket magazine/journal of the many that have come and gone over the years is most certainly the case but, lest my post on the subject should be misinterpreted, there are plenty of other good ones as well, all of which I intend to look at at some point in the future.

For now however I will concentrate on what is certainly my second favourite, Cricket Lore, an English publication that ran between November 1991 and July 2005. There were 47 issues of Cricket Lore over that period in five separate ‘volumes’. The first four consisted of ten issues each but, sadly, volume five was not completed. The timing of the publication of each issue was irregular. The ten issues of volume one appeared over twenty months – by contrast volume two took as many as 44 months to complete. Three and four took 27 and 30 months respectively, and the seven issues in volume five were spread over 37 months.

One thing that Cricket Lore had in common with The Cricket Quarterly was that it was very much the brainchild of one man, Richard Hill being its Rowland Bowen. There will certainly never be another Bowen, but to found a cricket magazine from scratch and keeping it going for a number of years must mean the two men share some characteristics, foremost amongst them of course a deep and enduring love of cricket.

Hill, I understand, had a long career in advertising before a generous redundancy package gave him the opportunity in terms of finance and available time to start Cricket Lore. At the time there were two well established UK cricket magazines, The Cricketer and Wisden Cricket Monthly, but there was never any thought on Hill’s part that he was competing with them.

The first edition of Cricket Lore, as such publications are wont to do, set out Hill’s mission statement. He wrote that his venture was intended to be a magazine of the widest scope and added that our coverage of current events will be considered and reflective. The first issue also proclaimed, as did the next six, that Cricket Lore would appear ten times a year, and that each issue was limited to 5,000 copies. The first of those lasted until issue seven, and the second just a little longer, last appearing in the penultimate issue of volume one.

On the basis set out in the preceding paragraph Cricket Lore certainly changed course over its fourteen years. In the end the scope was not particularly wide. Generally the magazine’s contents concerned past events, and concentrated on Test cricket and the First Class game. There was little coverage of current events, although Hill’s editorials touched on what was happening at the time of publication, and a number of the historical articles looked at their subjects in a modern context or were inspired by recent events.

Part of the reason for what proved to be a largely historical focus for Cricket Lore was its contributors, most of whom were not professional cricket writers. All of the pieces that appeared were well written, no doubt thanks in part at least to Hill’s editing, but most clearly came from writers indulging a passion rather than their calling. Some noted cricket writers’ work was showcased on occasion however, foremost amongst them Stephen Chalke (three essays), a handful more from David Foot and, in the early issues, more than a dozen from the veteran broadcaster and writer Don Mosey. The Alderman’s work was the highlight of the early issues and that which proved to be his last contribution to the magazine, a short but immensely powerful tribute from a tough Yorkshireman to the late Neil Hawke in issue four of volume two, is a genuinely timeless piece of writing.

Another type of contributor was the professional historian. By the nature of their calling such men are writers as well, and there were a number of these. The most prolific of them was Eric Midwinter, but Bernard Whimpress and Keith Sandiford are two others who come into the same category. What Cricket Lore lacked in its time in the nineties and early noughties was even a single female contributor, and the early issues were almost exclusively made up of the work of English writers only South African Luke Alfred breaking the monopoly in volume one with what proved to be the only contribution he was to make.

The third issue of volume two saw something of a change of direction. After that a piece or two each issue from Sandiford brought a Caribbean flavour to the magazine, and also saw Whimpress making his bow. J Neville Turner was another Australian academic who put in a few appearances and South African interest was added by Richard Parry and Brian Bassano. There were only ever seven contributions from the sub-continent however, five from the well known writer Ram Guha, and a couple from Vasant Naik.

But if in some ways Cricket Lore did not quite head off in the direction expected in others it certainly kept its word. Hill promised in the first issue that the magazine would be printed on high quality paper and it always was. In addition the centre pages always comprised some artwork that could either be detached and framed or, alternatively, the originals purchased from Hill. To be fair the quality of the art itself, as opposed to the way it was reproduced, struck me as variable to say the least. Some of the portraits of cricketers did not carry too much of a resemblance to their subjects, although some were thought provoking. By way of example those by Anya Daynoff in some of the early issues I find quite striking, and am surprised that the name of that lady, clearly the closest the magazine came to a female contributor, throws up precisely nothing on a google search.

One of the pleasures of reading Cricket Lore is the absence of any intrusive advertising, and indeed it contains very little in the way of sponsorship at all. In the early days the back page would sometimes attract a commercial backer, but generally the only items offered for sale in the magazine itself, the original artworks aside, were the books that in time Cricket Lore started to publish*, and occasionally other books published elsewhere by the magazine’s contributors.

As far as the contents of the individual issues are concerned the size of the magazine itself came in at 44 pages and the number of major essays in each varied between seven and thirteen. There was also a selection of book reviews in each issue, entitled In The Covers. Various contributors provided these. The reviews were always thoughtful, thorough and constructive even if they lacked the entertainment value and brutal honesty of those that Bowen made sure were one of the  highlights of The Cricket Quarterly.

The length of the individual essays varied. Occasionally, as with the Mosey tribute to Hawke, they were short, but more usually were much more substantial, sometimes extending to several thousand words, Hill very much allowing his contributors a free rein. Many of the subjects were essentially biographical in nature, often comprehensive looks at the lives and times of those who had not been written about at length before. Many were the result of extensive research, but a few, and in some ways it is a shame there were not more, were based around conversations between writers and subjects.

In addition to the players’ stories there were looks at past matches, Test series and controversies and, just occasionally, matters of more recent import. A particular highlight in that respect was, once again, contributed by Mosey and came in the third issue. Mosey’s deeply personal account of the schisms that were then damaging his beloved Yorkshire and his reasoning behind, after sixty years, giving up his membership of the county he loved and instead joining the then new boys Durham is compelling stuff.

On three occasions an issue of Cricket Lore was primarily concerned with one player. That two of those should be Walter Hammond and Garry Sobers will be of no surprise to anyone, but the identity of the third man, an Australian, would require a number of guesses that for most would run well into double figures. That Donald Bradman did not get a special issue to himself may at first blush seem surprising, although perhaps not so once the guesser reflected on the amount already in print on the subject of ‘The Don”. But Stan McCabe? ‘Napper’ is by a country mile the most overlooked all time great our game has seen and Hill showed his credentials as a cricket lover by devoting much of issue nine of volume three to him.

Cricket Lore’s journey ended with issue seven of volume five. There is no mention of it being the last issue, but the announcement of the magazine’s printer going out of business, and the content being extended by ten pages were perhaps clues, as was the unusual departure for the centrefold of including, in the style of old fashioned cigarette cards, portraits of 26 past and present contributors. In addition the title of the editorial was Well Left? Perhaps there was a subliminal message there, although the piece actually dealt with the then current issue of television coverage leaving terrestrial broadcasters, and the column regarding the printer’s demise expressly envisaged a replacement being found.

Perhaps Hill initially intended only to mothball Cricket Lore, but if so the time to continue it never came and, as a result, a full set of the magazine does not quite fill the fifth binder, something which is a little sad. In truth it seems likely that at the end of the day there were simply not enough subscribers to make the magazine viable. No one seems to have any knowledge of the actual level of sales, but it seems likely that it was not remotely close to the 5,000 limitation Hill bravely announced in the first nine issues. Given also that relatively few magazines come up on the second hand market, and those individual copies that do are almost never from volume five, and it seems likely that an already limited circulation was dropping at the end.

Despite its travails however Cricket Lore was and is an excellent read, and with something approaching 50,000 words in each issue it is well worth investing in. Full sets do appear on the market from time to time and the good news is that, certainly at this stage, the cost of acquiring one is certainly not prohibitive and I would suggest that £100, or a little more if housed in the very attractive official Cricket Lore binders, is about the ‘going rate’. 

*First Knock: Cricket’s Opening Pairs was the first stand alone publication from Cricket Lore. Written by Midwinter it was, as the title suggests, a look at opening partnerships and comprised 71 pages of A4 paper and was in keeping with the usual high production standards of the parent magazine.

The next two titles to appear were Darling Old Oval from Eric Midwinter and Peter Mahoney’s Mary-Ann’s Australians, both of which appeared in 1995. The former was an octavo sized paperback and looked at the history of Surrey’s ground. Mahoney’s book was the first account of the 1909 Ashes series and whilst also a paperback this one was A4 sized.

Published in 2001 James Aylward: The Untold Story by Roy Clarke goes all the way back to 1833 and the question of the authorship of John Nyren’s famous The Cricketers of my Times. The book appeared in a limited edition of 500, 167 of which were individually numbered and signed by Clarke to commemorate a famous innings that Aylward played in 1777.

That same year of 2001 saw Cricket Lore publish a book from Sandiford to mark the 65th birthday of his great friend, ‘The Lion of Cricket’. At the Crease with Gary Sobers: His Partnerships in Test Cricket appeared in a limited edition of 365 copies, the first 160 of which were numbered and signed by Sandiford and Sobers.

In 2002 financial journalist Michael Baws wrote Triple Glory: The Chronological History of the Triple Century 1876 – 2000 and Cricket Lore published it in a hard backed limited edition of 501 copies.

And Hill saved the best till last, Gubby Allen – Bad Boy of Bodyline by Brian Rendell cast new light on the famous 1932/33 series from the angle of an examination of Allen’s letters home during the series. I am pretty sure that the book was the last thing to emerge from Cricket Lore, which would make it 2005, but the publication date is not expressly stated nor, beyond the fact that the attractive hardback is a limited edition, is it stated how many copies there are.

There are three more to mention. The first is a collection of Midwinter articles gathered together as From Meadowland to Multinational – A Review of Cricket’s Social History. Next I will mention Cricket Lore’s only dud, a series of reprints of James Lillywhite’s Cricketers’ Annuals (the ‘Red Lilly’). Quite simply they weren’t at all pleasant. And finally, it is back to Midwinter again for Cricket Lore – The Guide. Published in 2014 by Third Age Press it isn’t, by dint of that, a Cricket Lore publication at all, but is well worth investing in for two kinds of collector; on the one hand those who are contemplating acquiring a set of the magazine but would like to know more, and secondly those who already have a set and want to find it easier to locate specific features.

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