Gallant struggle against adversity, 1953

History of Derbyshire cricket

W.T. Taylor

The history of Derbyshire cricket is that of a gallant struggle against adversity and financial difficulties. In scarcely one year since the club was formed eighty-two years ago has there been a credit balance. In fact, more than once Derbyshire have carried on only through the generosity of the cricketing public of the county, who have risen nobly to the club's many appeals for monetary assistance.

Derbyshire were formed on November 4, 1870, at a meeting called in the Guildhall, Derby, by an exceptionally enthusiastic cricket-lover, Mr. Walter Boden. A large and influential gathering passed the resolution: "That a cricket club be formed, representing the whole strength of the county, to be called the Derbyshire County Club."

Upon the election of a committee and officials, the Earl of Chesterfield, patron of all manly sports, accepted the Presidency. The Hon. W. M. Jervis was asked to be the first Honorary Secretary. Unfortunately for Derbyshire, the Earl died in the first year of the club's existence. The Hon. W. M. Jervis succeeded him as President until 1887, when, on the appointment of Mr. G. H. Strutt to the Presidency, he resumed his secretarial duties.

Financial Crisis

In those days the subscription list was small and the loss of a few hundred pounds on the year's working, a matter of much concern. In 1887 the debt was fully £1,000 and the position critical. With the help of Mr. Boden and other friends of the club, the Hon. W. M. Jervis immediately set about removing this burden, and in one year the liabilities were liquidated. This is only one instance of the generosity which has been manifested through the years. Heavy taxation now prevents assistance from those who would wish to give it and the flag is kept flying with the help of receipts from Test Match profits and the organisation of various extraneous forms of raising money.

Although Derbyshire have not the colourful cricket traditions of some counties, the game has always held a warm corner in the hearts of the sports-loving people of the Peak County. Exact details of cricket's origin in Derbyshire are difficult to obtain, but records indicate that games were played in many parts of the county soon after the opening of the nineteenth century. Certainly in 1824 Derby defeated Chesterfield by an innings and 23 runs. One of the leading clubs in Derby at that time was the Derby Old Club and a prominent one in Chesterfield was the North Derbyshire Cricket Club.

Chesterfield continued to be a key point in the early history of Derbyshire. Tom Hunt, one of the most versatile of cricketers, was born there in 1819. He excelled in every phase of the game and, in fact, was so gifted that he became known as the Star of the North. In 1856 he scored 102 for North v. South at Manchester, a tremendous innings in those days.

All-England Beaten

Seven years earlier, when twenty of the County beat the famous All-England XI by an innings and seven runs, Hunt had made 61 and John Paxton, a fast bowler from Ilkeston, had taken eleven wickets for 47. Next year, 1850, when the match ended in a draw, the same two players were outstanding. Paxton must have been a bowler of unusual merit. In six matches against the All-England XI he took forty wickets--no mean feat against batsmen acknowledged to be the best in the land.

One of the most important events leading to the formation of the County Club occurred in 1863 when the South Derbyshire Cricket Club, one of the most prominent in the County, who combined with the Derby Town Club in the use of the Holmes ground in Derby, were given notice to leave. At once they acquired a ground from the Derby Recreation Company which held a lease from the corporation. The new ground was prepared for cricket, and to this day it is the leading headquarters of the game in Derbyshire. For many years the Derby County Football Club used the same ground, and not only played there under the auspices of the Cricket Club, but wore their colours of chocolate, amber and pale blue.

About this period a match is reported as having taken place in front of the Grand Stand on the Race Course, within a short distance of the present match centre. It may be interesting to mention at this stage that the Derbyshire Committee now have a scheme in hand for adopting this site for their matches at Derby and of making use of the Grand Stand with its covered accommodation for considerably more spectators.

Lancashire to the Rescue

The main problem arising from the inaugural meeting in 1870 was that of arranging matches against other counties. For the first three seasons Lancashire alone were willing to make fixtures, a fact that should never be forgotten by Derbyshire cricketers. The first of these games, at Manchester in May 1871, ended in victory for Derbyshire by an innings and eleven runs. Lancashire's first innings total of 25 remains their lowest to this day. The Lancashire batsmen were thrown into confusion by the pace of the Derbyshire fast bowler, Dove Gregory, who took six wickets for nine runs. In the ensuing years, however, Lancashire gained ample revenge.

Derbyshire's inability to secure any additional county opponents caused a good deal of despondency among officials and supporters, but the turning point came in 1873 when a match was arranged at Wirksworth between sixteen of the County and the Nottinghamshire eleven. Considering that at the time Nottinghamshire were a cricket power, the result was staggering. Derbyshire won by an innings and eight runs. In their first innings Nottinghamshire scored a beggarly 14 runs; Joe Flint took six wickets for seven runs and William Mycroft four for six.


Through the years a tale has been handed down about that batting debacle. The story is that a local Derbyshire celebrity, a keen and generous supporter of the club--and the proprietor of an important wine and spirit business, where he blended an attractive and potent brand of whisky--entertained the visitors lavishly at his establishment on the morning when they were to begin their innings.

Who can say that his fanatical enthusiasm for Derbyshire was responsible for the heaviness of his hand when he poured out refreshment for his guests? Might it not have been just the warmth of his hospitality?

That thrilling victory created intense interest in Derbyshire fortunes during the following season, but no one could have been prepared for the outcome. Derbyshire became Champion County in 1874. Vicissitudes too numerous to record in detail had to be encountered and overcome before that title was theirs again sixty-two years later.

When Derbyshire were first proclaimed Champion County, the smallest number of games lost decided the order of merit. What an inducement to play for draws! Through no fault of their own, however, Derbyshire were able to arrange matches only against Lancashire and Kent, three of which ended in victory and the other in a draw.

In the early days of Derbyshire county cricket the side was graced by many stalwart players, but as a counter came a series of exceptional misfortunes. Dove Gregory, a bowler who enjoyed much success, died in 1873 when only 35; the career of William Mycroft (left-arm fast), whom many considered one of the best bowlers produced by a club renowned for its strength in attack, was interfered with by ill-health, and William Cropper, an all-round cricketer of much merit, met with death on the football field before reaching the zenith of his powers. In addition, Frank Sugg and Frank Shacklock left to assist other counties. Almost inevitaby such a sequence of disasters meant a lean period on the field, and in 1888 Derbyshire were relegated to second class.

Wisden Decides

I would point out that the classification of rank was not then decided by the authority of M.C.C. The chief arbiters in this matter were the London sporting Press, who might be said to have ruled supreme in everything appertaining to county cricket. Thus it was, that, after much discussion, Derbyshire's relegation was a decision of the Press rather than of any cricketing body. Incidentally, Mr. Charles F. Pardon, then Editor of Wisden, was a leading protagonist in the move. Despite strong Derbyshire protests, the other first-class counties and the cricketing public in general assented to the change.

Derbyshire remained in the wilderness until 1894, when they were again designated first-class. On a motion of the captains of the leading counties, they, together with Essex, Leicestershire and Warwickshire, were given first-class status, but the result of matches did not count in the Championship until 1895, by which time Hampshire had also been admitted. The County Championship was reorganised accordingly.

During Derbyshire's period in exile many fine players wore their colours. Prominent among them was S. H. Evershed, who in later years was knighted for public services to his native town of Burton-on-Trent. He captained the eleven with marked ability for many years. Another was that grand veteran, L. G. Wright, a magnificent batsman and unsurpassed as a fieldsman in the oldfashioned position of square-point. So keen and alert was he in 1952 that at the age of 90 he regularly visited the County Ground to watch the matches and he still played an excellent game of bowls. He died early this year.

Other players of top class were George Davidson, whose 274 against Lancashire at Manchester in 1896 remains a Derbyshire batting record, and who, in 1895, scored 1,296 runs and took 138 wickets, the first professional to accomplish this, and only the second player to do the double, the first being W. G. Grace; William Chatterton, a batsman of delightful strokes who toured South Africa with an English team in 1891; and William Storer, a skilled wicket-keeper who played in Tests against Australia both at home and abroad. Against Yorkshire in 1896 Storer hit centuries in each innings--a feat performed previously only by W. G. Grace, A. E. Stoddart and George Brann, all amateurs.

Youthful readers may not be aware that the celebrated Australian, F. R. Spofforth, known always as The Demon Bowler, played some cricket for Derbyshire. Spofforth last toured England with an Australian side in 1886, and afterwards, when he set up home in Derbyshire, the County authorities sought to persuade the County Cricket Council to allow him to play without waiting for the usual two years' residential qualification. This application was, quite rightly, refused. Even so, Yorkshire generously offered to waive the point so that Spofforth could turn out against them. He did so in two matches in the 1889 season and, moreover, showed his appreciation of their action so much that in one game he took fifteen of their wickets for 81 runs. Next season Spofforth shared the captaincy with S. H. Evershed and, as might have been expected, headed the bowling averages with 42 wickets at 11.36 runs each. He made one appearance in 1891. That was his last.

For many years Derbyshire's participation in the County Championship was uneventful, but occasionally they accomplished performances to be remembered. The defeat of Essex by nine wickets at Chesterfield in 1904 provided the most notable of these. When Essex made 597 in their first innings (P. A. Perrin 343 not out) they looked safe enough from defeat, but Derbyshire replied with 548 (C. A. Olliviere 229), dismissed Essex for 97 in the second innings, and won the game with 149 for one (Olliviere 92 not out) in the last innings.

World Record Stand

Another memorable match was that against Warwickshire at Blackwell in 1910, when J. Chapman (165) and Arnold Warren (123) put on 283 for Derbyshire's ninth wicket. This still stands as a world record in first-class cricket. Then in my third year as Derbyshire Secretary, I remember the occasion well. At lunch time on the last day Warwickshire looked certain of a comfortable win. Derbyshire, with eight second innings wickets down, were a long way behind Warwickshire's first innings score and, well as Chapman and Warren were batting, few Derbyshire folk could hope that defeat would be avoided.

In view of their strong position, Warwickshire, I knew, were hoping to catch an early afternoon train, and, in conversation during the interval, I remarked to their fast bowler, Frank Field: You look like catching your train all right, Frank. The reply was, I'm not so sure about that, Mr. Taylor. These chaps are pretty good bats, you know. How right he was. Chapman and Warren made their runs in less than three hours and Warwickshire had to be content with a draw.

Another historic Derbyshire achievement was the defeat of the Australian Imperial Forces XI in 1919 by 36 runs. This was the only victory gained by a county side against the Australians during their tour. Furthermore, it was accomplished without that great-hearted fast bowler, William Bestwick, who, at the age of 43, was making his first appearance for the Players against the Gentlemen at Lord's. James Horsley--he did the hat-trick--and Arthur Morton shared nineteen wickets in the two Australian innings.

Because Bestwick's debut for Derbyshire had been as far back as 1898 and he had not played for them since 1909, nearly everyone thought he would be past first-class cricket when he returned to the game in 1919. He surprised them all by his powers. In 1921 Bestwick was fourth in the first-class bowling averages with 147 wickets for less than 17 runs each, including all ten for 40 in an innings against Glamorgan at Cardiff. Not bad for a fast bowler of 45 making a come-back! No county ever had a better servant. The stronger the opposition and the better the pitch the harder he tried. His total of 1,452 wickets is a Derbyshire record. On his only Test appearance, at Leeds against Australia in 1905, Bestwick's contemporary, Arnold Warren, a very fast bowler with a lovely action, took five wickets for 57 runs.

One of the features of Derbyshire's cricket from 1899 to 1914 was the wicket-keeping of Joe Humphries. Surely his stumping of batsmen on the leg side when standing up to the fast bowling of Bestwick and Warren has never been surpassed since the days of Gregor MacGregor of Middlesex fame. He toured Australia with the England side of 1907 and, by scoring 16 at a critical time, assisted materially in the winning of the Second Test by one wicket.

Bestwicks Meet Quaifes

Those who enjoyed the spectacle regretted that A. E. Lawton and G. Curgenven, both batsmen of tremendous hitting powers, were able to assist only infrequently. Limited as were his appearances, Curgenven rarely lost time playing himself in. At Gloucester, for instance, in 1922, he scored 65 in the first innings at little more than one a minute and his 68 out of 119 in the second took less than twenty-five minutes. That year two Derbyshire players figured in an occurrence considered unique in county cricket. When W. Bestwick and R. Bestwick shared the bowling against W. G. Quaife and B. W. Quaife of Warwickshire, spectators witnessed father and son bowling against batsmen likewise related. Similarly, no history of Derbyshire cricket would be complete without reference to the all-round work of Sam Cadman and Arthur Morton. Over a long period of years they were almost always the chief run-getters and wicket-takers. Too much credit cannot be accorded to them.

County cricket resumed in 1919 only through a big effort by everyone connected with the game. At first matches were restricted to two days, but the experiment was not repeated. Unsatisfactory as the season may have been, it was auspicious for Derbyshire because that year marked the beginning of G. R. Jackson's long association.

In 1920 came the most disastrous season ever experienced by any side since the County Championship came into existence. Of the 18 matches played, Derbyshire lost 17 outright. The other was abandoned without a ball being bowled. The only pleasurable memories for Derbyshire were the first appearances of Harry Elliott and Harry Storer. Elliott could be regarded as a most unfortunate wicket-keeper in that his career coincided with the peak years of Herbert Strudwick of Surrey. His big-match honours were confined to tours of South Africa (1927) and India (1933) and one home Test, at Manchester against West Indies in 1928. In first-class cricket Elliott stumped or caught 1,206 victims, a number exceeded by only three players. His 1,183 dismissals for Derbyshire are easily a county record. Two special feats by him were in not conceding a bye in 25 completed innings in 1936 and in missing only one match through injury from 1920 to 1927. Harry Elliott's nephew, Charles, began to play for Derbyshire in 1932. Twenty years later, when he headed the batting averages, he was still one of the County's most able batsmen. Harry Storer, a nephew of the old wicket-keeper, William Storer, was a most dependable first-wicket batsman, equally at home on fast or slow pitches. But for the claims of first-class football, at which he was capped by England, probably he would have played for his country at cricket as well.

Worried by the appalling results of 1920, G. M. Buckston returned, at 40 years of age, to lead the side next season with the fixed intention of instilling determination into a dispirited eleven. Buckston had not played county cricket since 1907, but a pronounced revival in Derbyshire fortunes coincided with his appointment. Only those who played under him knew how much the team owed to the skipper for his example, cheerfulness and leadership. Having accomplished his mission, Buckston refused to be dissuaded from his intention to retire. Instead, he was elected chairman of the Committee.

G. R. Jackson Era

G. R. Jackson took over the captaincy for 1922. Throughout Derbyshire's cricket history no appointment has been followed by such happy results. For nine seasons G. R. Jackson led Derbyshire with masterly judgment. Although a stern disciplinarian, he held the affection and respect of every player. When he retired at the end of the 1930 summer he had laid the foundations of the Championship team six years later. This was Wisden's interpretation of G. R. Jackson's effort for Derbyshire cricket: "For his work in leading and inspiring the team, Jackson deserves immense thanks. He took over control when the fortunes of the county were at a very low ebb, steadily raised the standard of the cricket, and now retires with Derbyshire well established amongst the leading teams of the day."

During G. R. Jackson's captaincy many cricketers destined to give magnificent service over a protracted period entered the county ranks. One was Leslie Townsend (1922), a gifted all-rounder who in 1933 scored 2,268 runs and took 100 wickets. In 1924 that fine aggressive cricketer, Stanley Worthington, embarked upon his county career. He was no mean fast-medium bowler, an attractive batsman on hard pitches and a superb close fielder. A particularly joyous match for Worthington was that against Nottinghamshire at Ilkeston in 1938. Not only did he score two separate centuries, but, in the course of his second innings, he heard of the birth of his only child, a son.

Denis Smith Arrives

In 1927 Derbyshire were further strengthened by the advent of Denis Smith. At one time this left-hand batsman of beautiful stroke-play was described as a second Frank Woolley. He developed to a high state of efficiency but never quite reached the class expected. Even so, his total of 20,516 runs for Derbyshire constitutes a county record. A year after Worthington came Albert Alderman and Tom Mitchell. Alderman was a steady opening batsman and second to none in the outfield. His catch at The Oval in 1936 when he dismissed Barling is still recalled by those privileged to witness it. When Barling swept a ball from Copson to fine leg the stroke looked certain to produce six runs, but Alderman, sprinting hard for 30 yards, held the ball with his right hand close to the palings.

Mitchell's discovery was unusual and intriguing. With time on his hands during the General Strike of 1926, Mitchell, a miner, practised bowling near the pit-head of the Creswell Colliery at which he normally worked. An old cricketer who saw him turning the ball prodigiously from leg at once recommended him to the local cricket club. They invited Mitchell to play for them. Mitchell not only gathered a harvest of wickets immediately in club cricket, but by 1928 had advanced to the county eleven. Against Leicestershire in 1935 he took all ten for 64 in an innings. Much excellent service was to come also from Alf Pope, a fast-medium bowler and useful batsman who began in county cricket in 1930. Four of Jackson's men, Townsend, Worthington, Denis Smith and Mitchell, played for England and all helped Derbyshire to carry off the Championship in 1936. How lucky were Derbyshire to find so many above average cricketers over so short a period!

Derbyshire were fortunate also in persuading A. W. Richardson to become captain in 1931. Richardson continued as leader until the end of that wonderful 1936 season. Without doubt the chief architects in this glorious episode of Derbyshire cricket were the two captains, G. R. Jackson (1922-30) and A. W. Richardson (1931-36), and the coach, Sam Cadman. By their skill and acumen, Jackson and Richardson gradually moulded Derbyshire into a match-winning combination, and, with the flair for discerning the potentialities of young players, Cadman produced from the cricket nursery no fewer than eight of the Championship team. With Middlesex and Yorkshire issuing late, though strong, challenges, interest in the side was aflame in the closing weeks of the 1936 season and, when he heard the news that the result of the Championship at last had been settled, the Derbyshire President, the Duke of Devonshire, hurriedly left his shooting party at Bolton Abbey to journey to Derby and join the public reception given to the players on their return. The Duke, who had accepted the Presidency in 1909, always showed the deepest interest in the club's affairs. He attended home matches regularly and was always ready to come to the rescue when financial problems presented themselves. When he died in 1938 he was succeeded in the Presidency by his son, who in turn was succeeded by his son, the present eleventh Duke of Devonshire.

Devastating Copson

Two players of outstanding merit, Bill Copson (1932) and George Pope (1933), began with Derbyshire under A. W. Richardson. Apart from being one of the most likeable fellows who stepped on to a cricket field, Copson was a devastating fast-medium bowler whose gift of making the ball appear to leave the turf faster than he bowled it through the air caused the downfall of scores of first-rate batsmen. Copson did not enjoy the best of health. Nevertheless, he played a vital part in much of Derbyshire's glory. He could not have wished for a better start in big cricket. With the first ball he sent down in a county game, at The Oval in 1932, he dismissed no less a player than Andrew Sandham of Surrey. Copson's most noteworthy feat was that against Warwickshire in the first innings at Derby in 1937. His eight wickets for eleven runs there included four with successive balls. Although Copson did the hat-trick three times, that distinction has been surpassed by the present Derbyshire leg-break bowler, Bert Rhodes (five times). Only three men--D. V. P. Wright (seven), T. W. Goddard (six) and C. W. L. Parker (six)--have exceeded this number.

George Pope was an all-rounder of abundant possibilities whose natural talent should have produced better results than it did. Both he and Copson played for England at home and, along with his county colleague, Worthington, Copson went to Australia in 1936-37 as a member of G. O. Allen's team, but did not make a Test appearance there. R. H. R. Buckston, who followed A. W. Richardson in the leadership, gave every possible encouragement to the younger players. Since the war Buckston has rendered equal aid as captain of the second eleven. His understanding of the outlook of the young cricketer has been valuable in the extreme.

The resumption of county cricket in 1946 presented more problems, the main one affecting Derbyshire being that of finding a regular captain. With the exception of E. J. Gothard, who carried out the duties in 1947 and 1948, no one was available for more than one year. Although no more than a moderate change bowler, Gothard performed a remarkable hat-trick at Derby against Middlesex in their Championship year of 1947 by dismissing A. Fairbairn, W. J. Edrich and R. W. V. Robins. To his credit also went the bowling of Sir Donald Bradman at Derby in 1948.

Luckily for Derbyshire, a regular captain became available from 1951 onwards when G. L. Willatt took over. Under his leadership in 1952 the side finished fourth, their highest position since 1937. Continuity of captaincy is always beneficial to a team, and all followers of Derbyshire cricket must be glad that Willatt signified his ability to continue in 1953. Whenever Willatt was absent in 1952, the side played under the command of D. B. Carr, who, following his tour with the M.C.C. team in India the previous winter, added a balance to the eleven through his all-round skill. Since the second World War several noteworthy victories have been recorded by Derbyshire. These included the defeat of Somerset in one day in 1947--by an innings and 125 runs.

C. Gladwin and L. Jackson

A further highlight of this period has been the fast-medium bowling of Clifford Gladwin, who, except for 1950 when unfitness kept him out of nearly half the matches, has taken over 100 wickets for Derbyshire in each season. As a fact, Derbyshire are said to have an uncanny facility for producing fast-medium bowlers (Derbyshire bowlers they are called). Another of this variety is Leslie Jackson, who came into the side in 1947. At times Jackson is good enough to run through a batting side and even on the hardest pitches he will move the new ball either way. The Australian touring team of 1948 were genuine in their declaration that only two bowlers in England moved the ball away from the bat as much as Jackson. He toured India with the Commonwealth team in the winter of 1950, suffered an injury to his elbow which necessitated his returning to undergo an operation, resumed cricket late in the 1951 season, and returned to his best form in 1952, heading the county bowling with a total of 114 wickets.

Picturesque Chesterfield

Although Derby remains the county ground of the club, it is by no means as pleasing to the eye as the beautiful Queen's Park enclosure at Chesterfield, which Derbyshire first used in 1898 for a match against Surrey. Despite the superb lob bowling of D. L. A. Jephson, who shortened the match by taking nine Derbyshire wickets for 55 runs in the two innings, the size of the crowd at that game made the experiment well worth while and further fixtures were arranged there. In fact Chesterfield became a regular venue for several matches a season. Since those days also the Committee have extended their fixtures to other centres in the county and now no less than five grounds are used. Those responsible for the county's policy believe that they owe a duty to their followers which they can best repay by offering them an opportunity of watching first-class cricket within a reasonable distance of their homes.

The first game at Chesterfield did not pass without incident. Derbyshire supporters were most hostile about Jephson's lobs, against which they protested vigorously, saying that this was unfair bowling. Only a few weeks after that exciting contest Chesterfield was the scene of the establishment of a batting record which stood for thirty-four years. Yorkshire's opening pair, J. T. Brown and J. Tunnicliffe, scored 554 together against Derbyshire in W. Sugg's benefit match before Brown deliberately knocked down his wicket. That partnership was not beaten until two more Yorkshiremen, Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe, made 555 for the first wicket against Essex at Leyton in 1932.

To record in detail the efforts of all the splendid cricketers who have played for Derbyshire would be quite impossible, but all omissions are regretted. What of the future? Within the next few years some of the present Derbyshire side will finish their careers. Replacements for them have to be found. Many promising young cricketers in the county have been discovered and developed through the medium of the Derbyshire Youth Cricket Advisory Council, who are carrying out the scheme sponsored by the M.C.C. Youth Cricket Association. Properly developed, some of these should mature into top-class players, and I believe that in years ahead Derbyshire will continue to flourish as an attractive county.

From 1889 until the present time only three Secretaries have held office for Derbyshire. Mr. W. B. Delacombe did so until his retirement in 1908. He was followed for a few months by Mr. R. S. T. Cochrane. Mr. Taylor, who has been Secretary ever since, is to-day the longest-serving of the county Secretaries. Although he assisted Derbyshire in a few matches from 1905 onwards, he is better known for his administrative efficiency. In the organisation of special efforts which over the years have raised more than£20,000 for the county club his share has been large--and always unstinted.-- WTT.

© John Wisden & Co