The Lion of the North
The New Year of 1976 brought with it severe gales and with them came the fall of George Parr’s tree. This venerable elm, estimated to be 170 years old, had flourished just inside the Bridgford Road boundary wall, ever since cricket had been played in the adjacent meadow. Over, through and round the tree. George Parr had struck the cricket ball for some 28 summers. His colleague, William Caffyn, wrote, “As a leg-hitter Parr will always be best known. His method was to reach out with the left leg straight down the wicket, bending the knee, and to sweep the ball round in a sort of half-circle.”
A double-decker concrete stand was erected in front of the tree in 1955 and was duly christened Parr’s Stand. That stand has since been replaced as part of the continuing development of Trent Bridge and bears the name of a sponsoring company (Smith Cooper in 2020).
George Parr is the only Nottinghamshire player of whom it could be justly claimed that he was in his day the Greatest Batsman in the World. He succeeded Fuller Pilch of Kent in that role and then the most famous of all cricketers, W.G.Grace arrived in the late 1860s to create one new record after another. Parr and Pilch were soon forgotten in the wake of Grace’s astonishing feats. He was also a very fine fielder with a long throw, and once in a contest with a soldier at Lord's sent the ball about 109 yards.
Born in Radcliffe-on-Trent in May 1826, Parr had made his first-class debut as an eighteen year old and quickly established himself as Nottinghamshire’s premier batsman. William Clarke picked Parr to play in his benefit match at Southwell in 1846. For some mad reason Parr decided to row down the Trent from Radcliffe to Southwell and arrived very late. Clarke was not amused and disregarded Parr for the opening matches of the newly established All England Eleven later the year. The quarrel however was soon made up.
In the 1850s and 1860s English cricket was totally dominated by William Clarke’s All England Eleven. This comprised the best professional players of the day and toured the British Isles playing matches almost continuously from early May to mid-September against any side which cared to pay Clarke. In an era when cricket was by far the most popular team sport, everyone wanted to watch Clarke’s England cricketers and if possible play against them.
The opposition usually fielded twenty-two players against the England Eleven in order to even up the contest. Despite this Clarke’s side won more often than not. County cricket was completely overshadowed by these games and therefore Nottinghamshire rarely organized more than half a dozen fixtures each year.
Parr took over as manager and captain of both the All England Eleven and the Notts County side on Clarke’s death in 1856. As it was every cricketer’s dream to become a professional and be signed up for the England Eleven (it was the best paid job in cricket), Parr effectively controlled professional cricket in the British Isles. He captained the first England team to go overseas – to North America in 1859 – but when he was invited to take a side to Australia in 1861, he refused because his players were not offered enough money. Two years later he was asked again, but with a 75% increase in pay, and agreed to go. George Parr was apparently given a valuable green stone by the Queen of the Maoris when England toured New Zealand in 1863-64.
Parr retired from cricket in 1871 and afterwards very rarely left his native village. He lived in a house in Shelford Road which has since been demolished.
Parr died of rheumatic gout on 23 June 1891. He is buried in the cemetery at Radcliffe-on-Trent; a branch of the famous elm tree was laid on his coffin and went to rest with him. The match being played at Trent Bridge at the time of his burial was halted for a short time as a sign of respect.
Two of his brothers – Sam and Henry - also played for both the All England Eleven and Nottinghamshire. Sam was the better known, if only for his fiendish practical jokes, which were not appreciated by the innocent recipients. Frederick and Robert Butler, who each played for Notts and other representative sides in the latter part of the 19th Century, were nephews of George.
After retiring from the game, he became landlord of the Spread Eagle Inn in Long Row, Nottingham and this was the venue for several Notts CCC AGMs.