General News | 31st October 2007

Nottinghamshire Cricketers

After the summary defeat of the Nottingham Club by Sheffield combined with Leicester in 1826, due to the magnificent all-round cricket by Tom Marsden, Nottingham's next few major matches were against Sheffield alone.

With Marsden still in his pomp, the results were evenly divided, but once Marsden declined, Nottingham took the upper hand once again, winning three successive games in the 1830s. By this time William Clarke had taken control of the Nottingham Club. Nottingham's other old rivals, Leicester, fell away sharply and the Leicester Club more or less collapsed.

Clarke was keen to widen Nottingham's horizons and in 1834 home and away games were arranged against Cambridge. The results proved that Nottingham were far superior to their opponents. Victories by 152 runs and by an innings and 114 runs, when team totals above 150 were a rarity, proved the point. The moment had arrived when Nottingham felt capable of challenging and beating the top counties in England, namely those in cricket's heartland, Sussex and Kent.

There had been a fundamental difference between major matches between Nottingham, Sheffield and Leicester, and those played in the South East of England. By and large in the latter, rich and wealthy patrons, usually landowners of large estates, put up the money needed to stage matches and often employed the best cricketers with sinecures on those estates.

The Nottingham players in contrast were mainly self-employed tradesmen, innkeepers and the like. They themselves often raised the stake money for matches and then made money from gambling on the results, or individual performances of players. The very fact that a few of the Nottingham 1826 players are described as 'honest' or 'gentlemen' rather suggests that most of them were rather dubious characters.

Be that as it may, the team was very successful, but before going on to the first challenge against a Southern county, I will give some brief notes of the cricketers who made their debuts in important matches for the Nottingham Club between 1827 and 1834.

Eight new players were tried against Sheffield in the two matches of 1827. James Brittain (also spelt Briton and Britain) played just once v Sheffield. His bowling style is described as similar to Jemmy Grundy, but faster. In the 1840s he was engaged as 'bowler, mentor and ground-keeper' to the Notts Gents Club at Southwell.

On one occasion he inspired the team to win when all seemed lost and earned such gratitude that the Club 'rigged him out from top to toe in a brand new suit'. Elsewhere his umpiring ability was commented upon: 'Brittain, who thinks himself . . . to be  as great and powerful a despot as the autocrat of all the Russias' noted the Nottingham Review. It was stated he died in 1853, but the problem of how to spell his surname makes it difficult to confirm this.

William Sheraton played in six major Nottingham matches, the last in 1831. It is believed he resided in Radford in the 1820s, but nothing more is known of him.

Thomas Trueman's single match was at Darnell in 1827. Nothing more of significance can be added.

William Upton was a native of Cotgrave, born there in 1804 and dying in the same village in 1867. His cricket between 1822 and 1838 was largely for Cotgrave and adjacent villages. He appeared just twice in major Nottingham matches.

William Hewitt's obituary contains an amusing story, worthy of repetition: 'He was ever a somewhat eccentric man, and had occasionally to be placed under restraint. On one of these occasions he was taken out of the Asylum in order to play for his county and he succeeded in obtaining the highest score. On returning to one of the booths, he declared "the ball was as big as a hat, and I couldn't miss it. I suggest you bring more madman into the field and we would win more matches."'

He then returned to his place of refuge (i.e. the asylum) very quietly! Born in Beeston in 1795 his batting was noted for Beeston whilst a teenager and he played on and off until 1833. A lacemaker by occupation, he died in his home village in 1870.

Henry Crook's appearances for Nottingham are charmingly described 'as like angels' visits, few and far between.' He played in just five major matches in 11 seasons, the last being in 1837. A very slow round arm bowler, he was born in Bingham in 1802 and died there in 1886; his grave still stands in Bingham Churchyard. A farmer, he played for Bingham at least from 1821 to 1838. His son was a promising player but died in 1866 aged 22.

Thomas Foster who played for Nottingham once in 1827 and once in 1828 also hailed from Bingham, born there in 1792, but nothing more is known of him.

William North's reputation, indeed his memorial, is the book of Nottingham scores in compiled in 1829, thus preserving records of many early Nottingham matches. Born in Nottingham in 1807 he was a schoolmaster and then an Inspector of Corn Returns. He played in just three major Nottingham matches, the last in 1828 and died in Nottingham in 1855.

Three new cricketers appeared in 1828. Thomas Heath was the first native of Sutton-in-Ashfield (born there in 1806) to represent Nottingham. His forte was fielding, usually at cover-point or mid-wicket. He was reputed never to have dropped a catch and his throw was considered deadly. He moved early in life to Nottingham and worked as a lacemaker and then a stockiner but latterly he was the gateman at the Trent Bridge Ground.

He was very deaf and eccentric, but considered a bit of a wag. He frequently played in single-wicket matches and challenged a great Sheffield player, Dearman, but the latter batted all through the first day and Heath wrote back to Nottingham that he was in daily expectation of taking Dearman's wicket. Dearman actually scored 107 – Heath replied with 3!

Heath emigrated to France in 1839 and grew so stout that on his return five years later his friends could scarcely recognise him. He rejoined the Nottingham team but with little success. The last of his 18 matches came in 1848. In 1872 Heath visited his brother in Sutton and was seized with a fit, He lay unconscious for a week before dying. His body was brought back to Nottingham and four Notts cricketers acted as pall-bearers.

Emanuel Vincent provides the first example of the strict rules that governed teams in the 1820s. The Nottingham Review of August 1827 comments: 'Vincent, a very clever cricket player who distinguished himself last summer in two matches between Sheffield and Leicester, is barred playing in the two matches now pending between Sheffield and Nottingham , though having lived here (Nottingham) some time.' Vincent was born in Sheffield in 1798 and was a scissorsmith by trade. He played for Sheffield from 1822. In 1828 he was allowed to represent Nottingham and played in seven games for the Club until 1832. He then returned to Sheffield, his final game for his native town was in 1846. He died in 1860.

Robert Gibson, born in Nottingham in 1801, made a solitary appearance for the town club in 1828. He had married in Radford in 1824. He is perhaps the uncle of Robert and John Gibson who played in the 1850s.

Only two cricketers made their debuts in major Nottinham matches in 1829. John Day was only l7 when he first turned out for Nottingham in 1829, having been born in the town in 1812. His expertise as a long-stop seems to have clinched his place in the side and he played in eight matches, the final one being in 1835. Like a number of his colleagues he was a lacemaker by trade. He was still living, in New Lenton, in 1873, but his death has yet to be traced.

John Hilton was born in Mansfield in 1792. Much of his cricket was presumably for Mansfield, but the details are lost. He was 37 when first chosen for Nottingham 'a successful underhand slow bowler, but never much of a bat', notes an old report. His final match of three came in 1830, though he appeared for County v Town in 1837 aged 45 when the Nottingham Review comments: 'The old'un from Mansfield was again brought into the field but it was no go, the steel being worked out of him – he is slow and too low in delivery'. Hilton was landlord of the Grove Tavern in Mansfield, but he was reported to have died when enquiries were made in 1873.

1830 saw three newcomers in the Nottingham Team. Francis Smith Kerry born in Nottingham in 1803 played just once, in 1830. His name is found in a few games between 1829 and 1836, but no more biographical data has yet come to light.

Samuel Redgate, born in Arnold in 18l0, has been described as having 'the finest, easiest and most graceful bowling delivery ever seen.' He bowled very fast, but could deceptively vary his pace and make the ball swerve. For a period in the 1830s he was considered the most destructive bowler in England. The great batsman of the day was Fuller Pilch and Redgate was reputed to be his master. On the occasion of their first meeting – in a Gentlemen v Players game - Redgate dismissed Pilch for a pair. However a note in his biography states, that he was a very festive party and his career was cut short by ill-health. Drink was in fact his downfall and he died and he died aged 41 in Old Radford.  The last of his 23 matches for Nottingham was played in 1845. His most celebrated bowling feat was for England v Kent in 1839 when in a single four ball over he dismissed three of the best batsmen of the day – Stearman, Mynn and Pilch. Legend has it that he drank a glass of brandy after each wicket.

William Woodward, born in Radford in 1811, was a good wicketkeeper and dependable, but slow batsman. He appeared in six major Nottingham games between 1830 and 1835, but emigrated to North America, dying in Ontario, Canada in 1862.

Two players made their Nottingham debuts in each of the next four seasons, 1831 to 1834. Bartholomew Good from Market Rasen was the batsman who hit the winning run when Notts first beat Sussex in 1835. Always known as 'Billy' he was left-handed both as a batsman and bowler. Though a powerfully-built fellow, he had a delicate constitution which a reporter noted 'was not improved by his winter avocation as conductor of a Paddington omnibus'. Good was employed as ground-bowler at Lord's from 1836. He first turns up in matches in Nottingham in 1831 and the same summer made his debut for Nottingham, playing in 15 matches between that year and 1843. His batting was noted for the off-drive, as well as his leg hitting. He was a slow round-arm bowler. His form suddenly deserted him in 1843 and he went sadly downhill. To quote the biography again: 'When a man loses his play suddenly, as this professional did, when not advanced in years and of steady habits, it is usually from constitutional weakness'. Much liked and respected, being particularly good-tempered and merry-hearted, Good died in Kensington in 1848.

Hiram Slack played in one match in 1831 and one in 1832. He was born in Hucknall Torkard in 1808 and played in a few club matches between 1827 and 1832. He is perhaps the player featured in a match in Mansfield in 1836. It is stated that he is the uncle of Hiram Slack junior who was given a trial for the County in 1866.

William Garratt (or Garrat), though born in Shrewsbury, moved to Nottingham at the age of six. His debut for Nottingham came in 1832 and the last of his fourteen appearances was in 1845, but in 1839 he moved to Peterborough where he established himself as a jeweller, silversmith and watchmaker and his matches for Nottingham after that date were very limited. A sound, though slow-scoring batsman he played for the North v South and Players v Gentlemen. He was also a first-class long-stop. It is believed that he moved from Peterborough to Derby in 1859, again setting up as a jeweller.

George Rothera, a solicitor, played in eight Nottingham matches between 1832 and 1837, 'a good bat, capital wicketkeeper and a great favourite, he died of consumption in 1841 aged 31. He was the 31st player to represent Nottingham in major matches since 1826 and the first amateur. He is directly related to the present Nottingham Rothera family who remain in the legal profession.

John Oscroft was the first of the Oscroft clan to come to prominence on the cricket field. Born in Arnold in 1807 he made his Nottingham debut in 1834 in major matches, though he had played v Leicester in 1829. His final match was not until 1848, but between 1835 and 1841 he is absent. Originally a framework-knitter he became a publican and died of dysentry in 1857. For some 10 seasons he held professional engagements in various parts of the country including Edinburgh. John Thomas Oscroft is the son of John's eldest brother. A cryptic sentence in 1873 comments: 'We have already alluded to the frequent bestowal of nicknames on Nottingham professional cricketers, and the Oscrofts were honoured with some of special pungency, a little of which went a long way.'

John Henson is the final player in this section. A player named Henson appeared fairly often in local matches between 1830 and 1846, but only represented Nottingham once – v Sheffield in 1834. He is perhaps the same John Henson who was married in Radford in 1828, but no more has been discovered relating to him.


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