Tom Nixon played more than 50 First-Class matches, representing twelve different teams, and umpired in a dozen or so more but his lasting impact on the game was through a number of inventions and improvements to playing kit and equipment.
Nixon, born in Nottingham on 4 June 1815, is credited with being the first to use cork filling to cricket pads and then, in 1853, designing the open cane pads that were used for many years. Malacca cane was durable and flexible and Nixon used that same strength and flexibility to introduce split-cane handles to cricket bats, that absorbed the shock imparted to the batsman by the fast round-arm bowlers of the day. He also patented the Balista bowling machine to replicate round-arm bowling; the ball was propelled by a vulcanised rubber sling which could be modified to provide variations in the speed and length of delivery.
His first recorded match was with the White Lion club of Sneinton in 1835 when his slow round-arm bowling came in for favourable comment. He represented the First XI of the Old Club v the Next XXII in 1838 but his first important match was Nottinghamshire v Kent at Trent Bridge in 1841 when he made an immediate impact, taking a wicket with his first ball!
Nixon played just six First-Class games for his home county before joining the ground staff at Lord’s in 1851, where he stayed for six seasons. For Notts, his figures were 11 innings for 31 runs at 3.44 with a top score of 9; his bowling return was seven wickets at 21.00 with a best of 3-33. He also had professional engagements with Southwell, Stourbridge, and Layer-de-Haye in Essex before moving to Lord’s.
In addition to several successful seasons for the MCC, he represented the Players v Gentlemen on four occasions, the most effective of which was in 1851 when he took eight wickets in the match. He was one of only two Nottinghamshire players to sign a ‘Declaration’ against William Clarke, under whom he played whilst with Notts, that led to the breakaway United England Eleven (UEE) to challenge the dominance of Clarke’s All England Eleven and played 13 times for the UEE.
In 1856 Nixon moved permanently to Oxford where he became landlord of the Old White House Inn, that had an adjoining cricket field and racquets court. Whilst in Oxford, he appeared for a county XI, taking 10-129 in a match against Surrey at The Oval. After five years at Oxford he moved again, to Chelford in 1861 and managed the Cheshire county cricket ground, making his debut for his second adopted county in 1863. As late as 1865, he guested for the XXII of Peterborough against the All England Eleven, scoring just 1 and 2 and not being asked to bowl.
His total First-Class record shows 54 matches for 338 runs at 4.82 and a top score of 34; he took 264 wickets at 9.98 with ten wickets in a match seven times and 23 five-wickets innings returns. Nixon umpired in 14 First-Class matches and 22 miscellaneous fixtures, his final involvement with cricket appearing to be as umpire for Gentlemen of Shropshire v Gentlemen of Cheshire at Shrewsbury in August 1872.
The MCC game v Surrey at Lord’s in May 1867 was played for his benefit and the Nottingham Review reported the occasion saying: “Nixon’s uniform good conduct and civil and obliging manner are equalled by his excellence as a bowler and perhaps no professional ever attained more celebrity and success as a coach than old Tom Nixon”.
Thomas Nixon died at Chelford on 20 July 1877. One son, Thomas Henry, was also on the staff at Lord’s and a second, Reuben, played for Cheshire; his grandson, Thomas Henry’s son Harry, played one First-Class game for Scotland in 1906.
Nottinghamshire First-Class Number: 48