The history of Hampshire cricket goes back a long way, for it was at a meeting presided over by Mr. Thomas Chamberlayne in 1863 that the County Club was formed. In 1864 there were 140 members who paid a subscription of one guinea; in 1951 it was still possible to become a member for this amount.
Hampshire men claim that the Cricket History of their County started many years before this date. Was not the village of Hambledon the Cradle of the Game? It is not my purpose to delve into the feats of this great club, formed in the middle of the eighteenth century. Hambledon has its own history written by many eminent authorities on the game. Enough to say that little Hambledon could take on and beat the rest of All England in matches often played for large sums of money.
Hambledon played its last recorded match in 1793; it was fitting that the game was played at Lord's, as the M.C.C. was founded in 1787, and from that date took over the leadership of the cricket world from the Hampshire villagers.
The story of Hampshire cricket from 1793 until the county became first-class over 100 years later is one of apathy and constant disappointment. Very few matches are recorded during this period. From time to time hope was raised in the hearts of those few cricket lovers who tried so hard to kindle the flame that would give Hampshire back the cricket glory of earlier years.
In 1842 Daniel Day, an old Surrey professional, took up residence in Southampton, and with the help and encouragement of such patrons as Mr. Thomas Chamberlayne, Sir Frederick Bathurst and Sir J. B. Mill took over the Antelope Cricket Ground, three years after that ground had been opened. Even this venture was not supported, and fixtures were few and far between. From this date Southampton has always been the headquarters of the County Cricket Club.
The actual formation of the club took place in 1863: yet again the enthusiasts were not supported. We read in the Annual Report for 1872 a motion stating that in the hope of enlisting new members, and obtaining further subscriptions, the club be kept on foot. The Committee and Officers remaining the same, but no subscriptions called up, liabilities or expenses incurred, or matches played for the present.
Momentous decisions were taken at a most successful meeting held at Winchester in 1983. Those who had been working so long and faithfully for their county club at last found their efforts rewarded: one or two county matches were played that year. The county was divided into five districts each with its representative on the full committee. This policy is still in operation to-day, the county now being divided into fifteen districts, each with its own local sub-committee of the County Cricket Club. At the same meeting steps were taken to secure a permanent home for the club. Colonel James Fellowes, Joint Honorary Secretary with Sir Russell Bencraft, making himself fully responsible for a guarantee fund.
The two Honorary Secretaries and the Honorary Treasurer, Mr. J. C. Moberley, were the leading personalities of the club at this time. Due to their tact and perseverance Hampshire became a first-class county twelve years later. Sir Russell Bencraft was the rock on which modern Hampshire cricket was built. In his time he acted as President, Chairman, Honorary Secretary and captain. No man has ever done more for a cricket club, nor so richly deserved its successful entry into the County Championship.
On January 30, 1884, it was announced that a ground belonging to the Banister estate had been secured on lease for twenty-eight years at an annual rental of £60, on condition that a pavilion be erected. This ground, in Northlands Road, has been the County Cricket Ground ever since, but it was on the old Antelope Ground that F. E. Lacey, later Sir Francis Lacey, Secretary of the M.C.C., in the summer of that year, made Hampshire history with scores of 211 and 92 not out against Kent.
The official opening of the new ground took place on May 8, 1885, with a match between the North and South of Hampshire. The game was ruined by rain and left drawn in favour of the South for whom F. E. Lacey made 181 not out.
In the next ten years famous names began to appear in the few unofficial matches that Hampshire could arrange. Sir Russell Bencraft and Sir Francis Lacey have already been mentioned; to these should be added the amateurs Major E. G. Wynyard, A. J. L. Hill and Charles Robson; and the professionals Harry Baldwin, Tom Soar and Victor Barton.
In 1895 Hampshire were admitted to the County Cricket Championship, and signalised their entry by winning their first two matches against Somerset and Derbyshire. At Sheffield in August they beat Yorkshire. In the same year the Hampshire Cricket Ground Company was formed with a nominal capital of £8,000. The company then purchased the ground from Sir Edward Hulse for £5,400.
Hampshire's cricket has always been unpredictable. Never higher than fifth (1914) in the Championship, they have always been liable to spring surprises. Often they have beaten the strongest sides when at their weakest, and lost to weaker opponents when least expected to do so.
In the early years, particularly before the 1914-1918 war, Hampshire owed much to their cricketers from the Services; for example Major E. G. Wynyard, who played for England against Australia in 1896, and in the same year trounced the Yorkshire attack for 268 runs at Southampton.
General R. M. Poore headed the English batting averages in 1899 with 91.23, his 16 innings for the county giving him an average of 116.58. His 304 in that season against Somerset at Taunton stood as a Hampshire record for thirty-eight years until another Hampshire captain, R. H. Moore, made 316 against Warwickshire at Bournemouth in 1937.
Colonel A. C. Johnston, a splendid batsman, who was second in the English averages for 1912, was so badly wounded that he was lost to county cricket after the First World War. Colonel J. G. Greig served so often overseas that too little was seen of him. He is now Father Greig, and Hampshire remembers with gratitude not only his delightful cricket, but also his time as Honorary Secretary and President of the club. Mr. H. S. Altham describes him as one of the most beautiful players in the country, and little behind Ranjitsinhji himself as a cutter in the year 1905.
Here then were four great Service players, to whom must be added the names of Captain A. Jaques, a fine bowler, whose career was cut short by his death in action, and Captain E. I. M. Barrett, a most dangerous match-winning batsman. If these players had been available more regularly it would have meant much to Hampshire. In only one season were any of these great players able to play often enough to score more than 1,000 runs for the county.
Finally C. B. Fry, who made his home and his life's work in the Training Ship Mercury, could only once spare the time to make over 1,000 runs for the county to which he transferred his allegiance from Sussex in 1909.
As always, the regular nucleus of the side bore the everyday rough and tumble of a cricket season. Led in turn by such fine captains as Sir Russell Bencroft (1895), Major E. G. Wynyard (1896-99), C. Robson (1900-2) and E. M. Sprot (1903-14) Hampshire gradually became a really fine eleven. In 1899 that great South African all-rounder G. C. B. Llewellyn joined Soar, Barton, Baldwin and Webb on the professional staff. He made over 10,000 runs and took over 1,000 wickets before his career ended, somewhat abruptly, in 1910. In 1900 and 1902 Jimmie Stone and Alec Bowell joined the staff. Stone, for long the regular wicket-keeper, scored over 10,000 runs, and Bowell, in his twenty-five years as a player, hit 18,500 runs.
For years bowling had been Hampshire's weakness. Llewellyn--the first bowler of the Chinaman and that most dangerous of all balls the left-hander's googly--carried the attack almost unaided from 1899. Now he received some much-needed help. Three successive seasons, 1906, 1907, and 1908, brought a trio of world-famous characters and cricketers to the game in Jack Newman, Alex Kennedy and George Brown.
Kennedy and Newman--what names to conjure with! No pair of bowlers can have performed so often and so well, with so little rest as did these two throughout their long careers. Between them they took just short of 5,000 wickets, and if this was not enough, the pair found time and strength to score 30,000 runs.
George Brown! Here was further bowling reinforcement of the tearaway variety. Yet George Brown was least known as a bowler, for he kept wicket for England, and was one of the greatest mid-offs who have ever lived. His batting brought him over 25,000 runs, and few men have played really fast bowling with more confidence and courage. Surely the most complete of all-rounders!
This almost covers probably the best team ever to represent Hampshire. The decisive addition was one Philip Mead, who arrived at the County Ground, Southampton, in 1905 from Surrey, the county of his birth, where he had been discarded as a left-arm bowler. What can one say about this great player that has not been said already? Figures may be dull reading, but in Mead's case they are worth recording. In twenty-seven consecutive playing seasons from 1906-36 he scored over 1,000 runs, nine times over 2,000 and twice over 3,000. In many of these seasons he carried the Hampshire batting. In all he played 1,335 innings and made 55,060 runs for an average of 47.67 (more even than W. G. Grace). A total which included 153 centuries--138 for his county. That he played only seventeen times for England was due not so much to his own failings as to the tremendous wealth of batting during his own years of greatness. As a bowler he was seldom used, though he managed to take 277 wickets, and despite theories to the contrary, those who knew him best rate him as a fine slip fielder in his prime.
After the First World War the captaincy was in the capable hands and cheerful frame of Lionel, Lord Tennyson. He first played with success in 1913. From 1919-33 he led a team which might easily have won the Championship had not war intervened. He led it gallantly as befitted the man who, captaining England in 1921, scored 63 one-handed against the all-conquering Australian pace attack of Gregory and McDonald.
Until 1926 Hampshire were always a force to be reckoned with, and no side could take them lightly. That tireless pair, Kennedy and Newman, shared most of the bowling. In 1921 they took 340 wickets between them in Championship matches, and in 1922 Kennedy had a wonderful season, taking 177 wickets at 16 apiece and scoring 1,000 runs for his county. Hampshire were a remarkable team in those early 20's--capable of scoring 392 in the fourth innings of a match against Kent at Southampton in 1922, and yet losing the game. Going one better next year, they defeated Notts and the clock with a fourth innings score of 326.
Their most amazing victory occurred in 1922. A game remembered to this day, and possibly the greatest victory from almost certain defeat that has ever occurred. Lord Tennyson asked Warwickshire to bat at Edgbaston. They scored 223, and then proceeded to bowl Hampshire out in half an hour for 15 runs, their lowest total ever. Following on, the captain forecast final victory, and, it is said, was willing to back his fancy! Six wickets went down for 186, but afterwards nothing could stand in their way, and 521 runs were scored in that second innings. George Brown made 172, and Walter Livsey hit 110 not out (his maiden century) in a ninth-wicket partnership of 177. Finally Kennedy and Newman bowled out Warwickshire for 158 and Hampshire were victorious by 155 runs.
From 1927-33, the end of the Tennyson era, age and retirement weakened a side which had depended so much on the Four Musketeers, Mead, Brown, Kennedy and Newman, with Livsey quietly active and efficient behind the stumps. Lord Tennyson's courage and cheerfulness remained, and in his last few years Stuart Boyes, who joined the staff in 1921, became an old hand and a very good left-arm slow bowler. A new generation of professionals arrived, Pothecary and Bailey in 1927, Creese in 1928, Arnold and Herman in 1929, and McCorkell and Hill in 1932. Thus Lord Tennyson had the responsibility of shaping and leading the team during the almost complete change-over between the old blood and the new. This he did with inimitable good humour and gusto.
After Lionel Tennyson, the captaincy was shared by W. G. Lowndes in 1934-35, R. H. Moore 1936-37, C. G. A. Paris 1938 and G. R. Taylor 1939. Hampshire were lucky in their captains, who had a most difficult task with a newly built and somewhat erratic side. Mead retired in 1936, having passed W. G. Grace's record in scoring his 127th century against Sussex in 1931, but not until 1932 did Mead make a hundred against Derbyshire. This century probably gave him his greatest satisfaction, for he had now scored 100 for his county against all opponents.
If Hampshire's record was not impressive just before the Second World War, the team always played carefree cricket, and the ground fielding, in particular, was a delight. The Second World War, like the first, prevented the further advancement of players all over the country. Hampshire had lost J. P. Blake and Don Walker, both of whom were killed in action, but in 1946 most of the other pre-war players reported, six years older and sadly out of practice. Pothecary soon retired, being followed in the next few seasons by all the pre-war professional staff, till in this year of 1952 Hill alone of the older generation remains.
The policy of the committee, under the wise presidency of H. S. Altham--himself a Hampshire player and the Historian of Cricket--has been to train a young side of Hampshire-born cricketers, and import players only when necessary for the efficiency of the team. A new team has been born. It is a very young and inexperienced side, supported by eight younger professionals born and bred in Hampshire, who are learning their trade in the Minor Counties Championship. Players such as the amateur C. J. Knott, and the professionals D. Shackleton and N. H. Rogers have already made names for themselves in post-war cricket, others will surely follow for they are improving each season. Theirs is a rich heritage--they know it--and they will not fail.
[No review of Hampshire cricket would be complete without reference to the prominent part which Mr. Eagar, the writer of this article, has played in putting the club on its feet since the war. He played for Gloucestershire in 1935 while still at Cheltenham College and gained his Blue at Oxford in 1939. Since 1946 he has captained Hampshire, and besides strengthening the batting has set a fine example by his enthusiasm and leadership both on and off the field.--Editor.]