Absent... in prison
Given the tens of thousands of miles county cricketers pile up on the roads of England every summer, it is remarkable so few are involved in accidents. But in the 1930s, when the overall toll of deaths on the road was considerably higher than today despite the much smaller number of vehicles, several cricketers were involved in crashes. Vallance Jupp, an allrounder who played eight times for England in the 1920s, was one such, and his accident cost a man his life and left Jupp in prison.
Jupp, who was born in 1891, played for Sussex between 1909 and 1922 before moving to the inter-war years' perennial whipping boys Northamptonshire for the remainder of his career. His Tests spanned a seven-year period between 1921 and 1928.
By 1934, Jupp was past his best but was still a key player in a Northamptonshire side that was usually found at the foot of the table. In 1933 he passed 1000 runs for the tenth successive summer and 100 wickets for the eighth time in nine, helping the county to 13th, which was to be their best finish of the decade.
However, Jupp missed the entire 1934 season through illness. What he was suffering from is not known, although the Times reported on March 22, 1934 that he had "been ill for 14 weeks but is expected to be fit again in the course of the next two to three weeks". It was not to be.
On December 29, 1934, an editorial in the Times flagged the soaring numbers of deaths on the roads, presciently calling for greater punishments against offenders.
Late on the evening of January 12, 1935, Jupp was driving home from a club in Northampton when he was involved in an accident when overtaking another vehicle. He failed to complete the manoeuvre in time and hit a motorcycle coming in the opposite direction. Jupp and the motorcyclist were both hurt but the pillion rider, William Moisey, died at the scene.
Initial newspaper reports failed to mention the fatality, simply stating that Jupp was recovering from his injuries. But that soon changed and on January 24, less than a fortnight after the crash, Jupp, still with a large scar on his forehead, appeared at the Northampton Assizes, charged with manslaughter.
It was soon apparent that Jupp was in trouble. The driver and passenger of the car he had overtaken spoke of his "astonishing manoeuvring" and said that after passing them he had continued on the wrong side of the road despite the sight of the motorbike heading towards him. "It just went on exactly at the same pace along the wrong side of the road." The court heard there was no indication that Jupp had skidded or even slowed down before the impact.
Jupp's barrister outlined his client's exemplary driving record and asked "what earthly motive existed for Jupp to stay on the wrong side of the road". Jupp's defence was based on a claim he was trying to pull down a blind on the back window of the two-seater to avoid being dazzled by the car he had just overtaken and that he then got into a skid. "The first was a small back-wheel skid," he said. "The next skid was a front one."
He said he tried to pull the car over "but it was absolutely out of control… I was hoping the cyclist would realise my plight and pull up… unfortunately he did not".
Jupp's barrister produced several expert witnesses and an impressive list of character witnesses, but the jury took only 35 minutes to find him guilty of manslaughter. Mr Justice Humphreys said that he "had to do something to protect persons who are lawfully using the roads from the consequences of mad driving which is almost every day seen". He sentenced Jupp to nine months in prison and disqualified him from driving for two years.
Throughout the trial Jupp's barrister had stressed there was no question his client had been drinking. However, in 1975 Alex Snowden, Northamptonshire's captain in 1935, wrote about Jupp's driving in the Cricketer. Travelling from Coventry to Hove in 1931, Jupp pulled into a large hotel. "Private drinks were poured and for two hours we had a gay old time," Snowden said. Resuming the journey, they stopped again at Guildford "for sandwiches and ale" but that soon became more of a drinking session "as he sank a few large whiskies". Leaving at closing time, they completed their journey in pouring rain "one headlight not working and the other pointed hopefully towards the sky". They eventually arrived at 2am.
Jupp was released in August, his sentence reduced slightly because of his good behaviour, but he did not play cricket again that summer. The newspapers and Wisden all but airbrushed his absence out of the records, although there was a brief report in January 1936 when he unsuccessfully tried to have his driving disqualification overturned. The judge refused, adding that Jupp had been lucky only to be banned for two years.
Jupp, by now 45, returned to the field for Northamptonshire on May 9, 1936 but after two years out of the game his form was unsurprisingly poor. In 16 matches in 1936, he made 433 runs at 17.32, although he did take 53 wickets at 24.18. The following year was little better, the county failing to win a match in either season. He played two games in 1938, the last of his career.
What happened next
- Jupp died in 1960. The missing season was ignored in all his obituaries, and even the usually meticulous Wisden opted not to mention it.
- After the accident involving Northway and Bakewell, Northamptonshire travelled to away matches by coach, a precaution that lasted into the 1960s
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