The Cricketer / Features

1976

The spirit of Scarborough

Gordon Ross looks at the charm of the Scarborough Festival

Gordon Ross

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Shrimp Leveson Gower: his name is perpetuated in Scarborough history, and will remain so for all time © The Cricketer
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In an issue of The Cricketer Quarterly Tony Lewis concludes an article on the Scarborough Festival as follows: "A romantic clue to the success of the Fenner Trophy in the context of the Scarborough Festival. It has come out of the new language of one-day cricket, played competitively, by eager professional players, but embodying too the old spirit which old Shrimp Leveson Gower himself sought to perpetuate, of sportsmanship and fun at the Yorkshire seaside."

Shrimp Leveson Gower was not the founder of the Festival any more than Emile de Lissa was the founder of the Barbarian Rugby Football Club. CI. Thornton was the originator of Scarborough and W. P. Carpmael of the Barbarians, but Leveson Gower and de Lissa were men of a kind; they made such massive contributions over a very long period to a cause to which they had utterly dedicated themselves, that their names are perpetuated in Scarborough and Barbarian history, and will remain so for all time. It is an immensely reassuring thought that both institutions have survived in an age when sporting chivalry is considered to be only of a secondary nature when it comes to the sheer professionalism (whatever this word may mean!) of winning.

Scarborough, in order to live on, has had to be reshaped, but it is still a festival, none the less, and all of us must be grateful to Fenners for putting up the Fenner Trophy and yet still maintaining the great traditions of a remarkable festival. Cricketers, of all generations, and from countries spread far and wide, look back still with nostalgia and great affection to days spent playing cricket (and wining and dining!) at the festival, as a grand finale--a sort of huge party, before the curtain fell on another cricket season. There was some marvellous cricket, but the occasion allowed an occasional piece of generosity such as the time an umpire apologised to a batsman for what seemed a monstrous leg-before-wicket decision, on the grounds that the bowler concerned had taken 99 wickets during the season, and it had started to rain! The apology was accepted unconditionally.

Shrimp Leveson Gower's associations with cricket were remarkable. In 1948, he celebrated an outstanding triumvirate of anniversaries. It was 50 years since he had been elected to the Surrey committee, to the MCC committee (at the age of 24), and had been associated with the Scarborough Festival. Scarborough has much for which to thank him, not least of which are the many photographs in The Cricketers' Room at the Grand Hotel. Many of the early players' pictures - and Thornton had initiated the festival as far back as the 1870s - were picked up by Leveson Gower in a shop in Fleet Street, which had apparently bought up the stock of Hawkins, photographers, of Brighton, who had specialised in taking cricketers and had gone out of business. When he was asked "What sort of price?" the shopkeeper replied: "Quite nominal, there is very little demand for them now." Today, of course, cricketana of this sort is commanding its own price. The Vanity Fair drawings are a particular example. The owner of one bookshop told me recently that some seven years ago he sold quite a large collection of Vanity Fair drawings for half-a-crown each, and prior to that, had sold some at one-and-sixpence. Now their price runs into pounds.

In comparing one age of cricket with another, Leveson Gower once wrote: "One of the casualties of World War I was country-house cricket which never recovered its former glories in the changed era that followed 1918. No doubt one cause is expense, and another is that there is now a great deal more cricket played than there used to be in the earlier days. It was easier then to get players for a cricket week, but now they have very little leisure time during the season."

Country-house cricket was something obviously lingering in his mind when he took up the mantle of Scarborough's organiser, and he bred the festival along those lines, assembling players who would be an enormous attraction to the spectators, playing in an environment which was devoid of the undue caution sometimes prevailing in competitive cricket. In earlier days it worked like a charm, and holidaymakers from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and all other points of the compass relished a day in the sun at the Scarborough Festival.

Anyone who has visited Scarborough (and I have been there only once, not for a festival but for a Gillette Cup semi-final between Yorkshire and Notts in 1969) will perhaps recall the tall houses on the south side facing Trafalgar Square. C. 1. Thornton once hit a ball over these houses into Trafalgar Square and in doing so gave birth to one of cricket's oldest chestnuts--of the old lady who, on hearing that he had hit a ball into Trafalgar Square, asked whether he had been batting at Lord's or The Oval. Thornton apparently replied: "At The Oval, and the ball went via Westminster." This one l think you can file away with a few of the Freddie Trueman stories as Thornton, apparently, was one of cricket's great raconteurs. He was known as `Buns', a name he picked up at Eton, as I gather, did Lt-Col. `Buns' Cartwright some time later, though I have no reason to believe that Eton buns have any special significance or taste.

Another Thornton story of Scarborough is that he was batting one day and drove a ball clean through the upstairs window of a house which came to rest on a bed occupied by an old lady who had been bedridden for some years. The shock of shattering glass and an unknown object arriving as if from Mars, caused her to jump out of bed, which she had not done for years--and she was never bedridden again! Once again--true or false?

Yet somehow these stories, perpetuated, perhaps, through rose-coloured glass, typify the spirit of Scarborough. Gone is the traditional image of the bandstand on the front and the pierrot shows, and sticks of rock, and plus-fours, but there is still something about the English seaside, and there will always be something about Scarborough. It has dignity; Blackpool has its tower. Scarborough has its cricket festival - an unchallengeable virtue.

© The Cricketer

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Players/Officials: Sir Henry Leveson Gower
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