MY FAMILY, HOME, AND EARLY CRICKET DAYS.
MY father, Henry Mills Grace, was born at Long Ashton, in Somersetshire. He was a fair cricketer, though not possessing the skill of either of my brothers. When a boy he played a great deal, and if he had had the opportunities afforded to his children, he would have attained a good position as an all-round player. Clubs were few in number in his boyhood, and grounds were fewer still. For one that possessed a ground of its own, a dozen had to be content with the open common. Nor were schools so considerate about playing cricket in his time, and players had many difficulties in the way of practising and learning. The greatest difficulty he had to contend against was the distance to the ground. Clubs in the neighbourhood of Bristol were singularly fortunate in one respect: they had plenty of open ground then, as they have now. Durdham Downs were available, and, though not looked after as they should have been, a very fair pitch could be obtained.
When my father became a medical student, it was impossible for him to get away during the afternoon or evening, as most students do in the present day, and if he had not resorted to extraordinary hours he would have been compelled to give up playing. Two to three days a week throughout the cricketing season, he and a number of companions were in the habit of going to the Downs and practising between the hours of five and eight in the morning. In that way only could he continue the game he loved so well; and I remember we tried to follow in his footsteps in after years, at not quite so early an hour. He had the great qualities of perseverance and concentration, and he diligently impressed upon us the need for cultivating them.
I can remember his words now:
"Have patience, my boy; where there's a will there's a way; and there is nothing you cannot attain, if you only try hard enough."
My father and mother were married in the year 1831, and settled down in Downend, Gloucestershire, where they lived the rest of their lives. Downend is about four miles from Bristol, and was not a more important village sixty years ago than it is now. At the time my father made it the place of his labours, it was a small scattered village, and tourists when they travelled that way rarely paid it the compliment of staying long in it.
My father had to make his way in life, and was at the beck and call of every sick person within a radius of twelve miles. He had not an hour he could call his own. The early morning saw him riding six miles eastward; at midnight he was often six miles to the west.
There was not much time for cricket. The village had not a club of its own; so my father had to be satisfied with running into Bristol now and again, to look at the matches of the Clifton and Bristol clubs about the only two at that time within available reach.
My brother Henry, the eldest of the family, was born on the 3ist January, 1833. At eight years of age he was sent to school, and every time he came home would talk of nothing but cricket. My father realised that he would be compelled sooner or later to create time to help him, if he desired to keep in touch with him physically as well as mentally. He was strong in the belief that if you want to educate and influence a boy thoroughly it is as important to play with him as to work with him; so he took time by the forelock, and had a cricket-pitch laid in front of the house. It was not much of a pitch, nor was it full size; but it was sufficient to teach the rudiments of the game.
The villagers and surrounding neighbours began to take an interest in cricket, and nothing would satisfy them but that my father must take the initiative in forming a club. Why should not Downend have a club of its own? It was not strong enough to form one; so the neighbouring villages were invited to help, and a club was established, and named "The Mangotsfield." Rodway Hill was the most convenient spot for the majority of the players, and, indeed, about the only place where ground could be had. It was common ground; but the members set to work with a will, and levelled and railed in about forty yards square at considerable expense. The West Gloucestershire club was formed about a year later by Mr. Henry Hewitt and the students living with the Rev. Mr. Woodford, the clergyman at Coalpit Heath.
And now my father became more enthusiastic than ever, and prevailed upon some of his old Bristol friends to come over and help the good cause. My uncle Alfred Pocock responded heartily, and walked twice a week between the two places, a distance of twelve miles. He was a first-class racquet player; and, though he had not played cricket until he was twenty-three years of age, was not without hope that he might become a firstclass cricketer also. He, too, possessed my father's enthusiasm and perseverance; so it can be readily understood the Mangotsfield Club began to improve rapidly.
My father was 5 ft. 10 ins. in height; weight, about 13st. He batted right-handed; but bowled and threw in with his left. No man was more alive to the importance of choosing an eleven carefully for match play. A week or two before a match, he would take out his note-book and write down his team:
"First," said he, "I must have two good bowlers.
"Also two good change-bowlers.
"A wicket-keeper and long-stop.
"The rest, as long as they can bat and field, will make up a fair team."
Good fielding was his strong point, and he used to insist upon his team practising throwing and catching all round the field. Another important order was that, one night a week at least, sides should be chosen, and every one play as if it were a match.
My uncle Alfred Pocock was 5 ft. 9 ins. in height; weight, 12 st. 7 lb. When he first played for the Mangotsfield Club, he did not possess the skill which made him so valuable to E. M., Fred, and myself; but, infected by my father's earnestness, he practised diligently and acquired great power with both bat and ball. He made many good scores for the club, and his bowling won many a match. Nothing pleased him so much as watching a correct style of play; and he would bowl willingly for hours to a promising youngster, and was delighted to see him punish an indifferent ball. He bowled roundarm, medium pace, could break both ways, and was very straight. I have known him hit a single stump six times in twenty balls, and he was not satisfied unless he did it.
There is no need to say that, with two such enthusiasts as my father and uncle, the Mangotsfield Club increased in numbers and began to hold its own in contests. The West Gloucestershire Club held a distinct lead for a year or so, pretty much owing to the skill and influence of Mr. Hewitt, who was ably supported by the pupils of the Rev. Mr. Woodford, at Coalpit Heath. Mr. Woodford about this time had half-a-dozen college boys reading with him, who had learned their cricket under able teachers, and who were much more proficient with bat and ball than the majority of local talent. About the year 1845 the Mangotsfield was much strengthened by the appearance of two nephews of my mother, Mr. William Rees and Mr. George Gilbert, who came to stay with us during the holidays. The holidays lasted nearly two months, and my cousins showed both clubs that they had a great deal to learn in every branch of the game. Both were almost in the first class as batsmen, much above the average as bowlers, and fielded with dash and certainty.
The "Mangotsfield" became too much for its sister club and the majority of the clubs which played against it. The year 1846 saw it still improving, and the West Gloucestershire had to admit its superiority. Amalgamation was agreed upon the year after, and the West Gloucestershire Club chosen as the more dignified and most suitable name. Rodway Hill was the more convenient ground, and there they played for the next twenty years.
The principal clubs in the neighbourhood of Bristol about that period were Clifton, Kingscote, Lansdown, Westbury - on - Trym, and Bedminster. Lansdown had been in existence since 1825, and was the strongest opponent of the West Gloucestershire; the others had very little chance against it. In later years Cheltenham College was included in the list, and became the most exciting match of all. Forty years ago there was not the same limit as to age at Cheltenham, and the XI. were often nearer twenty years than sixteen. The College XI. became a thorn in the side of the West Gloucestershire, in proving that it was not omnipotent. Mr. M. Kempson was in residence at that time, and by his fine all-round play gave the West Gloucestershire many a hard day's work. He gave them a taste of the bowling skill which was to be of somuch service to his side in the Gentlemen v. Players match in 1853. Mr., now Sir Henry, James was there also, and helped with both bat and ball, and altogether the match was the most exciting and enjoyable of the year. I ought to say matches; for most years two were played. The annual fixture was in the month of June; but hardly a year passed in which a second was not played in September or October when the boys returned from the holidays.
The year 1846 was the club's first experience of very fast bowling. Mr. Marcon was in the neighbourhood that year, and played against them. Their wickets went down like ninepins, and half of the batsmen never saw the ball when he bowled. Every fieldsman was behind the wicket, and there were two longstops: the first stood fifteen yards behind, and was supposed to be the wicket-keeper; and the second about thirty yards farther away. Mr. Marcon did not trouble about the length of the ball. He aimed at the wicket, and the ball flew straight from his hand to it without touching the ground; and nearly every time it hit the bottom of the stump, the stump was smashed. Runs were scored now and then from a snick to leg or slip, but not one of them could hit him in front of the wicket. A member of the team said it could be done ought to be done, and he would do it!
"It is no use grounding your bat and waiting until he bowls," said he. "No! have your bat in the air in hitting position, and let fly at him." He was certainly big enough and strong enough to do as he said; so in he went, and stood waiting with the bat in the air, ready to hit.
Mr. Marcon came with a rush, and our enterprising member hit. The ball hit the bat high up about the shoulder, and bat and ball went right through the wicket.
My brother Henry was fifteen years of age when he played his first match for the club in 1848. He did not make much of a show that year; but two or three years later he could show an average of 17 for seven innings, and was very successful with the ball also. My cousins were at their best then, and the West Gloucestershire had now become a very strong club.
The year 1852 saw the departure of my cousins. They had begun the work of life, and holidays of two months' duration had become a thing of the past. The brunt of the fight had again to be undertaken by my father and uncle; but they faced it pluckily, for the sake of the boys who were springing up. Henry was still improving in his play, and my uncle and he were considered the two best all-round players in the district. They could both bowl very straight: my uncle was the steadier, with plenty of patience, but my brother was the faster, and on a rough kicking wicket met with great success. They would go any distance to play, whether the match were good, bad, or indifferent, and some oi their experiences of country cricket were rather amusing.
Mr. Williams, a player of University reputation, who was living at Thornbury, got together an eleven; but he could not lick them into match form, and almost gave up in despair. He did not like to cry "Beaten," and thought he might as well have a try against some of the clubs, about the end of the season, when one or two of their best men were away holidaykeeping. Bristol was the club chosen; but, unfortunately for Mr. Williams, Henry and my uncle had been asked to play, and they were on the ground waiting when the Thornbury team appeared. The chances were about 100 to 1 against Thornbury, and the certainty came off on that occasion; for Mr. Williams and his hopeful lot were ignominiously defeated. With more pluck than judgment, and doubtless to encourage his disheartened eleven, Mr. Williams said at the conclusion of the match:
"The result was a piece of luck. My lot could play the same team any day, and I should not mind putting twenty-five pounds on the result."
"Do you mean it?" said the captain of the Bristol.
"I do!" said Mr. Williams; and the match was fixed for a fortnight later, the first week in October.
My father was told of the match, and blamed both Henry and uncle for allowing it to be made, and considered it was nothing short of robbery. They said they had nothing to do with the making of it, and had not a sixpence on the result. My father, however, did not like the look of matters, and said he would play for Thornbury and pay part of the money.
" Understand now and for good, you boys," said he, "I shall not allow you in future to take part in any match which is played for money, as it is introducing a form of gambling into the game, which is wrong and must do harm to it."
Mr. Williams turned up on the appointed date. The Bristol team was even stronger than on the first occasion, and could not keep from laughing at the team opposed to them. Mr. Williams and my father chatted together, without the slightest sign of dismay on their faces. The remainder of the Thornbury eleven were nearly all strangers, and hardly one of them had been seen in a good match before.
Some of the Bristol eleven suggested to their captain that the money should be posted before the match commenced. He had no intention of proceeding to that extremity; but the spirit of mischief prevailing was too much for him, and he was compelled to approach Mr. Williams and make the request. Mr. Williams put his hand in his pocket and produced notes to the amount, much to the surprise of the Bristol captain, who had to make the humiliating confession that he had omitted to bring his part.
Such a scene as followed has not often been witnessed at the beginning of a match. Mr. Williams and my father waxed indignant; and did not hesitate to tell the Bristol captain that his conduct was far from gentlemanly, and unworthy of so manly a game; and they declined to go on with the match until the amount was produced. The whole team could not raise the sum among them; but a few watches and what money they had in their pockets were accepted as an equivalent, and deposited in safe hands.
Thornbury won the toss.
"What shall we do, doctor?" asked Mr. Williams.
"We may as well bat," said my father: "it is a one-innings match, and we shall have the best of the wicket."
Mr. Williams and my father went in first, and my uncle and Henry bowled. There was no tempting my father to hit; for he had made up his mind to keep up his wicket. At the end of an hour and a half, when Mr. Williams was bowled, the score was 60, of which he had made 45 in brilliant fashion. My father was not out 12, and they had run three byes. Half an hour later the innings was at an end: the total 75, my father not out 17.
The match began rather late in the day, and it was 3.30 when Bristol began to bat. With the exception of my father, there was not one of the Thornbury lot who had ever been known to bowl, and it was thought the match would be over by 5 o'clock. It was over earlier than that.
My father bowled the first over, and a good one it was; not a run scored off it. Laughing was general when Mr. Williams commenced at the other end. He fell back on the old, old resource when everything else has failed underhand grubs! There was not quite so much laughing at the end of the over, when he had clean-bowled one man, and the scoring-sheet was still blank.
Snow had fallen during the day, and the wicket cut up badly. My father bowled as steadily and patiently as he had batted; and Mr. Williams slung in his grubs, and got a wicket nearly every other over. The match was all over by 4.45, and Bristol had scored something less than 50 runs. To say that the Bristol XI were laughed at, is to express very faintly what took place.
My uncle and Henry, when they got back to Downend, were chaffed unmercifully; and it was many a long day before they heard the last of that match.
During the rise and progress of the Mangotsfield and West Gloucestershire Clubs, great changes had been taking place in our home.
There was, as I have already mentioned, Henry, born 31st January, 1833. Then followed Alfred, born 17th May, 1840; Edward Mills, born 28th November, 1841; myself, born 18th July, 1848; George Frederick, born 13th December, 1850; and four girls between Henry and myself.
Downend House, where my father and mother had been living since Henry's birth, had now become rather straitened in accommodation, and a move was made to "The Chesnuts" across the road sometime in 1850, where my father and mother lived for the rest of their lives.
The change was an improvement in many ways. For one thing there was an orchard attached to it, which meant for my brothers and myself a more convenient pitch on which to practise. My father, Henry, and uncle set to work early in 1851, and had a good wicket ready by the beginning of the cricket season. The orchard was about eighty yards in length, and thickly studded with apple trees, a few of which had to be sacrificed. On the left of it was a high wall; on the right, Mr. Cave's wood and a deep quarry full of water.
The first year or two the pitch was small; but E. M. enlarged and improved it as he grew up, and I cannot remember when it was not in a condition worthy of a first-rate club. There was no restriction in our hitting, but undoubtedly the situation was its greatest attraction: we had only to step out of the house and begin play, and that to a medical family whose duties took them so far from home was a priceless boon. Many a time my father and brother Henry returned from their work too pressed for time to be able to go to Rodway Hill, and so had to give up the desire of half-an-hour's practice. That was obviated now. They could partake of a hasty lunch, and join in the practice that was carried on most days during the season. I should say during most months in the year, for we commenced as early as March and did not leave off until October. To my father and mother there was a great charm in the new arrangement, for it kept the entire family together. Rarely did we practise without my mother being present as an onlooker. My sisters did not play the game, as has been so often stated; but my mother and they fielded the ball if it travelled their way, and bowled a ball or two occasionally to Fred and myself when we were boys. That was the extent of their efforts.
My memory carries me back to my sixth year. Most boys at that age have more to do with the nursery than a cricket ground; but it must be remembered that my family was a cricketing one in every sense of the word, and a cricket ground in front of one's home at that time rare and exceptional. It was as natural for me and every one at home to walk out to the ground, as it is for every boy in England to go into his nursery; and what boy with a choice at his command would prefer the latter? Alfred and E. M. were showing great promise, though not quite good enough to play for the club, and spent every moment of their spare time practising.
My uncle made a point of coming to Downend frequently to coach us, and an excellent coach he made. His bowling was not fast enough to frighten us, but straight and accurate enough to enable us to learn the first principles of batting; viz., good defence. Very fortunately, at that period of my life I was given a bat to suit my strength. I say fortunately, for my uncle and Henry tell me a mistake had been made with regard to E. M. in that respect. Who was to blame, I know not; but E. M., long before he reached manhood's years, was in the habit of using a full-sized bat, and to that they attribute in some measure his cross-hitting. A little thought will show that there is a deal of reason in their argument. It is possible for a boy to handle a bat a little bit over his weight, and even play straight with it; but it is impossible for him to do so when it is inches too long. That is a point that cannot be considered too carefully in coaching a boy, if a correct style and freedom be aimed at. Good players can be reckoned by the score, who will tell you that a mistake of that kind was made with them in their early days, and that they never got thoroughly over it.
To my uncle great credit is due for teaching me, and I sincerely wish that every boy who reads this may possess a teacher as patient and as capable. His first piece of advice was:
"Use a bat suited to your height and strength, and if you stand properly and play straight, you ought to be able to keep the ball from hitting your wicket."
Then he would show me how to hold the bat so as to use it freely; give me guard according to the side of the wicket he bowled; place my feet in the proper position, and impress on me the need to stand upright. For months, for years I might say, I had to be content with simply stopping the ball, happy if I could keep it away from the wicket.
"Keep your left shoulder well forward, and get over the ball," he kept drumming into our heads; "until you do that, you will never do any good. And keep your eye fixed on the bowler, and never lose sight of the ball from the time it leaves his hands. There must be no playing or hitting wildly."
I did all that in my own mind as conscientiously and persistently as any boy works at anything he loves; but somehow I could not make the progress I longed for. Too soon would come a ball on the blind spot, and I was beaten. I should like to be able to say that I had no difficulty in learning, and that proficiency came to me much easier than it comes to other boys. The reverse is the truth. I had to work as hard at learning cricket as I ever worked at my profession, or anything else. Very quickly I learned that there was no royal road there, and that if I wanted to be a good cricketer I must persevere. I was fortunate in having a good tutor, and a strong gift of perseverance; that is as much as I can say to students of the game.
For the next two or three years I had to be satisfied with short innings in family practice games. The rule was, fifteen minutes each to the senior members, five minutes to the juniors or more if time allowed; however, I had plenty of fielding, and worked hard at it. E. M. kept us busy in that way; and as Mr. Cave's wood and the quarry were in the direction of long-on, it suited his pull from the off beautifully, and he took a special delight in hitting the ball there.
From first to last we had three dogs, whose services were invaluable: Don, Ponto, and Noble. Noble was a most intelligent retriever, and would go into the water for the ball without hesitation. Ponto took his position at the side of the bowler, and watched the flight of the ball with as much care as the batsman; and when it was hit over the trees, would listen carefully until he heard it crash among the branches and then make straight to the spot where it fell. His instinct was remarkable, and with a little training we got him to do wonders. A ball bowled to the off he expected to be hit on that side, and he did not take kindly to E. M.'s pulling. They had plenty of pluck, too; for they would present their chest to the ball, no matter how hard it was hit, and time after time I have seen them catch it on the bound with their mouth.
By the time I was nine years old I had got over the elementary stage of stopping the ball, and was slowly acquiring power in meeting it firmly and playing it away. Playing with a straight bat had become easy to me; and my uncle told me I was on the right track, and patiently I continued in it. In my tenth year I could play a ball from my wicket with a fair amount of confidence. "Do not allow the bowler to stick you up, or it is all over with you," he said. I could now play forward as well as back; but, of course, had to be content with less firmness in that stroke, quite satisfied if I could meet the ball with a straight bat.
The next year saw me still improving, and I was considered good enough to play for the club. My cousin, W. Rees, was staying with us for a week or two. His appearance was of great interest to me, and I watched his play most carefully. It was six years since he played last for the West Gloucestershire, and his old skill had not deserted him; for he played three innings, and scored 102 runs. He was one of my godfathers; and, after seeing my defence, thought me such a promising young player that he presented me with a bat before he left. My godfather was of the same opinion as my father and uncle about the bat being suited to the height and strength of the player, for the one he gave me was not full size. But it had what I had long wished for, a cane handle.
What was I doing in the way of bowling? will be asked. A great deal; though perhaps not giving it the thoughtful attention I bestowed on batting. I was not blind to the fact that, if I wished to become a good cricketer, I must cultivate every branch of the game. A year or two ago there was some talk of training boys to begin bowling at a shorter distance than twenty-two yards. With that suggestion I heartily agree; for I am perfectly certain that very few boys between the years of ten and fifteen have strength enough to bowl the regulation distance any length of time without becoming tired and bowling short. Eighteen yards was the distance we were taught to begin at, and a good length was the principal point drilled into our heads. I pegged away very perseveringly, and I believe in my twelfth year was paid the compliment of being considered the forlorn hope when the regular bowlers of the club had failed. A very dubious compliment, I admit, but I considered it a very high one. It was very encouraging to me, and I did my little best to justify it.
The year 1860 saw E. M. in great batting form for the West Gloucestershire Club, and I too helped to swell the total of the scoring-sheet. Against Clifton the Club did a good performance, scoring an aggregate of 381, and winning easily. E. M. and my uncle went in first, and made 126 before they were parted. Altogether E. M. scored 150, without the semblance of a chance, and his hitting was clean and hard. I was down on the sheet as eighth man, and at the end of the first day scored 35 not out very patiently and correctly, they say; and next day added 15 more. I was not quite twelve years of age, and played with the bat my godfather gave me. A little later the same year we played Gloucester and Cheltenham combined, and won by an innings and 27 runs.
The year 1861 was not an encouraging one to me or my teachers; for in ten innings played I only scored 46 runs. The matches were principally for West Gloucestershire, against Clifton, Lansdown, Knole Park, and Bedminster then, as now, the best clubs in the neighbourhood of Bristol. I was now very tall for my age, and could get well over the ball. The club had one or two peculiar experiences that year, which were strongly illustrative of country cricket.
In the Lansdown match scoring was very one-sided. Partly owing to the weather, only seven men put in an appearance for Lansdown when the match began, and my uncle and E. M. disposed of them for 33 runs. There was little in that to discourage them; but at the end of the day, when the same pair had scored 147 without being parted E. M. 75, uncle 69, one or two of the Lansdown players did not hesitate to say that there was neither reason nor fun in the match, and hoped that the West Gloucestershire eleven would not mind if they abandoned it. The West Gloucestershire only laughed; for they could remember a similar experience against the same club in 1847, when Lansdown had the laugh on their side. Then Lansdown scored 74 first innings; West Gloucestershire, 6 only. Only nine overs were bowled, and it was a most inglorious procession. At the end of the day Lansdown had scored 128 for five wickets in their second innings; and West Gloucestershire, considering the task too much for them, said they would give them the match. At that time, when a match got very one-sided, giving it up was a common occurrence, and neither side thought it unsportsmanlike.
But the match of matches for a startling and unexpected finish was West Gloucestershire v. Redland, at Rodway Hill, on 28th July, 1858. With the exception of Fred, all the members of the family, uncle included, were playing, and a good match was expected. We were on the ground practising before the Redland turned up, and had a fair number of spectators even at that early hour. One onlooker, who had been drinking rather freely, lay full-length unpleasantly close to where we were playing, and all our persuasions to get him to move further away were unavailing. When the Redland eleven arrived, an attempt was made to clear the ground, but our noisy critic resented, and my father, much against his will, had to resort to force of arms. Calling up my brother Alfred, who had a fair reputation as a boxer, he ordered him to remove the obstinate individual; he did not seem to object, and the unusual sight of a fight before a cricket-match was witnessed. Two minutes proved that Alfred had a very easy undertaking, and he dealt very lightly with his opponent who had the sense, or feeling, to cry "Enough," and left the field altogether. The little preliminary excitement added to the interest of the match, and a keen and enjoyable one it became.
Redland scored 51 first innings, 116 second. West Gloucestershire scored 67 first, and were 84 in the second for five wickets, with about an hour remaining to play, when our friend of the morning turned up again. This time he brought his friends with him, who asserted that he had been unfairly treated. It seemed absurd that a cricket-match should be delayed a second time for so small a matter; but there was no alternative. Alfred had a tougher task this time; but, rising to the occasion, he polished off his opponent in an artistic and satisfactory manner.
That did not satisfy him or his friends; for they betook themselves to a convenient heap of stones, and a free-fight ensued. For a little while the West Gloucestershire and Redland, fighting side by side, had rather the worst of the contest; but, charging shoulder to shoulder with stumps and bats, they drove the crowd from the heap of stones, and assumed the offensive. A lively state of affairs prevailed the next half-hour. In the meantime my father had ridden off hurriedly to the nearest magistrate, who returned with him, and threatened to read the Riot Act if they did not disperse. Fortunately for the reputation of the two clubs and the villagers, so extreme a measure was unnecessary, and the opposition collapsed; but the match had to be abandoned.
The year 1862 found my father aiming at the formation of a County Club; and his suggestion being well received, what was undoubtedly the first match of Gloucestershire County was played at Clifton that year, under the title of The Gentlemen of Gloucestershire v. Devonshire. That was a step in the right direction, and on the high-road to first-class play.
The West Gloucestershire Club, while it owed much of its early success to my cousins, W. Rees and George Gilbert, was at its best between 1860 and 1867. In those years E. M. was a host in himself; Henry, Alfred, and my uncle as good as they had ever been; and Fred and I improving every year. We all played in the eleven in 1863, and I could show at the end of that season an average of 26.12 for nineteen innings.
That year the club was strong enough to play Twenty-two of Corsham, and win; and in 1866, Ross, Hereford, and Monmouth were also included. The last three were played in succession, commencing at Ross on the 10th and 11th September, and finishing at Hereford on the 14th and 15th. It was a most enjoyable week. The Twenty-two of Ross and District scored 35 and 40 to West Gloucestershire's single innings of 129. E. M. and myself bowled right through: E. M. had ten wickets for 14 runs first innings, and twelve for 21 runs second; I had ten for 18 first, and eight for 14 second.
The Twenty-two of Monmouth did rather better, scoring 47 and 57 to our 85 and 84. E. M. and I again bowled unchanged throughout. E. M. had thirteen wickets for 24 runs first, and twelve for 29 second; I had seven for 23 first, and eight for 25 second. Rather an amusing incident occurred in that match: E. M. and myself had taken our positions at the wicket to commence batting, when the captain of the Monmouth Twenty-two asked if we had any objection to playing with a ball which was slightly soiled and had been in use for a few overs. I did not see any particular objection to it, and was willing to go on; but E. M. insisted upon the rules of the game being observed, and would have none of it. There was no alternative but to send down to the town for another, and we had to wait patiently for over a quarter of an hour until the messenger returned. I was bowled first ball, much to the delight of my opponents.
The Twenty-two of Hereford was much the strongest combination, and defeated us by 43 runs.
The year 1867 was the last of the West Gloucestershire club. It had lived for more than twenty years, and held its own against all the clubs in the neighbourhood. Its last match was against Twenty-two of Holt, and proved a very one-sided affair. The Twenty-two scored 56 and 109; West Gloucestershire scored 413 in a single innings, of which E. M. scored 200, Henry 17, and my share was 93.
|The first innings||E. M. bowled||—25||7||28||12|
|" "||W.G. "||—25||13||26||7|
The second innings we stepped aside, and allowed Fred to bowl—
At that period Henry was in his 35th year, E. M. in his 27th, Fred in his 17th, and I in my 20th.
I have dwelt at some length on the doings of the West Gloucestershire Club, as it had almost become a family club for some years before it stopped playing; and it was in connection with it that E. M., Fred, and I gained much of our skill. It ceased to exist owing to the many first-class engagements which we had offered to us, and which my father and mother thought we ought to accept in the interests of the game. It had fulfilled what my father had in view when he formed the Mangotsfield Club to spread a knowledge of the game in the district, and teach his boys to play. That its success as a club gave him pleasure I do not require to say. My uncle and he little thought their efforts would bear such fruit, or that the orchard at Downend would be cherished so dearly. They had watched their boys grow into men, able to hold their own in the cricket-field, and accepting defeat and victory in the right spirit. It was a stern school to learn in, but it was thorough. We pursued it earnestly, never grumbling at the work to be undertaken.
The matches played by the West Gloucestershire Club against the following clubs, from 1846 to 1867 resulted as follow:
The Gentlemen of Gloucestershire v. Gentlemen of Devonshire, at Clifton on the 8th and 9th July, 1862, was our first county match, and the result was very gratifying, and encouraged us to proceed. We did not lay claim to first-class form; but after defeating Devonshire by an innings and 77 runs, we naturally considered that we were not far from it. E. M. was undoubtedly the hero of that match; for he scored 57 out of a total of 219 runs, and captured 6 wickets for 47 runs first innings, and 7 for 21 second. Mr. J. J. Sewell, of Marlborough College fame, played a splendid innings of 65 runs, and with E. M. put on 115 runs for the first wicket. Rarely had any county club made so favourable a start, and my father was delighted with the result. My uncle, Henry and Alfred played; but I was not considered good enough, although I watched every ball bowled.
The return, at Teignbridge on the 25th and 26th August, was rather disappointing to us, for we lost it by 33 runs. It was the first important match I played in, and I scored 18 runs, but did not bowl. Henry made 19, and our total first innings was 92. In the second, with the exception of E. M., 21, and my brother-in-law, Dr. Bernard, 21, everyone came to grief, and our total was 68.
In the year 1863 I made great progress in batting, scoring freely against our crack local clubs Clifton, Lansdown, and Knole Park, and was looked upon as one of the principal bowlers of the West Gloucestershire Club. Our first match against the Gentlemen of Devonshire illustrated the changing fortune characteristic of cricket. It was played at Tiverton on the 24th and 25th July. Devonshire winning the toss, batted first, and scored 227; two players, Messrs. J. H. Coplestone and A. D. Gill, scoring 141 runs between them. We scored 135 of which I made 15, not out, and had, of course, to follow our innings. E. M., Henry, Alfred, and my uncle grumbled terribly at the condition of the wicket, and spying a big roller at the extreme corner of the field, all hands were enlisted to bring it up, and we spent the time allowed between the innings in rolling. A change came over the look of affairs; for E. M. was in one of his uphill fighting moods, and played magnificently. He hit very hard, and scored 132 out of a total of 294. Mr. J. J. Sewell scored 42, my brother Alfred 32, and Henry and uncle 23 each. Devonshire was left with 203 to win, certainly not an impossible undertaking; but they were not equal to it. My uncle did one of his finest bowling performances, capturing 7 wickets for 36 runs, and getting rid of our opponents for the small total of 78.
The return match, played at Clifton 20th and 21st August, proved even more disastrous to us than the return match the previous year; for we were defeated by an innings and 61 runs.
Three days later we played Somersetshire at the Sydenham Fields, Bath, and won by 87 runs. I was top scorer with 52 not out, and obtained 4 wickets for 17 runs first innings; 2 for 26, second.
MR. E. M . GRACE.
E. M. was our captain, and had now played for and against the All-England Eleven; Messrs. Sewell, Daubeny, and Bramhall had good local reputations, and altogether the Twenty-two was representative of cricket in the neighbourhood. Personally, I was anxious to do well, and practised diligently with bat and ball for weeks before. I knew right well that the contests in which I had played the last year or two were not to be compared with the contest on this occasion.
E. M. showed that the All-England bowling had no terrors for him; for he began hitting the first over, and made 37 altogether. One hit rather amused us. It went almost straight up and mountains high to Jackson, the bowler. "I have got it!" said Jackson, running up the pitch; but thinking he had misjudged it, he ran a yard or two back again, then ran forward again, and allowed the ball to fall a yard or two behind him. Messrs. Sewell and Daubeny played splendidly for 38 and 44. I batted tenth man.
"Have you ever felt nervous at the beginning of an innings?" has been repeatedly asked of me; but I believe I have always parried the question. Well, I did feel very nervous, or anxious call it which you like; and if it is any encouragement to young players, I may say that I experienced the same feeling for many years afterwards. When any player of note tells you that he plays the first over or two without a slight feeling of that kind, and that he is as cool and confident then as he is the last over, do not be discouraged if it be different with you, or say, "That accounts for his scoring more freely than I do." Perfect command of nerve at the beginning of an innings is much to be desired, if it do not lead to over-confidence; but the very few I have met who said they possessed it have always given me the impression of being too eager to score the first over or two, and hit rather wildly to accomplish their end. That, in my opinion, is not so likely to lead to long scores as a slightly nervous feeling, as long as it does not have the mastery of you.
Before I began batting in this match I practised for a little during the luncheon hour, and Tarrant was kind enough to bowl to me for five or ten minutes, a kindness which turned out very useful. When I began my innings Jackson and he were the bowlers; and being nearly of the same pace, in an over or two I felt quite at home, played confidently, and hit out. Tarrant was shunted, and Tinley took his place and bowled lobs. A change from fast round-arm to lob-bowling has never affected the rate of my scoring. E. M. bowled lobs at home as long as I can remember, and I used to hail the change with delight.
Tinley's first over I played carefully; in the second I decided to hit, and hit him into the scoring-tent. The hit was loudly cheered; I was pleased, felt elated, got over-confident, and paid the penalty. In my haste to repeat the stroke, I ran out too far in the third over, missed the ball altogether, and was clean bowled. I had scored 32, at 15 years of age, against the All-England Eleven, the heroes of the cricket world, and there is no need to say that I was delighted.
But my delight did not cause me to slacken my desire to progress. On the contrary, I realised that I had given promise of excellence, and must strive harder not only to justify it, but to improve on it.
The All-England Eleven made a poor show in its first innings, Jackson and H. H. Stephenson scoring 33 between them, the others 53; total, 86. A small total we thought, and due to the effective bowling of E. M. and E. T. Daubeny, who divided the wickets.
E. M. justified his selection as captain. When E. Stephenson and Willsher got set in the second innings, I was put on to bowl, and E. M. went out to the longfield. "Throw up one or two for Stephenson to hit," said he, which I promptly did, and E. M. brought off a magnificent catch the first over.
The All-England Eleven was defeated by an innings and 20 runs.
To be asked to play for the All-England Eleven may be considered a distinct step forward. That was my position in the early part of 1864, when I was in my sixteenth year. E. M. had not returned from Australia with the other members of Parr's team, and I received an invitation to play against Eighteen of Lansdown on the 30th of June. For some reason or other, Lansdown had not then asked me to play, and I accepted the All-England Eleven invitation with much pleasure. Henry was equally pleased, though playing for the Eighteen, and was anxious that I should acquit myself creditably. Lansdown batted first, but did not do well against Tarrant and Hayward, only scoring 75. Mr. J. W. Haygarth scored 27, and Henry was not out 11. In the second innings they did better, making 162 E. T. Daubeny, 78. John Lillywhite, for the Eleven, did what he liked with the Lansdown bowling, scoring 105 out of a total of 260. I batted sixth man, which I considered rather a high compliment in so strong a team, and was in for over half an hour while I made 15. Just when I got set an unfortunate mistake of Lillywhite's caused me to be run out. But I did not mind that: I had played for the All-England Eleven, and had helped to defeat a strong local Eighteen by an innings and 22 runs.
Ten days later I made my first appearance in London, playing at the Oval for the South Wales Club. Henry and E. M. had played repeatedly for the same club; but E. M. was still on his homeward journey from Australia, and they had to do without him this match. My uncle and brothers were well known in Wales, having played at Newport, Cardiff, and elsewhere against the All-England Eleven, and that led to their connection with the South Wales team, with whom they made an annual trip to town for years. Henry suggested that I should take E. M.'s place; and I was booked to play against Surrey Club and the Gentlemen of Sussex. My engagement nearly fell through. I was on the ground, with Henry, ready to play in the Surrey match on the 11th July. The captain of the South Wales team approached Henry, and asked him if he objected to my standing out against the Gentlemen of Sussex at Brighton, as he had the offer of a very good player, and he believed their opponents were exceptionally strong. Henry objected very much. "To begin with," he said, "the boy was asked to play in both matches, and he shall play in both matches or none; and I only hope every member of the team will do as well as I expect him to do." Henry scored 11 and 49 against the Surrey Club: I scored 5 and 38, and nothing further was said about my standing out.
The Brighton match was played on the old Hove Ground, on the I4th, 15th, and 16th of July, and it was my first appearance at that famous watering-place. The wicket was in excellent condition, as it was always there; and after the discussion between Henry and the South Wales captain, I was eager to do well. Henry was not playing, and I felt that the entire responsibility of the family credit was resting on my shoulders. Up to the last moment we hoped E. M. would turn up; and I desired it eagerly, if only to give me heart. His ringing voice and cheery tones would have been invaluable to me; but I had to be content with a paragraph in the newspapers to the effect that the Rev. Mr. Grace, who had done such wonders in Australia, was expected to play. We have had E. M. described times and forms innumerable; but that was the only occasion we ever had him given as the "Rev.," and we never could make out whether he considered it in the light of a compliment or as a bit of sarcasm. The match has been reported and criticised more than once, so I need not enter into minute details. South Wales won the toss, and I batted first wicket down. Before the second wicket fell, Mr. Lloyd, the South Wales captain, and myself raised the score to close upon 200 runs; and at the end of the first day the total was 356 for nine wickets, of which I had scored 170 made up of 19 fours, 9 threes, 17 twos, and singles without giving a chance. I was out in attempting to cut a wide ball getting over it too much, and cutting it into my wicket. We had news the same afternoon that E. M. had stepped on English soil, and he was wired to turn up next morning. He did not; possibly satisfied that there was no need for him after our long score.
The Gentlemen of Sussex scored 148 first innings, and had to follow on. They gave us a fine bit of leather-hunting in their second innings, scoring 341, and leaving us 134 to win. Time did not permit us to finish; but at the end of the third day we had scored 118 for five wickets, of which I had made 56 not out.
They gave me a bat, which I have to-day and am very proud of. The handle and the blade are of one piece of wood: it was the only one to be had on the ground at the end of the innings; however, I value it for the reason that it marks the date of the beginning of my long scores. I was not quite sixteen years of age, and had gained my first experience in playing steadily and consistently through a long innings.
A week later I played for the same club at Lord's against the M.C.C.; and before the end of the month against the I Zingari. In the first match I scored 50; in the second, 34 and 47; and for South Wales Club that year I had an average of 48 for nine innings. In first-class matches I scored 402 runs for seven innings, average 57; and at the end of the season I had an aggregate of 1079. I had played well enough to merit an opinion from John Lillywhite's Companion, in its summary for the season:
"Mr. W. G. Grace promises to be a good bat: bowls very fairly."
That was my progress and position at the end of 1864, when I had completed my sixteenth year. The lesson I have desired to convey to young players is, that my doings in the cricket world at that period of my life, if they are of any value, were owing to my father and uncle's stimulating examples, and perseverance on my own part. When the associations and surroundings are favourable, there can be little doubt that perseverance will work wonders, if love and enthusiasm go with it. Love and enthusiasm we all possessed from the oldest to the youngest, and we possess it to-day.
And we have always been a temperate family. Intemperate smoking, in my opinion, has more to do with nervousness and small scores than moderate drinking. E. M. and I have never smoked. Another point to be considered is constant exercise of some kind throughout the year. We were known to be fond of hunting, shooting, and fishing, as well as cricketing. Immediately we laid down the bat, we took up the gun or rod; and my father, brother Alfred, and E. M. hunted as long as professional duties permitted. I find a day's shooting or fishing, or a run with the harriers or beagles, of great use during the winter months, and I take care to have plenty of walking. In the months of February and March I begin to prepare for the season, increasing the amount of exercise, and by the beginning of May I feel fit enough to face the cricketing season.
The spring and dash of life have somewhat abated in me, and perhaps I am less careful to-day in the matter of sleep than I was ten or fifteen years ago; but I cannot remember when I did not at the beginning or middle of the season take care to have a fair amount of rest. Every player must judge for himself whether he require six, eight, or ten hours. It has happened on many occasions that I have been up half the night, and scored heavily next day; but that proves nothing, unless, perhaps, that I possess exceptional physical powers.
A good story comes to my mind, which, while it goes against my theory, is too good to be lost. It occurred during the Scarborough week, where good cricket and good cheer go hand-in-hand. Three or four of us were on the way to our rooms in the early morning, after an enjoyable dance; and being more in the mood for chatting than sleep, we, with one exception, decided to spend an hour or two longer comparing reminiscences. The "exception" had commenced his innings that day, and was not out when play stopped.
"You can do what you like," said he; "but I'm off to bed, as I mean to make a hundred to-morrow."
I forget how long we sat up certainly later than we should have done in the beginning of the season, but next day every one of us scored largely; while our friend was out first over, without adding to his overnight's score! I sincerely hope young players will not follow our example, though it was not attended with disastrous results.
I have assumed that what I have been saying about my family and home, and early training, my readers would equally apply to the training of my youngest brother, Fred. He was just as enthusiastic as any of us, and practised as diligently at home as E. M. or I did, though he lacked some of our opportunities. My brothers Henry and Alfred had married, and were living some miles away from Downend, when he was old enough to begin; and E. M. was very much away. Fred had to fall back upon the services of the boot-boy and nursemaid, and he kept them busy bowling to him all day long. My mother looked after his progress, and saw that he had every encouragement to improve, and he showed promise of excellence at quite as early an age as I did. I remember we had some difficulty in getting him out of the habit of practising left-handed. He was strong for his age, and played with a determination worthy of a much older boy. School training brought him forward rapidly, and before he had completed his tenth year he had played his first match and distinguished himself as a bowler locally, clean bowling ten of his opponents' wickets, and having two caught off him. Steadily he grew in skill and strength, and at the end of 1864, when E. M. and I had done sufficient to attract attention outside of Gloucestershire, he, in his fourteenth year, was a well-known figure to every cricket club in the district. He did not play with so straight a bat as I did, but, for his age, he was much more resolute in his hitting, and in the field showed something of the dash and certainty which characterised him in that branch of the game in after years.
There was a marked difference in the batting styles of E. M., Fred, and myself. I do not require to particularise E. M.'s again. He went in for hitting in his peculiar way as long as I can remember him, and he invariably brought it off. There was one special feature in it which helped him in his long scores; the flight of the ball after he hit it. When he got the ball clean on the bat it travelled low and fast, and the fieldsman had to be on the spot to have any chance of catching it. His strong nerve was invaluable to him and the side he played on, and the quality of the bowling made little difference to him. I have seen more than one bowler, who had been performing splendidly, go all to pieces as soon as E. M. had hit him once or twice; and one match I shall not readily forget. Gloucestershire was playing Notts, in 1877, when Morley and Barnes were at their best. The first dozen overs or so Morley was simply unplayable, and four of the Gloucestershire wickets were down for less than thirty runs Fred's, Townsend's, and my own among them when E. M. went in to bat. "Keep your eye on Morley, and play carefully, Ted," I said. "All very well to talk," said he. "I should like to know what good the steadiness of you fellows has done for the innings? It looks to me like a clear case of funk, and I am going to stop it! " And stop it he did. In his very first over, Morley gave him one slightly to the off, which he promptly cracked to the boundary at long-on. In the next he pulled a good-length straight one to the same spot; and Morley lost his head and did not know where to bowl to him. Afterwards, Moberly and E. M. put on runs at a great pace, and eventually we beat them by an innings.
Gloucestershire v. Lancashire, in 1889, at Liverpool, was another illustration of it. Lancashire scored 73 and 102; Gloucestershire 80 first, and had lost five wickets for 42 second, the wicket unplayable. E. M. was our last resource, and he justified it. Very early in his innings Briggs favoured him with a ball about a foot to the off, which was sent to leg. Two or three extra fieldsmen were placed on that side for him, and Briggs tried him again. He gave him a good-length ball, a little outside the off stump, which E. M. hit between cover-point and mid-off and scored four by it; and then, to show it was no fluke, repeated it an over or two later. Briggs was all at sea, and E. M. had the measure of him afterwards, and, with the help of A. C. M. Croome, won for us a splendid and unexpected victory by three wickets.
It was hitting and nerve of that kind which made E. M. the terror of local clubs when he played for West Gloucestershire, between 1860 and 1867; and it was more than once seriously proposed that he should not be allowed to play. And he was just as successful with the ball. I give some of his exceptional performances, to show the quality of his play at that time:
Aug., 1861.—For Berkeley v. Knole Park, he scored 100 not out in a total of 119, and took every wicket 2nd innings.
Aug., 1861.—For Lansdown v. Clifton, 119 not out, and took every wicket 2nd innings.
Aug., 1862.—For M.C.C. v. Gentlemen of Kent, 192 not out, and took every wicket 2nd innings.
Aug., 1863.—For Lansdown v. Clifton, 61 not out, and took every wicket 2nd innings.
May, 1865.—For an Eleven v. an Eleven, at Clifton, 69 not out, and took every wicket 2nd innings.
Aug., 1867.—For Marshfield v. Corsham School Club, 98 not out, and took every wicket 2nd innings.
April, 1864.—Single-wicket Match, E. M. Grace v. Six of Maryborough, Australia. E. M., 106 not out; the Six not being able to get him out.
Fred's hitting was quite as clean, but more orthodox, and he had better defence. He stood very upright, but had the habit of placing part of his left foot in front of the wicket. He, too, scored heavily against local clubs, and met with great success as a bowler; but somehow he did not frighten his opponents so much as E. M. I do not think I frightened them so much either; for local clubs have always welcomed me, when I could find time to play with them. If I might be allowed to compare my own style with E. M.'s and Fred's, I should say I had the advantage in height, and played straighter; and I think I have always had greater patience.
A word or two more, and I have done with the Family Sketch and our early training. When we took to first-class cricket, play and practice suffered to some extent in the orchard at Downend; but we kept the wicket in good condition until the home was broken up and always used it a month or two before the season began. We kept in constant touch with the home-circle right through the season; either wiring the result of every first-class match, or posting the scoring-card at the end of every day's play. That much they expected, and I think we rarely disappointed them.My father died in the year 1871. He had lived to
MR. G. F. GRACE
- Cheltenham College matches were always one day matches which explains the large number drawn.