HDG Leveson Gower
To those who started the Surrey County Cricket Club and to those who obtained The Oval for cricket a very great debt of gratitude is due. It would be as difficult to imagine county cricket without The Oval, Test Matches without The Oval, as it would be to imagine The Oval without the Gasworks. The Editor of Wisden has paid me the compliment of asking me to contribute an article in connection with the Centenary of the Club. The invitation I readily accept, for it so happens, apart from the great interest I have always had and still have in Surrey cricket, it was in 1895--just fifty years ago--that I played in my first county match for Surrey at the historic Oval ground. August 22, 1945, will be remembered as one of the most important milestones in the history of the Club, for on this day the Club claimed the distinction of having existed a hundred years.
Let us now imagine that we are entering the Oval in the year 1845. In the spring of that year an interesting ceremony was performed: the first sod of turf was laid on the present ground; 10,000 turves came from Tooting Common. Only a year before the same ground was nothing more or less than a market garden. In the early months of this year the members of the famous Montpelier Club had to vacate their ground adjoining the Bee Hive Tavern, Walworth, required for building purposes. It was due to the personal influence of their treasurer, Mr. W. Baker, a fine all-round cricketer, that a lease of 31 years was secured from the Otter family, who held the ground on a 99 years lease, granted to them by the Duchy of Cornwall in 1835.
The autumn of 1844 may be said to have marked the foundation of the Surrey County Cricket Club, and the first game connected with the Surrey Club took place on August 21, 22, 1845--Gentlemen of Surrey against Players of Surrey. Following this match a dinner was held at The Horns, Kennington, when, strangely enough but appropriately, the chair was taken by Mr. William Ward--a splendid cricketer and influential friend of cricket. Previously Mr. Ward made himself responsible for the lease of Lord's. The formal inauguration was deferred till later in the year, when another dinner at the same historic inn was held. The President on that occasion was the Hon. F. Ponsonby, afterwards Earl of Bessborough, and to him more than anyone we owe the continuance of cricket upon the Oval. The Surrey County Cricket Club was born, ever after increasingly to flourish, except for a few early vicissitudes. The question has been asked--and is worth answering--Was the Oval ever in danger of being built upon? Yes; about the year 1851; this was prevented by the Prince Consort when acting for Edward, Prince of Wales, and Duke of Cornwall, afterwards King Edward VII.
In the late Sir Jeremiah Colman's beautifully illustrated book, The Noble Game of Cricket, there is a reproduction of a picture of the Oval painted two years after the inauguration of the Surrey Club. A label attached to the back of the canvas bears the following inscription, Kennington Oval with the market garden dwelling turned into a Club House; date about 1847, before any pavilion stand was erected. Another reproduction from an oil painting shows the first members' pavilion erected in 1855. From a market garden to what was destined to become one of the finest cricket grounds in the country may truly be described as a wonderful transformation, and it is difficult to realise that here was the spot devoted to the cultivation of the cabbage and the cauliflower
It is not easy to assess accurately the standard of first-class cricket at that time as compared with the standard of cricket today, but it may be said that Surrey, amongst the other counties, provided her full share of the leading cricketers. For close on fifteen years the star of Surrey was unmistakably in the ascendant, thanks in no small measure to the able management of John Burrup and his brother William Burrup; the former occupied the post of hon. secretary from 1848 to 1855, and during the reign of his brother, who succeeded him, The Oval commenced a lengthy career of prosperity. Surrey were fortunate in having F. P. Miller as captain; he may be said to have been the first real captain to be elected and he played regularly from 1851 to 1866. He had a very strong eleven. Amongst the famous players, too numerous to mention, were Sherman, who in later days was to be met at Mitcham Green, the birthplace of many a Surrey cricketer of repute; W. Caffyn, the first professional coach that went to Australia, and doubtless it is in great part owing to this Surrey cricketer that Australia has been able to hold her own on the cricket field in this country. Caffyn spent his last years at Reigate as a hairdresser, cutting, it is said, with the same precision with the scissors as he did with the bat. H. H. Stephenson, who captained the first team to Australia in 1861; Julius Caesar, Tom Lockyer, one of the most celebrated wicket-keepers; Felix; G. Brockwell and W. Martingell, the first two professionals engaged by the Club; both names survive in W. Brockwell, who played for Surrey 1886-1902, and A. R. Martingell, now a Surrey Colt. All the nine matches played in 1857 were won, but it was in 1861 that F. P. Miller's captaincy gained full reward, for in that year it may be said his powerful side reached its zenith when the county in their match against England gained a victory by 56 runs. This match was one of several between Surrey and England played from 1848 to 1895; the last of this fixture, after a break of 29 years, was in 1895, the Jubilee year of the Surrey County Cricket Club, and it was fitting opportunity that this game should be renewed as a testimonial match to W. W. Read.
Like so many other counties, Surrey have had their ups and downs, and for several years after their triumphs in 1861 came a lean time; but even during this somewhat disastrous period Surrey possessed such players as Jupp, Humphreys, Southerton, Pooley, and, a little later, Barratt, who took all ten Australian wickets for the Players in 1878 at The Oval. The revival of the fortunes of Surrey cricket may be said to have begun with the appearance of John Shuter, and truthfully asserted that the steady restoration of the county to the high position it occupied half a century back was due to his personal influence and force of his example of unflagging enthusiasm. I had the honour of being at the same public school as he was, Winchester; and in Wykehamist language it was a Winchester notion that Shuter, who was captain of the eleven in 1873, was the best captain the College ever had: to be a second Shuter was the aim of every succeeding captain. From 1881-1890 the county were becoming stronger every year, and in the seasons 1887 to 1899 Surrey carried off the Championship no fewer than nine times. In a conversation with W. E. Roller, a splendid all-round cricketer who played with Shuter, he told me that the following Surrey side in his opinion was the most powerful during this period: J. Shuter, W. W. Read, K. J. Key, W. E. Roller, R. Abel, G. Lohmann, W. Lockwood, J. M. Read, W. Brockwell, H. Wood and J. Sharpe--truly a great eleven, and also playing then were Tom Hayward and Tom Richardson. It is nice to think that W. E. Roller is still with us and on February 1st celebrated his 88th birthday. One cannot possibly mention all those who were associated with Surrey cricket during the golden age, but George Lohmann must always occupy the position of the finest all-round cricketer Surrey, and even England, ever had. His early death deprived the country of a cricketer that could ill be spared.
Meanwhile, just prior to Shuter's reign, another very important landmark occurred in the history of the Club, for in 1878 the first Empire team to play at The Oval were the Australians. The arranging of this fixture was due entirely to the then Secretary of the Club, C. W. Alcock, who for so many years afterwards was instrumental in getting the Australians to the Surrey ground. Two years later came the commencement of Test matches in England, and the first was played at The Oval: England met Australia there on September 6, 7, 8, 1880. From that time up to the last Australian visit in 1938 the final Test Match in each season has taken place at The Oval, no matter who the visitors, and West Indies were there in 1939. Of all the great Test matches that have been played at the Oval the most sensational was the defeat of England in 1882 by seven runs--when wanting only 85 to win. Australia's victory made it clear that the supermacy of cricket in England was being challenged. In the 1884 Test Match every member of the England team had a bowl, and, to the surprise of every Surrey member and their supporters, their champion batsman, W. W. Read, was number 10. He did not fail, but actually made 117. The Jessop Test Match of 1902, England winning by one wicket, provided a great occasion--the superb batting of Hobbs and Sutcliffe that gave England the victory in 1926 after many years of disappointment--the delightful incident of the Australian team's farewell to Hobbs on the cricket field in 1930--and the mammoth score, 364, of Hutton in 1938. These are memories indeed, ever to be looked back upon with pleasure, with Kennington Oval as the scene.
Besides these Test matches there have been many extraneous games at The Oval, but most important of these were the long series of Gentlemen and Players which commenced in 1857 and continued well into the present century. The large programme of county matches and touring teams made it difficult for some little time before this contest was given up to get representative sides. One interesting fact in connection with this match: I was selecting the Gentlemen and Players sides at The Oval in 1906 and asked W. G. Grace to play; he was 58. He refused at first, but I told him I particularly wanted him to take part in the match, first because everyone would be delighted to see him at The Oval and, secondly, the days on which the match was being played included his birthday. To this W. G. replied, My birthday is on the third day and it may be finished in two days. Not if you play, I said. He consented and made 74; his first appearance in this match at The Oval had been 41 years previously.
To return now to Surrey cricket. John Shuter, to the regret of everyone, resigned the captaincy in 1894, and K. J. Key was the natural successor. In 1895 I began my association with Surrey cricket, so that he was the first captain I played under--and a very good one too! Of those who played with Shuter, Maurice Read, Lohmann and Sharpe had practically finished, but Walter Read, Lockwood, Brockwell, Abel, Richardson and Wood were still available-- Tom Hayward was fast becoming one of the best professional bats in the country.
Tom Richardson that season took 237 wickets in 25 matches--a great share in winning the championship--and this directly after touring Australia with A. E. Stoddart's team. In 1899 Surrey again won the Championship; only twice that year was the county defeated. Batting strength was very pronounced, and all-round cricketers, such as Lockwood, D. L. A. Jephson and Hayes, made the team formidable.
At the close of that season K. J. Key resigned the captaincy--a captaincy marked with judgment and success; and all who played under him--I was one of them--had every confidence in his leadership. A splendid batsman at a crisis, he over and over again stepped successfully into the breach.
In dealing with Surrey cricket from 1900 up to the First Great War it is somewhat difficult to decide whether the county sides were stronger than from 1887 to 1900. Although the decline of Richardson and Lockwood--surely there were never a finer pair of fast bowlers--had begun, there was distinct compensation in the rise of Hayward to his zenith, the arrival of Hobbs and J. N. Crawford.
It has been claimed that Lockwood at his best was the finest bowler of all time and Richardson the most consistent. This is probably the best summing-up of their respective merits. Day in and day out, Richardson has had no superior; Lockwood, on his day, with that slow ball of his, was the most difficult.
D. L. A. Jephson was a very fine all-round cricketer: free bat, clever lob bowler--known as the lobster--and always alive in the field; but for a leader rather too sensitive and took too much to heart personal failures. Hayward, by general consent, was the best professional batsman of his era, or perhaps of any era to fast bowling. A fine, upstanding player, with the straightest of bats and very sound knowledge of defence. One of his greatest innings when I was a member of the side was at Canterbury, facing W. M. Bradley, bowling down the slope, which gave never-failing aid to his off-break. Yes, I can see the great Hayward now, with his rubicund face and the brown cap pushed back from his forehead--a dangerous signal which opposing bowlers got to know and respect. The highest aggregate in a season, 3,518, still stands to the credit of Hayward in 1906.
Hayes, a fine slip and a winner of many matches when the turf was false, kept the batting strong. V. F. S. Crawford, a very powerful off-driver, often won matches, and his brother, J. N., ranked with the very best young all-round cricketers, while N. A. Knox, who for a short period was one of the fastest of our amateur bowlers--only a whit slower than the fastest of them all, C. J. Kortwright--also did well.
Surrey, unlike Yorkshire and Kent, never commanded the services of left-hand bowlers of class, but during this period E. C. Kirk, though owing to business unable to play regularly, was the best left-hand Surrey bowler for a great many years; about the same pace as Voce, with a very loose and easy action, and he could make the ball turn on good wickets. Ducat, a fine, upstanding bat with strong on-side strokes and an untiring fieldsman in any position, also stood out. To Surrey cricket, after suffering for a few years from want of a regular captain, there came a distinct revival with Lord Dalmeny, now Earl of Rosebery, in charge. Lees, a splendid bowler of pace, was at his best; and there rose Hitch, a great personality. Why? The answer is: You must have these three--batting, bowling, wicket-keeping--for a first-class side; but there is a fourth of equal importance--fielding. I doubt whether there ever has been, at short leg or silly mid-on, a more brilliant exponent of catching or fielding than Hitch. If he had never bowled a ball or made a run, he would have been an asset to any eleven, and he was a very fast bowler for one of his few inches--a splendid cricketer to have on the side. Rushby, if the wicket helped him, was a high-class right-hand bowler, and W. C. Smith, rather slow, in my opinion had no superior on his day. Unfortunately, Razor was not blessed with good health, so his triumphs were limited.
M. C. Bird, a very attractive batsman with a fine reputation from Harrow, found the responsibility of captaincy weighed on him too much. Alan Marshal, who came to The Oval on the recommendation of W. G., when batting seemed to display the utmost contempt for all bowlers; a fine field and a bowler, like so many Australians, deceptive in flight. About six feet three inches tall, he was very simple in character. I had to tell him on one occasion that he was overdrawn at his bank. He smiled and replied: That can't be right. I was looking at my cheque-book this morning--I have three cheques left!
Surrey, with a powerful eleven, won the Championship in 1914 for the first time since 1899. Hobbs--the batsman of the year--and a wealth of run-getting talent, with C. T. A. Wilkinson, a very able captain, who studied the game closely, paved the way for this triumph.
Between the two wars Surrey, under the astute captaincy of P. G. H. Fender, followed by the dogged leadership of D. R. Jardine, and the magnetic personality of E. R. T. Holmes, was fortunate in her captains. Amongst the stars was Hobbs. Great player previously, he became even greater from 1919 to the year of his retirement. Strudwick, too, right up to the end of his cricketing career, never failed to give of his best, which gained for him the leading position among Surrey wicket-keepers--and Surrey always possessed wicket-keepers of prominence.
To put on paper all that Hobbs achieved on the cricket field would be impossible. There is no necessity for this; all who have cricket at heart and follow cricket are well aware of his wonderful record. Amongst his many great seasons, 1925 may be termed Hobbs's Year. He headed the batting figures with over 3,000 runs and an average of 70, while in August he surpassed W. G. Grace's record of 126 centuries by playing two three-figure innings at Taunton. Probably never has this ground held so many spectators, and never has such an enthusiastic crowd given such a welcome to such a popular cricketer.
Hobbs reached his 197th century before he laid aside his bat in first-class cricket. No wonder that there came a spontaneous response when it was decided to erect a Hobbs Gate at the entrance of The Oval. No more fitting tribute for those entering and leaving the historic ground than to read, In honour of a great Surrey and England cricketer. I had the proud distinction, as President of the Club in 1934, of declaring the gates open on the first day of the match of that season. As one of Surrey's captains I know what Hobbs had done for the game in the county and what his influence has been. It is because of men like Hobbs and Strudwick that the professional cricketer of today is held in such high esteem. Their books are closed as far as active cricket is concerned, but the pages are still open, and on those pages will for all time be inscribed the happy memories of the pleasure they have given to so many people.
The bowling about this time did not reach the standard of the batting. Sandham, a beautiful fielder in the deep, was for some little time on the fringe of the England XI; he opened the innings for Surrey with Hobbs in 63 three-figure partnerships. Jardine, Ducat and Shepherd generally could be relied on for runs. D. J. Knight showed himself a potential England batsman in 1919. D. R. Jardine was a great asset to the batting strength, comparable with Hayward in defence; no one proved so often the saviour of the side, no one at a crisis was so dependable--an Oxford University Blue, captain of the County and captain of England was his record. F. R. Brown was a splendid forcing bat and clever slow bowler, and H. M. Garland-Wells came as the last captain before the long break in first-class cricket. Never short of run-getters, Surrey possessed other fine batsmen in Fishlock, Gregory and Barling; also a fast bowler in Gover. Despite his rather laboured action and his long run before delivering the ball, Gover did splendid work, and, like Richardson in 1897 and W. C. Smith in 1910, he took over 200 wickets in a season. He, with Barling, share benefit matches in 1946 and 1947; they both deserve large gates and good financial results.
Surrey enjoyed the guidance of many eminent people. The names of the Earl of Bessborough, Viscount Oxenbridge, Lord Alverstone readily come to mind; nor can one forget the great services rendered by Sir Frederick Marshall, Mr. Wildman Cattley, Treasurer from 1881 to 1902, Sir Jeremiah Colman, Earl of Midleton, Mr. G. H. Longman, and the President from 1940 Mr. B. A. Glanvill. Lord Alverstone, elected President in 1895, at what might be called a critical period, brought to bear the inestimable advantage of his advice and personal interests in strengthening the Club and making The Oval as we knew it up to the cessation of county cricket in 1939. Nor has Surrey been less fortunate in her secretaries, of whom C. W. Alcock came on the scene in 1872, and till 1907 his untiring energy and foresight gave to his county and to cricket generally powers of administrative assets that cannot be over-estimated. W. Findlay, who followed, at once proved himself a valuable successor; M.C.C. also could claim that they had in him the real definition of ability and tact which Surrey enjoyed for over twelve years. R. C. N. Palairet filled the position with infinite credit to himself and the Club; and the present Secretary, A. F. Davery, surmounting all the difficulties attending six years of war, has given his best with special success.
The Oval, with its reputation for famous wickets, can boast of famous groundsmen. There were in the past George Street, John Newton, and Over, all experts; while to the present generation the names of Sam Apted and Bosser Martin are associated with the splendid condition of the ground. Far too easy the wickets at The Oval--they spoil the game, has been the verdict so often given. This is not the occasion to discuss this very debatable point; sufficient to say that a county cricket club appoints the best man available for the position, and the man himself is determined to produce the best. The groundsmen mentioned certainly did this for Surrey.
Many personalities apart from the players on the field cannot be dissociated from The Oval, and one figure I would not like to forget--the Surrey Poet, A. Craig. Without any official connection with the Surrey Club, he earned the name of Surrey Poet because he was most often found at The Oval. For many years his figure stood out as familiar to the spectators as that of the greatest cricketer. On the wettest days he would put the crowd in good humour. Captain of the spectators he loved to call himself, and the spectators, he said, were his constituents. His skill in repartee was always pointed, and it was an unhappy moment for anyone who chaffed him. Oh, take these things away! snapped a spectator once at The Oval. I beg your pardon, sir, replied Craig, with the greatest politeness; these are not for you these are only for people who can read. But he was happiest when conciliatory; and he checked a heated argument about the correctness of the title Gentlemen v. Players with these words, All the Players are Gentlemen and all the Gentlemen Players.
Hardly had England and West Indians finished the Test Match at The Oval on August 22, 1939, when the ground was requisitioned, and famous in peace, The Oval played its part during the war, to which many battle scars bore testimony. First used as a searchlight site, it then became a prisoner-of-war camp for possible parachutists, and, although fortunately no prisoners arrived, everything was ready for their reception. Hit by seven high explosives and countless incendiaries, The Oval was de-requisitioned in November 1945, and the work of reconstruction began: 40,000 turves were brought from Gravesend and laid by the ground staff in less than three months.
The date, August 22, upon which Surrey completed 100 years existence they launched an appeal for £100,000 to carry out a big plan of reconstruction at Kennington Oval. Quite apart from war damage repairs, it is proposed to improve seating, stands and other facilities, to provide, especially for spectators, increased comfort. The aim is to make The Oval one of the finest cricket grounds in the country. The Duchy of Cornwall, Surrey's landlords, have agreed in principle to a new lease which will extend the term of the present lease from the date of its expiry on January 1, 1953, for a further period of 31 years.
The King and the Surrey County Cricket Club, of which he is Patron, exchanged messages
The text of the message appears in the Surrey section.-- EDITOR.
on August 21, and His Majesty through the Duchy of Cornwall, has given £100 to the Centenary, Appeal.
And so The Surrey County Cricket Club with its Kennington Oval has reached and passed one hundred years of cricket history--rich in memories, rich in tradition. I have shared for fifty years these memories; I have been brought up to revere these traditions. Ever happy to me will be the recollections to have met, to have played with, and to have watched such famous cricketers that have represented the County of Surrey. Their names are legion--are they not written in the Books of Wisden? They have handed down legacies of skill and the spirit of the game which present and future cricketers of Surrey will hold in safe keeping, and in their turn bequeath to those who follow.
Just a few lines more: I have very vividly before me many a scene at the close of play--the finish of many a great match. Time has been called, the umpires have doffed their white apparel. But the spectators are loth to go--they linger on--they crowd in front of the pavilion, and I hear their voices--to Abel, Bravo, Bobbie! to Richardson, Good Old Tom ! to Hobbs, Jack's the Boy! to Strudwick, You can't tire Struddy! These are to me but examples for fifty years, from time to time, of the keenness and affection for Surrey players by those who have followed Surrey cricket down Kennington way. I picture to myself the score-board; I glance at it; it reads, Surrey Cricket Club 100 not out.