Puttin’ On The Ritz : A Picture Quiz

(If you don’t feel in the mood for a quiz, by all means feel free simply to enjoy looking at the picture.  Always nice to see a group of cricketers looking well turned out.)

Here we see six members of the same club, who have clearly been putting on their top hats, brushing off their tails, duding up their shirt fronts and polishing their nails, stepping out to breathe an atmosphere that simply reeks of class.  But who are they and where are they going?

I am looking here for

a)  The club

b) The identity of the bareheaded man in the foreground

c) The very tall man in the middle of the back row

d) The occasion.

Some clues would be that c) was the subject of two of most famous passages of descriptive writing (or purple prose, if you don’t appreciate it) in cricket’s history and was described by my Grandfather as the best (or most enjoyable) batsman he ever saw in action;  b) shares a nickname with a current member of the England Lions squad.

Of the two other members of the party that I’ve been able to identify, the young man in spats on the far left of the picture was the only Englishman to have played first class cricket before the First War and after the Second, and ended his career as the scorer for Leicestershire 2nd XI.  The older cove with the cane was the brother of the Governor of South Australia and is said to have deliberately run out his Captain, The Hon. F.S. Jackson, in the 1892 University Match, yelling “Get back, Jacker, I’m set!”.

A special prize of a lifetime’s free subscription to this blog goes to anyone who can identify the other two (about whom I frankly have no idea).

In Memoriam : The Rowing Clubs Of Nottingham

It’s something of a truism that the sheer scale of British losses in the Great War makes them hard to comprehend : only when they are broken down to human scale (towns, villages, families) are our imaginations able to grasp the extent of the calamity.  This War Memorial is situated on Trent Bridge in Nottingham

View from Trent Bridge

I pass it often on my way over the Trent to the cricket ground and it never fails to stop me in my tracks.

Nottingham Rowing Clubs

It is dedicated “to the glory of God and in grateful memory of the members of the four rowing clubs of this City who died for their Country in the Great War”.

Four rowing clubs, fifty-six dead.  Imagine.

Gregor MacGregor : The Daredevil Stumper

As the Six Nations ends and the cricket season peeps shyly over the horizon let us continue the theme of depictions of cricketers (and wicket-keepers in particular) by taking a look at this splendid specimen: Gregor MacGregor, who (uniquely, I think) represented England at cricket and Scotland at Rugby football.

This photograph was originally published by the News of the World as part of an 18 part series in 1895, when MacGregor was at the height of his fame (I imagine he found himself tacked up on not a few schoolboys’ bedroom walls and framed in snug bars).  From the fact that he appears to be ‘keeping on a shagpile carpet in front of  what looks like some kind of picturesque ruin I think we can deduce that this a posed studio portrait, but I think it preserves the essence of the man.

We usually think of the ‘Golden Age’ of amateur dominance as being primarily the heyday of the dashing strokemaker, but – although MacGregor was a reasonable bat – his fame was as another phenomenon of that period, the virtuoso, daredevil amateur wicket-keeper.

Gregor MacGregor

Gregor MacGregor

MacGregor originally came to prominence as an undergraduate at Cambridge, where he formed a celebrated partnership with the Australian international bowler Sammy Woods.  ‘A Country Vicar’, who was a contemporary of theirs, takes up the story:

“Gregor MacGregor and Sammy Woods were the outstanding figures in the Cambridge XI of 1891.  You might call them MacGregor and Woods, or Woods and MacGregor, whichever you pleased: they were always a pair, partners in business for the destruction of Oxford – indivisible, like Castor and Pollux, or David and Jonathan, and each equally great in his own special department of the game.  Woods was the best amateur fast bowler in England, MacGregor the best wicket-keeper.

My feelings, in 1891, as a humble Freshman, towards the fourth-year brothers-in-arms, may be described as absolute hero-worship.  To me, the great pair seemed almost super-human.  I viewed them as demigods.  I had seen them on the Rugby football field, each magnificent in his own position.  MacGregor, broad-shouldered, dark and saturnine, cool, collected and unruffled at full-back: “Sammy”‘s towering form leading the forwards.  They were equally splendid at Fenners!”

“It should be remembered that “Mac” never followed the modern fashion of standing back to fast bowling.  He stood close to the stumps even when Sammy was going all out.  And, when at his fastest, the great man was apt to be just a little erratic in pitch.  That did not trouble the wicket-keeper: he took the ball with the utmost ease and certainty, whatever its length might be.”

This style of bravura wicket-keeping (standing up to genuinely fast bowling) arose at a time when the role of the ‘keeper was changing, as Patrick Morrah explains in ‘The Golden Age of Cricket‘:

“The modern practice of standing back to bowling of anything above medium pace would have been looked on with scorn by such players [MacGregor and Martyn] … in earlier times it had been the custom to stand up to all bowling, but the wicket-keeper did not try to stop the more difficult balls; there was a long stop to look after them.  In the seventies and eighties Tom Lockyer and Alfred Lyttleton set a new standard, and long-stop became obsolete; it was now the wicket-keeper’s task to see that no byes were allowed, while at the same time watching every chance of stumping as well as catching.”

Though, according to ‘A Country Vicar’

“Lyttleton always said that the abolition of the long stop spoilt his wicket-keeping.  He had become a master of the art when that second line of defence was still considered a necessity – to save the byes; and one of the chief marks of skill then, in the man behind the stumps, was the knowledge as to which ball to take and which to allow to pass.

These exhibitions of dare-devilry (which were essentially the province of amateur players) reached their apogee in the Gentlemen v Players fixtures, for instance that of 1893, as Patrick Morrah relates:

“Pelham Warner considered a catch by MacGregor … to have been the best he ever saw.  Kortright was bowling at his fastest, and with MacGregor standing back Frank Sugg stood out of his ground.  So MacGregor came up to the wicket to force him to stay back; Kortright sent down one of his fastest deliveries, Sugg touched it, and MacGregor took the catch low down a few inches from the wicket.”

and 1906, when MacGregor’s rival and successor Harry Martyn of Oxford and Somerset stood up to Brearley and Knox, who Wisden described as having bowled ‘terrifyingly fast‘.  Martyn, too, had dared to stand up to ‘Korty’ when playing for the Gentlemen:

“Harry Martyn … is said to have taken up position at the stumps when he first kept to Kortright in a Gentleman v Players match.  The bowler did not like this and uttered words of warning: Martyn stood his ground, gathering the first of Kortright’s rockets right-handed outside the off stump, and tossed the ball back to the bowler so swiftly that it hit the poor unprepared fellow in the chest.”

The Players tended not to go in for such exhibitions, as David Frith reports in ‘The Fast Men‘:

“It was said that several of the leading wicket-keepers could have stood over the stumps to the Kortrights, Knoxes and Brearleys, but Lilley and Strudwick  – to consider only two – felt it more profitable to stand back and minimise the byes at the same time as having a better chance to hold snicks.

But presumably it was not only tactical considerations that led the professionals Strudwick and Lilley to err on the side of caution.  At worst, MacGregor and Martyn stood to lose their teeth (worth it for what the French term ‘La Gloire‘): a serious injury for a professional could have meant the loss of his livelihood and a one way trip to the Workhouse.  It was for much the same reason that the genuine speed merchants of the period were all amateurs.  There may have been professionals who could have bowled as fast as Knox or Brearley, but not if they were required to play every match in a season and hoped to extend their careers to an age where they might have managed to save enough to buy a small public house.

Strudwick may, for instance, have been mindful of the fate of a predecessor as Surrey wicket-keeper (Frith again):

“Such exhibitions as Martyn’s to the abovementioned three and MacGregor to Woods bring to mind the remark of the prizefighter Jem Mace, to Ted Pooley, Surrey’s wicket-keeper in the 1860s and 1870s: ‘I would rather stand up against any man in England for an hour than take your place behind the wicket for five minutes.  I heard that ball strike you as if it had hit a brick wall.’

On that occasion a ball had leapt from one of the wide cracks in the Lord’s pitch and removed three of Pooley’s teeth.  In taking a return from a fieldsmen at Brighton in 1871 Pooley had a finger broken.  He first noticed it when blood began to run down the sleeve of his flannel jacket, and upon removing his glove he saw that the broken bone was protruding from the flesh.  When ‘Old Ebor’ (A.W. Pullin) discovered Pooley in the Lambeth Workhouse in 1899 he described the old ‘keeper’s fists as ‘mere lumps of deformity’.

After leaving Cambridge MacGregor worked as a stock broker and played for Middlesex, retiring in 1907 with a total of  411 victims caught  and 148 stumped.  He died in 1919, aged 49.

Future England Captain In Assault On Man Of The Century

This week saw the 48th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill (the first public event I think I can remember).  One aspect of Sir Winston’s character that is seldom remarked upon is his love of cricket, mainly, I think, because he had none.

Stanley Baldwin was married to a useful cricketer, sometimes sported an I Zingari tie and liked to employ cricket as a metaphor for his own (in retrospect) benign brand of conservatism: ‘Lord’s changes but Lord’s remains the same’  he said poetically ‘how unchanging is each phase of the ever changing game.’  On the other side of the House, Clement Attlee (supposedly) kept a tickertape machine in his office so that he could keep up with the cricket scores and was complimented (well, I’d say it’s a compliment) by Aneurin Bevan on bringing to ‘the fierce struggle of politics the tepid enthusiasm of a lazy summer afternoon at a cricket match‘.

But (though I’m willing to be contradicted) I can find no evidence that Churchill ever expressed any enthusiasm for the game, ever employed it as a metaphor or even attended a game. Why was this?

Well, he clearly got off on the wrong foot in relation to the game. (Is that a cricketing metaphor, by the way? I’m not sure.)  As a schoolboy at Harrow he fagged for both F.S. Jackson and the (always ‘autocratic’) A.C. MacLaren who, when asked by an interviewer what Churchill had been like, replied “a snotty little bugger”.  There are also (unsourced) claims on the internet that one of his earliest memories was of hiding behind a tree while the other boys threw cricket balls at him.

But even after this prejudicial start I believe the Great Man might have come to appreciate the Great Game had it not been for a later incident involving a third Future England Captain, which may well have been enough to put him off for life, or even end it.  Step forward Lionel Tennyson, in another extract from ‘Sticky Wickets‘.

“One friend of mine at Eton was Duff Cooper, who later became Under Secretary for War and our Ambassador in Paris, and husband of the beautiful Lady Diana Manners.  They and I and other Eton friends and their sisters were more than once guests together at Taplow Court, the home on the bank of the Thames of the late Lord Desborough.  Those were happy days and they give me another link with then and now.

One lovely summer evening during the session of Parliament, Mr. Winston Churchill had come down from London still attired in what was then – as in contrast with now – the usual Parliamentary costume.  He wore a top hat, frock coat, stiff shirt and collar.  Standing on the bank of the Thames, which runs past the foot of the garden, before the dressing bell rang, Mr. Churchill was talking to Lady Desborough.  The sight of him orating and gesticulating in those clothes so near to the water was too great a temptation for us to resist.  Charging altogether from behind him, a few of us sent him flying with a mighty splash into the river.

He was very sporting about it.  When he came ashore, soaked and without his hat, he interceded for us with Lady Desborough in an address which I have never heard excelled for humour and the arts of advocacy.”

A good job Churchill could swim, of course, otherwise – thanks to Tennyson – we might all be speaking German now.

Consecration, by E.W. Hornung : A Poem For Remembrance Sunday

E.W. Hornung
Children we deemed you all the days
   We vexed you with our care:
But in a Universe ablaze,
   What was your childish share?
To rush upon the flames of Hell,
  To quench them with your blood !
To be of England’s flower that fell
   Ere yet it break the bud !
And we who wither where we grew,
   And never shed but tears,
As children now would follow you
   Through the remaining years ;
Tread in the steps we thought to guide,
   As firmly as you trod ;
And keep the name you glorified
   Clean before man and God.
Hornung, the author of Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman, was an occasional versifier.  Most of his verse was inspired by the Great War.  Oddly, in the light of the ambivalence (verging on cynicism) of the Raffles books towards the idea that cricket was the embodiment of the Englishman’s moral code, he began by writing some fairly awful War-as-the-Great-Game-type stuff, for instance –
The Schools take guard upon a fierier pitch
    Somewhere in Flanders.
Bigger the cricket here;  yet some who tried
    In vain to earn a Colour while at Eton
Have found a place upon an England side

    That can’t be beaten !

His son Oscar, who had played cricket for Eton, had written from the front, comparing the War to “putting your left leg to the ball at cricket” or playing in a house match “only the odds are not so much against us here and we’ve more to back us up.”  He was killed in July 1915.  His Father volunteered to work at the front, manning a canteen run by the YMCA and organising a small lending library for the troops.
(The pictures are of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Newark.)

Fires Were Started (Or Not) : A Display Of Fireworks

A little ahead of time, or a little behind it, given that most fireworks displays will have taken place over the weekend – I went to one at our local Rugby Club on Friday evening.  The major change here from previous years was that there was no bonfire – presumably because the club is a hundred yards or so from a main road and I can see that having thick clouds of smoke suddenly blinding motorists could cause problems.

There is a long and fascinating history of November 5th celebrations on Wikipedia, from which I learned that health and safety concerns are nothing new.  Fireworks were first banned on those grounds in the 1680s, ‘much mischief having been done by squibs’.  The custom of children collected Pennies for the Guy has been the subject of controversy since it first arose in the late 18th century (in 1790 the The Times first complained about children ‘begging for money for Guy Faux‘).  In 1802 a ‘set of idle fellows … with some horrid figure dressed up as Guy Faux‘ were convicted of begging and sent to prison as ‘idle and disorderly persons‘.  Nowadays the respectable complaint is that children are too idle to make Guys, or that they are prevented from asking for money by paranoia about their safety.

David Cressy is quoted as saying that, by the 18th Century, Bonfire Night had become ‘a polysemous occasion, meaning all things to all men‘, which sounds about right.  As an example, when I lived in London, I remember a friend (a Swedish Marxist academic and protoblogmartyr) and I taking our children to a display on one of London’s highest points.  He looked around as fires raged all over London and explosions lit up the sky and said “I know why you English enjoy this – it reminds you of the Blitz“.  I could see his point.

I confess to having a childlike fascination with fireworks and could look at them for hours – except that I think most small children are more likely to be frightened by fireworks than fascinated and looking at them for hours is precisely what you cannot do.  I  think – aside  from the elemental quality of the fire – that part of the fascination lies in the purely abstract beauty of the fireworks (Whistler’s pot of paint flung in the face of the public was, of course, a painting of a fireworks display).

Having taken some photographs on Friday, I could now look at them for hours (if I had the time), and can read anything into them I choose to –  a dying star, a palm tree, a coral reef, marigolds, fireflies, a Jackson Pollock, the birth of the Universe – or nothing.


Forgive What We Have Been, Amend What We Are

A couple of weeks ago I paid a visit to Lincoln Cathedral.  It has its fans (Ruskin, Pevsner) but – magnificent though it is

it seemed to me to have an uneasy atmosphere, something that suggested it was not quite happy in its skin.

The Cathedral was rebuilt and greatly enlarged by St Hugh of Lincoln, the exemplary 12th century Bishop, who was canonized shortly after his death. The Cathedral invites visitors to imagine themselves as mediaeval pilgrims visiting his shrine.  It’s true that many pilgrims would have been attracted by Great St Hugh, but more would have  there to venerate this shrine (what’s left of it) – the shrine of Little St Hugh.

Little St Hugh was a nine-year old boy, the son of a woman called Beatrice, who disappeared from his home on July 31st 1255.  On 29th August his body was found in a well in the vicinity of what is now called the Jew’s House (Lincoln had a thriving Jewish community, partly because the elder St Hugh had been well-known for offering them protection).  A Jew called Jopin (or Copin) was apprehended and confessed that the boy had been crucified as part of a ritual murder by a group of Jews assembled for that purpose.  He did so either because he had been tortured, or, according to other accounts, because he had been offered a pardon if he confessed.

At this point, King Henry intervened.  Copin (or Jopin) was executed and 90 Jews arrested and held in the Tower of London.  18 were hanged (for refusing to submit to the authority of a Christian court), the others pardoned and released.  The explanation for this seems to be that Henry could confiscate the wealth of those who had been convicted, and his brother could continue to tax those who had been released.

Meanwhile stories spread about Little St Hugh (for instance that when his body had been discovered the well had filled with a blinding light and the odour of sanctity) and there was a rush to canonize him.  He was mentioned by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales, a popular ballad was written about him (later recorded in a bowdlerised, Jew-free version by Steeleye Span and others) and Lincoln Cathedral became a major and lucrative site for pilgrimage.

There is something very contemporary about this story.  We can imagine the successive news reports – “Fears are growing for a nine-year old boy from Lincoln who disappeared from his home on 31st July … police are appealing for any information about the whereabouts of nine-year old Hugh of Lincoln … the remains of a boy have been discovered in a well in the Steep Hill area of Lincoln

… a 39-year-old Jew is helping police with their enquiries …”  We don’t have to use too much imagination to picture the angry mob, or the clamour for an early arrest.  Perhaps there was a ‘Justice for Hugh’ campaign.  Accusations of ‘ritual abuse’, too, are not unknown in our own time.

Nowadays, when a child is killed, their shrine takes the form of a spontaneous eruption of flowers and soft toys.  In Lincoln they did things more formally and erected an impressive four storey Gothic edifice over the box containing Hugh’s bones.  This shrine was destroyed during the Reformation and Little St Hugh gradually became something of an embarrassment.  His feast day was removed from the Anglican calendar and the Roman Catholics claimed he had never been properly canonized at all.

The people of Lincoln seem to have been ambivalent about their famous son.  The Jews’s House is still there and is something of a tourist attraction.  There was an attempt to claim (in the early 20th Century) that the well itself had been discovered in the basement of the house, and postcards were sold of it.  The owner of the house later confessed that he had arranged for the well to be dug himself, in an attempt to stave off a threat to have the house demolished.

What to do about Hugh is also something of a problem for the Cathedral authorities.  At St Alban’s Cathedral, the shrine of St Alban has been reconstructed from what is left of the original (again destroyed during the Reformation).  This has not been attempted in Lincoln.  Instead the bones of  Hugh (who, of course, never asked for any of this) are relegated to an obscure aisle, accompanied by an apology which states (quite correctly) that “such stories do not rebound to the credit of Christendom” and ends “so let us pray: forgive what we have been, amend what we are, and direct what we shall be.”

To the casual observer, the chest looks as though it is designed to keep boots in, or umbrellas and I’m sure many a weary pilgrim has perched on it to take the weight off their feet.  All very pathetic, as they would have said in the 18th Century.

“The First-Class Game Will Soon Have A Death On Its Hands” : Scenes From A Golden Age

The sad news of Mark Boucher’s injury-forced retirement prompted me to think about how rare it is these days (or so it seems to me) for a player to be seriously injured during a match.

I’ve had plenty of time this season to catch up with my reading and I’ve managed – at various county grounds – to pick up a selection of back copies of The Cricketer from – as it were – my formative years – the period when my interest in cricket was at its freshest and least jaundiced or jaded – which was the early ‘seventies.

I suppose many of us are inclined – if uncorrected – to think of the period when we first became interested in cricket as a Golden Age against which all subsequent cricket must be compared.  It’s always useful to be reminded of how things were at the time (or how they appeared to others, or were reported), as opposed to how we remember them.

One thing I’m inclined to rail against about the modern game is the way that the dice are loaded against the bowlers, and, in particular, the fast men.  Take away his helmet (I’m inclined to say when watching some of our more flamboyant galacticos) and his supercharged bat and his body armour and stick him up against Thommo or Holding on a dodgy track with unlimited bouncers allowed and we’d soon see what he was really made of …

But, reading through these Cricketers, it was salutary to be reminded of quite what a violent game it was in those days (for fieldsmen almost as much as batsmen) – and these are from a fairly random selection of issues.

In the 1971 Winter Annual, under the heading ‘A tragic accident’, A.R. Lewis writes –

‘A tragic accident happened on the field of play this week … I was crouched in the gully as Malcolm Nash bowled to Neil Abberley … Off the meat of the bat … the ball sped almost invisibly to crack Roger Davis a lightning blow above and behind the left ear … Violent grotesque convulsions and a sudden change of facial colouring warned us all that there was immediate need for professional medical attention … Two doctors ran on, one of whom thankfully revived Roger with mouth to mouth resuscitation, after his pulse had stopped.’

By January 1975, we’re on to England’s tour of Australia and some comments from John Woodcock –

‘The day began to some unedifying remarks by Lillee on television last night. The idea of the bouncer, as he uses it, is to hit the batsman ‘somewhere between the rib cage and the stomach.’  That is what he said, and he has written it previously in a book.  Thomson is already on record as saying that he enjoys felling a batsman with a bouncer.  This is the talk of the underworld, not of Test cricketers.’

By the Spring Annual of 1975 we’ve moved on to the aftermath of  the tour and the brief series against New Zealand.  Under the headline ‘A nightmare ending’ there is a description of Peter Lever almost killing Ewen Chatfield –

‘The first test at Auckland had a dramatic and unpalatable ending when Chatfield … collapsed at the wicket and his breathing stopped for a few moments after being struck by a ball from Lever.  It was ten minutes before Chatfield was carried from the field on a stretcher and during that time several England players thought that the blow … onto his temple had proved fatal.  Fortunately … the England physiotherapist was able to apply cardiac massage and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which undoubtedly saved Chatfield’s life … later a distressed Lever spoke to Chatfield as he recovered consciousness in hospital and his first comment to me afterwards was ‘I feel like retiring here and now’.’

By May 1975 under the heading ‘A martial, medical match’  Riaz Ahmed Mansuri reported on the second Test between Pakistan and West Indies in Karachi –

‘Sadiq Mohammad’s long air trip … was not in vain … he pulled Pakistan out of trouble … and this after a full-blooded hit from Julien struck him under the left ear as he fielded in close.  He was carried off … with Wasim Raja, with his injured right ankle in plaster and virtually out of the match, Pakistan’s plight was extremely serious … a total of 150 minutes’ play was lost, the running battle between police and crowd ending only under a cloud of teargas … When the ninth wicket fell the match was safe, Sadiq was in the nineties (seemingly recovered from his concussion), and the spectators rose to their feet cheering lustily as Wasim Raja, with a plastered foot, entered …’

On to June 1975, and ‘The Battle of Kingston’, as reported by Tony Cozier …

‘Bedi [the Indian captain] declared with only six wickets down ‘in disgust’ … Later Bedi denied that he had declared, saying that there was no-one fit enough to bat.  Vishwanath received a fracture on the middle finger of the right hand when struck by Holding;  Gaekwad was hit on the left ear, also by Holding, and was still groggy after spending two days in hospital.  Patel, who had three stitches inserted in a cut in his mouth caused by a ball from Holder, could possibly have batted, but … only if necessary.  This left only Bedi and Chandra and … both had painful hand injuries that made it impossible for them to hold the bat …’

Meanwhile, back in England, David Lloyd was being knocked unconscious by Bob Cottam of Northants, as reported by David Frith …

‘I listened to the shell-shocked recollections of those awful moments by members of the fielding side:  ‘His eyes rolled up, and all you could see was the whites.’ ‘Blood was coming from his nose.’  ‘After a while his legs started twitching.  It was terrible.’  ‘I couldn’t go over to him,’ said another player, who happened himself to be a batsman.  ‘It wasn’t my scene.’ [According to Cricket Archive, Lloyd was out ‘hit wicket b. Cottam 2’ and was absent hurt in the second innings.  I wonder which Northants batsman would have said ‘It’s not my scene’? Perhaps not Roy Virgin or David Steele.]

In July, in ‘News of the Month’ we find that ‘G. Boycott was put out of cricket for several weeks after sustaining a broken bone in his right hand at Old Trafford in mid-May‘, ‘A.P.E. Knott missed a fortnight’s cricket … owing to a chipped right index finger, the result of a rising ball from … W.W. Daniel’,  ‘A.J. Borrington, keeping wicket for Derbyshire, was taken to hospital after being struck on the head by one of Oxford University’s tail-end batsmen.’ and ‘B. Dudleston had his right thumb dislocated and fractured by a ball from S.J. Rouse … and was forced to miss a fortnight’s cricket.

In the same month’s issue John Woodcock reports from MCC v the West Indies …

‘It was horrible to watch.  Amiss was helped off, his shirt stained with blood … it was a reminder to the umpires that the first-class game … will soon have a death on its hands’ and (from the Daily Mail)  ‘Roope was ducking and weaving to escape physical punishment.  His cap was knocked off … and four leg-byes flew off the back of his shoulder …’

Just to finish the year off, in October’s News of the Month, David Frith notes

‘B. Hassan suffered a broken hand during Notts’ match against Essex at Trent Bridge … Asif Iqbal was hospitalised after being hit on the head during Kent’s match against Somerset at Taunton … J. Simmons, of Lancashire, had 16 stitches after being hit in the face by a ball from Somerset fast bowler H.R. Mosley.”

And this account, of course, only touches on the best-known instances of assault and battery of the era – Lillee and Thomson’s bowling against England on the ’74-’75 tour and the Holding’s  battering of Dad’s Army in 1976.  So here are a couple of reminders of what that was like –


So there’s the evidence.  Were those really the good old days?  Would I really want to go back to that?  Questions for another day…

Post Sixth Form Choices (Old Style And New)

We have been looking recently at some cartoons from Punch that suggest life in Britain has not – in every respect – changed a great deal since the 1930s. 

But here’s one from 1977 that illustrates how some things have changed out of all recognition .

In the ’70s Punch ran a caption competition where they would reprint an old cartoon and invite readers to supply a contemporary caption.  Thirty years on the older captions often seem funnier than the newer ones.  I thought I’d have a go at reviving this feature.

2012 caption – “Our choice is simple – pay £9,000 in tuition fees or work in Poundland for nothing.”

(I was in the sixth form in 1977 – we didn’t know how lucky we were.)

“Declining Standards Of Literacy” In 1835

A notice preserved in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rothwell. 


Accompanying it is a contemporary  letter, addressed to the Editor of the Rothwell Chronicle.


Pleas’d as I was to observe the notice in our Parish Church soliciting funds towards the restoration of our Church, I feel compell’d to write to exprefs my extreme vexation at seeing that most confounded of insects, the Apostrofly (!!!) making an unwanted appearance. 

“IT’S original state” indeed!  What do they teach them in our dame schools these days?!  Is it for that this we pay our tithes?!!

I must regretfully sign myself, Sir

Your most obedient servant

Disgusted of Rothwell

Actually, no.  As the OED explains –


Etymology:  Formed in end of 16th cent. < it pron. + ‘s of the possessive or genitive case, and at first commonly written it’s , a spelling retained by some to the beginning of the 19th cent.

The word made its (or it’s) appearance  too late to be thought suitable for the KJV or Shakespeare’s First Folio, but in time for the First Quarto and – until the beginning of the nineteenth century – was quite happy to be spelled with an apostrophe.  The apostrophe’s disappearance may have been linked to a – surely spurious – analogy to words such as his, hers and yours, or may simply have been a matter of  fashion.

Perhaps this metropolitan vogue was still to make its way to Rothwell by 1835.  Or, perhaps, the author might have been old enough to remember when “it’s” was regarded as the correct usage (the late use of the cursive s suggests as much), and was deliberately adopting what he thought to be an appropriately formal style of writing, indifferent to the vagaries of fashion.