William Clarke and more, 1967

Nottinghamshire's notable part in the growth of cricket


Reginald Thomas Simpson, born at Sherwood, Nottingham on February 27, 1920, had to wait until the war was over before making his county debut in 1946. He gained his county cap the same season and was appointed captain in 1951, a post he held for ten years. He played in 27 Tests for England, made four overseas tours and when he retired in 1963 he had scored 30,546 runs, average 38.32, 64 centuries. An opening batsman, his pleasing upright stance and general style bore a marked resemblance to Joe Hardstaff with whom he played in his early years for the country.

Although it is not known when cricket was first played in Nottinghamshire, there are records of a match in 1771 between Nottinghamshire and Sheffield, which suggests that the game had already flourished in the county for many years.

Between 1771 and 1867 twenty-eight matches are known to have taken place between tohe two towns, Nottingham winning 17, Sheffield eight and the remaining three drawn.

Unfortunately, it cannot be said that the spirit of the game was high in the list of priorities in these matches, many of which were played for money and the rivalry being keen, bad blood and ill feeling often resulted..

M.C.C. come to Nottingham

Not even the dates of the inauguration or disbandment of the Nottingham Old Club have survived, but in 1791 an event occurred which must be regarded as a red letter mark in the county's history for in August of that year they were visited by the M.C.C. Although this now famous club had been in existence for only four years its fame had spread from one end of the country to the other, and even then its position as the recognised head of the game was firmly established.

On this occasion, although the play of the Nottinghamshire cricketers excited the admiration and applause of their opponents they were nevertheless defeated by ten wickets, being unacquainted with the system of playing adopted by the Marylebone Club.

The first captain of the Nottingham club was J. Gilbert and perhaps one of the first of a long line of outstanding players was Thomas Warsop, an under-hand bowler, who continued for many years.

The Father of Nottinghamshire Cricket

It was not until 1817, in June, that Nottinghamshire had another great day in cricket. This was when the M.C.C. sent Eleven players to play Twenty-two of Nottingham. This match aroused tremendous interest and witnessed by 12,000 to 14,000 spectators, who paid admission charges of 2s. 6d per day.

The game was again won by the M.C.C., by 30 runs. Making his second appearance for Nottinghamshire was a young player named William Clarke, then 18 years of age, and destined to become one of the outstanding personalities of Nottinghamshire and English cricket. In this particular game he scored 1 and 0 and as far as can be judged did not bowl.

However, no-one in the history of Nottinghamshire cricket has stood out more prominently than William Clarke, the celebrated slow bowler, who captained the Nottingham team and, practically unaided, for many years conducted all affairs respecting the county's cricket.

He established the Trent Bridge ground, and lastly, founded and led the All England Eleven which did so much missionary work for the game. There is no doubt that he will always be recalled as one of the game's chief characters and exponents, and his career was an unusually long and busy one. He was actually 37 when he first played at Lord's and it was not until he was 47 that he was chosen for the Players. That was in the year 1846, but all in all for 30 years he was a terror to batsmen.

Near the main gates erected in 1933 to the memory of J.A. Dixon, captain of Nottinghamshire for many years, is this inscription:

"This is the County Ground of the Nottinghamshire Cricket Club, famous throughout the world as 'Trent Bridge', was originally a meadow adjoining the old Trent Bridge Inn at the time when its landlord was Wiim Clark, the incompaarble slow bowler, later to earn the honoured title of 'Father of Nottinghamshire Cricket'. The ground, prepared by him, was opened on May 28, 1838. The first inter-county contest to be fought here being between Nottinghamhire and Sussex on July 27 and 28, 1840. Since when as the scene of Notinghamshire matches and Test matches its history has been steadily illustrious.

During Clarke's reign another great Notts player emerged, Tom Barker, one of the first of a line of fast bowlers produced by Nottinghamshire. In 1834 he had the distinction of being the first Nottinghamshire man to play in the Gentlemen v. Players match, and continued to represent the latter until 1845.

According to available records the first match to be played at Trent Bridge was on May 28, 1838, between The Forest Club and the South of the Trent; the spectators were charged an admission fee of sixpence, which was much resented by the Forest Club whose spectators were allowed to watch them on the Forest free.

The Lion of the North

After William Clarke's death the All England Eleven was managed by George Parr, who next to Clarke was one of the greatest influences in Nottinghamshire cricket and was sometimes referred to as "The Lion of the North".

He is immortal by reason of his leg-side hitting, which often landed the ball out of the ground, but more often than not in an elm which still stands at Trent Bridge and is affectionately known as Parr's Tree.

Next to Parr as an outstanding personality in those early days was Richard Daft, who was considered a model for the young cricketers. He was an outstanding fielder, and athlete, and a leading batsman of the time, but the actual successor to William Clarke in the bowling line was considered to be Alfred Shaw, who first played for Nottinghamshire in 1864 and whose chief asset was his great control of length and pace. Apparently he had no superior in the way of stamina and accuracy.

Like many opening bowlers, a large number of his great feats were accomplished with another great bowler of his day, Fred Morley, one of the mainstays of Nottinghamshire until 1884, when he died at the early age of 33, not long after touring Australia.

Morley had no successor as a fast bowler until the arrival of Tom Wass in 1896, except for the brief appearance of Frank Shacklock who made a name for himself by bowling out Surrey at The Oval in 1892 when Nottinghamshire won. To mark this shining event everyone on the winning side was given a medal and each of the professionals twenty guineas. Over 60,000 people watched this match on the first two days.

Hallam and Wass

Tom Wass, on his day, was considered to be the most deadly bowler in England and during his career took more wickets than any one else in the county's history, 1,679. During most of his illustrious reign the bowler at the other end was Hallam, who, with his gentle pace, provided the contrast, and the combination of Hallam and Wass become a byword with the cricketers of Nottinghamshire.

William Gunn and Shrewsbury

Returning to batsmen, one of the most famous of an impressive list of great Nottinghamshire cricketers was Arthur Shrewsbury, who came into the side in 1875 at the age of 19 and continued to play until 1902. It was said that W.G. was his only superior, which gives some idea of his fame in those distant years.

Soon the famous partnership of Gunn and Shrewsbury was formed, and they still hold the record for the highest opening partnership for Nottinghamshire; 398 against Sussex at Trent Bridge in 1890. Shrewsbury's partner, the giant William Gunn, played for his county from 1880 to 1905, when he was succeeded by his nephews, John Gunn, the slow bowler and left-handed all-rounder, and George Gunn, his brother.

Between 1895 and 1925, John Gunn made 24,601 runs, took 1,243 wickets and held 233 catches, and like many great bowlers it was said of him that on grounds which helped him he was unplayable.

George Gunn's Wonderful Record

George Gunn, perhaps the most famous of all the Nottinghamshire batsmen, made 35,190 runs, the highest number ever reached by a Nottinghamshire cricketer and one that may well stand for all time. He was everything a batsman could be and simply played as the mood took him. Sometimes a stone-waller, sometimes pure virtuoso and sometimes, as one umpire said, he would go to sleep.

Typical of the man was the occasion when the lunch hour at Trent Bridge was changed from 1.30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Almost the first time the new hours were used George happened to be still batting at 1.30 p.m. and when he saw the clock immediately started to walk towards the pavilion at the end of the appropriate over. When it was pointed out to him that lunch was at 2 p.m., he returned to the crease, gave a dolly of a catch, and walked out with the remark, "I always take my lunch at 1.30 p.m.", and this when his score was in the 90's.

Returning for a moment to the combination of William Gunn and Shrewsbury, their partnerships were particularly fruitful at Hove, where it used to be said that if Nottinghamshire won the toss all except the first four players felt free to go down to the sea to bathe.

Shrewsbury's defensive powers, coupled with his inexhaustible patience, were undoubtedly the chief factors of his greatness, although his late cutting and back play were considered as near perfection as possible, and he had a favourite lofting stroke over mid-off's head which frequently brought him a couple of runs.

It was considered that because of the tactics used against him by the bowlers of his day, who apparently acknowledged him as their master, he was regarded as a slow player. Here it is interesting to note, bearing in mind the present-day theories for the causes of slow play, that it was stated in an article in 1892 regarding Shrewsbury's slow play That runs are much more difficult to obtain now than formerly on account of the bowlers' off theory (note 'off' theory)... more attractive and all round cricket would be seen if bowlers would try and hit the wicket, instead of deliberately trying to miss it.

Alfred Shaw

It was also said at that time that the critics quite overlooked the fact that bowlers, just as readily as batsmen, can make play dull and uninteresting (modern captains and bowlers please note). It is interesting also to dwell on the remarks of Alfred Shaw that same year. This wise old player believed that the loss of appreciation of good play was due in part to the excitement provided for spectators at football matches and he commented, "It will not be a good day for English cricket when batsmen are required to assimilate their style to the aspirations of the ignoramus who thinks the higher the hit the better the cricket, and who yells his approval or boos his discontent accordingly." Interesting to know that cricket had such difficulties in 1892 and that comments such as this had to be made.

Alfred Shaw, who first played for Nottinghamshire in 1864 and continued for 23 years, was one of the greatest of all Nottinghamshire bowlers. He bowled medium pace and could turn the ball either way. Throughout his career he never sent down a wide, over half the number of overs he bowled were maidens and he accomplished the unique feat of bowling more overs to batsmen than they took runs off him.

He set up a record by clean bowling W.G. twenty times and was the first captain to lead a county in four successive years to the top of the Championship, 1883-86.

As Nottinghamshire's cricket is at the moment in the doldrums it is interesting to read an article written by the Editor of this illustrious Almanack in 1901, "The outlook for Notts in the future is not hopeful and the committee must use every possible effort to discover fresh talent. For the decreased skill amongst the young players all over the county it is thought that the immense popularity of football is in some measure responsible. Cricket is now being played in the various villages and small towns with less eagerness and enthusiasm than was once the case." The present Nottinghamshire committee should take heart from this because after that was written Nottinghamshire had some of their greatest years.

A player who should be mentioned along with William Gunn and Shrewsbury and who performed many great batting feats with this celebrated pair was William Barnes, also a fine bowler, who toured Australia three times, and who in his day was considered probably the best player of fast bowling on a hard wicket.

The First Noted Left-Hander

The first left-handed batsman of note to play for Nottinghamshire was William Henry Scotton. After starting his career as a fast scorer and hard hitter, he became the most pronounced stone-waller of his day. On one occasion in 1885 when playing for Nottinghamshire against Gloucestershire he batted for sixty minutes without scoring and in his side's innings of 291 there were 165 maidens. Nevertheless he visited Australia three times.

In 1887 and 1888 Nottinghamshire were captained by that famous wicket-keeper, Mordecai Sherwin, the last professional to do so for over 70 years. The first amateur to take control, in 1889, was J.A. Dixon, who led the team for the following ten years and in whose commemoration, as I have already mentioned, the main gates at Trent Bridge were built.

In 1892 one of the most famous amateurs in the history of the game came into the side. That was A.O. Jones, who eventually formed another of those renowned opening partnerships with James Iremonger, and they proceeded to reach the hundred on no fewer than 24 occasions.

Jones was a fine fielder, particularly in the gully, and his tally of catches for Nottinghamshire was over 500. His top score was 296. Iremonger played for the county from 1897 until 1921, when he became the coach until the late 30's, a position he held with great distinction, being recognised as the finest coach the county have ever had.

Spirit of the Game

It is interesting to note the philosophy regarding Nottinghamshire cricket in the period between 1890 and 1900. The side ran into rather lean times and many people boldly asserted that unenterprising tactics were responsible for the lack of public support.

Nevertheless, it was agreed that if a team had to choose between losing prettily and endeavouring to avoid defeat by painstaking play, the captain was thoroughly justified in adopting the latter course. So much for the spirit of the game in those days!

A most disheartening year for Nottinghamshire was 1895 when the team sank to a lower level than at any previous period in the club's history; the cricket shown was considered utterly unworthy of a side with such great traditions. Between 1873 and 1889 Nottinghamshire won the County Championship six times and shared the Championship on four other occasions.

In March 1895, the club made an important appointment when they secured the services of Mr. H. Turner as secretary. He displayed much energy and under his skilful guidance the club's position improved in every respect, and apart from an increased membership and a healthier financial state, he was mainly responsible for an innovation in April 1897 that had a considerable bearing on cricket itself.

An attempt was made to train young players. A staff of bowlers was attached to the ground and coached by Mr. Walter Marshall -- a policy which proved most gratifying in its success almost from the moment of its inception.

One of the leading bowlers during this depression period of Nottinghamshire's cricket was William Attewell. He alone was really reliable and did a tremendous amount of work, often taking twice as many wickets as any other bowler and at a smaller cost.

Shortly after the turn of the century there appeared two more players destined to join the ranks of the more famous Nottinghamshire cricketers, Thomas William Oates, the wicket-keeper, and Joseph Hardstaff, father of perhaps an even more famous Hardstaff, young Joe.

For sometime it was assumed that Hardstaff senior's short stature would prevent him from developing into a first-rate player, but fortunately he was persevered with and consequently served his county and country for many years, later becoming a famous umpire.

Alletson's Famous Innings

Other names to hit the headlines before World War One were Wilfred Payton, an extremely sound player for the county for very many years, and, in particular, Edward Alletson. He achieved renown as one of the most vigorous hitters in the game and became nationally famous in 1911 for his innings of 189 out of 227 runs against Sussex at Hove in only ninety minutes. During this innings he took 34 runs off E. H. Killick in one over.

Unfortunately, his successes with the bat were very rare and he lasted for only about seven seasons. Still he had been connected with the side that won the Championship again in 1907, but success on this occasion was entirely the result of the tremendous bowling of Hallam and Wass. Hallam took 156 wickets at 12.18 apiece, and Wass at 14.28 apiece.

Immense Batting Power

For sixteen years after World War One, Nottinghamshire were always well placed in the County Championship, which they won in 1929. In the early twenties they had a very strong batting side, including Arthur Carr, the captain, Whysall, Walker, George and John Gunn, Payton and Hardstaff senior.

The chief bowlers at that time were burly Fred Barratt, Matthews, Sam Staples, the great off-spin bowler, and 'Tich' Richmond, the leg-break bowler who season after season took his hundred wickets and held the record for the greatest numbers of wickets in a season for the county until the advent of Bruce Dooland.

Larwood and Voce

During this period the groundsman was Walter Marshall, a character, who created pitches that were very fast and very true, the back-cloth for great fast bowlers, which were of tremendous assistance to one of the finest and perhaps easily the most famous of Nottinghamshire fast bowlers, Harold Larwood, who made his first appearance in 1925.

Not long afterwards he was joined by Bill Voce, a devastating fast left-arm bowler, and with such a combination Nottinghamshire simply had to win the Championship sooner or later. It was, indeed, surprising that it happened only once whilst Nottinghamshire had this very great side. Eventually the acrimonious body-line controversy led to the retirement of Arthur Carr and had much to do with Larwood leaving first-class cricket when he did.

In 1935 Nottinghamshire were jointly led by S.D. Rhodes and G.F.H. Heane, but thereafter the latter captained them until 1947, when he was superseded by W.A. Sime. After winning the Championship in 1929 Nottinghamshire suffered a gradual decline in their fortunes, due to a very noticeable falling off in the standard of bowling, and although the batting was still well above average with the great success of a new generation of batsmen in Keeton and Harris, who made a fine opening pair, and the beautifully upright, straight-hitting Joe Hardstaff, no new bowlers could be found apart from Harold Butler.

Hardstaff could not help but enthrall anyone who watched him play. His record but for the War would have been tremendous, and as it was he scored 31,841 runs, made 83 centuries, averaged 44.34 and played in 23 Test matches -- a wonderful record.

Harold Butler did sterling work for Nottinghamshire but apart from Test matches against South Africa in this country and the ill-fated Tour of the West Indies in 1947, he never received the recognition that his bowling really warranted. Probably doubts regarding his fitness were the major factors. The combination of Butler and Jepson served Nottinghamshire well for many years but their bowling, particularly that of the latter, had not really the penetration to raise the side from the lower rungs of the table, and it was not until the advent of Bruce Dooland, from Australia that this occurred.

Dooland's Influence

This was the first time Nottinghamshire had broken with tradition and engaged a player from overseas. However with his extremely accurate leg-spin bowling, coupled with his wrong'un and 'flipper' he completely mesmerized the majority of batsmen in this country -- in fact all of them in his first two years -- with the result that Notts jumped from next to the bottom in the Championship to eighth place in his first year and in his second year there was a further improvement.

Dooland achieved the double in 1955 and 1957, and created a Nottinghamshire record of 181 wickets in a season. His decision to return to Australia at the end of the 1957 season was a very big blow to the club, and the following years were mostly a time of lamentation and woe, the biggest disappointment to many being the fact that no young players from the county itself were showing promise.

The only bright spot in recent years was the success of Brian Bolus, obtained under special registration from Yorkshire, who scored 2,190 runs and was selected for the last two Test matches against the West Indies in 1963. His fine attacking batsmanship had a wonderful tonic on the side and they finished ninth in the Championship. Unfortunately this improvement has not been maintained and Nottinghamshire are once again in the throes of team building for there is still great faith in the future of Nottinghamshire cricket.

Finally, some words on Trent Bridge. It is the considered opinion of many lovers of cricket that no great ground in these islands has a more charming situation than that of Trent Bridge. The accommodation and amenities for public and players alike are more than ample. The playing area exceeds six and a half acres and the wicket is one of the best, if not the best, in the country.

During its existence the ground has been the scene of many very stern and heroic contests, helping to make cricket history. A match which provided a perfect example of the fact that the wicket is not so entirely one-sided as some would have us believe was the match played against the Australians in 1921. Nottinghamshire were bowled out for scores of 58 and 100, whilst Australia, thanks to a famous innings of 345 scored in four hours by Macartney, amassed the huge total of 675.

Ever since the ground was established Nottinghamshire players have been extremely fortunate in having had the opportunity to play their cricket on such a wonderful piece of turf. There was actually a period shortly after the last war when the label 'featherbed' was attached to the wicket, but that was often proved erroneous by the outstanding performance of many bowlers, especially from overseas.

However, since the re-turfing took place in the late'50s to dispense with the marl, it has proved to be an excellent cricket wicket, culminating in the fact that in 1966 it was considered by all to be the best in the country.


Derbyshire 1953by W. T. Taylor
Essex 1960by Charles Bray
Glamorgan 1949by J. H. Morgan
Gloucestershire 1957by H. F. Hutt
Hampshire 1952by E. D. R. Eagar
Kent 1966by R. L. Arrowsmith
Lancashire 1951by Neville Cardus
Leicestershire 1964by Brian Chapman
Middlesex 1965by I. A. R. Peebles
Northamptonshire 1958by James D. Coldham
Nottinghamshire 1967by R. T. Simpson.
Somerset 1959by Eric Hill
Surrey 1946by H. D. G. Leveson Gower
Sussex 1954by A. E. R. Gilligan
Warwickshire 1950by M. F. K. Fraser
Worcestershire 1963by Noel Stone
Yorkshire 1955by J. M. Kilburn

© John Wisden & Co