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.)

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

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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.

The Lost Ball

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but, whenever a poet goes for a walk, they seem to come across some everyday object – a field of daffodils, say, or a newly homeless fieldmouse – that prompts them to profound ruminations on the human condition.  This morning I was walking around a local cricket field

Great Bowden CC

as I often do on a Sunday morning, when I noticed this cricket ball, nestled in some twigs a little beyond the railings that separate the ground from the railway line.

Ball at Great Bowden

Lost balls are, of course, a feature of any Summer at a ground which is bordered by a hedge; the initial thrill of the stroke that sent it there succeeded by the sinking feeling as it disappears from sight into the thorny depths; first the tentative peering, parting and poking of the fieldsmen, then the call for a stump, then a replacement ball as some club stalwart (mindful of how much the things cost) continues to rummage, vet-like, elbow deep in the hawthorns, plucking out Cokes cans, tennis balls, a sleeping hedgehog, anything but that damn’d elusive crimson rambler.

In Winter, when the foliage dies away, the hedge gives up its secrets and the lost balls, in various stages of decomposition, reveal themselves.  As this one was (in management-speak) such low hanging fruit I couldn’t resist tickling it out, weighing it in my palm and running a finger along its still proud seam.  One of last year’s balls, clearly, and if not match-worthy, then, after a little reconditioning, still useable for net bowling, and I couldn’t quite decide what to do with it.

Taking it home would be stealing, but the pavilion was shut and I don’t suppose it would have fitted through the letter box.  If I left it on the ground some child might have picked it up, enquired of a doting grand-parent what it was for and been treated to a few arthritic leg-breaks, thus sparking a life-long interest in the game.  On the other hand the child might have picked the ball up and hurled it at their tiny playmate’s head, the grandparent might have (McGrath-style) turned their ankle, or a foolish dog might have broken their teeth on it.

In the end I left it, half concealed, at the foot of a tree.

Ball at Great Bowden

Perhaps the groundsman will come across it as he makes a pre-season sweep of his domain, pocket it, and after a quick polish, reunite it with its fellows in the ball box.  Or perhaps some passing poet will espy it and find it has provoked some thoughts that lie too deep for tears.  I hope so, because I’ve tried quite hard and – do you know – I can’t think of a damn’d thing.  Sorry about that.

(Back to the Veldt with the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers soon, by the way.  I don’t intend to leave them stranded there.)

 

 

 

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.]

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

More from my Great-Grandfather in South Africa.  This piece of what we would nowadays call “citizen journalism” was originally published in the ‘Hinckley Times’ of 2 June 1900, two months after it was written, having, presumably, been brought home by sea.  I think I can detect a hint of asperity creeping into his tone at times.

WITH THE “L” COMPANY IN SOUTH AFRICA

HOW THE EASTER HOLIDAYS WERE SPENT

[By one of our own correspondents]

Lombard’s Kopje, April 3, 1900

I expect Easter holidays are over now at home, but with us they have not yet begun, nor do we expect they will until the war is over.  It is very kind on the part of the Brigadier, or whoever it is, that is responsible for the moving about we have had.  It is done, no doubt, with the intention of showing the service company as much of the company around Ladysmith as possible.  We have made another move, close by Gun Hill, to a place pleasantly situated on the plain, but there is a scarcity of water which seems the usual order of things wherever our camp is situated.  On the Thursday before Easter, we marched straight from outpost duty to Surprise Hill camp, to find our regiment about to march off.  We trudged away through Ladysmith round to the left, over the Klip River, and away towards Bulwana.  We arrived in time to pitch our tents before dark, feeling tired, thirsty and fairly disgusted with old Kruger and things in general.  Having had no dinner, tea was thoughtfully served out about eight o’clock, and we relieved our parched thirst with one pint of that beverage to about five men.  After drinking this enormous quantity, of course we could not find room for eatables, and even in this matter, and considering our tired feeling, we were saved all trouble in drawing rations by the thoughtfulness of the Commissariat Department, who had provided none to draw.  However, we lay down and slept the sleep of the just.  The next day being Good Friday we had a holiday and indulged in the luxury (perhaps not for the officers but the men) of a good wash, and some, more daring than others, even had a shave.  But all things come to an end, and so did our holiday, for at three o’clock we had orders to fall in with blankets in addition to our usual marching order, to go out on 48 hours’ outpost duty.  As soon as were ready, we fell in, after trying to swallow the scalding liquor, and marched for a mile or so through a country full of prickly shrubs, then up and down and across ravines for another mile or so, round Gun Hill, then up to Lombard’s Kopje, stumbling over loose stones, clambering over loose rocks, until we reached the top, sweating and panting with the beneficial and much-needed exercise under the burning sun.  We never had the unnecessary privilege of taking our kit off for a few minutes.  Then again we fell in, and, carrying our blankets under our arms we marched to the places allotted to us for outpost duty, we remained for the night, on the look out for our friends who did not come.

We came off outpost duty at 6.30 on Saturday morning, and feeling much benefitted by our climbing on Good Friday, we entered heartily into the agreeable pastime, so popular with soldiers in Natal, of sangar building.  [A sangar is a temporary fortified position.] This is a very simple form of amusement.  All the requisites you need for this game are a few picks, shovels, and a crowbar or two, the larger the crowbar the more exciting the game … When three men lift a stone large enough for six, and get it within a foot of the top, and cannot get it any further, excitement runs high, and it is most amusing … but the most amusing part of this programme is just at the time of finishing, you get placed offside by the referee, generally an officer, and you pull the sangar down and commence as before.  Well, we started playing on Saturday morning at one o’clock, and went on, with interval, until twelve o’clock, when we had breakfast.  We resumed until dark with a few minutes for meals.  We then went on outpost duty, but resumed the game early on Easter Sunday with vigour until tea time, when we shouldered our belongings, and went for a pleasant stroll down the hill to the camp, where we stopped for the night.

At 5 am on Bank Holiday, we were on parade with our rifles and ammunition in case our neighbours should pay us a holiday visit.  We waited for them until the sun rose, about 6 am, but they failed to come, so we had breakfast.  We then proposed to go on with the sangar building and proceeded to our recreation ground at the top of Lombard’s Kopje, where we remained all day, and strolled down to the camp for the night.

On Tuesday our friends again disappointed us, and we set off up the hill for another sixty hours’ outpost duty, relieved by sangar building, and as the night was very wet, and we were not provided with waterproof sheets, it was quite funny to feel the water trickling down our backs and over our faces, and was even more laughable still, to get up and shake the water from our one and only blanket, and then lay down, again.  The odds were ten to one you had a sharp stone in the centre of your back, or in a more tender part of your anatomy.  The next night there was even more rain than usual, and the greater part of the time was spent in watching the rain, which presented this pretty sight.  We had the opportunity of washing our faces with the raindrops as they beat down.  As long back in the dim past as three months ago each of the service company were served out with 2 pairs of boots, not the common or garden boot, as served out to the troops.  Oh, dear no, a far superior article to those, as thanks to the Equipment Fund, which was so generously subscribed to by the good people of Leicester and Leicestershire, it was determined to send out the company as well-shod as possible, regardless of expense.  That they have succeeded in doing so is beyond all doubt, as there are several pairs of boots which have not worn out, notwithstanding that they have travelled some thousands of miles, truly, mostly on sea, where they were not worn.  However, it is a fact that one man has completely worn out both pairs of boots issued to him, but it is reported he did not take the necessary care of these, the most important and valuable part of his outfit.  That is quite possible, but I, myself, cannot believe it, as I saw him on parade when he had taken the precaution to tie the souls [sic] on with a piece of string.  If that is not being careful I should like to know what is.  One of our men declares that there must have been a mistake made, and that he had secured a pair which had been made for wearing when riding only, and as he had worn each pair for quite a month for marching, he may consider himself lucky in being allowed the privilege of paying for a new pair out of his own income.  Notwithstanding such pleasures of which the above are but a few, we all have our serious moments, and realise that we are out on active service and when we hear the boom of the guns, but a few miles from us, we are all determined to show that if it comes to fighting, we will prove ourselves worthy of the regiment to which we belong.

G. E. M.

When asking for Cocoa, insist on having CADBURY’S – sold only in Packets and Tins – as other Cocoas are often substituted for the sake of extra profit.

[I assume this postscript is an early piece of advertorial, rather than another complaint about the rations.]

To be continued …

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

(n.b. This series will – rest assured – eventually prove to contain some cricket …)

G.E. Mustin

When time is short and inspiration runs low, it helps to be able to call on the services of a guest blogger, so let me introduce my Great-Grandfather (my Mother’s Father’s Father), George Mustin, or, as he was at the time of the above photograph, Cpl. G. E. Mustin of the Leicestershire Infantry Volunteers.

At the time he was (topically) in South Africa, having joined up to fight in the Boer War with some friends from the Hinckley Liberal Club.  The Liberals were split into pro- and anti-Boer factions: he cannot, I imagine, have been particularly pro-Boer, given that he had volunteered to try to kill them, but he mainly seems to have joined up in search of more dramatic excitements than Hinckley could offer him.

The first letter dates from 4th April 1900, when he had just arrived in South Africa.  The first phase of the war had gone badly for the British, who were, as usual, outnumbered and unprepared.  They responded by attempting what we would now call a “surge”, shipping in troops in from other parts of the Empire, calling up the Yeomanry and making a general appeal for volunteers.  This usefully revealed that 40% of the would-be recruits were physically unfit for service, due to the appalling condition of (in particular) the urban poor.  George Mustin was made a Corporal, partly, I think because he was an excellent shot, but also, perhaps, because he was unusually tall for the time at about 6’3″, and, presumably, in good health.

The Volunteers arrived shortly after the relief of Ladysmith by Sir Redvers Buller (who was widely criticised for the length of time it took him to get there and shortly sacked).  The letters were addressed to a Mr. A. Taylor (a “prominent local Liberal”) and published in the ‘Hinckley Times’ under the heading “Correspondence from the War”. What strikes me most is how frank he was able to be about his experiences, which consisted mainly of hunger, thirst, discomfort and boredom, though the tone is leavened with late-Victorian facetiousness.  The general impression is of the front-line sections of “Homage to Catalonia”, as re-written by Jerome K. Jerome.

“Mr. A. Taylor, a prominent member of the Hinckley Liberal Club, has just lately received the following letter from Corpl. G.E. Mustin, a member of the Club and who is one of the “L” Company Volunteers at present serving with the colours in South Africa.

Camp, near Ladysmith April 4th 1900

Dear Mr. Taylor, – as I promised to write to the Club, I hope you will pardon me troubling you in addressing this letter to you.

We arrived at Durban after a five weeks voyage, and were very pleased to set foot on land again. … We went by train to Colenso where the regiment was stationed and arrived there just before dark, to find all our kit had gone astray.  We received a good welcome from the whole of the troops in camp, and many of the men who had been in the siege of Ladysmith were found to have friends or someone they knew amongst us.  There were nearly fifty in camp who were natives of Hinckley or the immediate neighbourhood. The camp was situated near to the Tugela River not far from the place where Col. Long lost the guns. We had to go a good one and a half miles for a wash, so you may guess we did not wash many times each day.  … On Sunday the camp was struck and before daylight appeared we were on the way to Modder Spruit about nine miles north of Ladysmith.  This was our first taste of active service. The road was all uphill, inches deep in dust and loose stones lying about in all directions.  Before we arrived at the camping ground, scores of the men fell out, the King’s Royal Rifles being the greatest sufferers.  A great many of the men are suffering from dysentery, and I am sorry to say some of our fellows have the same complaint.  I was told off to bring in those of our company who had fallen out, and a lively time I had, and did not reach camp until two hours after the regiment.  To improve matters, after dinner a storm set in and for a short time the rain came down in torrents.  You may imagine what a storm is in Natal when I tell you that a spruit, which was so dry before the storm we had to dig holes in the sandy bed to obtain water for a wash, was in less than an hour like a rushing river.  As we had no tents we lay on the damp ground with one blanket on the ground and the other over us.  The next day we were up and off at daybreak and arrived at our present camp by ten o’clock.  It was expected we were going on to Mudder Spruit this morning but the order was cancelled at the last minute …

I have often heard men complain of the delay by General Buller in relieving Ladysmith and wish that those who complained could see the country and the difficulties that the transport had to contend with and they would be astounded.  It is the general opinion in Natal that General Buller has had the brunt of the work, and has performed it as well, if not better than any other man could do … I may say that our men are in the best of health and spirits.  It is very hot here until darkness sets in, which is as soon as the sun sets.  We cannot get drinking water and anything wet fetches a good price – one shilling for a quart of poor tea; sixpence for 1/2d bottle of pop.  We are now on soldiers’ rations – biscuits and bully beef for breakfast, the same for dinner, and what is left for tea.  Please remember me to friends at Club.  I should like just one hour there to-night.  With best wishes from

Yours sincerely

G. E. Mustin

P.S. You must excuse writing (pencil) as all my materials are at Pietermaritzburg.

To be continued …

 

Nymphs and Shepherds Gone Away : Finals and Finales

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s much-quoted crack about there being “no second acts in American lives” is often misinterpreted to mean that there are no second chances, no comebacks in American lives.  In fact, he was thinking of the structure of the traditional “well-made” three-act play, where the second act represents a period of plot development in between the dramatic opening and the tragic or comic conclusion. American lives, he was implying, have no period of maturity.

This season’s County Championship has been a little like that, at least from my vantage point.  There was a first act (two home games in April) and a final act (or, as the Greeks say, catastrophe) with two games in September, but not much of any substance in between.

This year there wasn’t even much of a catastrophe to speak of.  At Grace Road in September I saw the first day against Gloucestershire, when only 43 overs were bowled, and what would have been the second day against Essex, had it not been entirely rained off.  There was an element of bad luck about this, of course.  If I had chosen different days I might have seen some tight (if artificially engineered) finishes, or Zakk Chappell making 96 on his debut, but if half the home Championship games are played in April and September the chances of choosing the wrong days are high.

This season I have taken at least as much pleasure from watching club cricket as I have the first-class game.  One reason for this (there are others) is that the structure of the season makes sense – it is comprehensible, it coheres.  The County Championship starts too early and ends too late, it stalls for weeks and then shoots forward like a clown car.  One day games spring out at you from nowhere and arrive in an unwanted clump on Tuesday afternoons in August, either famine or glut.

The Leicestershire League begins when the days are getting lighter and finishes with the arrival of Autumn.  There is a league structure with enough sides in it  to provide variety and the potential for some legible narratives to emerge over the course of a season.  The league games are always played on Saturday afternoons, so watching them becomes the enjoyable part of a weekly routine, with a knock-out cup on Sundays to provide (perhaps) an element of surprise and distraction.  (In all of this I suppose it resembles the football season, at least at the lower levels.)

How the season ought, ideally, to end I’m not sure, but it should mark a definite end and be, in some way, a festive celebration.  The County season used to finish, with the serious business of the Championship decided by the end of August, with the carnivalesque seaside festivals at Scarborough, Hastings, Bournemouth, Blackpool and elsewhere.  More recently, the final of the Gillette Cup at Lord’s fulfilled a similar function.

More by luck than intention I managed, this year, to construct a mini portfolio festival of my own by attending the finals of various competitions being hosted locally – the 2nd XI Championship at Radlett, the Leicestershire County Cup and the Leicestershire U-19s T20 at Grace Road and – the grand finale – the Women’s national club 50-over final at Kibworth.

Of the four, the least satisfying was the 2nd XI final between Nottinghamshire and Middlesex (one day of a four day match).  Radlett is a lovely ground in high Autumn (I know this because I pass it on my way into work) but the season had only begun nibbling at the hedges on the dull day when I attended

Radlett

but the main problem, by contrast with the amateur games, was that few of the players can have really wanted to be there.  For instance, Nottinghamshire played the three seamers – Luke Fletcher, Andy Carter and Will Gidman – I had seen playing for their First XI in the first game of the season.  Gidman must, I think, be wondering – on the principle of “better an old man’s darling than a young man’s fool” whether it might not have been better to stay a king pin at Gloucestershire rather than a spare part at a “big county”.

Fletcher and Carter have been in and out of the Notts side for years now.  Fletcher, the “Bulwell Buffalo” (on the left)

Luke Fletcher

has often cropped up in these chronicles before, Carter

Carter

is an equally tall, vulpine character who (perhaps because he’s from Lincolnshire) I can picture loping into a country pub with a couple of ill-concealed pheasants in his pockets and a lurcher at his heels.  As a pair they resemble the rascally cloth-capped villains in a Disney cartoon who stuff the kittens into a sack and drive off meaningfully  in the direction of the river.  Both look (from the boundary) like they’d be nasty to face, and would no doubt terrify most club batsmen, but always seem to end the season back in the 2nds playing at somewhere like Radlett.*

Another who falls into the same category (though he also had injury problems) is Luke Evans, the 6’8″ ex-Durham and Northants bowler who proved the main difference between Kibworth (for whom he now plays) and Lutterworth in the County Cup final.  This was a low-scoring affair, as these finals often are: club players struggle to find the boundaries in the prairie vastnesses of Grace Road and the rules of the competition make the clubs’ respective batting stars (Lewis Hill of Lutterworth and Aadil Ali of Kibworth) ineligible.

Kibworth won the game (as they also won the League), but it’s fair to say a good time was had by all, particularly the large contingent from Lutterworth, who made up the majority of a crowd as large as some I’ve seen for Leicestershire’s games, composed of all ages and sexes and mostly not the same faces who attend the County games.  If the new management are looking to “grow” the club they might find fertile soil here.

Kibworth v Lutterworth

And so to the finale of my season, a double-header of the Leicestershire U-19s T20 Finals Day at Grace Road and the final of the national Women’s 50-over competition at Kibworth.  Both finals were hugely one-sided affairs, dominated by sides batting first and decided by players who were genuinely (a subject I was pondering earlier in the season) “on another level“.

In the case of the U-19s, the player who won the match for the Houghton & Thurnby Hurricanes by a display of six-hitting only equalled at Grace Road this season by Peter Trego, followed by a few overs of 85 mph yorkers in dubious light that reduced the Ashby Strikers to 30-6, seemed not only to belong on a different level, but in a different age group entirely, a fact delicately alluded to by a section of the crowd, who sang (to the tune of ‘Mrs. Brown’s Boys’) “He’s 23 / he’s 23 / he’s not 19 / he’s not 19 / he’s 23”.

U-19

He’s not 19. He’s 23

Still, no-one seemed to mind much and there was some attempt to even up the cosmic balance by using a 9-year old in shorts as a substitute fielder

U-19

The last word on this season goes, perhaps unexpectedly, to the ladies of Bath and Stoke. Bath batted first and amassed a huge total, thanks to the England player Anya Shrubsole (who hurt her hand and had to retire early) and Sophie Luff (apparently an England Academician) who batted superbly to score 150 (with, again the difference between the sides, any number of boundaries).

La Shrubsole (no.5) is, in the parlance of the men’s game, quite a “Big Unit”, but light on her feet

Shrubsole

with an attractive habit of placing herself in the field by skipping from side to side, with her hands extended horizontally, as though dancing to a rendition of “Nymphs and Shepherds Come Away” only she can hear.

There is a picture in this month’s “Cricketer” of the England women’s team following their defeat in the Ashes, where Shrubsole looks particularly slumped and dejected, quite different from the high-spirited figure she cut at Kibworth.  I wonder if she, too, might be wondering if the professional game is quite all it’s cracked up to be?

It’s always good to end the season on a note of laughter and celebration, so take it away, the Ladies of Bath! Winter well, one and all.

Bath Ladies at Kibworth

Bath Ladies at Kibworth

*As a postscript, this turned out to be Carter’s last game for Nottinghamshire. As of next season he will be playing for Derbyshire instead (well, it’s worked well for Footitt).