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The history of Gloucestershire is the story of its great players. The deeds and tales of W. G. Grace, G. L. Jessop and W. R. Hammond form eternally famous chapters in the annals of county and Test cricket. They, and others whose names were not quite such household words, have given the Gloucestershire club high standing throughout the years.
The date of the formation of Gloucestershire as a county club is given as 1871, but the side, which was purely amateur and remained so until 1876, made a start in the world of fairly important cricket in the early 1860's. A team under the name of Gloucestershire played a fixture against Devon in 1862, and there is a note of a Gloucestershire v. Somerset game in 1863. In 1868, Gloucestershire beat M.C.C. in two days at Lord's, but it was not until 1870 that the enthusiasm of the Grace family--well known as a cricketing family long before W. G. was born at Downend in 1848--put the club on a sound basis and enabled Gloucestershire to play other counties in a more or less settled programme.
The West Country team, soon to be dubbed the County of the Graces, engaged in first-class county matches for the first time in 1870. In 1873, Gloucestershire were admitted to the newly-formed County Championship as one of the nine sides considered first-class. Their amateur talent, under the captaincy of W. G., immediately showed their worth in a competition of largely professional strength by sharing the Championship with Nottinghamshire who usually had ten or eleven paid players.
The black-bearded W. G. strode through these early years of Gloucestershire successes like a colossus. He and his brothers--E. M. and G. F.--dominated match after match and in 1876 and 1877 Gloucestershire carried off the Championship on their own. Until beaten by the first Australian Eleven in 1878 the team never lost a match at home. The glory faded after the death of G. F. Grace in 1880, and apart from brief revivals the team over a whole season have not recaptured it.
Second place in 1930, 1931 and 1947 was the nearest the county came to finishing top since the great days of the 1870's. Still, Gloucestershire's valuable contribution to the game cannot be measured by match results.
The feats of W. G., who died in 1915, aged 67, are legendary. He led Gloucestershire from 1870 to 1899 and did more to popularise cricket than anyone else. As a batsman he achieved almost everything of distinction--two centuries in a match, three hundreds in succession, 2,000 runs in a season and three scores of over 300. A bowler of medium pace, with round-arm action and a little break from leg, he took all ten wickets in an innings, and he did the Double on eight occasions. W. G. hit 126 centuries, 51 of them for Gloucestershire, with a highest score for the county of 318 not out, and the remarkable average of 40.80 spread over 30 years with the club. In 1895, when 47 years old, he scored 1,000 runs in May--an amazing performance.
W. G. himself gave his recipe for success. "I aim," he said "at placing every ball, however straight and good the length of it, for that is the only way to score at all rapidly against crack bowlers who can bowl over after over every ball on the wicket." As a bowler, no one was quicker than the Doctor to find out the weak points of a batsman, and in Gloucestershire's heyday the brilliant fielding of G. F. (Fred) Grace was invaluable to him. W. G. began as an alert outfield, despite his bulk, capable of very long throws, but in later years he fielded near the wicket and only E. M. Grace, his other brother in the Gloucestershire Eleven, was his superior at point.
Inevitably there have been many stories told about The Champion, and there are several versions of the one about the bumping ball which flew through his beard. Ernest Jones, the Australian fast bowler, was the man concerned, but Sir Stanley Jackson, who was at the wicket with W. G. when the incident occurred, has put on record that he does not think the ball actually touched Grace's beard. Sir Stanley, who died in 1947, said that he believed he was responsible for the beard-parting story as on his return to the pavilion he jocularly cried to his team-mates: "Did you see that one go through 'W. G's.' beard?" So history is written.
There have been many memorials to W. G. and the cradle in which he was rocked in his home at Downend more than one hundred years ago is now in Bristol Museum.
During his years as captain, the great man had the help of such brilliant players as Jessop, C. L. Townsend, F. G. Roberts and J. H. Board. The Doctor also introduced, in 1877, the county's first professional, W. E. Midwinter, a Gloucestershire-born all-rounder, who is the only man ever to play for both countries in the England and Australia series. W. G., while touring with the England team in Australia, offered Midwinter an engagement and he stayed with Gloucestershire until he once more went to Australia in 1882.
Next to the name of W. G. that of Jessop was the magic one. Captain of Gloucestershire from 1900 to 1912, Jessop, like W. G. before him and Hammond after him, had the personality to bring people flocking from homes, offices, factories and shops to see him.
Popularly known as The Croucher, Jessopus and The Human Catapult, Jessop thrilled the crowds with his tremendous hitting. In an hour he could alter the course of a game. A dynamic driver, he would advance down the pitch, then like a tightly-wound spring snapping open he would unleash his energy and smite the ball with terrific power. Jessop trounced fast as well as medium and slow-paced bowlers, and his severe cutting of the quicker men was a joy to see.
Who of the moderns could equal these prodigious feats--101 out of 118 in 40 minutes (for Gloucestershire against Yorkshire at Harrogate in 1897 with G. H. Hirst playing), or 191 out of 234 in 90 minutes (for Gentlemen of South against The Players of South at Hastings in 1907)?
Like W. G., Jessop was an all-rounder. He bowled aggressively and possessed of a swift and accurate throw, he fielded magnificently. He did the Double in 1897 and 1900. In his association with Gloucestershire from 1894 to 1914, Jessop scored 18,936 runs, with a highest innings of 286 and average of 32.53, and took 620 wickets at 22.34 runs apiece.
Townsend, who spanned the years 1893 to 1922, first regularly and then irregularly, began with the county as a leg-break bowler before developing into one of the best left-hand bats in the land. His bowling achievements included the taking of 16 wickets against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in 1895 and that unparalleled performance in first-class cricket of a hat-trick by stumpings.
W. H. Brain, who kept wicket for Gloucestershire for only the one season of 1893, shared in that unique feat at the expense of Somerset at Cheltenham. C. L. Townsend scored 7,754 runs for Gloucestershire, with a highest innings of 224 not out, and took 653 wickets. He twice did the Double.
Roberts, a skilful left-arm bowler, and Board, a dependable wicket-keeper-batsman, also blossomed under the leadership of Jessop whose term of captaincy saw such players as C. O. H. Sewell (captain 1913-1914), A. E. Dipper, G. Dennett, P. T. Mills and C. W. L. Parker come into prominence or start upon their noted careers. Dennett, master of flight and spin, was the first of Gloucestershire's famous left-arm bowlers, and had he not been contemporary with Rhodes and Blythe he must have gained Test honours. In eleven consecutive seasons to 1914, Dennett averaged nearly 150 wickets for under twenty runs each. In 1906 he took an ten Essex wickets in the first innings at Bristol for 40 runs, and in 1907 at Gloucester he shared with Jessop the distinction of dismissing Northamptonshire for 12 runs--the lowest total recorded in any county match. Dennett took eight wickets for nine runs and Jessop the other two for three runs. Dennett, who played for Gloucestershire from 1903 to 1926, captured 2,082 wickets for the county at 19.88 runs apiece.
Gloucestershire's production of personalities was only temporarily checked by the First World War. Dipper, an opening batsman of the utmost reliability, carried his bat no fewer than 11 times for the county before he retired in 1932. He was the most stubborn and imperturbable of defenders when occasion demanded it, and he hit 53 centuries for the county, with a top score of 252 not out against Glamorgan at Cheltenham in 1923. Dipper's full batting figures for Gloucestershire, between 1908 and 1932, were 27,948 runs, average 35.28
Parker, a bowler who regarded batsmen as his natural enemies, developed into the county's greatest left-arm exponent. He spun nearly every ball, and when batsmen heard the snap of his fingers they knew the ball would turn viciously. From 1903 to 1935 he took 3,171 wickets for Gloucestershire at average cost of 19.43 runs--really great bowling. In 16 consecutive seasons between 1920 and 1935 he took over 100 wickets and five times passed 200 in all cricket.
He did the hat-trick six times--including twice in one match--took all ten Somerset wickets for 79 runs at Bristol in 1921, and conceded only 56 runs in both innings while disposing of 17 Essex batsmen at Gloucester in 1925. He may, though, be remembered best of all for his almost unbelievable performance in his own benefit match, against Yorkshire at Bristol in 1922. He hit the stumps with five consecutive deliveries, but unfortunately the second delivery was called "no ball". On two occasions Parker bowled unchanged in a match, and both were in 1922 in company with Mills, a finger-spin bowler of the old order who took the last five Somerset wickets at Bristol in 1928 in the course of 40 deliveries without having a run hit off him.
From the resumption of cricket after the first World War until the coming of the adventurous B. H. Lyon in 1929, Gloucestershire were served by four captains--F. G. Robinson, P. F. C. Williams, Lt.-Col. D. C. Robinson and W. H. Rowlands. During their reign a new star appeared in the cricket firmament. Hammond was the name. As W. G. and Jessop had done in the eras before him, Hammond drew cricket lovers as surely as a magnet draws steel. His career--from 1920 to 1947--was full of wonderful achievements. The crowds idolised him, and he responded by giving sheer delight with his artistry of batting. On a hot summer's day, with his silken shirt rippling in the gentle breeze, Hammond looked every inch the greatest cricketer in the world as he scored with freedom, style and assurance against the best that pace or spin bowlers could send down to him. Of strong physique, he excelled with his strokes through the covers, and the perfect timing, power and exquisite grace of his off-driving has never been surpassed.
Hammond's performances for Gloucestershire and England would fill pages. Of his 167 centuries, 113 were for the county, and 24 of them were over 200! He scored more runs for Gloucestershire than any other player--33,664, for the incredible average of 57.05 and his highest score for the county 317. Hammond, true to the tradition of W. G. and Jessop, was an all-rounder. A clever bowler of medium-pace with the old or new ball, he took 504 wickets for Gloucestershire but was never used regularly enough as a bowler to enable him to do the double. For all that he could be counted on to beat the best batsmen in the world.
His other great asset was his fielding. As a slip fielder he was unapproached, and the nonchalant way he used to take the slightest of snicks, especially off the bowling of Parker, was remarkable.
Hammond still heads the list of players, other than wicket-keepers, who have made most catches in a season, for in 1928 he held 78. In that summer, too, he established, against Surrey at Cheltenham, the record of 10 catches in a match--a feat equalled, curiously, by another Gloucestershire man in wicket-keeper A. E. Wilson, against Hampshire at Portsmouth in 1953. No other players anywhere have this distinction to their credit. In 1938, Hammond changed his professional status and as an amateur he captained Gloucestershire in 1939 and 1946.
B. H. Lyon, captain from 1929 to 1934, encouraged the enterprise and showmanship of his players, and in this period, when Gloucestershire cricket was once more a force in the Championship, it was surprising that his team did not carry off top honours. Lyon, a hard-hitting batsman, was an astute captain who knew the weaknesses of his rivals as well as he realised the capabilities of his own men. He did much to brighten cricket and would never let a game peter out into a tame draw.
His unorthodox actions caused consternation among cricket legislators--and an alteration in the laws. There was the notable match at Sheffield in 1931, when, after delay owing to rain, a result on two innings apiece was impossible, and both the Yorkshire and Gloucestershire first innings were declared closed with four byes from one ball bowled by each side. That action permitted the full points to be available for the winners, and Gloucestershire secured them with victory by 47 runs.
Lyon had a brilliant side at his command, with Hammond, C. J. Barnett, R. A. Sinfield, C. C. Dacre, W. L. Neals, Parker, T. W. Goddard and H. Smith to call upon. In addition to the superlative skill and consistency of Hammond, an attraction for the public was the clean, hard hitting of Barnett whose nature simply compelled him to hit the punishable ball, even if it were the first of the match. He played many magnificent innings, including 38 hundreds for Gloucestershire, and still holds the record for the highest number of sixes in an innings. He hit eleven--besides eighteen 4's--in his 194 against Somerset at Bath in 1934.
Dacre, the New Zealander who came over with the 1927 team and qualified for the county, was another hitter of sixes. He often took a leaf out of Jessop's book by going down the pitch to drive and if he could hit the ball out of the ground so much the better for his mood. Gloucestershire, at this time, were certainly the apostles of the brighter cricket campaign, but they knew they had the solidarity of Sinfield and Neale to stop a gap if their lively methods failed.
In bowling they were as strong as any county and the combination of Parker and the tall Goddard became renowned. Goddard, originally a fast bowler, changed to off-spin bowling with great success. Using his height and keeping an immaculate length, he brought the ball down hard and made it lift. On turf at all helpful he proved unplayable and he achieved phenomenal performances during a long career which began in 1922 and finished only a few seasons ago. His bag for Gloucestershire was 2,862 wickets for 19.58 runs apiece, but these bare figures do not tell of his finest days. He joined the ranks of the cricket immortals in 1939 by taking 17 Kent wickets in a day at Bristol--a world record shard previously by Blythe and H. Verity. Against Worcestershire at Cheltenham in 1937, Goddard took all ten wickets in an innings for 113. Like Parker, he also performed the hat-trick six times.
Sinfield's value was as batsman and bowler. He had the temperament for a crisis and he did the double in 1934 and 1937--the first and only Gloucestershire professional player to reach this standard of all-round excellence. Sinfield hit 16 hundreds for the county, and Smith, an unostentatious yet very effective wicket-keeper, hit ten.
Many were the days of exciting cricket in the early 1930's but surely none was so breath-taking as the memorable tie with the Australians at Bristol. C. W. Walker, the Australian man in, took up his stand at the wicket with the tourists needing three runs to win. Hornibrook, at the other end, hit two singles. With the scores level three maiden overs were bowled and Smith kept wicket so coolly and efficiently that not a ball passed him at this vital stage. Then Hornibrook was lbw to Goddard. The crowd's enthusiasm broke loose and they carried Parker, the real hero of the match, shoulder-high to the pavilion in triumph. Parker had taken seven wickets for 54 and bowled unchanged in the innings with Goddard.
A day of tragedy was September 2, 1936, when D. A. C. Page, captain for two years after B. H. Lyon, lost his life in a car crash. Page, only 25, had enthusiastically led Gloucestershire to fourth place in the table, and in all the sorrow which his death caused it must have been a happy memory to his relatives and colleagues that the last thing he did on the field was to make a catch which gave Gloucestershire victory over Nottinghamshire.
B. O. Allen, a stalwart left-hand bat and Cambridge Blue, led Gloucestershire in 1937 and 1938, and after Hammond's single post-war season as captain Allen stepped into the breach again and held control of the team from 1947 to 1950.
An able leader as well as a consistent opening batsman, Allen, in 1947, went close to restoring the old glories of Gloucestershire. A daring and fearless close-in fielder, he inspired his men to great heights and the county finished second in the Championship to Middlesex. Then the pendulum swung back. With Neale and Barnett following Hammond into retirement the county's batting strength was sapped and in 1950 Goddard, in his fiftieth year, at length gave up.
Yet Gloucestershire, in the present decade, have high hopes of the future. In an age when amateur leaders are difficult to find, the county called Sir Derrick Bailey from the Second Eleven to captain them in 1951 and 1952, and since then the captaincy has devolved in turn upon the professionals J. F. Crapp and G. M. Emmett. Crapp's solid left-hand batting has demoralised many attacks, and Emmett, a player of delightful strokes, also has a long list of centuries to his name.
Lambert, one of Gloucestershire's best bowlers, has been a mainstay of the team in modern times, and Wilson shone as batsman as well as wicket-keeper. Now there is T. W. Graveney, of the graceful and entertaining stroke-play, C. A. Milton, a brilliant fielder and fine batsman, D. M. Young, a sound opener, C. Cook, who has continued the series of the side's noted left-arm slow bowlers, and a host of youngsters, among them the off-spinners B. D. Wells and J. Mortimore, to keep the flag flying. Another Graveney would have been in the list, but Gloucestershire lost a potentially great all-rounder when J. K., brother of the Test player, had to give up county cricket because of a strained back soon after he took 10 Derbyshire wickets in an innings in 1949.
The County of the Graces is sparing no effort to develop Gloucestershire-born talent. W. G. was always pleased to discover a promising cricketer, and those who now direct the county's fortunes feel that the finest tribute they can pay to the memory of their Champion is the encouragement of youthful cricketers raised within its borders.
(The career figures given in this article refer to performances for Gloucestershire, except where otherwise stated, and have been taken from the Gloucestershire Handbook.)