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James D. Coldham
Northamptonshire County Cricket Club grew naturally out of the Northampton Town Club which was formed in 1820 and by 1850 was the most powerful in the county. Some of the members were drawn from outlying districts, and in the latter year the local Press began referring loosely to this Town Club as Northamptonshire. The venue was the Northampton Race Course, an expanse of 120 acres and for generations a public right-of-way, jealously guarded by the Freemen and townspeople.
In the 'seventies representative cricket was at a low ebb and, as the outcome of a discussion on July 3, 1878, during the annual North versus South Northants match at Kettering, a Public Meeting at the George Hotel, Kettering, on July 31 considered "the best means of placing the County Club on a footing of equality with other counties." As it was realised that Northamptonshire had never been properly organised and was really a town club supported by few of the gentry, a Committee was elected representing all parts of the County, the Earl Spencer remaining President. Other notable officials were Sir Herewald Wake, a member of M.C. C., the Hon. and Rev. J. Marsham of the eminent Kent family, and Mr. Fred Tebbutt, proprietor of a shoe business and energetic Honorary Secretary, who arranged more ambitious fixtures.
From 1881 until 1885, of thirty-five matches eighteen were won and eight lost. Essex and M.C.C. were defeated; the first game (in 1884) at Wellingborough School saw Warwickshire worsted by an innings. Eighteen of Northamptonshire met the Australians in 1880 and two years later the County played them (with the aid of Alfred Shaw) on equal terms; both ventures were lost.
Tom Bowley, Joe Potter and Tom Alley secured 458 wickets. A schoolmaster, G. J. Gulliver, hit the first century, 103, off M.C.C. at Lord's in 1884; and five brothers Kingston batted zestfully. Eight of them appeared between 1874 and 1909.
As a small body of Freemen claimed that they possessed the freehold of the Race Course, the expansion of County Cricket there was impossible. Once a brewer's dray was driven, deliberately, across the pitch prepared by the Yorkshire-born groundsman, who gave the driver a good thrashing and asked the Committee for a small rise in pay.
In 1885 a ploughed field of ten acres of Abington Parish was purchased from Sir R. Loyd Lindsay (afterwards Lord Wantage) by the new Northamptonshire County Cricket and Recreation Grounds Company, Ltd., Sir Herewald Wake and Mr. Joseph Hill, Squire of Wollaston, advancing £2,000 for the site. The first match at the present County Ground was on May 14, 16, 1886, when Surrey Club and Ground won by six wickets.
Northamptonshire did not flourish as the best professionals were lured to more prosperous counties, Arthur Mold, for instance, joining Lancashire and playing for England; the membership was about 300; the County families remained aloof; finance was always a worry.
Wellingborough School and the local Leagues produced some talented players, and in 1896 a rebuilt side entered the Minor Counties Championship. Between 1899 and 1904 they enjoyed substantial success, twice winning the title outright and twice tying for first place. No matches were lost between July 1898 and July 1901.
The genial Reptonian, Tom Horton, was captain and he was assured of class batting from the impetuous C. J. T. Pool, more solidity from W. H. Kingston, and ballast down to number eleven. Besides scoring prolifically, G. J. Thompson and W. East carried the attack. From 1898 until 1904 ninety-one games brought them 964 wickets. Thompson was the greatest all-rounder ever produced by Northamptonshire; East was a capable and accurate medium pacer and dour batsman.
An Old Wellingburian, George Thompson, first appeared in 1895 at the age of seventeen, and bowled and batted the County into first-class cricket. With his complete double circle of the arm action, he was above medium pace and brought the ball off the ground with plenty of life and spin. His length was superb. As a batsman he tended to be over-cautious, but when conditions warranted he would hit hard and often. Close in he held many catches. In Minor County days he scored 5,174 runs, average 35.93, and took 751 wickets at 14.01 runs each; and from 1905 until 1922 his figures were 8,322 runs, average 23.57, and 1,078 wickets at 18.88 runs each. The first Northants player to represent England against Australia--at Birmingham in 1909--Thompson came second to Hobbs with an average of 33.37 in the Tests in South Africa that winter, besides taking 23 wickets.
Promotion came in 1905, and no one worked harder for it than the open-handed and enthusiastic President, Lord Lilford, and the Honorary Secretary, the gifted Mr. A. J. Darnell, a household name in Law, Politics and Sport.
During the first four seasons irresolute and unenterprising batting were the bane, excepting such as C. J. T. Pool's 166 at Worcester, Dr. H. C. Pretty's 200 in as many minutes at Chesterfield, and Thompson's not out 103 at Fenner's after Cambridge had routed them for 57 and replied with 405, all in 1906. Top class spinners were specially feared. In 1907 Blythe of Kent took seventeen wickets in one day; and when at Ashley Down the County sank to a new low--12 all out--before Gloucestershire's Dennett, a telegram to the captain, E. M. Crosse, read: "Bring the Boys Home--Mother."
Thompson and East virtually monopolised the attack until 1908 when W. Bumper Wells, who could make the ball fly disagreeably, earned a regular place. They commanded respect. At The Oval in 1906 Surrey were dismissed on a plumb pitch for 96; the same year Thompson secured fifteen for 167 against Leicestershire at Northampton. It was heartening to beat Lancashire by one wicket at Northampton; and Northants did not finish last in those years.
Composed almost entirely of local men, the team received an enlivening shot in the arm from outside. Fresh natives like the Denton twins, J. S. and W. H., both sound run-getters, F. Fanny Walden, a mighty atom of cricket and soccer, and stout W. A. Buswell, a cheerful 'keeper, were joined by four bold batsmen, R. A. Haywood and C. N. Woolley from Kent, John Seymour from Sussex and versatile S. G. Smith, the outstanding West Indian all-rounder who was, moreover, the first high-class left-hander Northamptonshire possessed.
After a poor start in 1909, eight of nine consecutive matches were won, the bowling of Smith and Thompson, who each took a hundred wickets and were admirably contrasted, being supported by increasingly offensive batting and lively fielding. Despite a drop from seventh to tenth place in 1910, S. G. Smith notched a thousand runs; at Sheffield, Yorkshire were beaten for the first time by five wickets, G. A. T. Vials contributing a sparkling 100. With Gloucestershire at Northampton 1,391 run were scored for thirty-six wickets, including a mighty 204 by Smith. At Portsmouth, Northants were in dire straits until Smith and Thompson added 232. In 1911 only once was a total of 300 exceeded against the attack; and the batting advanced in all the rightful qualities. Against Gloucestershire at home Thompson and Haywood hit 222 in two and a half hours; the same pair put on 236 at Dewsbury. East's seven for 11 at the expense of Lancashire compensated somewhat for two collapses. Kent, however, were overcome at Tonbridge by 135 runs, Thompson securing twelve wickets; and everyone pulled well to beat Yorkshire at Northampton by 44 runs.
In the wet 1912 Northants finished a close second to Yorkshire. Ten matches were won and one lost out of eighteen. A reasonable assumption is that if rain had not curtailed play on August 7, Yorkshire (103 and 105 for seven wickets) could have been beaten by Lancashire (347) and Northants (211 for eight wickets declared) could have upset Leicestershire (96 and 96 for six wickets)--and Northamptonshire would have displaced Yorkshire! The success was due to the determination of the captain, Vials, the collective power resulting from constant association--only twelve appeared in the County matches--and excellent, well-varied bowling. Vials headed the batting with an average of 28.26; Smith took 84 wickets at 12.15 runs each and Thompson 106 at 14.59 each.
All was not well with County Cricket and early in 1913 A. J. Darnell, a pioneer of the Saturday start, proposed to the Advisory Committee of M.C.C. that matches be restricted to two days and there be a system of promotion and relegation. Lord Hawke, who favoured a smaller Championship, complained that Northamptonshire were taking too much of a lead. After a rumpus at Lord's, Lord Harris stilled the troubled waters and Mr. Darnell apologised for having unintentionally caused antipathy--and a few days later Yorkshire were beaten at Leeds by 20 runs, Smith (the new captain) and Thompson collecting eighteen wickets.
Northants finished fourth, winning thirteen games. Batsmen made great strides, four reaching four figures--Haywood 1,453, Smith 1,424, W. H. Denton 1,055 and J. S. Denton 1,007--and Thompson mustered 902 runs. Between them, Thompson and Smith secured 255 wickets. At Bristol, 516 was compiled in little over five hours, this orgy being led by Smith and Haywood, who in two hours added 216 for the third partnership. At Leyton, W. H. Denton carried out his bat for a solid 230. At Horsham, Thompson and Smith, who each took ten wickets, bowled unchanged.
S. G. Smith's swan-song in 1914 brought him 1,193 runs, average 41.13, and 99 wickets at 16.63 runs apiece. Again, his chief helper was Thompson. Despite a fall to ninth place, the County continued strongly all round. Against Sussex at Brighton their 557 for six wickets, declared, remains the highest ever; Smith stole the honours with 177, adding 180 with Thompson. Fifty-five matches had been won in six great years, but financially the club was as certain of instability as the Liberal Party was of power.
In 1919 S. G. Smith was domiciled in New Zealand and Thompson wounded and ill; the head and the right arm were gone. Under a succession of captains the County struggled. 1921 found Haywood glorious with 1,909 runs, average 42.42, including eight centuries; it was a severe blow when he departed that autumn. Financial losses resulted in two general meetings battling over Reconstruction; V. W. C. Jupp of Sussex and England was appointed Secretary and Stephen Schilizzi emerged as a benefactor of the practical Cricket is a Business School.
In February 1923 a prominent local agriculturalist, Alfred Cockerill, who had spent £10,000 in acquiring the County Ground, gave it to the club to be preserved for sport for ever; a unique gift. That year, however, Northants finished last for the first time.
V. W. C. Jupp was qualified in 1924. The following summer he scored 1,143 runs and took 110 wickets; it was the cornerstone of the most successful season between the wars when nine encounters brought victory and eleventh place was attained. The short, broad and increasingly rotund Jupp threw himself into the fight against odds. Secretary for eleven years, captain for six, a nimble-footed batsman on all sorts of wickets and a grand adaptable off-and leg-spinner, he scored 13,635 runs, average 30.44, and collected 1,078 wickets, average 22.31; six times he achieved the double for the County before he gave up in 1938.
In the 'twenties other remarkable exponents included Woolley, by now reliant on economy of effort at number one; Fanny Walden, at his best when the need was greatest; A. P. R. Hawtin, a stylish and confident stroke-maker; Ben Bellamy, second best wicket-keeper-batsman in the country; Bumper Wells, veteran fast bowler and hard hitter; length specialist A. E. Thomas, the William Attewell of Northants cricket; two class batsmen in H. F. Bagnall and W. W. Timms; and E. W. Nobby Clark, a fast left-hander with a beautiful action who touched a peak that few others of his generation reached. Eighteen seasons brought him 1,097 wickets at 21.31 runs apiece, and eight appearances for England.
The measure of the weakness was revealed to the full against Yorkshire, although Jupp, Wells, Thomas and Clark sometimes bowled wonderfully well against the strongest county.
In 1930 the Australians were spun out at Northampton for 93, but Northants finished at the foot of the table. Things became worse, and although, in September 1931, a Special General Meeting assented to the continuance of the club, thorough-going retrenchment was advocated.
Northants commenced 1933 by overwhelming West Indies by an innings and 62 runs; though they finished disappointingly, A. H. Bakewell shone brightly. He became the first to reach 2,000 in all matches in a season, which included 246 against Nottinghamshire at Northampton and 257 against Glamorgan at Swansea in successive innings. A great future was being forecast for him. Making his debut in 1928, he impressed immediately with his brilliancy at short-leg; later his stroke play won him his place for England. A better batsman than he looked, in an effort of 30 he would produce every stroke in the game, his off-driving being particularly exhilarating. Returning from Chesterfield after the last match of 1936, in which he batted superbly for 241 not out, Bakewell was injured in a tragic car smash; his career was finished and Northants, who would soon be bereft of Jupp and Clark, could ill-afford to lose him.
A. W. Snowden, an amateur opening batsman from Peterborough, made his debut against New Zealand in 1931 at the age of 17; he scored his first fifty against India and his maiden century against Australia. He captained the county at the age of 18 and before he was 21 he and Bakewell achieved a feat which was then without parallel by compiling two opening stands of over 100 on the same day against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. Unfortunately business claimed him soon after he came of age.
Between May 1935 and May 1939, 101 matches failed to produce a victory. It was a shocking patch, but several players epitomised Courage: J. E. Timms, a well-equipped and defiant cavalier batsman and relisher of any fight with high-bouncing bowlers; young Dennis Brookes, already looking an England batsman with his upstanding stance and style of purest simplicity; R. J. Partridge, swinging the new ball appreciably and spurred on by his thankless task; New Zealander, K. C. James, maintaining his international reputation behind the stumps; and a born leader, R. P. Nelson, the powerful left-handed Cambridge Blue, taking charge in 1938 and bringing the County finally out of the slough of despond in May 1939, when Leicestershire were vanquished at Northampton by an innings and 193 runs.
R. P. Nelson was killed, alas, in 1940; but Northamptonshire's Elder Statesman, A. P. R. Hawtin, and an enthusiastic captain, P. E. Murray Willis, kept the club in the news. Matches were played each war summer, and this shire which had finished seventeenth eight times between 1919 and 1939 did more for the game than any other.
The opening match in 1946 was appropriately at Lord's with Middlesex, at the close the Middlesex last pair were together and 23 runs were needed. There was a heightened tone about Northamptonshire's cricket; subsequent results disappointed. One recalls pleasurably the opening stands of Brookes and Percy Davis; left-handed Barron, so full of promise; the comeback of Nobby Clark, for five overs the fastest in the land; Timms at cover; and slow left-hander Vincent Broderick, a young England hope; but few matches ended in their favour. A strong leader was required.
In 1949 F. R. Brown of Cambridge, Surrey and England, who was living at Daventry, took the reins, and a New Look transformed the County. He understood the game thoroughly; at his elbow were a revitalised Executive and a playing staff rich in numbers and prowess. Winning ten matches in 1949, Northants jumped to sixth place; in 1952 they finished eighth. Skipper from 1949 to 1953, Brown, when freed from representative calls, scored with his pugnacious approach 4,331 runs, average 30.94, and took 391 wickets, average 23.23, while reshaping the seam, leg-break and googly departments. His right-hand man was the Yorkshireman Brookes; when at Headingly in 1953 Yorkshire were defeated for the first time for forty years, he was both acting-captain and century-maker. These years saw two pre-war Lancastrians in Norman Oldfield, overflowing with neat strokes and scorer in 1949 of 2,192 runs, average 49.81, and Albert Nutter, a hostile opening bowler; F. Jakeman who by fierce left-handed hitting in 1951, made 558 runs in four consecutive innings before dismissal, including 258 not out off Essex at Northampton; Frank Tyson, the fastest bowler in the country; Australians Jock Livingston, a left-handed batsman and ubiquitous fieldsman of sheer delight, and George Tribe of Herculean all-round feats; and Desmond Barrick, who hits the ball harder than most.
As captain since 1954 the quiet, knowledgeable and shrewd Brookes has proved even more successful than Brown. No longer is the Northampton pitch easy paced and a nightmare to all bowlers alike; decisive results have increased. Since 1955, Surrey have been beaten four times; and Northants rose from seventh in 1954 and 1955 to fourth in 1956, and to second in 1957--the most successful campaign in their history, with 218 points from 28 matches, of which 15 were won. The battery of left-handed spinners, including one Tribe who accomplished the double for the sixth successive year, and the Typhoon that did not fizzle out into a gentle zephyr, together with a grand 'keeper in Andrew who created a new Northants record (68 victims), were the men-of-the-season. The potential is tremendous; the best has not yet been seen of the Cambridge Blue, Raman Subba Row, who in 1955 broke fresh ground in hitting 260 not out against Lancashire at Northampton, and several young bowlers who may well beat Tribe's record of 175 wickets taken the same year. Through it all remains Dennis Brookes, who first appeared in 1934, and is the sheet-anchor in a side of quick scorers. No one has amassed more runs for the county: 26,075, average 36.52, which includes 257 off Gloucestershire at Bristol in 1949; or more centuries: 63; or more runs in a season: 2,198, average 51.11 in 1952.
No reference to Northamptonshire cricket would be complete without mention of Leo Bullimer who was for 51 years the county scorer until retiring in 1950. His efforts in raising funds did much to keep Northamptonshire going during some of their worst financial crises.
Why do Northamptonshire engage so many players from outside (especially from overseas)? The answer is plain. A small county without either the population or resources of Yorkshire, Northamptonshire, nevertheless, possess a public with the palate for good cricket--and cricketers. Therefore, while talent scouts comb the county and trials are held regularly, experts from elsewhere are encouraged to become specially registered. Financial backing? That go-ahead modern firm, British Timken, is prepared to offer winter employment, something that redounds to the honour and skill of the present-day professional; and there is a football competition, organised by the county's eleven-year-old Supporters Club which, whatever else one may think of it, makes football serve the needs of cricket. The county have 2,000 members; 63,000 odd if one includes those who support this competition.
Heading for the title of Champion County, Northamptonshire consider they are doing a real service to English cricket by making so many excellent craftsmen available for our delectation.
(Statistics for the first-class years have been taken from compilations by either Mr. C. Smith or the author and published in the Northamptonshire Year Book.)