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.]