May 1985

Shrewsbury's sorrows

Arthur Shrewsbury: a sad end © The Cricketer In the winter of 1901-02, Arthur Shrewsbury found himself homeless

Arthur Shrewsbury: a sad end © The Cricketer
In the winter of 1901-02, Arthur Shrewsbury found himself homeless. The Queen's Hotel, his base since his schooldays, finally passed out of the family. He had seen four landlords come and go. Arthur moved nearer the Cricket Ground - to 45 Trent Boulevard, West Bridgford, the home of his youngest sister, Mrs Louise Dufrene, a widow. He was still occupied in trying to expand the business. In February 1902 he wrote to J. S. Bowbanks in Montreal asking if the latter would be interested in acting as an agent for Shaw & Shrewsbury in Canada. His winter routine of visiting the indoor nets at Trent Bridge continued twice a week until the end of March.

The Easter Colts Trial was a miserable affair on a wet wicket, but Shrewsbury turned out and made the highest score - 27 not out - when rain brought the match to a close. Notts were the first County Championship side to play the 1902 Australians, this also being the opening first-class game at Trent Bridge. Shrewsbury was the only one of the 22 participants who had taken part in the very first Australian match 24 years before. He seemed quite determined to mark the occasion: ` Shrewsbury, after taking 20 minutes to play himself in before he had made his first run, gave an exhibition of the game which was almost worthy of his best days; he made most of his runs very slowly, but showed all the gracefulness of style for which he has always been so famous'. Shrewsbury made 73, but Joe Darling, with the aid of several dropped catches, hit a hundred for the Australians, who won the game by an innings. It was the beginning of a quite splendid tour, a personal triumph for Victor Trumper, and a galaxy of allround talent, led by Warwick Armstrong and Monty Noble.

The Test match battles, however, were not for Shrewsbury. His efforts were entirely confined to county matches, and despite the rain which marred the first half of the summer, Shrewsbury rarely failed. One of the few feats that had eluded him during his long career was achieved against Gloucestershire in July. He scored a century in each innings - 101 and 127 not out. A collection was hurriedly taken and £10 quickly subscribed and presented to the veteran. The two innings moved him to the top of the batting averages, a position he was to retain for the remainder of the summer.

Wisden's Almanack devoted nearly a quarter of its review on 1902 Notts cricket to Shrewsbury: `the batting honours of the season clearly rested with Shrewsbury, who seemed, as it were, to renew his youth. Far more even in form than in 1901, he was at his best when the season began and remained at his best so long as there was any work to be done. Scoring 1153 runs with an average of 52 he had a record that would have done him credit in even his greatest days. Such a performance as his on the part of a man of 46 has scarcely been surpassed except by W. G. Grace... His batting was marked by all its old qualities, and except that he is, perhaps, less at home on a really sticky wicket than he used to be, there is little or no change to be noticed in his play. He was as patient and watchful as ever, and once or twice when runs had to be made in a hurry he surprised everybody by the freedom and vigour of his hitting. Whether he would have played for England in the Test matches if the selection committee had asked him we cannot say, but as he declined the MCC's invitation to take part in the Gentlemen v Players match at Lord's, he presumably does not care nowadays for anything more exacting than a county fixture. However as he is still both smart and sure at point he would have been quite in his place in the England eleven.'

The Notts committee decided to raise an appeal for donations to a fund in recognition of Shrewsbury's batting in 1902, and £177 14s was given by his admirers.

Soon after the 1902 season ended - Shrewsbury's last game was for Lenton United v F. L. Browne's XI on the Gregory Ground at Lenton on September 27 - he complained of pains in his kidneys. During the winter he consulted various doctors, but to little effect, and the pain at one time grew so acute that he found difficulty in walking. In February 1903 he went to a nursing home in London for further medical examination, but the specialists could find nothing seriously wrong with him and he returned to Nottingham after a few days.

Instead of going to 45 Trent Boulevard, where he had lived for most of 1902, he went to stay at his sister Amelia's in Gedling. In the same month, he had a new will drawn up by his solicitors.

During the spring of 1903 his health seemed to improve, but he did not feel well enough to go to the indoor nets at Trent Bridge and it was made clear in March, when he was unable to attend the meeting at which the 1902 subscription fund was to be presented to him, that it was very unlikely that he would play county cricket in 1903.

On May 12 he went into Nottingham and visited Jackson's the gunsmiths on Church Gate, where he purchased a revolver. A week later he returned to the shop, explaining that he had difficulty in loading the revolver. The shop assistant found that Shrewsbury had the wrong bullets for the gun and supplied the correct ones, loading the revolver with them. The same evening at about eight o'clock, Shrewsbury went upstairs to his bedroom, asking his girlfriend, Gertrude Scott, to make him a cup of cocoa. From the kitchen, Miss Scott heard a sharp noise and shouted up the stairs to ask if anything was amiss, but Shrewsbury replied, `Nothing'. A minute later she heard a distinct pistol shot and run upstairs to find Shrewsbury bleeding from a wound in his head. Miss Scott rushed next door and fetched neighbour John Arnold, who came to the house and went up to Shrewsbury's bedroom. He stayed with the cricketer while Dr Knight of Carlton was summoned. By the time the doctor arrived Shrewsbury was dead. It was then discovered that he had first shot himself in the chest, but when that did not prove fatal, fired a second time at his head.

The inquest was held before a jury the following day in the Chesterfield Arms at Gedling. Only five witnesses were called. The first was Josiah Love, who explained that Shrewsbury had died at Love's house, The Limes, Station Road, Gedling, but that he was away from home at the time, the house being occupied by his wife, Amelia, Miss Gertrude Scott and Arthur Shrewsbury. Miss Scott was the second witness. She confirmed that she found Shrewsbury lying mortally wounded in his bedroom and that she went next door for help. She said that during the afternoon, Shrewsbury had said, `I shall be in the churchyard before many more days are up.' Miss Scott told him not to think of such a thing. Both the witnesses said that they were unaware that the cricketer possessed a revolver.

Three more witnesses were called, the neighbour, John Arnold, John Wigley of the gunsmiths and the doctor. Douglas McCraith, the solicitor, represented the relatives of the deceased. The coroner told the jury that the cause of death was quite clear and there was no disputing the fact that Arthur Shrewsbury took his own life, his mind being quite unhinged by his belief that he had an incurable disease. There was, however, no evidence to show that he suffered from any major illness.

On the morning of May 20, the news of the death was sent by telegram to the Notts team, who were playing against Sussex at Hove. As a mark of respect the match was immediately abandoned, though the last day's cricket had not been played, and the team returned to Nottingham.

The funeral took place two days after his death. It was the first decent summer's day of 1903. A large crowd gathered to watch the cortège make its way the quarter of a mile from the house to All Hallows Church. There was a great number of wreaths, and among the many cricketers and relatives present, the principal family mourners were Shrewsbury's father, now aged 80, and his three brothers. Arthur's suicide greatly shocked his father, who never really recovered from the blow and died 18 months later.

Shrewsbury's will revealed that the main beneficiary was Gertrude Scott, who received a legacy of £1000 and all the cricketer's personal effects. Shrewsbury's half-share in the Shaw & Shrewsbury sports outfitting firm was equally divided between five of his relatives. The firm continued in business until the Second World War, when its remaining stock and assets were sold to Grays of Cambridge.

The verdict on Arthur Shrewsbury was that he took life too seriously. His business affairs were treated in the same way as his approach to cricket, every step being most carefully rehearsed and every foreseen possibility catered for; but he was unable to cope with his fear of illness, a fear which stemmed back to the ailments from which he suffered as a youth. He prepared for death as for anything else, but he failed to leave any note or letter to explain his final act. A number of his obituary notices state that in the writers' opinion, Shrewsbury died because he felt his cricket career was over. Perhaps they are correct? He had created modern professional batsmanship and, over 20 years, developed it to perfection, so that even at the age of 46 no lesser sage than the Editor of Wisden suggested that Shrewsbury deserved a place in England's Test team. Cricket will not forget Arthur Shrewsbury.

Give me Arthur: A Biography of Arthur Shrewsbury by Peter Wynne-Thomas was published by Arthur Barker.