When W G Grace was asked who he would prefer as his batting partner he is supposed to have replied simply, “Give me Arthur” – a quote that Peter Wynne Thomas used as the title of his biography of Arthur Shrewsbury. Nottingham stalwart Shrewsbury was the one batsman of the late-Victorian Golden Age that could stand comparison to the Grand Old Man and not suffer from it.
Born in New Lenton, Nottingham on 11 April 1856, Arthur Shrewsbury was educated at the People’s College, Nottingham; his first cricket appearance of which the records still exist was for the College against High Pavement School, when he was 11 years of age.
He joined Meadow Willow CC at 15 and subsequently the more famous Nottingham Commercial CC. While playing for the latter he was brought to the attention of the Nottinghamshire County Committee and on 14 April 1873, appeared for the XXII Colts v the County XI at Trent Bridge. His score of 35, made without a chance, won him the prize bat for the best innings by a colt and selection for XV Colts of England v MCC at Lord’s, where he, ‘a mere boy, combated Alfred Shaw and Wootton with pluck as well as skill.’
Two further trials at Trent Bridge followed and on 6 April 1874, he made his debut for Nottinghamshire playing against the XXII Colts. This, however, was his only important appearance of 1874. His First-Class debut came in May 1875 for Nottinghamshire against Derbyshire at Trent Bridge.
In 1876 he made his first century in First-Class cricket - 188 v Yorkshire at Trent Bridge - and in partnership with Richard Daft created a new Notts record for the first wicket of 183. He was presented with a gold watch, bought with the proceeds of a collection taken on the ground, in appreciation of this innings.
The seasons 1877 to 1880 were ones during which, though he played regularly for Nottinghamshire, ill-health prevented him from fully developing the talent he so obviously possessed. The last Nottinghamshire match of 1880 showed, however, that his genius was near fruition. The opponents in this contest were the Australians and Shrewsbury’s 66 not out in Nottinghamshire’s second innings, in a low scoring match, enabled the County to triumph by a single wicket: “He maintained his nerve and coolness, undaunted by his colleagues’ disasters and upon leaving the wicket was carried shoulder high to the pavilion.”
Led by Shaw and Shrewsbury, the leading Nottinghamshire professionals went on strike after the initial match of the 1881 programme and the dispute was not finally settled until the close of the season. Shrewsbury therefore appeared but once for Nottinghamshire. During the winter of 1881-82 he organised, with Shaw and Lillywhite, a party of cricketers to tour America and Australia and though ill-health prevented him from partaking in the American section of the tour, the climate in Australia proved most beneficial to his well-being.
Including this trip, he made four Australian tours, all under the joint management of himself, Shaw and Lilywhite.
In the English summer of 1882, fresh from Australia, Shrewsbury prospered. For Nottinghamshire against Surrey at the Oval, he and Barnes added 289 before being separated, setting a world record for any wicket in First-Class cricket. Shrewsbury also complied his maiden double century for Nottinghamshire in this match.
His two greatest Test matches in England were at Lord’s in 1886, when he scored 164 - an innings that, more than 120 years later, earned him the Wisden Trophy for Best Test Performance in a Year, awarded posthumously in 2023 - and again at Lord’s in 1894. His scores on that occasion being 106 and 81, the former being described thus: ‘His batting was marked by extreme patience, unfailing judgment and a mastery over the difficulties of the ground, of which probably no other batsman would have been capable.’
For Nottinghamshire in 1885 he was ‘seen at his very best, which is high praise for so accomplished a batsman.’ He carried his bat through completed innings for Nottinghamshire v Middlesex at Lord’s, adding 177 for 7th wicket with William Attewell, a record for this wicket in inter-county cricket. In 1882 Shrewsbury scored his maiden first-class double century, the first double century by a Nottinghamshire cricketer, an innings of 207 at The Oval.
In 1892 Shrewsbury scored his tenth and final double century during a match against Middlesex. Australia's tour of England in 1893 included three Test matches. In the First Test at Lord's, on a difficult first day wicket, Shrewsbury scored 106 becoming on the way the first cricketer to score 1,000 Test runs
Throughout his career, Shrewsbury was an excellent fieldsman; in his early years he fielded in the deep, but from 1883 onwards he invariably took the position of point where, even in 1902, he had few equals. In all first-class matches he bowled only twice - for England v Australia at the Oval in 1884 and for Non-Smokers v Smokers at East Melbourne when he bowled a single over allowing no runs, but including one wide.
He captained his country in seven Tests and was the last professional to be England captain until Len Hutton was chosen in 1952. He was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1890. He also organised the first British Isles rugby tour to Australasia in 1888
It was hoped he would appear for Nottinghamshire in 1903 but on 19 May of that year he ended his own life at his sister’s house in Gedling, believing that he had a terminal illness. When this sad news arrived, the game at Hove against Sussex was promptly abandoned by common consent.
From 1875 to his death he was engaged each season by Nottinghamshire to appear in all their matches and it is believed this was his only major cricketing engagement, though he was employed as a coach during April on various country grounds in the latter part of his career.
His brother William and his nephew, also named Arthur, each played for Nottinghamshire.
Nottinghamshire First-Class Number: 142
One of Arthur Shrewsbury's bats is on display in the Museum Room; Bat MR 37