The inflatable philanthropist
Julien Cahn was a furniture retailer whose great wealth enabled him to create his own cricket ground in West Bridgford, Nottingham. With almost no ability himself, but with jobs to offer in his company, he assembled and captained a team, Julien Cahn's XI, that contained Test players from all round the world.
Playing from 1923 to 1939, with several overseas tours, they lost only 19 of their 621 matches. Cahn batted in large, inflatable pads, pumped up by his chauffeur, and his umpires knew better than to give him lbw or signal leg byes. He also bowled high lobs with fielders all round the boundary. And if the opposition ever looked like winning, he would ply them with generous quantities of alcohol in much-extended meal breaks.
His is a wonderful tale of an eccentric with the money to indulge his passion. Cricket was his first love but there was also fox hunting and magic. He was Master of the Quorn, despite being a poor rider, and he built an art deco theatre at his country house, where he performed his magic tricks. He was a great philanthropist, giving vast sums to Nottinghamshire cricket and to charitable causes that ranged from agricultural research to safer childbirth. He even bought Byron's Newstead Abbey, donating it to Nottingham Corporation.
I wrote about him for the Wisden Cricketer and it spurred his granddaughter Miranda Rijks to write this full-length biography. And how expertly she has explored all the corners of his life: from his hire-purchase business through his role in the Bodyline controversy to his secret payments to hush up a "cash for honours" scandal.
Yet there is a sadness in the tale. Cahn was driven by a desire to be accepted into the British establishment, and as Rijks' sympathetic portrait makes clear, he never achieved that. He was "in trade", he was a Jew, he was "not one of us". Ten years after his death, when the MCC was faced with a rapidly rising demand for membership, the president wrote to the treasurer: "If we apply too stringent an economic sanction, we will find the place full of Sir Julien Cahns."
This book is a treasure trove of such period detail. The editing and proofreading are poor, but The History Press, formed out of the now defunct Tempus Books, is to be congratulated on taking on this title. It throws a fascinating light on a world that now seems scarcely credible.
The Eccentric Entrepreneur: A Biography of Sir Julien Cahn Bt (1882-1944)
by Miranda Rijks
The History Press £20
This review was first published in the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here