This Wild Darkness

 

macaulay 3

 

“Another century by Arthur Mitchell made our second fixture with Middlesex memorable, but something else made it more memorable still, George Macaulay reappeared in our side after a long absence. Rheumatism had been crippling him, but he fought against it gallantly, and I shall always picture him making that speedy, resolute run to the crease, and his fighting face as he watched for the result of his medium pace bowling that fizzed the ball like a boy’s top.

It was the first time I had played on the same side as “Mac”. His savage appeals for lbw echo in my ears to this day : poignantly, I may confess, because he had a fatal illness during the war, during which, like the Essex fast bowler, Kenneth Farnes – ill-fated too – he became an airman.

A rough diamond and a demon at the same time – that was George Macaulay, England cricketer in his glittering prime, but always the Yorkshire “Tyke” through and through.” (Len Hutton)

Five cricketers who represented England died on active service in World War 2. Best remembered is Hedley Verity, who died as a result of wounds sustained in action in Caserta, Italy in 1943. Geoffrey Legge, who died in a flying accident in 1940, was an amateur who had played for England on tours to South Africa and New Zealand. Maurice Turnball, another amateur, was a double international who also played Rugby Union for Wales, and was killed shortly after the Normandy landings of 1944. The others were two of the most intriguing, but somehow elusive, characters of the inter-war generation : George Macaulay, who played for Yorkshire between 1920 and 1935, and won eight England caps, and Ken Farnes, who appeared for Cambridge University and Essex from 1930 to 1939, and was capped eighteen times.

Neither played a leading role in the story of English cricket between the wars, but they hover around the edges of a lot of narratives. Macaulay has never had a biography, though the blogger Old Ebor has recently done much to remedy that in a series of posts. Ken Farnes both wrote a memoir (‘Tours and Tests‘ ) and has had one written about him (‘Ken Farnes : Diary of an Essex Master‘, by David Thurlow) (neither of which I have managed to read).

Death can make strange bed-fellows (as a glance at any page of newspaper obituaries will reveal). Macaulay and Farnes may have been at different poles in terms of temperament, but they had some things in common. Both were serving as Pilot Officers at the time of their deaths : Farnes was killed when his plane crashed during a night-flying exercise over Chipping Norden in Oxfordshire on 20th October 1941 ; Macaulay is reported to have died of pneumonia at the naval base at Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands on 7th December 1940. Both, one imagines, died in darkness.

Though Farnes played as an amateur and Macaulay as a professional, neither fitted the stereotype of the toffee-nosed dilettante or horny-handed son of toil (by the 1920s, few players did). Farnes grew up in Leytonstone, Essex, the son of the Company Accountant for Truman’s Brewery and was educated at the Royal Liberty School in Gidea Park (a Grammar School that had been established in 1921). Macaulay’s Mother (his Father died when he was young) owned a hotel in Thirsk and sent him to board at Barnard Castle (a recently established minor public school). Both had spells working in banks : Farnes unhappily, Macaulay more successfully (his chucking-in of a promising career in banking, at the age of 23, to play professional cricket seems to have been an early example of his life-long propensity to queer his own pitch).

Macaulay was primarily a bowler, though precisely what kind of bowler he was is hard to picture, belonging, as he did, to a type that is now largely extinct. He is usually described as bowling off-spin, though he began as an out-and-out paceman. In his prime he seems to have bowled seam with the new ball, then switched to medium pace off-breaks. On drying wickets he could be devastating, and returned some startling figures, particularly against the weaker counties. Despite this, he seems to have been more memorable for his character than his bowling.

Macaulay flits in and out of Neville Cardus’s accounts of the Roses matches (which I discussed in my last post) like some kind of evil spirit :

“Moving bitterly along as though a battleaxe and not a cricket ball were in his grip … the image of lean enmity … bowling like a fury crowned with snakes … his left hand wore a bandage, which somehow added to his customary aspect of lean, joyless antagonism … consistently agile and hostile … again did Macaulay make a ghoulish catch … antagonistic … his third ball was blocked by Iddon ; Macaulay pounced on it and threatened to run Iddon out ; Iddon was a foot behind the crease … Macaulay fielded with a ghoulish brilliance and threw the ball in and narrowly missed striking Hopwood in the small of the back …”

(To avert any suspicion of Lancastrian bias, Cardus’s Yorkshire equivalent, J.M. Kilburn, described him as “antagonism personified” and “malevolent”.)

The most startling description occurs in ‘Express Deliveries’, by Bill Bowes, his Yorkshire team-mate in the latter stages of his career :

“George Macaulay was devilish. From a few feet away he was devilishly good-looking, too – but, coming closer, you saw lines and wrinkles which should not have marred the face of a man of his years. His wit, always devilish, had a razor edge which sometimes cut deep into his victims.”

These recurrent descriptions of him as “devilish” or “demonic”, coupled with the references to his dark good looks and wit, make him sound like some flannelled Byron, scornful, cynical, defiant, with, perhaps, a touch of Heathcliff (on his first meeting with Jack Hobbs, his reaction was the Heathcliffean “I’ve heard about this Master. Well I’ll show him who’s the Master!”).

Bowes goes on to say :

“As a bowler there was no harder trier in the world, but he expected no less from his fieldsmen, and when he sent them into suicidal positions they had to choose between their fear of sudden death by decapitation or Macaulay’s tongue. They preferred sudden death, but never experienced it – at least not from Macaulay’s bowling.”

and recounts an anecdote to illustrate Macaulay’s sense of humour. Bowes was fielding at mid-off to Macaulay’s bowling. A half-volley was driven off the meat of the bat, hit him on the forehead and briefly knocked him out.

“I saw stars and after spinning round sank gracefully to the turf. When I sat up I saw Arthur Booth convulsed with laughter as he chased after the ball. As he bent to pick it up, having tears – the unsympathetic sort – in his eyes, he accidentally kicked the ball over the boundary. Mac also found my discomfiture amusing.”

The bowler was so amused that he was still convulsed with laughter when he came to deliver the next ball, so much so that it slipped from his fingers and trickled towards the batsman, who hit it for four.

“Mac was still laughing. “It’s all very well laughing,” remarked Bill Reeves, “but supposing it had been an inch or two lower – it might have hit him in the glasses and blinded him.” Mac came to earth with a bump. He suddenly remembered that it ought to have been a catch … The laugh vanished. His eyes narrowed. His jaw became taut. “Hit him in the glasses!” he said feelingly, “it ought to have killed him! And sither,” he shouted to Arthur Booth, “get that grin off thi face, an’ get fieldin’ them.”

None of the other illustrations of his wit (though everyone remarks on it) seem much more amusing. For instance, Herbert Sutcliffe, in ‘For England and Yorkshire’, writes “If I had kept a record of Macaulay’s “cracks” on and off the field there would have been a most amusing book to be written. Macaulay has a readier wit than anyone I have ever known …” but offers, as an example :

“Another story has to do with a game in which he was the victim of some indifferent slip-fielding. Catch after catch was dropped off him. Macaulay, exasperated beyond anything, at length cried out: ‘I’m going to make a present of a set of slips to Madame Tussaud’s.’

The two most flattering descriptions of his character came from R.C. Robertson-Glasgow and Dudley Carew (both, admittedly, written soon after his death, in the days when it was considered unseemly to speak ill of the recently deceased). After admitting that “he could be subtle or violent”, “Crusoe” goes on to say :

“As a man he was an original ; fiercely independent, witty, argumentative, swift to joy and anger. He had pleasure in cracking a convention or cursing an enemy ; an enemy, I mean, in the sense of someone or something which stood in the way of what he had set his heart to achieve. That hostile object might be great or small, human or inanimate. A batsman was being obstinate at the wicket, and Macaulay would rake his own armoury for every new weapon to surprise, lever, trick or blast the enemy away. A cricket-bag came between him and his blazer hanging on a peg ; and he’d kick it and tell it a truth or two, then laugh. He was a glorious opponent ; a great cricketer ; and a companion in a thousand.

Carew wrote of the Yorkshire team of the 1920s that they “sailed under colours that had something suspiciously like the skull-and-crossbones about them … They gave no quarter and asked for none, and, if at times their tactics verged on the questionable, the character they brought to their buccaneering almost redeemed its lack of scruple. [They were] not so much a team as a kind of commando unit” and identified Macaulay as a prime mover in this :

Macaulay … was capable of using a turning pitch, and the whole, spare body of the man would stiffen like a pointing dog when a ball did something unexpected. Round the wicket Macaulay would go then and bowl his off-breaks to a short-leg field – and magnificently hostile and aggressive his attack would be. The whole man was highly strung, not nervous exactly, for he had too tough a kernel for that, but impatient and abrupt with repressed energy. He did not suffer fools gladly, and could be devastating with a glance and an unacademic phrase, but he was a grand friend and a man who could do things other than play cricket. He had a passion for gramophone records, possessing a fine singing voice, and knew the Gilbert and Sullivan operas backwards – and he had other curious and unexpected accomplishments.

No one seeing Macaulay bowl could mistake him for a man of lazy tolerance and insufficient guts. He seemed to project not only the ball but his whole combatant nature down the pitch ; there was a threat in the very way he picked the ball up, and what a field he was to his own bowling!

I remember one instance of it which was the more shattering for the contrast the violence of the act made with the surroundings. It was in the Parks at Oxford on one of those days which make May a summer month. …. there was no particular crisis in the game, and one of the Oxford batsman, Hill-Wood, I think it was, played forward quietly. It was a gentle stroke in keeping with the ground and the afternoon, and the batsman must have followed it up a step or two. The peace was shattered with a violent abruptness. Macaulay, leaping down the pitch with agility and concentrated, vindictive presence of mind, seized on the ball, hurled it at the wicket, knocked the middle stump out of the ground, and yelled an appeal that sounded like an expletive.”

In his account of this incident Bowes adds that Macaulay, as a “send-off”, added “You can laugh that one off in the pavilion!” (Hills-Wood, or whoever it was, had earlier provoked him by laughing).

A final witness for the defence is Macaulay’s team-mate and friend Herbert Sutcliffe, who described him (while he was still alive) as “one of the game’s most remarkable personalities. When he is all out, he gives so much of himself to his task that, at times, his opponents have misunderstood his actions after the ball has been delivered. I can assure all Yorkshire’s opponents that our great bowler never has any ill-feeling in his work. He is a militant type of bowler and all the better for that ; but he is quite harmless. Meet him off the field and you will soon discover what a charming fellow he can be, and what a sharp-pointed wit he has.”

(In other words, he was all right when you got to know him.)

The feeling remains that there is some mystery about Macaulay that goes beyond his behaviour on the field. He is not the only bowler to have thrown the ball dangerously near batsmen in a bid to run them out, have a few words with them on their way back to the pavilion, speak harshly to fieldsmen who have dropped catches off his bowling, or use bad language (judging by scattered references to his “cussing”, a few expletives have been deleted in his reported dialogue). The same could be said of Steve Kirby, or even James Anderson, and neither would merit the description “devilish”, “demonic” or “ghoulish”. For the moment, we must leave him decently cloaked in euphemism.

Farnes

 

If Macaulay was the demon of inter-war cricket, Kenneth Farnes was its angel, although of the exterminating rather than the ineffectual variety. No-one seems to have had a bad word to say about him.  Hutton describes him as “tall, strong, handsome, and brainy”, Carew as “one of the nicest, gentlest and most modest of men”, Gideon Haigh as “a gentle and charming man hard to rouse to aggression”. Robertson-Glasgow, having paid tribute to his “generous nature and his quiet but humorous talk”, has this to say : “his temperament, except when aroused by some strong party antagonism, was easy and serene. In the blood fights of cricket he excelled, and then his rivals faded from comparison”.

Farnes was (according to Carew) “England’s best, not to say only, fast bowler when Larwood’s greatness was ended by injury”. 6’5” and exceptionally fit (he was interested in “physical culture”, and had a party trick of rippling his abdominal muscles)

“he had, although so different in style, the same penetrative power, the same ability to make batsmen play the involuntary, reflex stroke. But, and it is a considerable but, only on occasions. He was like some engine of fabulous gear which only on rare occasions could wind itself up to its full might. In these moments of inspiration he was a devastating force with that great height, that long, accelerating run-up, and his arm coming over high. The good length ball would get up abominably, and the slips lived in a perpetual state of expectation.”

One of those “rare occasions” was the Varsity Match of 1933, when Farnes, bowling for Cambridge, gave an English crowd their first opportunity to observe ‘bodyline’ in action. On the truncated first day, bowling to a field that included four short-legs, he failed to take a wicket, but did hit David Walker, the Oxford opener, in the ribs (‘The Times’, unimpressed, dismissed his opening spell as “an arrant waste of time”). On the second day, employing the same tactics, he had Viv Jenkins caught down the leg-side and struck the fast bowler Richard Tindall a nasty blow, then yorked him next ball ; the Oxford no.11 Oldfield was bowled first ball by a delivery that had deflected off his jaw. On the last day, Farnes “ripped through Oxford’s top order”, hitting the opener Townsend in the neck, with the result that he collapsed on to his stumps.

E.W. Swanton later reminisced “I can still hear the ball thudding around Pieter van der Bijl’s ribs and Pieter giving great groans. You could hear him in the Tavern.” Farnes admitted, amiably “My bowling relied to a certain extent on intimidation”, but that he could see “little reason not to try to use a method that had proved successful on an MCC tour”. (This exhibition did something to change English opinions about the legitimacy of fast leg theory.)

A year earlier, playing for Essex at Scarborough (when it is likely that his path crossed with Macaulay’s), his intimidatory tactics had met with less success. On the first day, Essex had made 325, and, according to Herbert Sutcliffe, had seemed unusually unconcerned at being bounced by Bill Bowes. In the evening session, according to Sutcliffe

“It was deemed inadvisable for us to open with the usual pair, and our skipper sent in Arthur Mitchell and Verity to face the bowling. I don’t think I shall ever forget the pasting Arthur, who took most of the bowling, got from Nichols and Farnes – Farnes in particular. They bowled well enough to get three or four wickets, but Mitchell, who, as I have told you before, is a rare fighter, set his teeth into his work and he stayed”.

The next morning, “Ticker” (who could never be accused of a lack of physical courage)having been prised from the crease, along with Verity and a second nightwatchman, Maurice Leland joined Sutcliffe, and, in response to another assault from Farnes, they went on the offensive. According to Sutcliffe

“We let it go and it came off for us. Over a hundred runs were taken off half a dozen overs … of course it was a sheer “blind”. On another day Farnes would have had our wickets before we had got going – reckless efforts such as those only come off once in fifty times.”

That evening, Bill Bowes recalled

“I saw Farnes in the Spa Ballroom … he was not dancing but was sitting lonely and miserable in the foyer. I sat beside him. ‘Now, Ken’ I asked, what do you think of county cricket?’ He looked away. ‘I shall never make a bowler’ he said slowly. ‘Did you see how they hit me?’ And in his great disappointment he took out his handkerchief and cried.”

In spite of this setback, Farnes went on to have many good days, particularly, as Robertson-Glasgow says, in the “blood fights of cricket”. He took ten wickets on his debut against Australia in 1934, 6-96 at the MCG in 1936, and made two memorable appearances for the Gentlemen against the Players. In 1936, he bowled Gimblett, Hardstaff and Hammond in quick succession to reduce the Players to 36-4, and, in 1938, he took 8-34 and 3-60 to secure the Gents their second win since the First War. He also knocked Bill Edrich out : as Edrich remembered it

I tried to play back, a defensive back stroke while turning my head and lifting my hands. The next thing I knew someone was saying smoothly ‘Have some water, there’s no hurry’”.

After graduation, Farnes worked as a schoolmaster at Worksop College and was only available to play in the school holidays. Like Macaulay, he was a man of “curious and unexpected accomplishments”, whose mind was rarely entirely on cricket. His obituary in ‘Wisden’ noted that his interests included painting and music ; Gideon Haigh, in his suggestive essay ‘Fast Action Hero’, traces his increasing preoccupation with poetry and esoteric philosophies (as I have previously observed in relation to Tyson and Snow, fast bowlers are often the most poetical of creatures). Among his interests, according to Haigh, were the orientalist poet James Elroy Flecker, the Irish novelist George Moore, the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore and J.W. Dunne.

Dunne was an extraordinary character, who began as a pioneer in aeronautical engineering, made some important advances in the art of fly-fishing, before devoting himself to speculation about the nature of time. Inspired by his experiences of what he took to be pre-cognitive dreams, he developed a theory of “serial time”. His theories, first and most famously, expressed in ‘An Experiment in Time’, met with a muted reception from philosophers and scientists, but found a more receptive audience with imaginative writers, most obviously J.B. Priestley, but also his friend H.G. Wells, Tolkien and Lewis, Borges, Nabokov and, apparently, Ken Farnes.

Farnes was inclined to what Haigh refers to as ‘a kind of muted mysticism’ which made him capable, even, of experiencing a mild epiphany while fielding at Leyton :

“It was there too that a day’s fielding in the late summer heat brought about in me an amazing evening’s contentment. I cannot explain the reason – just positive well-being really. I had not done well myself, for Kent had thumped our bowling, but it was just the end of the season and I still remember the glow of pure contentment that I felt that evening.”

In his diary he recorded five objectives for the tour of South Africa in 1938-9, none of which related to his bowling, but included :

To remain conscious of my inner, natural, more realised self instead of being overcome by successive and accumulative environments experienced on tour.”

(Ben Duckett might usefully have done something similar before touring Australia.)

He also admitted to feeling ‘detached’, ‘disgruntled with myself’ and aspired to ‘a subjugation of self’ that would enable him to achieve ‘the required metaphysical state’. Haigh goes on to say

“As well as an expression of patriotism, then, Farnes’s enlistment in the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of war smacks of a continuation of a search for fulfilment, for a transcendent cause or duty . In ‘Gitanjali’, Tagore asks : ‘On the day when death knock at thy door what wilt thou offer him?’. Farnes, perhaps, wished it to be more than wickets.”

He appears to be hinting that Farnes had some sort of death wish, or, at least, a highly developed desire to ‘slip the surly bonds of earth’. He volunteered to train for a role as a night-flyer, at a time when night-fighters, heavily-armoured but cumbersome planes designed to combat enemy bombers, and with a poor safety record, were in their infancy. Within a month of returning from training in Canada, he crashed his, while apparently attempting a landing, and was killed.

Ten months earlier George Macaulay had met his end at Sullom Voe

The young Len Hutton had been present at the end of Macaulay’s career, in 1934.

“The other happening in the Maidstone match was the unexpected dropping out of George Macaulay after the opening day. He had been stricken during Sunday by a recurrence of the serious illness which kept him out of cricket for so long : and, as it sadly proved, although nobody knew until later, this was for him really the beginning of the end. Adverse fate never ceased to haunt him thereafter.”

Macaulay had always seemed susceptible to self-sabotage. In making him ‘Bowler of the Year’ in its 1924 edition, ‘Wisden’ ended by noting “His fault is that he is apt to become depressed and upset when things go wrong’, and this accusation, together with the perception that he was something of a wet track bully, dogged him throughout his career. Not just depressed, of course, but angry. His precise role in the notorious game against Middlesex at Bramall Lane in 1924, which led to Middlesex temporarily suspending fixtures between the two counties, is not clear, though it seems to have involved abusing the Umpires and the opposition, as well as inciting crowd trouble.  It led to Lord Hawke pronouncing that “he had only himself to blame” for being left out of the side that toured Australia that Winter.

Macaulay’s performances declined as the decade progressed. He had a resurgence in form towards the end of his career, which saw him recalled to play for England in 1933, but he was increasingly prone to injuries and plagued by rheumatism (like Maurice Leland’s lumbago, this sounds a vaguely comical complaint, but it clearly caused him a good deal of pain). His benefit in 1931 raised only £1,633 (less than any of his Yorkshire contemporaries, suggesting that he was not a particular favourite with the crowds). In line with the protocol instituted by Lord Hawke, when he discovered that most of his old professionals had spent the proceeds of their benefits on drinking themselves to death, the capital from this was invested and the player received only the interest on it.

Macaulay had originally been a joint partner in Herbert Sutcliffe’s very profitable sports equipment business, but had quickly tired of it and allowed Sutcliffe to buy him out. After retiring from cricket, he set up a business selling a patent rheumatism cure that he claimed had helped him with his own complaint. When this failed, he opened a sports shop on his own account. When this failed too he was forced to declare for bankruptcy, in 1937.

During his bankruptcy hearing he went down fighting : he complained bitterly that his businesses would not have failed if he had received the proceeds of his benefit, was forced to deny that he spent his time “drinking in public houses”, and had to admit that he had never kept any accounts. In a last show of wit, he claimed that his rheumatism cure had been a failure because it was too successful, and managed to alienate the Official Receiver in the same way that he had once irritated Umpires, batsmen, his team-mates and Lord Hawke :

Macaulay : May I speak, Sir?

The Official Receiver : If you get across with people it is not going to do you any good in life. Don’t say anything which is going to spoil your future.

Some good advice, which had come too late. His arguments were rejected and he was declared bankrupt ; his offer to amend his will (and that of his wife) so that the proceeds of his benefit would be paid to his creditors after his death was accepted. Reluctantly, in spite of his rheumatism, he returned to playing cricket professionally, for Ebbw in Wales, and later in the Lancashire League.

When I originally thought of writing this piece, it seemed to me, as I have said, that there was some mystery about Macaulay, and something unexplained about what had driven him to what must have been a cold and lonely death in mid-Winter at Sullom Voe. His motives for joining up seemed quixotic : 41 at the outbreak of war, he would have been under no obligation to do so. In fact, with professional cricket suspended for the duration, and his businesses failed, it may simply have been the need to make a living.  He must also have been hoping for a posting slightly nearer home.

Oddly, and in a way that might have interested J.W. Dunne, between beginning writing this piece and reaching the end, a solution to the mystery of Macaulay’s last days has been offered by ‘Old Ebor’. Macaulay, he has discovered, did not die of pneumonia, but of ‘cardiac arrest brought on by alcoholic toxaemia’. He had, apparently, been drinking heavily over a period of ten days and had been admitted to the sick quarters in a comatose condition, where he died ; the medical officer who signed his death certificate was of the opinion that he had been a chronic alcoholic for ten years.

‘Old Ebor”s researches show that Macaulay’s role was that of ‘Messing Officer’, which would have meant that he was in charge of the squadron’s supply of alcohol.  One pictures him, cold, in pain, oppressed by darkness, and, as Hutton said, “adverse fate“, drinking his way through the lot, in a final act of je m’en foutisme.  He must have begun on about his birthday, on the 7th December, and may have been planning to have finished it off at Christmas.

These facts emerged when his unfortunate wife, Edith, who had already signed away what should have been her inheritance to pay her husband’s debts, applied for a military pension but was refused, on the grounds that he had not died on active service. His creditors, presumably, received the lump sum from his benefit on his death. As a grim, subsiduary, irony, the measure that Hawke had paternalistically intended to discourage his players from drinking themselves to death seems to have helped to drive one of them to do precisely that.

I call this a solution, but it is no solution, and, perhaps, there is no mystery, beyond the everyday mysteries of the human heart, and the futility of biography. The bottle may have been Macaulay’s chosen means of self-destruction, but the demons that drove him to rage against the surly bonds that Farnes yearned to rise above remain as unknowable as they did at the beginning. I doubt whether either, for all Macaulay’s wit and Farnes’s philosophy, ever quite knew themselves.

**************************************************************

Gideon Haigh’s essay on Farnes was published in ‘Silent Revolutions’ (Aurum, 2007) and is available online here – Fast Action Hero

‘Old Ebor”s posts about Macaulay begin here

Books quoted from include :

Express Deliveries / Bill Bowes. (Sportsman’s Book Club, 1958)

To the Wicket / Dudley Carew (Chapman & Hall, 1950)

For Yorkshire and England / Herbert Sutcliffe (Edward Arnold, 1935)

Cricket Prints / R.C. Robertson-Glasgow (Sportsman’s Book Club, 1951)

The Roses Matches 1919-1939 / Neville Cardus (Souvenir, 1982)

(The title is borrowed from Harold Brodkey’s ‘This Wild Darkness : the Story of my Death’.)

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Nick’s Roughs Run the Coventry : the Spirit of Cricket in 1788

Having traced my cricketing lineage as far back as my Great-Grandfather, can I beat on any further back into the past?  The simple answer is no. (It could be objected, before proceeding, that I might as well simply trace the evolution of cricket in the Midlands without positing the putative presence of some ancestor, but I find that, as with most sports, having a dog in the race makes things a little more interesting.)

George Mustin’s Father John, as we have seen, was a stonemason who had moved to Hinckley (via a spell in Birmingham) from his birthplace, Temple Grafton in Warwickshire.  His own Father (Thomas), also a stonemason, had spent his whole life in Temple Grafton.

"A picture postcard England that never was" Temple Grafton c. 2005

“A picture postcard England that never was” Temple Grafton c. 2005

His Father before him, also Thomas, lived in the same location and, it seems safe to assume, was another stonemason.  By this circuitous route we have arrived at a Mustin who might conceivably have been  present (as a “Warwickshire” supporter) at two matches between Leicester and Coventry in 1788-89 that have gained a place in histories of the game, the first because of the violence that resulted from it, the second because it led to a clarification of the Law regarding “hit the ball twice” (as well as some more violence).

In those early days matches between sides from different provincial cities were infrequent, initiated by an exchange of challenges in the pages of local newspapers and, usually, followed by  an exchange of insults afterwards. Relations between Leicester and Nottingham were particularly poor ; a match at Loughborough in 1781 had ended in the following circumstances (according to the Leicester Journal) –

“At the conclusion of the first day’s play, the Leicester Club went in against 50 notches only [i.e. they only needed 50 runs to win].  The Nottingham Club then began to bowl what are called Sheffield Bowls [probably deliberate wide balls], which every lover of the game have complained of as unmanly in the extreme.”

Following an obscure dispute, in which the Leicester umpire gave the Leicester batsman in and the Nottingham umpire gave him out, Nottingham (their time-wasting tactics having been rumbled) refused to play on and the match was abandoned.  Another proposed match was aborted before it had started (the Leicester players having already travelled to Nottingham) following a dispute about eligibility.  At this point the Leicester Club gave up on Nottingham and issued the following broadside in the Leicester Journal:

“After the Gentlemen of the Nottingham Club had repeatedly refused playing according to agreement, they were informed that the Leicester Society would from that Time consider them as too much below par, ever to merit their future notice.  This sufficiently accounts for the Spirited Challenge as above and further induces us to coincide with the general opinion (even of their own town) that they are almost without exception, meprisable.”

The author of this piece is likely to have been one John Nedham, described by E. E. Snow as “a capable writerand [who] as a satirist had no equal in his day in Leicester.”  He also seems to have been the prime mover behind the Leicester club and their usual Captain.  The club met in the White-Heads Inn ; the bulk of their players  being drawn from the Parish of St. Nicholas, they had acquired the nickname “Nick’s Roughs” and their likeliest occupation at this time would have been framework-knitters.

After their experiences with Nottingham, Leicester seem to have stuck to playing more amicable matches against other sides from Leicestershire until 1787, when a match was arranged against Coventry at Hinckley.  Hopes were high, as Nedham (presumably) wrote in the Leicester Journal :

“This match being made for 100 Gns. and each party in full practise, great expectations of a high treat were formed by the lovers of this manly diversion.  The laurel was also contended for by two distinct counties and prior to the commencement of the play each party entertained the highest opinion of each other’s characters as players and gentlemen.”

Unusually, the game seems to have proceeded without any serious dispute, Leicester (13 & 132) beating the visitors (23 & 77) by 1.00 on the second day.  Unfortunately, it all seems to have, in modern parlance, “kicked off in the pub afterwards“, as some of the visiting support (apparently miners from Bedworth and Nuneaton) turned nasty :

“Great animosities, we are sorry to say, seem to have arisen between the parties.  The Leicester youths having left the field of honour and retreated to the Bull Inn to regale themselves after the fatigues of the day, to their utter astonishment a large body of colliers made their appearance in the Market Place, using every gesture that was hostile and alarming.  The inhabitants of Hinckley became exceedingly alarmed and were obliged to have recourse to blows for their own defence .  About 4 o’clock there seemed but one alternative; the Hinckley shopkeepers having shut their windows, a scene of bloodshed ensued, scarcely to be credited in a country so entirely distinguished for acts of humanity.

At length the colliers were worsted, and several left upon the field of action to all appearances in the most dangerous situations ; the remainder were driven to the boundaries of their county.  At present we have not heard of any lives being lost, though the weapons used in the contest were the most dangerous and alarming.”

Perhaps surprisingly, a return fixture was arranged for the next year, this time at Lutterworth, when Nedham was at the centre of another dispute.  It is difficult to disentangle truth from propaganda here, as the Leicester Journal and the Coventry Mercury gave conflicting accounts, but what seems to have happened is that, towards the end of the first day’s play, Clarke, a Leicester batsman, prevented a ball he had previously hit from hitting his stumps by playing it again.  The Coventry Umpire gave this out and the Leicester Umpire, perhaps puzzled, did not protest.  At this, Nedham abused his own Umpire so badly that he resigned and decamped to Leicester, taking his “notcher” with him.

The next morning, having arranged for what he hoped would be a more amenable Umpire to take the other’s place, Nedham reappeared at the crease with Clarke.  When the Coventry players refused to play on and Brown (the new Umpire) declined to play ball, Nedham (according to the Coventry Gazette) abused the pair of them, shouting

“Clarke, keep to your stumps; damn ye Brown, why do you not call play?”

Yet another match appeared to have reached stalemate and it was decided to refer the matter to “the first reputed Cricket Society in the Kingdom“.  Fully four weeks later, the Society having given their opinion, Clarke was allowed to resume his innings and Leicester won the match by 28 runs (according to the Leicester Journal anyway – according to Derek Birley, Coventry walked off when they realised they were going to lose and tried to sue to get their original stake money back).

Such was cricket, then, at the end of the eighteenth century.  Can we, I wonder, detect any sign of the Spirit of Cricket here, that Spirit which, advanced opinion holds, is a mere hypocritical sham foisted on to a rough rural pursuit by proponents of the post-Arnoldian public school ethos?   (Some might think, in any case, that, given some of the aforementioned shenanigans, a little more gentility would have not have hurt).

Well, although no-one involved in these contests was a Gentleman in the technical sense, the rhetorical ideal of “gentlemanly” and “manly” sporting behaviour, not to mention the mock-heroic tone, could have come straight from the pen of the Rev. Pycroft himself.   And, although perhaps I have been watching too much non-league football recently, if we broaden the scope of the Spirit to include the whole of English sport, there is something very – perhaps all too – familiar here about the fierce local patriotism, the clubbability, the booze and – above all – the ineradicable need to appeal to some ideal, however ill-defined and one-eyed (even cock-eyed) in its application, of sportsmanship, of what it means to be a sportsman.

But, as the more percipient participants must have known, this rough idyll was not to last.  It is impossible not to notice that all these matches began on Monday, the “Saint Monday” that craft-workers such as framework-knitters (and probably stonemasons too) took off work and reserved for recreation, and that they often extended into Saint Tuesday.  The first knitting machine in Leicester had been exhibited by “an ingenious mechanic from Scotland” in 1773, but had been seized by a mob of stockingers and smashed to pieces.  An attempt, in 1787, by a Mr. Whetstone, to introduce a mechanical worsted-spinner led to more serious disorder which resulted in the reading of the Riot Act and the death of the Mayor, but these were mere delaying tactics.  John Nedham himself died young, though not – as far as I know – by the bat or ball of an enraged opponent.

By 1846 the Spirit of Cricket had evolved sufficiently for the Leicester Journal (by then a Tory paper) to publish an anonymous poem (to be sung to the tune “Gipsy’s Tent“), whose last verse is as follows :

Should a neighbouring club wish with us to engage

In very best feeling we’ll take up their gauge,

For our brothers and friends we are certain they are,

While winning and losing’s the least of our care.

We’ll win if we can, but if that may not be,

We’ll play them again by the old oaken tree;

And when the game’s over how friendly are we,

The victor and vanquished in merry marquee.”

I’m sure the ghost of John Nedham would have sung lustily along, had he been able.

(Much of this has been borrowed from : A History of Leicestershire Cricket, by E. E. Snow ; A Social History of English Cricket, by Derek Birley ; The Men in White Coats, by Teresa McLean and The History of Leicester in the Eighteenth Century, by James Thompson.  Thanks also, as always, to my unknown family historian relative.)

In Kettering, after the War

Kettering Liberal Club, decorated for the coronation of Edward VII

Kettering Liberal Club, decorated for the coronation of Edward VII

And after the war?  What next for Corporal Mustin?

To backtrack a little, and to place him in context, before he went to South Africa, George Mustin was 25 years old, working as a printer and living in Hinckley with his Mother, who had, in earlier life, been the proprietress of a beerhouse in Nuneaton called “the King’s Head”.  His Father, a stonemason, had died in 1892, but three brothers lived with them – William (a warehouseman in the hosiery industry), Oscar (a clicker in a shoe factory) and Charles (a joiner).  Living next door were his Mother’s daughter by an earlier marriage, Leonora (a hosiery mender), her husband and their two children.  This sounds a cosy arrangement, but rather cramped, and may have made the prospect of an outing to South Africa more appealing.

Soon after returning from the war (I doubt he ever left the country again), he married Rose Peto, my Great-Grandmother, and moved to Kettering in Northamptonshire (my birthplace), where he took a job as a foreman compositor with Staples the printers, continuing to work there until he retired in the late 1930s.  He died in 1962, at the age of 87, two years after I was born (I have no memory of him, although presumably we met).

More exotically, Rose’s younger sister Gertrude (the very pretty girl on the front left of this picture)

Gertrude Peto

who had begun her career working in a hosiery factory, married one Sidney Brocklehurst, a “prominent local hosiery manufacturer” who seems, like many in Hinckley, to have done quite well out of the Great War.  She is the only member of this generation I do remember: a rather grand personage, she would hire a taxi for the day to drive her from Hinckley to Kettering, and remain in it as we children were led out to be presented to her.

The daughter of George’s half-sister Leonora, Doris, similarly married a Major Goode M.C., another “prominent hosiery manufacturer”, and the owner of Cadeby Hall, a sizeable, but now sadly derelict, house near Hinckley.  George seems to have stayed there from time to time (as did my Grandfather) and amused himself by shooting game in the grounds. Unfortunately, Major Goode died in 1934, after “an accident cleaning his gun” (a common, sometimes euphemistic, occurrence at this time).

George’s other great amusement (apart from playing draughts and drinking in Kettering’s once grand Liberal Club) does seem to have been cricket.  It is not unreasonable to suppose that he watched Northants when they played at Kettering (which they often did between the wars) and may well have driven (he was an early motorist) to Northampton to watch them there as well.  In one account I have of him, in his later years ( I have also heard him described as “sardonic” and possessing a rather dark sense of humour), he was “a tall, white-haired old gentleman … [who] sat in his favourite chair with a cigarette or his pipe, and enjoyed hearing the cricket commentary on the radio which was close to hand … In his last years his children provided him with a television, so that he could watch the cricket as well as hear it”.  I suppose he was old enough to have seen W.G. Grace in action, and just young enough  to have caught the first stirrings of one-day cricket, as Northants beat Leicestershire in the final of the “Midlands One-day Knock-out Cup” in 1962.

Three generations on, I find myself, in a case of, if not quite social, then, at least, physical immobility, sitting, not ten miles away, a slightly less tall, but increasingly white-haired old gentleman, listening to the cricket commentary on the radio.  The major changes in the last half-century or so are, I suppose, that, whereas he had to go outside to use the lavatory, I have to go outside to smoke (and I can no longer, of course, see the cricket as well as hear it).

With many thanks to the – to me – unknown family member who unearthed much of the material I’ve made use of in this series of posts, and –

i.m. G.E.M., (1875-1962), soldier, printer and spirit of cricket.

On Tour in South Africa with the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers : Part Four

punch-boer-war-cricket-e1331382075865

THE LAST WICKET

This is the last letter I have from G.E.M. to the boys back home in the Liberal Club, originally published in the ‘Hinckley Times’ of 5th January 1901.  By now a difference of opinion had emerged between the two sides as to whether the war was over.  The British, having defeated the Boers whenever they could catch up with them, captured their capitals at Pretoria and Bloemfontein, as well as Johannesberg, and forced their leaders to flee, thought they had won (G.E.M clearly shared this view).  The Boers, unfortunately, disagreed and declined to surrender.  Though the war was to drag on until May 1902, becoming increasingly dirty in the process, G.E.M. finally returned home in the Summer of 1901.

One slight compensation for being stuck in South Africa, as you will see, was that he did manage to find time for a little cricket while he was there.  As a 6’3″ fast bowler on what was likely to have been a primitive wicket he must have been a testing proposition.

HINCKLEY VOLUNTEERS IN SOUTH AFRICA

A DISAPPOINTED COMPANY

Writing from South Africa, to Mr. Taylor, Derby Road, Hinckley Corporal Mustin, of the Hinckley Volunteer Service Company, says;

Germiston, Dec 4th 1900

Dear Mr. Taylor – When I wrote last little did I think we should be in this country in December.  We with other Volunteer Companies of the Brigade left our regiments at Lydenburg on October 9th, and marched the 40 miles of mountainous country to Machadadorp in three days with an empty convoy.  When we arrived we were told we were to go straight for England.  We were put on full rations at this place where we had to wait five days for a train.  Whilst at Machadodorp Gen. French’s column passed through and engaged the enemy a few miles away.  We also experienced a severe dust storm.  The dust was so thick that it was as dark as night and the wind was terrific.  After two and a half days in the trucks we arrived at Pretoria, where we were fitted out with clothing etc. and transferred from ragged and unkempt warriors into quite a smart corps.   We had plenty of opportunities of seeing the sights of this much-talked of place, Kruger’s house, museum, prison etc. during the ten days we remained.  With fifteen other companies we were present at the review by Lord Roberts and I can assure you that in the march past we did credit to the county we belonged.  On Sunday, Oct. 28th we were aroused at 11 pm, packed our traps and marched to the station, and took possession of some empty trucks, ready to move at daylight.  We congratulated ourselves we were now well on the way home.  No more short rations, no more trekking, no more outposts.  It seemed like a dream to think we should have every night in bed and be able to sleep with our boots off.  Ugh! it was a dream.  Before 8 am we reached Elandsfontein Station where we disembarked, marched through Germiston and relieved a company of the “Fighting Fifth”.  We started well, going straight on outpost, where we got 24 hours on duty and the same time off.  It would only be for a day or two we thought, but we have had nearly six weeks of it.  The first ten days over 20 men were admitted to hospital, most of them have however returned to duty now and the last week the draft which was sent out to us in May joined us.  We had a rather nasty experience one day.  The lightning struck one of the tents, partially destroying coats etc. hanging round the pole, completely shattering the butts of five rifles into splinters, and injuring several men, two of them still being in hospital.  The occupants of all the tents received a severe shock.  I was on outpost at the time, so escaped.  The place  where we are stationed is in the centre of the Gold Fields, eight miles from Johannesberg, Boxbury, Georgeton, Germiston and Elandsfontein being close to us.  Most of us have been to Johannesberg, where there are some very fine buildings.  In some streets you could see handsome business premises, equal to any in our large towns, and each side would be a small corrugated iron store; it was a practical illustration of “from the sublime to the ridiculous”.  But here is no doubt it is a fine town, much better kept that Pretoria, the late home of the slim Oom Paul.  It is a great disappointment to us being kept here, as we did not for a moment doubt that we should spend Christmas at home; but we cannot all be C.I.V.s , although we have, like them, only done our duty which is what we came for.  I do not doubt they have done good work, they have had a grand opportunity.  One thing, they have introduced a new religion into the Army.  Ask a Tommy how many religions there are in the army: he will reply Church of England, Roman Catholics and C.I.Vs.*  I am afraid Tommy is a little jealous.  We hear some amusing tales about them sometimes.  I am afraid we shall spend our Christmas on the veldt.  The other night our picquet was strengthened as it was expected a few Boers would try to get through.  It turned out a myth, however, and we failed to spot any.  We have a lot of rain and some severe thunderstorms and several times have had to sleep between wet blankets, but that is nothing.  During the days we are off duty we play cricket matches, and have a bit of sport ratting, and generally succeed in getting good bags.  I don’t suppose we shall be home before the end of January.  I am afraid if they keep us much longer we shall begin to think we are such an important company the British Army cannot dispense with our services and we shall grow vain on the strength of it.  If we are still here at Christmas I shall drink the health of “absent friends” in the strongest beverage we get out here – tea.  I hope all are in good health.  (I am glad to say I am), and will have a good old-fashioned Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.  With best wishes

From  Yours etc.

G. E. Mustin



 

CRICKET IN SOUTH AFRICA

LEICESTERSHIRE VOLUNTEER SERVICE CO. v 4th BRIGADE CAVALRY DEPOT

Played at Germiston on Monday, November 20th and resulted in an easy win for the Volunteers.  Leicester, winning the toss elected to bat first, and were not dismissed until they had compiled the respectable score of 124.  Angrave (29), Firr (26), Uncas (16) being the chief contributors.  The cavalry going in were quickly dismissed for 21, Mustin securing six wickets for six runs and Firr** four for twelve runs.

* The City [of London] Imperial Volunteers.  If you visit the Guildhall Art Gallery in London there is a magnificent picture entitled “The City Imperial Volunteers in the Guildhall on their return from South Africa, October 1900” (see here).  No equivalent picture, to my knowledge, exists of the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers.

** This Lance Corporal Firr is commemorated on Market Harborough’s  memorial to those who fought in the Boer War. He may have been related to the famous professional huntsman Tom Firr.

On Tour in South Africa with the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers : Part Three

A third bulletin from South Africa, where the game of Hunt the Boer continued.

This, incidentally, is a photograph of G.E.M back home in Hinckley with his wife-to-be Rose Peto (back row) and her sisters Gertrude and Nell (all three of whom, like most in the town, were employed in hosiery factories).  He doesn’t look particularly tall in this photograph, as Rose was herself about six feet tall.

PTDC2115

WITH THE “L” COMPANY IN SOUTH AFRICA

THIRTY MEN IN HOSPITAL

HARD UP FOR MATCHES

The following interesting letter, from Corporal G. E. Mustin, has been received at the Hinckley Liberal Club, by Mr. A. Taylor: –

Coetzees Drift, June 12th 1900

Dear Mr. Taylor

I was very pleased to receive your letter and to hear that all old friends were going on much the usual way.  I can quite understand T.S.A. going into the wholesale rose trade, and no doubt he will be successful if his garden is as large as some of the growers who exhibit.  The parcel of tobacco came to hand a few days after the letter, and I am extremely obliged for the gift … Since writing last we have changed our quarters many times … On May 23rd we left this camp, our tents etc. being sent down country and we prepared for a rough time and we have not been disappointed.  We are now moving every day.  Loading our waggons with greatcoats and blankets we fell in at times as early as 3.30 a.m. and one day we had marched 8 miles before daylight.  On the 29th we had reached the Buffalo River, and after staying one night, we had orders to advance to Stales Drift where a commando of Boers with two guns had taken up a position.  We moved off at daybreak, the Gordons advancing on our right.  Our advance guard got in sight of the enemy but they scooted as fast as their horses could carry them.  Soon after firing was heard and it was supposed  they had come in collision with General Hillyard.  After this we crossed the river and found ourselves in the Transvaal at last.  A few days more marching about and we reached our present bivouac ground, Coetzees Drift, which is situated about 10 miles from Mujaba and about the same distance from Pogwani, where the Boers have large guns in position.  When we arrived a three days armistice was being arranged, and it was generally thought that it would result in a general surrender of all the enemy round about this quarter, as they are practically surrounded.  Wednesday morning, our hopes were doomed to disappointment, as the Boer guns started merrily.  Our artillery soon returned the fire, and we could see the shell bursting close to the Boer guns.  This was getting interesting but not so interesting as the fact that we received bread in place of the usual pound of hard biscuits on that day.  On Thursday the firing was kept up for a time, and on our left an engagement was in progress, General Hillyard forcing Bothas’ Pass.  Desultory firing has been maintained until this morning from Pogwani but, for some reason, all is now quiet.  The position the Boers hold is a very strong one, but as we have the men and the guns, I don’t think they will last long.  The nights are very cold now … Considering we have to sleep in the open with a couple of blankets only as covering, you may think it is not all honey, and you can scarcely wonder at fellows getting tired of such a life.  It is not so bad when in good health, but I am sorry for anyone out here who is not up to the mark, as no comforts are procurable.  I am sorry to say we have nearly thirty men in hospital and down the country … The remainder of us and the reserves from the town are in grand form, the beefy ones improving day by day although losing weight more rapid than you would think possible.  We are not troubled much about our personal belongings, as the whole of my kit beyond that I stand in comprises one shirt, and one pair of socks.  There is a dearth of matches now, and we find our field glasses very useful for lighting our pipes.  When a match is struck there is a general rush with paper etc. to obtain a light, which would amuse those at home who get their matches without trouble.  The other day, the sun not being very strong, we were unable to use our glasses, several of us stood about waiting to spot a light.  A non-com came strolling by charging his pipe and we made safe he would soon produce his matches.  As they are now worth 6d a box we could not ask him for one so we quietly followed him for a few hundred yards, so we quietly followed him a few hundred yards, he then stopped, we gathered expectantly, and we were thunderstruck when he asked if any of us had a light. Yesterday as I sat quietly writing, I was disturbed by the sergeant-major yelling for the battalion to fall in quick.  I felt sure that the Boers were coming at last, but it was a grass fire, which are very prevalent here … I have slept in a tent twice during the time I have been out and always sleep in boots and dressed.  When not too cold, it is not unpleasant to sleep outside, and gives one who is so inclined a splendid chance to study astronomy, not much in my line … I often wonder how it would feel to sleep in a soft bed again, but I doubt if we could sleep any sounder than we do now, even though we have 150 rounds of ammunition for a pillow, and often with our rifles by our side.  Though we have a lot of hardships and discomforts to put up with … we have had things easy compared with our comrades who were in the siege [of Ladysmith].  I should like you to see the company now, ragged and rough no soles on the boots, and bare knees and a display of shirt in the rear of their persons is a common sight, but those who are left are thoroughly fit for anything they may be called upon to do.  With best wishes to all old friends and thanking you for kind wishes.

I remain

yours truly

G. E. Mustin

P.S. The Boers are hard at work sangar building on Pogwani, which accounts for their silence.  Have just heard of a reverse farther north.  I don’t believe it.  G.E.M.

_______________________________________________________________

OLD FALSE TEETH BOUGHT

Many ladies and gentlemen have by them old or disused teeth, which might as well be turned into money.  Messrs. R. D. & J. B. Fraser of Princess Street, Ipswich (established since 1833) buy old false teeth.  If you send your teeth to them they will remit to you by return of post the utmost value; or, if preferred, they will make you the best offer, and hold the teeth over for your reply.

[n.b. I can offer no guarantee this offer is still available.]