William 'Billy' Gunn was born in Nottingham on 4 December 1858, and at 14 was employed in Richard Daft’s cricketing warehouse in Lister Gate, Nottingham.
Gunn was chosen for the first Nottinghamshire match of the 1880 season v Surrey at Trent Bridge where he performed very creditably, making 13 not out and 9 in a game where no batsman exceeded 34. Gunn played in all twelve of Nottinghamshire’s 1880 fixtures, usually batting at No 8.
The 1881 First-Class Nottinghamshire season opened against Sussex at Trent Bridge when Gunn compiled the highest innings of the match, making 74; for the following game the leading seven Nottinghamshire professionals began their strike and Gunn was promoted to open the innings in Shrewsbury’s stead. By some brilliant hitting he made 68 v Surrey at Trent Bridge and a collection on the ground brought him £32-12-0. He was the hero of the match against Sussex at Hove, when he made 91 out of Nottinghamshire’s all-out total of 172, thus enabling his County to win by 36 runs.
For the second season running he appeared in every match and, in the absence of the strikers, Gunn scored more runs than anyone else and headed the County averages. His form in 1882 took a downward path and he scarcely was able to retain his position in the Nottinghamshire XI apart from two successive matches against Gloucestershire and Sussex when he made 46 and 77 and 52 and 68 – the last score containing eleven 4s. He hardly improved in 1883 and in 1884 began with three ducks, but on 27 June he reached a century for Nottinghamshire for the first time; of equal significance was the fact that he and Shrewsbury completed a century partnership for the first time. Indeed, the partnership amounted to 266 and created a new first-class world record for the 5th wicket. The partnership of Shrewsbury and Gunn formed a dominant feature of Nottinghamshire batting for nearly 20 years.
Gunn joined the Lord’s staff in 1881 and remained in the service of MCC until 1901. He hit six First-Class centuries for the club and many 100s in minor matches, the most notable of which was his 219* v Northumberland in 1889.
Of all the Nottinghamshire cricketers who appeared in the Gentlemen v Players match only Shrewsbury’s batting record exceeded Gunn’s. Gunn first joined the Players’ ranks in the Oval match of 1881 when the seven Nottinghamshire strikers were not invited. He did not accomplish much in the match and was not again selected until 1885 when at Scarborough he held Players together with an innings of 82 – no other professional scored more than 30.
William Gunn played in nine Test matches in England; without doubt the best innings for his country was at Old Trafford in 1893. He batted 4 hours 10 minutes for 102no, reaching his century in company with England’s No 11 - Arthur Mold.
Gunn was the only Nottinghamshire player in the England XI on the occasion of the first-ever Test match at Trent Bridge, this also being the last time that he appeared for England.
He only once formed part of an English touring side abroad, the occasion being Shaw, Shrewsbury and Lilywhite’s visit to Australia in 1886-87. He played with moderate success, his innings of most interest being 150 for Non-Smokers v Smokers on the East Melbourne ground, when he and Shrewsbury had a 3rd wicket partnership of 310, creating a new world First-Class record. He was invited to go to Australia in 1884-85 but refused.
Gunn was among the few sportsmen who have represented England at both cricket and association football. He appeared for England v Scotland at Glasgow and v Wales at Wrexham in 1884. After playing for Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup competition of 1881-82, Gunn transferred to Notts County and remained there for the rest of his playing career, generally being positioned at outside left. Later he became a director of Notts County.
Apart from his activities as a professional cricketer and footballer, Gunn was a partner in the firm of Gunn & Moore, which he helped to found in 1885. He lived in Nottingham all his life and died there of cancer on 29 January 1921.
His nephews George and John also played for Nottinghamshire and England.
Nottinghamshire First-Class Number: 168
Two of Billy Gunn's bats are on display in the Long Room; Bats No 40 and 77