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Gloucestershire in Print

Gloucs

Founded back in 1870 Gloucestershire has been well served by histories although, like almost all the counties, an up to date one is somewhat overdue. The three I have begin with one from 1949, The History of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, by Samuel Canynge Caple. The other two came out within seven years of each other in 1983 and 1990. They are Graham Parker’s Gloucestershire Road and the Gloucestershire volume in the Christopher Helm series, written by the excellent David Green, although if I had to express a preference I would go for the Parker book.

In terms of biographies one Gloucestershire player, Dr WG Grace, has been the subject of as many books as anyone in the game’s history, save Donald Bradman, and would justify a bibliography on his own. I do not therefore intend to include every major publication about Grace, but will dwell on him nonetheless.

The first biography of WG appeared in 1887 from William Methven Brownlee. That was followed by three autobiographical books. The first came in 1895, The History of a Hundred Centuries, concentrating on that remarkable landmark. ‘WG’, a bulky book actually written by Arthur Porritt, was published in 1899. WG’s Little Book, as the title suggests much slimmer, came out a decade later.

WG died in 1915, and in the difficult times caused by the Great War little emerged initially, but 1919 saw a project that had been worked on for some time come to fruition, The Memorial Biography of WG Grace, a book which has aged rather well. With contributions from all of the great and the good of the game the book was nominally edited by Lords Harris and Hawke as well as Home Gordon, although in truth it was Home Gordon who put in most of the hard work.

Others biographies appeared from time to time but the next I will reference is AA Thomson’s The Great Cricketer, which was published in 1957. Social historian Eric Midwinter wrote WG Grace: His Life and Times, a book which, following its release in 1981, was the first biography of Grace that I read.

The best, perhaps, of the biographies of Grace is that by Simon Rae, which much impressed our reviewer. WG Grace: A Life and which hit the bookstores in 1998.  The centenary of WG’s death in 2015 brought two more, Richard Tomlinson’s Amazing Grace, and Anthony Meredith’s In The Steps of WG, both which approached their subject in interesting ways.

The statistics of WG’s career have attracted much interest and his long time ‘super fan’, solicitor G Neville Weston, privately published a statistical record, WG Grace: The Great Cricketer, in 1973. Later, in 1988 and backed by the ACS, JR Webber produced The Chronicle of WG, a huge book and a record of WG’s cricket at every level.

Also worthy of mention on the subject of WG are three other slim publications. The first is The Graces, a joint biography of the three Grace brothers, WG, EM and GF, that was written by Canynge Caple and AG Powell and published by the short lived Cricket Book Society in 1948. Then there are two excellent monographs by Irving Rosenwater, WG Grace: A Footnote to History and WG Grace: A Leviathan Was He, published in 1994 and 1997 respectively.

Whilst on the subject of EM Grace there is, in addition to the Canynge Caple/Powell book one full biography, published in 1916. Edgar Mills Grace: Cricketer is the only biography written by the eminent historian Frederick Ashley-Cooper. I have heard rumours at various times over the years of another book appearing on the life of ‘The Coroner’, but not for some time.

Two contemporaries of WG are also the subject of books and one, Gilbert Jessop, of several. Jessop wrote an autobiography in the days when very few cricketers did, in 1922, A Cricketer’s Log. CJ Britton then wrote GL Jessop in 1935, a pretty modest biography, before Gerald Brodribb published The Croucher in 1974 – surely that was the definitive volume? Not a bit of it as David Battersby has recently added two more volumes to the stock of human knowledge on Jessop, his self-published The Early Life of Gilbert Jessop and Gilbert Jessop at Cheltenham College appearing in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

We also have, thanks to Battersby, another biography of a teammate of the Graces, professional bowler William Woof. Woofy emerged from the House of Battersby in 2018.

Only two men, Wilfred Rhodes and ‘Tich’ Freeman, took more career wickets than the Gloucestershire left arm spinner Charlie Parker whose career lasted from 1903 to 1935. An awkward and interesting character the lack of a full biography of Parker is surprising, but perhaps that is because the extended pen portrait that appears of him in David Foot’s Cricket’s Unholy Trinity is such a good one.

Next on the Gloucestershire list is a man who may not match WG in the bibliography stakes, but nonetheless Walter Hammond is one of the most written about English cricketers. Foot’s 1996 biography Wally Hammond – The Reasons Why is one of the very best cricketing biographies there is.

Before Foot Gerald Howat and Ronald Mason had written biographies, both simply titled Walter Hammond, in 1984 and 1962. Hammond himself had contributed Cricket, My Destiny and Cricket, My World, in 1946 and 1948 respectively and Derek Lodge in 1990, so sandwiched between the Howat and Foot biographies, wrote The Test Match Career of Walter Hammond, so another biography albeit one with a limited brief.

In 1948 two young batsmen started their Gloucestershire careers. Both played for England although Tom Graveney was capped 79 times as against Arthur Milton’s six. Graveney, who was to leave Gloucestershire for neighbours Worcestershire in controversial circumstances wrote three autobiographies. The first of them, Cricket Through The Covers, appeared in 1958 whilst he was at Gloucestershire. Later in life he was the subject of biographies by Christopher Sandford (Tom Graveney – The Biography) and Andy Murtagh (Touched by Greatness), in 1992 and 2015 respectively.

As for Milton he was the last survivor of a group of twelve men, who will surely never now be joined by anyone else, who played cricket and soccer for England. Sadly he died four years before the publication of a biography by Mike Vockins appeared, a book which is a fitting tribute to Milton’s achievements.

Off spinner ‘Bomber’ Wells published an autobiography in 1981, a limited edition of 500 copies being cleverly titled Well, Well, Wells. One More Run, first published in 2000 and then in a revised edition in 2020 is a masterly book by Stephen Chalke which is neither biography nor assisted autobiography, but one way or the other is definitely Bomber’s book, and is certainly on the subject of Gloucestershire cricket.

Gloucestershire’s wicketkeeper in the late 1950s and through the 1970s was Barrie Meyer, and he was later a Test match umpire. Andrew Hignell assisted Meyer to get his story into print in 2006. The title is Getting It Right.

Another Gloucestershire stalwart turned international umpire was David Shepherd, who began his county career in 1965. His autobiography, Shep, was published in 2001. Another man who began his Gloucestershire career in 1965 was Mike Procter, and the South African was still playing for the county a decade and a half later. There have been three Procter autobiographies. The first, Cricket Buccaneer, was published in South Africa in 1974. That was followed in 1981 by Mike Procter and Cricket and finally, in 2017, Caught in the Middle appeared.

Brian Brain spent most of his county career with Worcestershire, and there must have been occasions when, without ever getting the call, he must have been discussed at England selection meetings. He saw out the last few years of his career with Gloucestershire and never wrote an autobiography, but he did publish a diary of his 1981 summer in the West Country, Another Day, Another Match, so on the strength of that he gets in here.

And then there was one, RC ‘Jack’ Russell, an artist both with brushes or behind the stumps. Unleashed appeared in 1997, and one or two of his collections of artwork have included autobiographical elements as well.

Which brings us to the end of the biographies and autobiographies, although I will mention three other publications before moving on. Back in the 1990s West Country journalist Richard Walsh took to publishing occasional monographs on a variety of subjects and three of them concerned Gloucestershire players. One was on Charles Barnett, an attacking opening batsmen either side of World War Two, another subject was Cecil ‘Sam’ Cook, who continued the county’s tradition of producing top class slow left arm bowlers in the years after the War, and finally Jack Davey, a willing workhorse of a left arm seamer from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The writers were Andy Gibson on Barnett, and Alan Gibson for Cook and Davey.

Moving on to other books about Gloucestershire cricket it is important to mention Nico Craven, a Gloucestershire supporter who lived in Cumbria but made an annual trip to the Cheltenham Festival and, invariably, wrote of his experiences in what amounts to around thirty self-published books on the game.

The Tempus 100 Greats book on Gloucestershire appeared in 2002, and was written by Andrew Hignell who, two years later, was also the man in charge of the Gloucestershire edition in that publisher’s Fifty of the Finest Matches series. A dozen years earlier something similar, Gloucestershire Cricketing Greats by Dean Hayes, had been published. Hayes also, in 1998, edited the Gloucestershire book in the Sutton Publishing Images of Sport series.

There are three other books that I am going to mention that deal with different subjects. Lillywhite’s Legacy by Grenville Simons was published in 2004, and is a substantial history of the famous Cheltenham Festival. Simply Glorious by Andy Stockhausen was a celebration of the summers of 1999 and 2000 over which five of the six domestic one day tournaments were won by Gloucestershire. Third of the three is Charles Wood’s entertaining miscellany Bats, Pads and Gladiators, published in 2012.

Before I move on to my two choices for the future I will mention the Gloucestershire Museum which began with four splendid booklets in 2019 on the subjects of Gloucestershire cricketers killed in the Great War, a proposed tour of India by the county that was pencilled in for 1937/38, the story of a West of England XI that played during the Second World War and a monograph on the curious and most certainly obscure subject of CH Greenway, who appeared three times for the county in 1890 and 1891.

And finally, my nomination of two additional books on Gloucestershire cricket is, in relative terms, quite straightforward. The first would be a biography of the county’s captain of the 1930s, Beverley Lyon and any writer interested could do a lot worse than make that a double, dealing also with Bev’s older brother Dar, who enjoyed a long career with Somerset. In addition, although he was not a First Class cricketer, from what little I know the pair’s father was quite a character. My second choice would be another family biography. This time the focus would be Charlie Barnett, who played as an amateur before turning professional, made two Ashes hundreds in the 1930s and ‘enjoyed’ a difficult relationship with Wally Hammond. His father (again Charlie) and two uncles also played for the county, all three as amateurs.

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