Charles Knott - a profile

The official history of Hampshire cricket was published in 1957

Dave Allen
This article appeared in the 1998 Hampshire Handbook
The official history of Hampshire cricket was published in 1957. It included photographs of its grounds and its games but, above all, it showed the men who have made Hampshire cricket what it is. From the glorious beginnings we see the Hambledon men: Nyren, Beagley, Day and 'Silver Billy' Beldham. There, too, is the team of 1895, the first Championship year, the early heroes of the county club such as Bencraft, Lacey and Wynyard, and the developing side of Sprot, Jacques and A.J.L.Hill, the last Hampshire-born, Hampshire cricketer to represent England.
There are, of course, images of the great players of the inter-war years including Brown, Livsey, Kennedy, Newman, Tennyson, Mead, Moore and Arnold and there are those who led Hampshire cricket through the difficult post-war years towards what was then only the dream of their greatest triumph. From that era we are shown Eagar, Marshall, Cannings and Shackleton, Harrison and, with a full page illustration entitled "Flight and Spin", C.J.Knott.
By the year of its publication, 1957, C.J. (Charles or Charlie) Knott had gone from cricket, at least as a player. He had appeared occasionally for Hampshire in 1938 and 1939 but, as John Arlott recorded in that same publication, "his great successes were to come after war". In truth Charles Knott only played for Hampshire for six full seasons, since he missed much of 1947 through injury and played only five times in 1952 and three times in his final year, 1954. In addition, of course, he missed the years between the ages of 25 and 31 because of distractions in Europe and yet he took no less than 647 wickets for his native county. This places him twelfth in their list of all-time wicket takers and, of those leading players, only Marshall, Shackleton, Cottam, Kennedy, Cannings and White (in that order) can better his county average of 23.53.
Since they were all pace bowlers, Charles Knott stands at the head of Hampshire's spin bowlers, with a better average than either Boyes, Newman or Sainsbury although those three professionals played 18, 19 and 22 seasons respectively and each took well over 1000 wickets. It is also interesting to note that, while all four spinners (as well as Hill, Bailey, Burden, Wassell and Udal) were born and bred Hampshire cricketers only Cannings of their leading pacemen was a native of the county and he had played first for Warwickshire. Malcolm Heath is the only other Hampshire-born pace bowler to have taken 500 wickets for the county.
It must be admitted that Charles never aspired to the all-round status of Newman and Sainsbury. In his final season, a meagre aggregate of 8 runs in 5 innings (2 not out) just took him past 1000 in his career with a top score of 27 and an average of 7 per innings. As Arlott observed in a brief biography "his batting was never really regarded seriously - not even by Charles himself" and he admits to being "quite sad" that he had not "bothered" about it. More cheerfully, he makes the point that, batting so often at number 11, he could be confident of good company on the walk back after dismissal. As a bowler he was far more successful. He took seven or more wickets for Hampshire on eleven occasions and four times, in 1946, and from 1948-1950, he took one hundred wickets in a season, a record which only Shackleton, Kennedy and Newman can better. Statistics may mislead but not entirely, and, while many comparisons are odious, it is very difficult to dispute John Arlott's view that he was "probably the finest amateur bowler in Hampshire's history".
Throughout 1997 I was privileged to share a number of conversations with Charles about his life in cricket and, while most of that is being reserved for a planned players' history of the county club, the fact that 1998 is the sixtieth anniversary of Charles' debut for Hampshire seemed too significant to miss - especially since he has devoted so many of those sixty years to the county's cause as player, Chairman of Cricket, committee member and loyal supporter. This extract will focus on his early years as a cricketer and his achievements during that first season in first-class cricket, sixty years ago.
In our conversations he was always engaged, enthusiastic and accommodating: "Can we start at the beginning?" "Whatever you like" and he recalled operating the scoreboard at the county ground in the late 1920s, a job he shared with the sons of Phil Mead and George Brown. At the time Charles was a pupil at Taunton's School and his father played for Southampton club side Deanery, enjoying both success on the field and the social life afterwards.
At school Charles impressed initially as a soccer player and only had one year in the cricket first XI, principally as a bowler but also batting at about number 4. As an inside-forward he had an unsuccessful trial for a Hampshire club - "too rough!" and was happy afterwards to concentrate on the summer game. He left school in 1932 and followed his father to Deanery and then Old Tauntonians. In addition he was "very much in business as a fish merchant" so sport was reserved for half-day closing on Wednesdays and Sunday afternoons. The business had been started by his father and from the age of seven Charles would accompany an uncle to market. After leaving school and no more than a year learning the trade full-time, Charles took over so that "I was employing people at the age of 17" . He remembered paying the shop manager £3 per week, from which he was buying a house and "running a motorbike".
Charles began his parks career playing scratch games with friends, before his pal Don Roper - later to play for 'Saints' - encouraged him to play organised club cricket. He described Southampton club cricket of the mid thirties as "very good" and believes that a number of his contemporaries might have played for the county "quite easily". The matches were friendlies apart from an evening knock-out of 18 overs per side and, for the finals of those competitions, Charles remembered crowds of three to five thousand people, five or six deep and indeed, still has a photograph from Southampton's Evening Echo which shows just such a crowd watching Deanery beating All Saints to win the A.J.Dean knock-out cup. The watchers were not always friendly however: "if you played in a parks side and came from the county ground they gave you some stick" while "down the local parks, which were very much in the working area, you had to take care if you wore a coloured cap."
Charles believes that, despite the introduction of league cricket in the South during the 1970s, the standard today is lower than it was when he started and suggested that this is because of the increase in other attractions. In the 1930s and 1940s the only memorable alternatives were the gramophone or cinema and Charles bought a lot of 'popular' records by the dance bands and vocalists like Vera Lynn.
Fortunately one of Charles' friends compiled a scrapbook of his exploits from the earliest days which contains many accounts, scorecards and photographs of Southampton club cricket in the 1930s. One of his regular team-mates at the time was his maths master Walter Lancashire, "a very charming man", who also played for Hampshire (and 'Saints') and both he and Charles appeared for a club called Nelson on Wednesday afternoons. Charles' performances at this level were frequently extraordinary, including 7-18; 8-18 including the 'hat-trick', and 7-28 in a winning final, bowling unchanged with Jack Trahearne ("he would have got wickets in first-class cricket"). Elsewhere, Lloyd Budd the future County player and first-class umpire, was dismissed hit wicket bowled Knott 2, one victim in an analysis of 7-8 from a total of 46 but he also spotted a 2-63 adding "we look at the bad ones as well as the good ones, shouldn't have been left on should I?" That was in a cup final defeat for Deanery against Cunard.
In these club days, Charles was not really bowling off-breaks and, indeed, could not recall bowling spin "until my third county match at Cheltenham". In club cricket he bowled accurate medium pace with the ability to move it away from the right hander off the wicket. He believes that his ability was "natural" and recalled "marking out my run hundreds of years ago, ten paces, after which I bowled off of that, both medium and otherwise". Even in old age he can spread his fingers very widely "without any trouble" a facility which, years before, enabled him to switch to off-spin bowling when the first class game beckoned.
"I didn't pick the seam either" (we laughed) "Did anybody?" (quickly) "No" but after a pause he recalled one occasion at Gloucester, after the fall of a wicket, when the ball was returned and he wondered "what have I got here?" Although he still has suspicions he never enquired as to the culprit.
From club cricket, Charles progressed to Hampshire's reserve side, then known as the Club and Ground and it was his performances there which brought him to the attention of the county's selectors - particularly, he believes, through the support of Gerry Hill. Thirty years later, the same man led the successful calls for Charles to be chairman of the county's cricket committee. Not everyone was so encouraging and Charles remembers Alec Kennedy's opinion that he would never make a bowler. Neville Rogers tells of a similar judgement of his batting by fellow Oxfordshire man George Brown - a pair of significant misjudgements which Charles believes owed more to the jealousy of older players than to informed observation.
Charles has few memories of the great Hampshire players he watched as a boy, as "I only remember them as Mr Mead or Mr Brown" although early in his career he played in a pre-season practice with Mead on a cold April day at the county ground. The great man was dismissed second ball by a triallist fast bowler and returned to the dressing rooms announcing, "it's too bloody cold and he's too bloody quick". He has clearer memories of playing with Stuart Boyes, slow left arm and a "brilliant close to the wicket fielder" who was in the county side for Charles' debut, the year before Boyes retired in 1939. Later we came across a 1960s photograph of Charles with Jack Newman and he remembered not only seeing Jack play but entertaining him at his home ("a lovely man"). He observed that whenever cricket folk talk of Hampshire XIs he would be compared with Jack for the spin bowlers place. "Jim Bailey thought I was better" probably because Charles was a bigger spinner although he acknowledged that "as an all-rounder he must come before me". A third, younger spinner on the photograph hadn't quite made it, perhaps because he wasn't quite "serious" enough - "if you're a pro you have to take it seriously".
At Hampshire, W.K.Pearce, "a very nice man", was the chairman in the years before the war and Charles took the opportunity of impressing him in some club matches in the years before his county debut. He believes that local press reports also helped his cause and, eventually, those men decided in Charles' favour, ironically at the expense of his great supporter Gerry Hill who lost his first team place for the rest of that season.
The opportunity was something of a surprise. One morning in late July 1938, Charles was serving in the shop, when a call came through from secretary Alistair MacLeod asking "can you play cricket for us over the Bank Holiday?" which was then the first weekend in August. Charles hesitated. As a businessman he had to think hard about travelling away for a day or two with the Club and Ground, and asked "can I think about it? Where do you want me to play?" MacLeod replied "Canterbury, for the first XI" and a surprised Charles spent two days rushing around to collect the right equipment before driving down to Kent with his fellow amateur J.P.Blake.
Hampshire came from an impressive innings victory over Warwickshire at Bournemouth where McCorkell (136) and Herman (6-53) had led the way. For the match at Canterbury, Blake replaced Bailey, Pothecary came in for R.H.Moore and Knott for Hill. Kent batted first and their formidable opening pair of Woolley and Fagg made a steady start before Herman beat the great left hander. His opening partner George Heath dismissed Kent's number three, Todd, before Hampshire's captain, Cecil Paris, called on Boyes and the newcomer. Charles had an early success, bowling Fagg but thereafter toiled alongside his fellow bowlers as Kent raised a total of 407. Strangely, their top-scorer, batting at number seven, was the amateur school-master C.H.Knott (no relation) who made 112. Despite his reputation, Boyes dropped two catches from Charles' bowling and Charles recalls the captain Cecil Paris attesting to no less than seven chances being spilled from the bowling of the debutant. With obvious uncertainty, he "began to wonder if I was wanted in the team". It may reveal a great deal of the man himself that he cannot now remember those missed chances but rather recalled Cecil Paris "catching a blinder off me in my third game".
The Kent bowlers shared the wickets, and no Hampshire player made 50 in either innings as they were dismissed twice for 102 and 197 to lose by an innings in two days. Charles, batting at 10, showed some promise, scoring 19 (c Knott b Wright) and 10 not out.
Charles' figures at Canterbury were 25-1-92-1 but he went on with the side to Worcester where he replaced Heath as opening bowler. J.P. Blake was also omitted, Jim Bailey returned and another amateur J.D.Eggar came into the middle order. While R.H.Moore and C.G.A Paris played a number of important innings in 1938, the other amateur batsmen were relatively ineffective during that season. R.B.Proud, the Reverend J.W.J.Steele, J.D.Eggar, J.P.Blake, R.Aird and A.MacLeod played 50 Championship innings between them without recording a single half-century while only Steele with 39 wickets at 25 apiece contributed with the ball.
Hampshire batted first at Worcester and half-centuries from McCorkell and Walker helped them to a total of 313. Charles made 2 not out but Hampshire's bowlers struggled again, Worcestershire declaring on 413-3 (Knott 0-99) with the Nawab of Pataudi being one of two century makers. During the match, Hampshire suffered from injuries and, having no nominated twelfth man, recruited the services of one of their friends and supporters who had driven to Worcester with Charles. The young man was John Arlott, then a twenty-four year-old Southampton policeman and aspiring poet and, during Pataudi's long innings he made his only appearance in a first-class match fielding at mid-on and third man. With typical modesty he hardly mentions this in his autobiography but David Rayvern Allen's biography of the great broadcaster decribes one notable stop at third man which turned a single into three but at least prevented a four. When Arlott finally recovered from his somersaulting stop, wicketkeeper Neil McCorkell "was on his back with mirth". Charles remembers Arlott fielding in borrowed kit including Reg Perks' boots since no-one in the Hampshire side had boots big enough.
The match at Worcester was drawn and, from there, it was a short trip to Cheltenham as Charles began his first-class career on three of England's more beautiful grounds.
At Cheltenham, the Reverend J.W.J. Steele, replacing Bailey, came in to open the bowling although he managed just two overs in each innings. For the first time, Charles bowled spin in first class cricket and dismissed five batsmen in Gloucestershire's first innings. Three were professionals: Wilson, Sinfield and Godard plus two amateurs. B.O.Allen was the first, the other came to the wicket with Charles on a hat-trick and he missed the first ball which also just missed the stumps. This young man who would win his only blue at Oxford the following year did not last long (c Boyes b Knott 3) but he was E.D.R.Eagar and, after the war, the careers of batsman and bowler were closely intertwined from the moment cricket resumed.
Incidentally, Charles tells a delightful tale of their first meeting after the war. Shortly after Eagar was engaged by Hampshire he went to visit Charles in his shop and during their conversation Charles mentioned that he had played "in the parks" many times, a comment which initially puzzled and then amused his new captain. They "finished up very good friends".
Charles took 5-51 in 23 overs helping to dismiss Gloucestershire for 134 and he scored 8 as Hampshire led by 38 (Creese 60). Charles was, again, the leading bowler with 4-63 as Gloucestershire collapsed for a second time and Hampshire, needing 102 to win, must have felt confident as openers McCorkell and Paris both reached double figures. From a strong position, they collapsed to defeat by 44 runs although Charles was not out. Following his success at Cheltenham Charles remained in the side for the rest of that season playing the last nine matches. He never bettered the five wickets nor his debut innings of 19 but he finished with 21 wickets at 30 apiece. Hampshire having started the season quite strongly, fell away, losing seven of the last nine matches. Overall they won nine matches and finished in fourteenth place.
Charles played fairly frequently again in 1939, took 8-85 against Surrey at Portsmouth and was awarded his county cap in rather strange circumstances since the decision was communicated in a letter to "C.Knott esq. Junior" from secretary W.L.Sprankling on 13 October 1939 as the result of a meeting of the committee on the previous day. Few county cricketers can have been awarded their cap by letter in October and fewer still can then have waited seven years to wear it in action.
During the war, Charles twice received his call-up papers and was twice discharged as medically unfit. In particular, he suffered terribly from ulcers which meant that, throughout his career, the end-of-play tray of drinks included a pint of milk and much ribbing in the dressing room. He has few memories of cricket during the war other than an appearance for the British Empire side although Norman Gannaway's delightful history of cricket in the county notes that Charles took 8-40 in a match at the County Ground in 1940 and, on Whit Monday 1945, 4-34 as a Hampshire XI defeated Southampton Police.
Charles, by his own recollection was a big spinner of the ball although with characteristic modesty he recalled that on a true wicket" you just had to bowl accurately, and sometimes I got well tanned". The key was confidence and Charles told me "I always felt I could put the ball pretty much where I wanted to". He also confessed that he tried to attack batsmen by bowling with as much variety as possible and regrets the modern tendency for spin bowlers to bowl tightly. More than once I have sat with him at Southampton while he has expressed sympathy for Shaun Udal and other modern spinners who are expected to attack batsmen on wickets which have been rolled flat and protected from the elements. He often hints that he would have been reluctant to play too often under such conditions.
I asked Charles what it was like, what it "meant" to be an amateur cricketer during his years in the game. He recalled that during most matches, the amateurs of both sides would change in a single, separate dressing room and eat at a separate table from the professionals. "Normally you would come out of a different gate to bat, which I disliked and, when we played that first match I was booked into a different hotel from the professionals. I had a horrible weekend - no Sunday cricket of course - and I thought, "that's enough". I packed my bag on the Monday morning, booked out of the hotel and asked the lads "does anyone have a spare bed?" Neil McCorkell obliged and Charles never stayed in a separate hotel again.
Charles had known members of the Hampshire side from playing second XI matches with them and never felt particularly different from them. He was more like a professional who did not get paid, than a strict amateur but he did recall some "very snooty" amateurs and sometimes did not enjoy using the amateurs' changing room. He was also fortunate to be working in the fish trade for this brought him into regular contact with the ordinary people of Southampton. In addition, in the days before mass refrigeration, fish was far more popular in the winter so Charles found it easier to leave the summer business to his "wonderful" manager.
After the war he became involved in the family's business at the Southampton Stadium although he managed to continue playing until 1954 and was then Chairman of Cricket during some of Hampshire's greatest years in the 1970s and 1980s. Sixty years after his first-class debut, he still attends many matches at his beloved Southampton where, from his seat in the committee box he has a view over the ground towards the site of the old stadium. He is one of only three Life Vice-Presidents of the club, continues to contribute as a member of the Museum Sub-Committee and has kind and wise observations to offer anyone who seeks his company.