C I Thornton by Lord Harris

Lord Harris

Charles Inglis Thornton, my very dear old friend and comrade, was nicknamed "Bun and Jam" at Eton - afterwards abbreviated to "Buns" - because of an amusing incident, when, as a lower boy, he was brought up to be tried in Upper Club. He was fielding long-leg, close to the raised road, along which one of the "Cads" was passing with the basket or barrow of comestibles. Some say it was Bryan who wheeled a barrow and certainly purveyed buns and jam; others that it was Levi who carried a basket, bit I do not remember his selling this particular edible. Thornton, in an interval when a wicket was down, bought a bun and jam, and commenced consuming it. It lasted long enough for play to be resumed. A high catch was hit to him, which I fancy he caught. What happened to the bun I never heard for certain. Some say he swallowed it, others again that he crammed it, jam and all, into his trousers pocket. Anyhow it earned him his nickname. Years afterwards he was playing in a Whit Monday match at Lord's and got "spectacles", and Green Lubbock suggested he should in future be known as "Whit Monday Buns".

His home during his Eton days was with his uncle and aunt - the venerable Archdeacon of Canterbury and Mrs Harrison - in the Precincts. Consequently he and I, as soon as we became acquainted, about 1866, saw much of each other and became very close friends. We played much local cricket together at Canterbury, and at various country houses, and he was a regular member of my Eleven at Belmont. We did a lot of hunting and shooting together. He was a very bold and hard rider on not very good - certainly not expensive - horses. His cousin P.M.Thornton ("Friday") who won the half mile amateur championship in 1869, and afterwards became M.P. for us: and "Buns" had only to say "Friday, you daren't jump that," for Friday to go at it and negotiate it. One very hard winter, with snow on the ground, we made an expedition after wild duck in the marshes below Sittingbourne, and "Buns" having read or heard of Jack Mytton's eccentricities, borrowed a night gown from my father's housekeeper: arrayed in which, to the amusement of the keepers, he essayed to stalk - unsuccessfully if I remember right - the watchful birds.

It was bitter blow to me when I took up the captaincy of the Kent Eleven in 1874 to find that he and C.J.Ottaway had decided to transfer their support to Middlesex. They had gone into business in London, so perhaps it was natural. Thornton had played for Kent from 1867 to 1872 in 18 matches, with 34 innings averaging 29.06 - a very good one in those days - his highest scores being 124 in 1869 and 111 in 1871. But I see he told Mr. Bettesworth that the innings he enjoyed most was 107 at Scarborough in 1886 against I.Z. for Gentlemen of England. He made this great innings in 29 hits, which illustrates my contention, supported by many reliable authorities, that he hit more balls very hard than any batsmen I have known.

I see in the same interview he told Mr. Bettesworth that the bowler he most dreaded was Barratt of Surrey, a very slow left-hand bowler with a great break - a remark I can't understand, for playing with him for Kent v Surrey, he said to me "Come in first to see who can hit old Barratt the furthest" - a rivalry I couldn't allow to be reasonable but I subsequently claimed that I'd hit him the hardest, for I hit a "c and b" back to him, was caught off his wrist at mid-off and Barratt did not bowl another ball in the match. He was full of fun in everyday life as well as at cricket, and the stories of his jests are innumerable. He will be sadly missed by that little coterie who sat of mornings by the entrance gate to the Pavilion at Lord's.

That he was a very great cricketer is indisputable. Between 1869 and 1889 he was playing for Kent, Middlesex, Gentlemen of England, Gentlemen of the South, Cambridge University and the South, and in those years played twenty-five innings of 50 and over, including five centuries in years when centuries were not as common as nowadays. He was a magnificent field in his best days and a very long thrower, and his fast underhand grubs, with a curve all the way from leg, wanted careful watching. He went on first at the Oval for The Gentlemen (or Gentlemen of the South) v. the Players and took the first two wickets.

The feat which gained him great celebrity was his hit over the Pavilion at Lord's in Eton v Harrow in 1868. I was in with him at the time and thought we must make a big score, but the next ball - a dead shooter, of which there were plenty that day - took his wicket. I see it is related of him that he hit V.E.Walker out of the Canterbury ground four times in one over. I saw the over, and I can see him now jumping in and the ball sailing away, but I doubt each ball going out of the ground - one or two perhaps, and all over the ring, but out of the ground I doubt. He was hitting them towards the Pavilion, but his biggest hit at Canterbury I should say was on another occasion from the other end out of the ground - a very long carry.

By way of chaff his friends used to ask him if he'd ever hit as far as Bonnor, who was a somewhat self-sufficient batsman, but it is recorded in Lillywhite's Annual of 1898 that, next to Mr. Fellowes' hit of 175 yards on the Christ Church ground at Oxford, the two next authenticated hits are 168 yards 2 feet and 162 yards - both by Thornton in practice at Brighton - measured the time by that devoted cricketer, the Rev. James Pycroft, so he could treat our chaff with good humoured contempt.

Thornton made such a success of Scarborough cricket that he was accorded the singular honour of the Freedom of the Borough. So by encouragement, as well as by his own brilliant play, he has left his mark amongst the great cricketers of, I think I may say, all time.

© John Wisden & Co