Trent Bridge’s ‘Man of Many Parts’
Many a Notts fan will have heard their spouse or family say: “you spend so much time down at Trent Bridge, I don’t know why you don’t move in…”
Well, for much of the first half of the last century, people did exactly that. The job of head groundsman came with a flat in the Pavilion – unlikely as that seems today.
In March 1919, as the club prepared for the first post-war season, Walter Marshall applied for – and was given – residence of The Pavilion on the following terms:
- As Caretaker @ £25 per annum plus Coal & Gas.
- As Manager of the ground @ £100 with two youths and a horse.
- He would also give instruction to members of the ground staff.
- Accepted with three months’ notice on either side.
In today’s terms he undertook the jobs of Head Groundsman (currently held by Steve Birks); mentor to the Notts 2nd XI and Club & Ground side; and maintenance of the pavilion, ladies pavilion and the spaces between the back of the stands and the perimeter of the ground. These would have included grassed areas, flower and vegetable beds and apple trees.
Marshall was by no means new to the club or Trent Bridge at that time, having already served more than two decades on the ground staff, and was due to spend another twenty-plus years there.
Walter was born in Hyson Green on 27 October 1853 and was a prominent member of Nottingham Castle CC, where he played for twenty years – his first match for them at Skegness on 4 August 1879 and his last against the MCC at Lord's on 7 August 1899. At that level he was a fair bat and a left-arm medium-pace bowler. There is a trophy in the Trent Bridge Heritage Store from Nottingham Castle CC presented to the ‘best all-rounder’ in the latter years of the 19th Century – Walter’s name is on that trophy more than anyone else’s.
Between 1874 and 1882 he took 577 wickets at 7.37; there are no detailed figures for his batting, but the fact that he opened the batting on his Notts Championship debut v Gloucestershire in 1891 (though he scored only 4) indicates that he was regarded as a useful batsman.
He had made his First-Class debut, at the relatively late age of 35, for Notts versus Liverpool and District at Aigburth on 15 July 1889, scoring 26 (his best First-Class innings). He played in a further two First-Class games in 1891, against Gloucestershire and Kent, both at Trent Bridge. In his three First-Class games he scored 42 runs @10.50 and never bowled.
In 1876 he had represented Notts and Yorkshire Colts v Colts of England. As late as 1903 he made an appearance for Notts Second XI – captaining a side that included a young Joe Hardstaff and top scoring (22 out of a meagre 55) batting at number 11 in a defeat to Yorkshire.
Sometime after joining the Castle Club, Walter Marshall assumed control of maintaining the cricket square and produced a pitch that ranked second only to Trent Bridge in Nottingham. On the 1881 census his occupation was given as ‘Ag Lab’, not so unusual then for someone born in Hyson Green!
He worked closely with the Castle CC secretary, Henry Turner and when Turner was recruited to become secretary of Nottinghamshire CCC, it was not long before he invited Marshall to join him at Trent Bridge.
In the autumn of 1896, following years of dithering, and with the team’s playing record steadily declining, the Committee decided to form a staff of young players. In April 1897, five were chosen – Dench, Mason, Hawley, Oates and John Gunn. Walter Marshall was appointed as coach to the players and captain of the newly created Club & Ground side and shortly afterwards seems to have assumed the job of head groundsman.
Trent Bridge was allocated a Test Match for the first time in 1899 v Australia. Walter Marshall therefore had the privilege of preparing the first Test Match wicket at Trent Bridge, a drawn game in which WG Grace made his last test appearance and two other ‘greats’ – Wilfred Rhodes and Victor Trumper – made test debuts.
In the rather formal language of the time, the Committee report for that season says: ‘The Match England v Australia was an attractive feature at Trent Bridge and proved a great success. Your Committee are gratified to think that the arrangements they made on behalf of the Club for the carrying out of this important Match gave universal satisfaction to all who attended it.’ Marshall’s contribution to that ‘universal satisfaction’ would have been considerable.
The fortunes of the playing side rose – two of Marshall’s young charges of 1897, John Gunn and Tom Oates, found permanent places in the first eleven – and in 1907 the county reaped the rewards, being once more Champions.
Marshall continued to maintain the ground and run the playing staff until the First World War – he seems to have played regularly in the Club & Ground side until 1910 when he was 56.
There was no county cricket from 1915 to 1918, but Walter Marshall remained the groundsman through the war years and employed a youth and a horse. The latter cost around £20 per annum and Marshall £100, while the youth’s wages varied, averaging £5 (sums matched in that 1919 contract).
That move into the Pavilion may have been prompted by a change in Walter’s circumstances - he married in 1919 Winifred Williams, described as a lady’s help, who roomed with the Turners, as Marshall had done. She was born in Mansfield and was at the time of the marriage 39; Marshall was 65.
Marshall’s job of mentoring the young players on the Trent Bridge staff ended in the autumn of 1921, with Jimmy Iremonger taking charge. Walter Marshall continued as head groundsman, but the diary of a young apprentice groundsman at Trent Bridge indicates that by 1932 Marshall was frail. Reading the committee minutes for the next few years suggests that no one on the committee was keen to propose that Marshall should retire. Eventually, in 1935, they plucked up courage and he retired but remained caretaker of the pavilion.
The Nottingham Journal said that he retired, ‘having prepared more Test Match wickets than any groundsman in harness today!
‘No man’, they added, ‘knows a Trent Bridge wicket better than Walter Marshall. But then who could?’
When in 1942 Walter Marshall was interviewed by another journalist from the Nottingham Journal, he was still in his residence in the Pavilion, but now in a wheelchair and admitting he could do nothing for himself.
Very much the “grand old man of Trent Bridge,” he died in West Bridgford on 15 January 1943 aged 89 years.
The funeral took place at St Mary’s Church where he had been a devoted sideman and warden. There was a large attendance of cricketing notables. Among the family members present was Mr H Marshall (nephew), possibly the apprentice groundsman who kept a diary in 1932. The assumption is that Mrs Marshall remained resident in the pavilion until the end of the war, when the Dalling family moved into the accommodation.
Few people will have filled as many roles – and as well – at Trent Bridge as did Walter Marshall, a ‘man of many parts’ whose life reminds us that dedicated and effective support staff play a key role in the history and the success of the County Club.
This article is based on an appreciation of Walter Marshall written by the late Peter Wynne Thomas