Chapter Six……….Late-nineteenth century So work the honey bees

Principal among late-nineteenth century north-east inventions were Swan’s incandescent lamp and Parson’s steam turbine.   Less inventive yet more vital to poor folk in dreadful, over-crowded slums was growing philanthropic concern for their plight by the well-to-do.   Durham’s men of power were linked through marriage, friendship, cultural and leisure pursuits.   Cricket was a particular favourite and some were club presidents.   Players also held influential positions as solicitors, coroners, magistrates and schoolmasters.   Allied to the enthusiasm of the clergy, the whole was a fortunate affinity that benefited the game and improved its organisation.   Sometimes directly via patronage, other times as by-product.

J.J.Bailey was the mutton-chopped headmaster at Barnard Castle National County School, one of the first established for sons of the working class.   His boys were “rough, uncouth and troublesome”.   Bailey played for Barnard Castle and believed cricket could exert upon them a civilising influence.   He re-organised the school day so teachers and boys rose with the factory bell to attend lessons from 6 until 7.30.   This enabled him incorporate a long period of recreation during which the boys played cricket.   “As a consequence,” reported Bailey, “crime reduced, attendance improved, and moral and intellectual development advanced by leaps and bounds.”

Durham was by no means an equal society.   Nor deeply riven by conflict.   “Most people seem to have felt that they had better things to do with their time…than to concern themselves with issues of politics.”[1]   Their daily round was lightened by simple pleasures.   Wives made ‘clippy’ mats while the bairns were ‘crouping their creels’, playing marbles, or whipping spinning tops and their men playing quoits or pitch and toss.   The odd Saturday was enlivened by trips to Newcastle on the colliery cart.   Such strong communal spirit was evident at Stanhope’s giant picnic, an occasion climaxed by a triangular competition for nearby clubs :

The crown of the hill presented a capital table for the various amusements of cricket, quoits, leaping, running and wrestling, and afforded a capital view of the River Wear and surrounding mountains.   The day was fine with a strong, health-giving breeze blowing, and a large number of people, old and young, men and women, assembled to witness the sports and participate in                      the day’s enjoyments…

George Jackaman captured this spirit in a four-verse lyric he penned when the Staindrop club re-formed in 1877 :

For bat and ball, then let us call,

Leg pads, gloves and bails,

Away, away to the close mown fields,

O’er hills and through the vales;

Now hit and run, mind! watch the ball,

Be careful of your wicket,

There’s nothing on this earth so grand

As a manly game of Cricket![2]

Rural lives fleeting the time carelessly as they did in the golden world liable at any moment to assume a holiday humour.   As when Mr Brown staked £20 to £10 that Mr Piers could not bowl him out inside twelve hours with any ball he cared to use.   Onlookers at Bishop Auckland saw Piers arrive with a 27-ounce pottery ball.   Brown, equally resourceful, produced a bat as wide as a wicket.   At ten past eleven Mr Brown took shelter between bat and stumps.   At nineteen minutes past his bat, wicket and nerve were all shattered.   And he was £20 the poorer.

An equally wholesome ethos prevailed in different surrounds on Tin Mill Heap Rec.   The pitch, devoid of grass, concealed menacing ‘shooters’ and ‘bumpers’ followed as surely as night follows day.    A bowler’s only requirement was length.   No need for finger spin.   Mother earth bestowed all the tricks of a good club trundler.

What a glorious sight it was to see a youngster, his sleeves rolled up, shirt hanging out, braces broken, stockings askew, facing up to ‘expresses’ with his home made ‘willow’ and the dreadful  ‘Smash’ Snowball behind the bricks.   What a joy when that grand sportsman Percy Freeman sent up a broken bat for the Blackfyne lads.   I have seen the sides of Dr. Renton, Godfrey, Tommy Lambert and Jake Siddle rock with laughter as they watched the budding Hobbs and Jessops from the edge of the square. [3]


Throwing a cricket ball contests remained popular.   A good throw in Durham was around 100 yards.   Setting aside Marsh’s apocryphal 150 yards, the best recorded was 113 yards by A.A.Mewburn.   That is until a world record throw at Durham Racecourse on Easter Monday, 1884.   It was an animated occasion with freak shows, shooting galleries and ‘shuggy boats’.   “The screams of boys and girls, the firing of pistols, ringing of bells, bellowing of speaking trumpets and the noise of a dozen barrel organs all playing different tunes.”   Amid the cacophony Robert Percival threw a cricket ball 140 yards, 2 feet.   Percival, pro at New Brighton, hailed from Shildon.   He was unbeaten in over 20 competitions all over south Durham until debarred at Barnard Castle to allow other competitors a chance.

Club spirit was maintained when summer was over.   Frozen rivers followed a drought in 1878.   There was cricket on skates on the River Wear at Durham.   Six batsmen were ‘run’ out.   Winters were warmed by social gatherings and novel entertainments ranging from a simple spelling bee to a concert at Seaham Harbour climaxed by an exhibition of moving waxworks.   Bishop Auckland staged A Spanking Legacy, a popular farce acted by Old Stagers during Canterbury Week.   Barnard Castle organised a conversazione : tea and coffee while members sang, danced and played chamber music.   Their pro, George Brass, was among those who put on a play riddled with dreadful puns.   “Can yi tell me why Brass is laik gate sneck?”   “Doan’t know.”   “Cos ’e’s allus on t’wicket!”   Mr Brass, senior, then exhibited his birds’ eggs.   Next year, his coins and medals.   Such functions helped raise a few pounds for equipment.   It now cost six shillings for a bat made all of one piece, more for those with whalebone- or cane-handles; six shillings for a ball; eight shillings for leg-guards and batting gloves; twelve shillings for wicket-keeping gauntlets.

Meanwhile the men of power arranged matches on a grand scale.   Four thousand flocked to Sunderland on a blustery September day in 1878 to see the first overseas tourists :

…shortly before noon on the first day a stream of vehicles and pedestrians made their way along Chester Road to the scene of the struggle…The fielding ground was roped off, numerous seats were arranged in the reserved ground by the side of the pavilion, and marquees every here and there told that creature comforts had not been forgotten…The different players came out and took their preliminaries, cutting and driving the balls of aspiring amateurs in all directions…But, where was Spofforth?   Everyone was anxious to see “the demon”, but when the eleven turned out the melancholy rumour that he was not playing was confirmed…

The Australians were exhausted.   Spofforth had trundled incessantly for 326 wickets.   With only eight of a twelve-strong party fit, three local men completed their side.   XVIII Sunderland made 59 but Tom Emmett’s 8 for 41 restricted the Australian’s lead to eighteen.   Warm sun attracted 8,000 next day to see the weary Australians lose by 71.   Different in 1880.   Spofforth’s 17 wickets sealed an innings victory.   When the ‘Cornstalks’ played Yorkshire in 1882 three of the party went to watch Hartlepool.   Bonner turned out for the home side and clubbed 63.   Darlington wisely refused to let the others play.

Many clubs date their modern organisation from this period.   Grounds were levelled, enlarged and enclosed.   New features were installed : pavilions; piped water and telegraph boards; cycle tracks, croquet lawns and tennis courts.   Investiture crowned on 13 June 1887 by the opening of Ashbrooke, the first with a telephone and sightscreens on wheels.   A “commodious competitors’ house was erected with all conveniences”.   The whole cost a staggering £11,454.   New pro Fred Butler (qv) baptised the wicket with 186 not out, 123 of them in an hour.

The names of minor clubs bear testimony to their origin : Mainsforth Colliery, Washington Ironworks and Norton Bricklayers; Cockerton Coffee House and Cornsay Raggy Lads; Stockton Wesleyans, Greenside Temperance and Shiney Row Blue Ribbon Army.   Kelloe Zulus emerged after the Battle of Rorke’s Drift.   Boldon Mysteries remain so.   Most were of limited ability.   Bowlers held sway on poor pitches; batting mostly ‘tip and run’.   Eight ‘ducks’ in an innings were not uncommon.   Even at a higher level, the ball ruled.   Tom Mowbray and William Burn each took five wickets in five balls for Whickham.   Darlington pro, Irwin Smith, was first to record 100 wickets in a season in 1887.   It is possible others did so before bowling averages were published.

Seventeen club representatives met in Newcastle to arrange fixtures for 1882.   If the scene resembled Paddy’s Market they arranged 250 matches in two hours.   Centralised organisation clearly saved time and expense so the meeting became a fixture in its own right.   Clubs used this forum to standardise matters such as expressing averages as a decimal and agreeing that matches in 1887 would last at least four hours.   By then many clubs ran two elevens.   So began the convention of 1st XI and 2nd XI club fixtures at home and away on the same day.

Pitches continued to improve thanks to the faithful, leather-shod horse pulling a roller.   When    Darlington hit a record 402-7 in five hours against Barnard Castle in 1885 it was the first time five 50s were recorded in an innings.   Batsmen, now scoring at a-run-a-minute, gained some ascendancy over bowlers.   The following table gives some idea of the change :



Per-centage totals recorded each decade

to 1829         1830s         1840s         1850s        1860s         1870s        1880s         1890s

0  –    39                               64            40            27            28            24            24            21            14.3

40  –    69                               28            44            44            35            39            36            32            24

70  –    99                                 8            10.5         22            23            21            20            19            22

100  –  149                                 –               5.5           6            11            12            15            17            23

150  –  199                                 –               –               1              2              3              3.7           6            11

200  –  249                                 –               –               –               0.5           0.7           1              3              4.2

250  –  299                                 –               –               –               0.5           0.3           0.3           1.2           1.06

300  –  349                                 –               –               –               –               –               –               0.4           0.27

350  –  399                                 –               –               –               –               –               –               0.2           0.16

400 and over             –               –               –               –               –               –               0.2           0.01



W.G.Grace revolutionised batting.   “He turned the old one-stringed instrument into a many-chorded lyre,” as Ranjitsinhji famously mused.   A comparative, if mortal, figure emerged at Darlington in shape of Alfred Adolphus William Mewburn, 15 stones and six-feet-two-inches tall.   Mewburn had played twice against All England as a teenager so he probably watched Grace at Darlington in 1873.   Perhaps fired by ambition to emulate the great man Mewburn raised local batting skills to a new level.   He reigned supreme for two decades after moving to Sunderland where the family ran a coal merchant business.   A powerful cutter and strong on the leg, Mewburn was 24 when he scored three centuries and 1,000 runs in 1876.   It took twenty-four years for another to reach that landmark.   Mewburn hit the first century for the county in 1884 and was first to record ten hundreds.    He played against the Australians and appeared for United South of England.    Mewburn often turned out for other clubs under the pseudonym, “A.A.Williams”.   An odd choice since he dropped the forename William and preferred to be known as A.A.Mewburn.

Mewburn was of that tradition of captains who utilised their skills only when they thought it necessary.   On countless occasions he did not bat or else batted low in the order.   Given a run-chase against tall odds, however, he would go in first and sweep his side to victory with ease.   “His style was himself : cultured, confident and powerful.”[4]   Nor did Mewburn make full use of his bowling.   In a match against Whitburn he took a wicket in his first over, a ‘hat-trick’ in his second then took himself off to allow them achieve a semblance of respectability.

Mewburn quit Sunderland for Seaham Harbour in 1889.   Cordner, a local councillor, writes that Mewburn stood up at the AGM and said : “Gentlemen I am done with you.   I will never play for you again.”[5]   He was presented with a candelabrum “in appreciation of his efforts for 17 years” for Sunderland.   Mewburn looked at the inscription and retorted, correctly, that it was twenty years since he first played for the club.   Given the occasion and his standing in cricket, such an ungracious remark suggests rancour between the two.   Cordner was also a local historian (some say gossip) and damned Mewburn “unpopular, a cad, and hideous to behold”.   Perhaps the councillor was party to information beyond a cricket field.   True, Mewburn twice disputed umpire’s decisions, once ordering his partner to depart after he had been given run out.   Otherwise “there was nothing Mr Mewburn liked better than a good argument or a practical joke – except to win a cricket match”.[6]   The cause of their estrangement remains secret but it might be significant that Mewburn was closely associated with the Marquess of Londonderry, colliery owner and president of Seaham.   Whatever the truth, Mewburn and Sunderland were reconciled in 1893.

Batting records tumbled once Mewburn showed the way.   He and J.B.Sparkes, “fit to have his name mentioned in the hearing of the great players of the south”, added 242 for the first wicket in 1877.   (Since they lived at 8 and 9 Clavering Terrace, might their partnership be the highest by next-door neighbours?)   Bousfield (167) and pro Buckley put on 307 for Bishop Auckland’s second wicket in 1887.   Individual hundreds lost all rarity value.   Eighteen are known in the glorious summer of 1887 when Joe Harrison and John Blenckley each hit a century in a match for Penshaw and, as we shall learn later, there were three hundreds in a massive Norton total in 1889.

Three other, big individual scores are worth mention.   Scarborough skittled Durham City for 30 in 1883 so City pro Walter Sugg asked brother Frank to bolster their batting for the return.   Frank went in at 8 for 1 and “hitting in the most brilliant manner” made 191 before being seventh out at 294.   Not for Sugg the quiet life.   Earlier that year Frank made his Yorkshire debut, went on to represent Derbyshire, Lancashire and England.    He played soccer for four League clubs and excelled at a dozen other sports from billiards and weight-lifting to swimming.   Walter joined Derbyshire in 1884.

Sugg’s score surpassed Bartholomew’s record 166 that, earlier in 1883, was so nearly eclipsed by Ernest Bartholomew Brutton.   Brutton was the archetypal Boy’s Own hero, “the chap that lived at school nine schoolboy lives”.[7]   His exploits for Durham School were of epic proportions.   He took 8 for 6 including a ‘hat-trick’ in the first over of a match against the University; went in at 16 for 6 in the return, hit 62 not out and took 7 for 15; then strode in at 17 for 5 against St. Peter’s, York to flog 163 and almost surpass the record.   All in the space of three weeks.   Brutton, who later played cricket for Cambridge and rugby for England, was vicar of Aylesbeare when he died in 1922.   Sugg’s record was obliterated in 1888 by Bob Bousfield’s mammoth 245 not out for Durham University in their highest total of 442.   Sunderland did not bat.   Within days the county committee ruled that clubs could declare an innings closed.   A year passed before evidence of a club doing so.

Most prominent players were from the professions.   Reliable Darlington opener, J.A.Pease, was educated at Tottenham Quaker School and Cambridge.   Pease hit three hundreds in six weeks in blissful 1887, carrying his bat for 121 out of 168.   He was a wonderful fielder.   So brilliant was his catch off Grace in the outfield that W.G. made a detour on his way to the pavilion to shake his hand.   Pease was still playing at 74 though appearances were limited after he entered parliament.   Liberal Chief Whip and cabinet member, he was created Lord Gainford in 1916.

Rev W.B. Weighell took up a living at Leadgate shortly after hitting 197 not out for Brighton but rarely produced his “terrific smiting powers” for Consett.   Weighell bowled fast round-arm for Sussex and did the ‘hat-trick’ in his first over at Lord’s.   He was in the light blue of Cambridge in the 1868 ’Varsity match when Bartholomew represented the dark blues.   John Adamson, J.P., was involved at Durham City for 69 years.   He was an enthusiastic, exhilarating influence on the field, “the kindest friend City had ever known”.   Adamson was obsessive in his search for budding talent in surrounding pit villages.   The best he unearthed was on his own hearthside.

Dr Arthur Abraham captained North Durham after opening a practice in Gateshead in 1876.   A dashing bat, in fact a total all-rounder for he bowled fast round-arm, fast underhand and kept wicket.   Abraham was a fiery character from Limerick, his pseudonym “Dr. Maharba” doubtless rooted in Irish whimsy.   He was extremely popular; an effervescent showman who caught catches one-handed behind his back.   Even his simplest acts proved entertaining.   One day he saw Darlington dismissed cheaply so he telegraphed the news to Ashbrooke.   “All out for 38.   Sure win for Sunderland.”   Darlington won by eleven!   He and his identical twin played for Limerick against United South.   The doctor went to the wicket after his brother was out to be faced by irate W.G.Grace protesting angrily that he was trying to bat twice.

C.W. Alcock and R.H. Mallett travelled in opposite directions to find fame as administrators.   Indefatigable Charles Alcock was born in Sunderland.   He devoted over 25 years each as secretary of Surrey, the Football Association and editor of Lillywhite’s Cricket Annual and was largely responsible for the first meeting in this country between England and Australia.   Alcock, a steady bat, has the quaint distinction of being the only Durham-born cricketer to captain France against Germany!

Charming, gentle Harry Mallett is central to this story.   R.H.Mallett was born in Lincolnshire in 1858.   He fell in love with his adopted county and became “the sun and centre” of Durham cricket.   Mallett was a correct bat and intelligent lob bowler for Darlington and Seaham Harbour.   A fitness fanatic, he once played a rugby match and FA Cup-tie on the same day.   His banking career divorced him from Durham but not cricket.   Mallett was the major force behind the Minor Counties formation; organised Australian and South African tours to England; and was manager of MCC in West Indies in 1929-30.   He was also manager of four West Indies’ tours, one of which indirectly caused a sensation in Durham.

In 1887, however, Mallett’s thoughts centred upon cricket in Durham.   Clubs were better organised but he was acutely aware that play lacked vitality.   Harry mused upon this while playing his beloved cello.   If soulful descending notes echoed the game’s decline, Harry was far from melancholic.   His mind whirled with reforming ideas.   Ideas revolving around one pivotal word : competition.   Competition, intrinsic to Victorian middle-class principles now that foreign nations challenged Britain’s manufacturing supremacy.   Durham’s cricket was about to step into the modern age.

[1] Norman McCord : North East England : The Regions Development 1760-1960  [Batsford 1979]

[2] In Teesdale Mercury, 22 August 1877

[3] John W. Stokoe, letter to Consett Guardian, 20 August 1953

[4] R. Curry : unpublished personal memories of Sunderland cricket and rugby.

[5] The Cordner Manuscripts (in Sunderland Library)   Handwritten observations and biographies of   Sunderland     notabilities.

[6] W. R. Bell : Fifty Years of Durham County Cricket Club (1882-1931)

[7] Epilogue delivered by E. Rudd, Brutton’s chum, at Durham School Speech Day, July 1883.

Chapter 7

Chapter 5

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