Sir Home Gordon Bart.Martin Chandler |
The In 1631 King Charles 1 created a Baronetcy of Embo, Sutherland for Sir John Gordon. At the time the purpose of the reward of a Baronetcy was, effectively, to raise funds. The title was a hereditary one which passed down through legitimate male heirs. The Baronet was entitled to be referred to as Sir, and for his name to be suffixed by Bart. Although not a peer of the realm and thus entitled to a seat in the House of Lords a Baronet is nonetheless above a knighthood in rank.
Sir Home Seton Gordon was the eleventh Baronet and his only son, who succeeded to the title on his father’s death in 1906, the twelfth and last. Sir Home Seton Charles Montague Gordon was married twice, but had no children and therefore when he died in 1956 the Baronetcy was extinguished. The twelfth Baronet had the distinction of, very possibly, having watched more First Class cricket than any other man who has ever lived and, as Sir Home Gordon, was a well known cricket writer and statistician for many years.
Home was born in 1871. His first experience of cricket was his attendance at Prince’s Ground to see the 1878 Australians play the Gentlemen of England, although it seems to have been a couple of years after that he began to take an interest in events on the field. In any event he was certainly at the Lord’s Test in 1884, and for the rest of his long life did not miss a Test at the headquarters of the game. In 1934 he spent a total of 110 days watching First Class cricket, and passed the century in other years as well.
Part of the reason why Home watched so much cricket was that he was not an accomplished performer at the game he loved so much. Despite his longevity (he was 84 when he died) his health as a child, which he described as shockingly delicate, prevented him playing the game to any sort of standard. As an adult however he did play occasionally and Irving Rosenwater, thanks to whom we know most of what we now do of Home, tracked down seven matches in which he turned out for MCC between 1906 and 1912. Home did not bowl at all and on the seven occasions on which he got to the crease he recorded three ducks, was not out without opening his account three times, and in his other innings reached the giddy heights of just two before being dismissed.
Although Home spent three years at Eton he did not go to University. One thing Rosenwater sheds no light on is the family finances. When Home’s father died in 1906 his entire estate, left presumably to his widow, amounted to the equivalent of no more than around £80,000 by 2020 standards. When, many years later, Home’s mother died she left, on the same basis, approximately £20,000. Eton cannot have been cheap so, I assume, either a family trust contained the wealth, or another family member was involved, Home’s mother certainly came from wealthy stock in Brighton. In which case why did Home not go to university? Over his own life he was to amass a relative fortune, leaving his widow the equivalent of around £3 million when he died in 1956. As the last of the line it may be that all the trust monies came his way eventually, but he was also a successful man in his own right, and certainly does not seem to have fallen short of university standard on intellectual grounds.
In any event on leaving Eton in 1888 Home joined Charles Alcock, the proprietor and editor of Cricket – A Weekly Record of the Game, where he appears to have had some sort of Victorian internship. Certainly he claimed never to have been paid. From there however Home did go into paid journalism on a freelance basis. His success was such that in what he described as his best year, 1905, he earned the equivalent of £95,000. It is probably prudent to add at this point that what Home was not was a reporter. Never a man to spend time in press boxes his role was not really to write match reports. Always immaculately turned out and with a trademark carnation in his button hole Home was almost always in the stands or in the pavilion or committee rooms, passing his time with the great and the good of whichever ground he was at.
Something else which should be mentioned is that despite his devotion to cricket Home was not merely a cricket writer. Early in his career he had taken up senior executive roles in the fledgeling electricity industry. Another post he held was, between 1915 and 1924, as a director of what would appear to be a company with interests in the rubber industry in Malaysia. Most significant for cricketing bibliophiles however was his involvement with the publishers William and Norgate. Home joined as a partner in 1909 and, between 1923 and his retirement in 1926, was the Chairman of the company.
For a man so widely published in newspapers and magazine it is perhaps surprising that the first cricket title to appear from Home was not published until 1919, by which time he was almost fifty. The book is a famous one and, a good friend of WG Grace, was one which Home announced his intention to write within days of WG’s death in 1915. More than one hundred interviews and many, many items of correspondence later the book appeared four years on. By then the Lords Harris and Hawke had been added as joint editors, but there is no doubt but that Home put in all the hard work.
The Memorial Biography of Dr WG Grace is a well known book and it is not difficult to find copies even a century on. As well as the standard edition there was also a limited edition of 150 copies, although even that is not expensive. It is an odd one too as, other than being very slightly larger, the top edge being gilt and the free front endpaper recording the limitation it is identical to the standard book.
In a powerful chapter at the start of the book Home explains that his mission statement in putting the book together was to answer the question that would be asked by future generations as to Why WG Grace remains the Greatest Cricketer that ever was or ever will be? His own thoughts on that subject are illuminating and remain so today, as does the testimony of the many other witnesses that Home drew together and which form the bulk of the book. Despite the many subsequent biographies, one or two of them excellent, that have appeared on Grace down the years the Memorial Biography, or at least Chapter III, remains an excellent starting point even today.
Much of Home’s time away from cricket grounds was spent on the collection of cricket statistics, and he published three books on that subject, all entitled Cricket Form at a Glance and covering the years 1878-1902, 1901-1923, and finally 1878-1937, the books being published in 1903, 1924 and 1938. They are rarely consulted today and although they proved popular in their time even then it was recognised that they were not as accurate as they might have been. Home also had some strange quirks, must notably his insistence on producing figures for the midway point of the English summer and calculating them to 30 June, even if that date (as it did more often than not) fell part way through a match. With the post war arrival of Roy Webber Home as a statistician ceased to be an important figure.
In 1921 a book of fiction appeared from Home, That Test Match. It must have sold pretty well as copies still crop up with some regularity but, aimed at a school boy audience and with many of the characters based on his peers at Eton I suspect that, as cricket literature goes, it is nothing special.
His elevation to the Chair of Williams and Norgate meant a spike in that publisher’s cricketing output in the mid 1920s. The first book to appear was an autobiography from Home’s great friend Lord Hawke. Whilst his Lordship must clearly have had some involvement in the writing of Recollections and Reminiscences it seems likely that the book was, virtually in its entirety, written by Home. It was generally well received but if he was in truth the author there was, in his reviewing the book for The Cricketer, a significant breach of writer’s etiquette on Home’s part.
As well as assisting Hawke into print Williams and Norgate also published Cricket Memories, the autobiography of the Middlesex amateur Edward Rutter. There was also an instructional book from Lt-Col W Shirley, How to Play Cricket, and a collection of essays from ‘Shrimp’ Leveson-Gower entitled Cricket Personalities. Another was Winchester College Cricket by EB Noel, and finally the Chairman himself edited Eton v Harrow at Lord’s, an attractive limited edition which comprised a total of 650 copies, 325 in the greenish blue Eton colours, and 325 in darker Harrow blue.
By 1939 Home was 68 and, on the eve of war, Background of Cricket was published. The book is a look back at Home’s long involvement in the game and the cricketers he had seen. There are some autobiographical passages in the book although it is mainly Home’s take on the cricket he had watched and the men he had known. Home was, as he would be the first to admit, no Cardus, but the book is certainly entertaining if not always accurate.
Another feature of Home’s personality is a willingness to quote in full what he was told so much so that, in order to avoid the risk of being embarrassed in his columns, some cricketers were very careful about they said to Home. He could certainly be indiscreet, and caused some consternation amongst George Lohmann’s descendants in describing the famous Surrey bowler, who had died of tuberculosis in 1901 at the age of only 36, as splendidly formed and very handsome. Like so many consumptives he was not only hot tempered but temperamentally ardent. Before he went to South Africa he told me that no matter how good a day he might have had at the Oval his admiration for the fair sex was undiminished, which certainly helped to shorten his life.
There was to be one more book from the pen of Home Gordon after the war. Although he lived in London for a good deal of his adult life he always had a close connection with Sussex for whom he carried out many roles in his later years including, in 1948, the Presidency of the club. In 1950 he authored the Sussex volume in what was intended to be a complete series of modest county histories from Convoy Publications.
Sir Home Gordon Bart died at his home in Rottingean in Sussex, unexpectedly in 1956 at the age of 84. His last published work had appeared in The Cricketer only a few months before. At his own request there was no memorial service and no mourning. He had been married twice and, having been widowed in 1945 after almost fifty years of marriage, he was survived by his second wife. A good few years younger than her husband Lady Katherine Gordon lived on to see her tenth decade before, at 91, she died in 1983.