Grace’s song finds favour with Trent Bridge

A ballad composed in 1895 got its first performance in more than a century when Trent Bridge marked the 150th Anniversary of WG Grace’s first appearance (on 21 August 1871) at Nottingham’s historic test venue.

Cricket – A Song of the Centuries was written and composed by one J Harcourt Smith to mark the great man becoming the first cricketer to score 100 career centuries, a feat he achieved in May 1895 – 24 years after he had been the first player to make a hundred in a county game at Trent Bridge.

The song – with a cover sheet featuring a typically grand image of Dr Grace – was uncovered by Trent Bridge’s Heritage Volunteers working on the Anniversary and they were able to find an original copy, complete with sheet music, in the library at Lord’s. With that library’s blessing, project leader John Hess turned to musician friends Rachel Parkes from the Nottingham-based “Music for Everyone” and her husband Henry to bring WG’s memorial song back to life.

They collaborated on the production and recorded a video of their version of the song – a recording that was played as part of a public presentation on the 150th Anniversary during the innings break in the Royal London Cup final, played at Trent Bridge on 19 August, the nearest match day to the actual anniversary.

More than fifty fans filled the Woodhead Hall at Trent Bridge to hear a talk on WG Grace and his long association with Trent Bridge – the great man finished his test career there in 1899 – and more than a few joined in the chorus of the song: 

There will be further opportunities to hear the Song of the Centuries again during Nottinghamshire’s final home County Championship game of the season, against Yorkshire on 21-25 September.

For the record, Grace played at Trent Bridge 30 times - most of them for Gloucestershire against Nottinghamshire. Grace’s final match there, in 1899, was in the first Test staged at Trent Bridge.

He made 116 in the second innings of that first game in 1871 and made six more centuries at Trent Bridge, his highest being 182 made in 1881. The press thought it “extraordinary batting”. In those 30 games at Trent Bridge, he scored 26 percent of his team’s runs and was top scorer in the innings on 21 occasions.

Not content with being the premier batsman of his day, WG was a more than useful bowler. He learned to bowl when it was still illegal to deliver the ball above shoulder height, so he was a round arm bowler. He had a five-for in eight matches at Trent Bridge. Twice he took 10 wickets in the match. His best was in 1877 when his four for 48 in the first innings was sufficient for Notts to follow on, and Grace then took six for 23 in second.

A Song of the Centuries was one of several Music Hall songs and parlour ballads of the late Victorian era that paid tribute to Grace and his momentous career and one of the few that the composer states was ‘Dedicated by Permission’ to Dr WG Grace.

“There are ‘grace notes’ in music”, said John Hess, “that are described as ‘ornamentation that allows players to embellish their performance’ – which seems highly appropriate, given how the good Doctor embellished cricket at Trent Bridge and around the world”.


August 2021