One of the joys of cricket research is the way one small query can set off a train of clues, links and stories.
Just such was the apparently straightforward matter of verifying a score associated with one of the bats in the Long Room – out of which has come a re-identification, the sorting out of a trio of Clarkes, ties with an historic club in Scotland, and the revelation of a previously unrecorded team in Nottingham!
It all started with a heritage volunteer leading a group looking at the bats displayed around Trent Bridge, trying to verify a silver shield on the reverse of a bat attributed to William Clarke.
The shield has the name as Clark and commemorates a score of 73 in a match between Gentlemen and Players in June 1874; so, a quick check of the scorecards for that fixture and job done…except there was no William Clark (or Clarke) in the Lord’s match that year. More detective work was needed.
To add to the confusion, there are three William Clarkes in Notts’ history; the dates meant that – whatever we might have hoped – this was not a bat belonging to the first (and most important) William Clarke, the ‘Father of Trent Bridge’, who died in 1856.
There were still two possible owners, neither of whom were related to the original William (though one did claim, with no surviving evidence, to be his nephew). It seemed most likely that the owner of the bat, and thus the scorer of the 73 runs duly commemorated, was the one known as William Benjamin Clarke, who played more than forty matches for Notts between 1874-77. He certainly played in two ‘Gentlemen v Players’ matches in Scotland in 1873 and 1874 but, frustratingly, did not score 73 in either game. But we were getting closer.
Both those fixtures were staged at Hamilton Crescent, Partick, Glasgow, home ground of West of Scotland CC, where William Clarke was the professional for nine seasons. While at Partick he had a shop selling cricket items and kept a billiard room, as well as acting as general manager of the Hamilton Crescent ground.
In April 1873, he had played in a trial match played there and was presented by the Club as ‘the professional’. Later that season, he represented West against MCC at Hamilton Crescent, scoring 46 runs.
West liked to be on good terms with the MCC and saw their ground as a main attraction and a Scottish equivalent to the Oval in scale. The Penny Illustrated Paper review of Scottish cricket in 1873 stated that West ‘ranks first’ among the western Scottish clubs. Perhaps this reputation, ambition – and wages – attracted Clarke to it?
West of Scotland have their own records but the usual online cricket resources do not tell us much. Thanks, though, to the Club we know that Clarke played for West against Edinburgh Royal High School and against Yorkshire Gentlemen when he scored 54 runs and took five wickets.
In 1875 he played for West against Renfrew County and Perthshire, against whom he scored 71 runs (which seems to be a career best) and took 2-22 off 80 balls. The following year, there were more games including All England XI v XVIII Gentlemen of Edinburgh, with Clarke playing for England.
Gentlemen of Scotland v Players of Scotland matches were played twice in the 1870s ‘for the benefit of W Clarke (Nottinghamshire), professional to the West of Scotland club’ – so he was obviously very well regarded in his adopted home. But he didn’t score 73 (or even appear) in either game, so we still had no clue as to what the shield refers.
Notts research volunteers do not give up, though, and diligence paid off – we discovered a match played on the right day at Mavisbank, nr Edinburgh, between XVI Gentlemen of Lasswade v XI Players of Scotland, for whom William Clarke opened and scored – yes! – 73. Thus, we can now confidently say that the bat in the Long Room did belong to that William Clarke.
Incidentally, researches also showed that the ‘Benjamin’ was not part of his name – his son, who played cricket but not to the same level as his father, had the middle name Benjamin but not ‘our’ William. It is possible that he adopted the middle name before bestowing it on his son but there are no records to verify that.
Further connections between Nottinghamshire and West of Scotland CC were found. In West's early years a side was sent out on tour, initially, in 1862, to Ireland but their second tour of 1863 included a visit to Trent Bridge to play Nottingham Diamonds.
This game was possibly set up by West’s then professional, Jem Shaw of Sutton-in-Ashfield, who played First-Class cricket for Notts between 1865-75.
Immediately, this presented a new conundrum as ‘Nottingham Diamonds’ was not known to most of us at Trent Bridge. Further delving in the archives brought the information that
Nottingham Diamonds was one of the names given to a club originally formed in 1861 as the Midland Harlequins. It was a club for gentlemen cricketers, and an itinerant club, with no fixed home, although it often played at Trent Bridge.
There had been complaints that the name was inappropriate because there was already a club called Harlequins, for current and past Oxford University First-Class cricketers. So, the name was changed in April 1862 to Diamonds. While the club was intended for gentlemen of the Midland counties, there appeared to be a focus on Nottinghamshire, and in subsequent years the club was referred to by various names: Diamonds, Midland Diamonds, Nottingham Diamonds, and Midland Nottingham Diamonds.
Those playing for the Diamonds included four (or more) men who had played in at least one First-Class cricket match for Nottinghamshire; Sir Henry Bromley, who would be NCCC’s first President, was also associated with the Diamonds.
At West, Jem Shaw not only played – and apparently planned tours - but also took on the roles of groundsman and managing the ground's fencing (as did Clarke after him).
It seems remarkable that we think of modern cricketers, with all the advantages of safe and speedy travel, as sporting nomads, yet players like Shaw and Clarke were criss-crossing the country to play the game in the mid-Victorian era. Indeed, prior to joining West of Scotland, Clarke had already had engagements in Devon and Cornwall.
It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that one of Nottinghamshire’s most revered overseas players – the great Clive Rice – also played as the professional at West of Scotland. Again, details are sparse but we do know that in the Benson & Hedges Cup and NatWest Trophy competitions of 1988 and 89, Rice appeared for Scotland, skippering the side in nine matches against First-Class counties.
Just one final link between Trent Bridge and Hamilton Crescent…both grounds staged important football matches as well as cricket.
Indeed, the first recognised international football fixture, between England and Scotland was played there on 30 November 1872!
And one of the England team, the splendidly named Harwood Greenhalgh, was from Notts County.
From that seemingly simple task of checking one player’s score has come this raft of new and fascinating information.
NB: The illustration of Hamilton Crescent c1910 and much of the information in this article has come from the West of Scotland CC and their historian, for which support we are extremely grateful.