Chapter Sixteen……….1919-1939 This weak and piping time of peace

Once cricket got back on its feet there was just a hint of pre-war excitement.   The number of centuries reached a new high.   Fifty are noted most seasons between 1923-35, a level not reached again until the 1980s.   Two towering Townsend ‘tons’ helped Norton wipe off 251 and 267 in successive weeks.   Etherley schoolmaster Bill Franklin caned 12 sixes and 6 fours in a 24-minute century and Bill Donkin hit a 40-ball hundred for Craghead.   Cambridge freshman J.G.Askew hit 16 sixes while belting 149 not out in a charity match.   In 1923 Crook needed just 29 overs to make 314 for 4 and Consett reached 300 in three successive matches.

Representative matches conjured carefree days of old with Learie Constantine a star attraction at Stockton.   Wandering sides The Rooks and Durham County Pilgrims treated spectators to a feast of runs.   W.J.Nimmo was Pilgrims’ founding father so it was hardly surprising Nimmo’s ale was supped on the field between overs.   No doubt bowlers were grateful.   Pilgrims scored 501 at Castle Eden in a two-day match in 1933, Frank Smith making 149.   Prolific W.H.R.Alderson (West Hartlepool) oiled his golf swing during innings of 173 not out v Cryptics and 203 not out v Borderers.

Cricket was back but its ethos was changed.   Golden Age alchemy was inverted to lead.   Transition from war to peace was not smooth.   The upper class had lost a lot of its stock and much of its status.   Horizons widened; class-barriers were breached.    Trade Union membership increased; workers were more intransigent towards employers.   A brief post-war boom was followed by doubled unemployment and the humility of the ‘means test’.

Cricket could not escape these social tremors.   Principled Durham miners prolonged their stand in the General Strike until the end of the year.   Picket cordons overturned vehicles so travelling teams sat with bats and stumps ready to ward off would-be attackers.   The plight of Distressed Areas was extreme.   Dole was paid on Friday so Thursday was a day of fasting.   Hard-up players turned out in work clothes or could not afford to play.   The number of players registered by NWD dropped from 2,033 to 921 in seven years.   It was increasingly difficult to balance the books.   Clubs got little change out of a £1 for bat or ball, leg-guards or gloves.   They were forced to dispense with pros owing to lack of finance and the burden of Entertainment Tax.   Annual deficits were commonplace in the years up to the Second World War.

The availability of Newcastle Brown Ale in pubs was just about the only hint of the Roaring Twenties.   Growth in welfare amenities was more resonant of north-east life.   South Hetton Welfare invested £4,420 on a sports ground[1] and £1,175 on a pavilion.   Councillor Goulden relished the task of opening Eppleton Miners Welfare on the site of Hetton Hall.   “This ground was once the home of lords and knights.   It is now the sports home of the workers.”   Ironic shift from days of Raby.   “I dreamed dreams,” confided union secretary George Peart when performing another opening.   “Now Horden is the most progressive Welfare Scheme in Durham.”   Only a mile separated two welfare grounds in Hebburn.   Reyrolle had “every mechanical contrivance to achieve perfection” and Hawthorn Leslies was tastefully laid out with flowers, shrubs and lawns.   Of more practical use was the communal bath installed at Leslies when few houses had a bath.   Peart exuded socialist pride in the Welfare ideal.   “When I look round and see all classes catered for and many hundreds enjoying themselves I can tell you it did my heart good to see the sight when I entered the ground”.

All was change.   Welfare clubs scurried from league to league like a colony of ants : chaotic to human eyes yet with purpose.   They moved to save on travel or if unemployment altered circumstances.   In 1926 Durham Coast League (hereafter D.Coast) formed and Mid-Durham Senior (hereafter Mid-D) re-formed.   Durham County League formed in 1936.   TSL clubs north of the Tyne, disgruntled at losing ‘derby’ match revenue every other year because they played each club only once, broke away to form Northumberland League in 1934.   It echoed the Durham schism of 1903.  “Several representatives expressed their disapproval at the underhand method adopted by the resigning clubs.”[2]

Tom Bulmer attempted to restore Mallett’s pyramid structure by suggesting a grouping scheme in 1934.   DSL rejected it; NYSD and TSL showed only passing interest.   Jim Etchells then proposed a modified version for D.Coast, NWD, Mid-D and North-East Durham.   That, too, was rejected because clubs feared increased travel and loss of ‘derby’ revenue.   Etchells’ words were prophetic : “Whether you do it now matters little.   You will have to do it some day if we are to progress….”

NWD introduced limited-overs cup cricket in 1919.   George Hemsley hit 198 not out in 80 minutes in Langley Park’s 415 for 8.   Within a decade most major cup competitions were in operation.   Cup cricket was so popular NWD considered scrapping time cricket.   The press led a campaign for ‘brighter cricket’.   Not surprising after a dishwater end to 1927.   Eppleton dismissed Durham City for 118 then crawled to 58 for 9 in 2½ hours to gain a draw and first DSL title.   The brothers Barrowcliff stood either side of the ensuing debate.   Faithful Frank felt spectators wanted excitement and spectacle.   Principled Percy professed that “cricket should be protected from the interfering hands of people who would make it a more spectacular game for the purpose of attracting crowds.   The chief concern was to maintain the spirit of the game and its appeal to youth as a form of sport and recreation.”

Increased drawn matches prompted Bulmer submit proposals to halt the trend.   One captain had batted for 3¾ hours so he suggested no points be awarded for a draw.   While the number of draws in the 1930s increased by 6% over the 1920s a graph showing the per-centage drawn each year simply mirrors the days lost to rain.   It is true scoring rates slowed but by how much it is now impossible to calculate.   Batsmen were more circumspect; bowlers positioned nine fielders on the off to save runs and pros used leg-theory.   Were there psychological reasons for the trend?   Was a depressed society less likely to sport with carefree abandon?   Had war bred inhibitions?   In fact spectators were witnessing an emphasis on risk-free technique manifest in the pad-play preached by coaches.   Nimmo had set up a County Coaching Scheme in 1922 with Clode (qv), Joe Galley and Walter Lees, all from First-class counties, as district coaches.   Their experience was beneficial and six years later the scheme had its first major success.   Maurice Nichol hit a hundred off the West Indians on debut for Worcestershire.

Two novelties were ultimately significant : overseas pros and the advent of Sunday cricket.   Eppleton engaged Singhalese spinner Holsinger in 1914.   Seaham Harbour sensationally signed West Indies fast bowler George Francis during the 1928 Oval Test.   Ex-Seaham skipper Harry Mallett was manager of West Indies.   Crowds flocked to see Francis destroy batsmen unaccustomed to such speed.   He removed 343 of them in four seasons until Seaham could afford him no longer.   Francis was paid £513 in 1930 though he frequently donated half of any collection to a children’s hospital.   Darlington controversially staged Sunday matches in 1935, the ‘gate’ shared with several charities.   A Sunday league match was played in D.Coast in 1939, a private arrangement by two clubs after rain the previous day.   South Hetton protested but no rule existed to prevent it.   In fact Sunday cricket was not ‘new’ to the county.   James Coates, it will be remembered, complained about cricket on the Sabbath in 1785.   There was second-hand report, too, of cricket on Sundays in early-nineteenth century Durham “with the full cognisance and permission of the bishop, mayor and corporation”.[3]

Other changes included the introduction of the smaller ball in 1927.   Major leagues adopted today’s larger stumps in 1932.   Minor leagues did so next year.   The practice of drawing stumps after the winning hit was adopted in 1926.   Women’s Cricket Association formed, Durham being one of the first in 1930.   A women’s Northern League followed.   Because of their smaller hands, women were allowed to use a ball weighing 5 ounces.

PRO-FILE (No. 9)


(b. Paddington, London, 7 Sep 1877; d. Sunderland, 19 Oct 1964)

Ex-Surrey all-rounder who sensationally revitalised Wearmouth (1904-12).   Forceful right-hander who once hit a ball so high that two runs were scored before it landed.   Off-break bowler who, remarkably, increased his seasonal wicket tally after turning amateur (1913-30).   Played major role in Durham CCC coaching scheme.   Harry’s ashes were scattered over the Carley Hill ground.

DSL record : Exceeded 9,000 runs and 1,300 wkts.   7 club hundreds.

Whitburn were first to win three consecutive DSL titles outright.   Rain denied a fourth when in a winning position in the 1927 play-off.   They were led by Percy Ashley who was at Durham City before taking up a headship at Whitburn.   A.P.Ashley was a cautious batsman of sound judgement who made 18 league hundreds and twice topped DSL batting.   He once scored 362 in five successive league matches without dismissal.   Whitburn blended dash and discretion in the varied styles of Ashley, Kelsall, Shiel and brothers Jack and Tom Smith and W.A. and T.K.Dobson (jnr).   Their success was the more remarkable for being the only DSL club without a pro.   They engaged Jimmy Milne in 1931 and were champions in his second season.   T.K.Dobson (jnr) was the most accomplished all-rounder of his day.   The gifted left-hander hit 13 hundreds and thrilled for over a decade until retiring on medical advice.   In 1928 he hit a century off Constantine and his West Indians and his 972 runs was a DSL amateur record.   T.K. carried Whitburn’s attack, captured 750 league wickets and twice topped DSL bowling.

Durham City finished in the top three in all but three seasons between the wars.   Born leader H.C.Ferens, who pioneered the city’s schools league, captained them to four titles and a share in 1926.   Ferens succeeded Fred Scott who would happily sit on the splice for any team.   Fred’s warmth even appealed to the black cat that strolled to the crease to nuzzle around his pads.   Fred gently carried it to the ropes and got the day’s only 50.   Ferens began at Durham School.   As did C.L. and J.A.Adamson, J.G.Askew, R.W.Smeddle and F.A.Youngman who each scored freely in the School’s 408 in 1924.   All six were in City’s 1928 title side alongside Charlie Milam who won a first medal with City in 1907.   Ferens pulled and drove crisply with strong wrists.   A taut batting stance and wicket-keeper’s crouch seemed to possess coiled energy awaiting release.   He gave up the gloves to make way for another fine exponent, Jack Iley.   Mayor of Durham in 1947, Cecil Ferens retired with over 11,000 runs for City.

Charles Lodge Adamson played in all five title sides in a formidable opening partnership with Ferens.   Patience personified, his deflections were timed with the precision of a metronome.   He should have been christened Dislodge, so often did he carry his bat.   Adamson was on the field the duration of half City’s league matches in 1932-33, slicked black hair undisturbed by each vigil.   Awakened from slumbers he could force.   In successive weeks he was involved in stands of 188 for the first wicket in 95 and 81 minutes.   C.L. compiled over 10,000 runs for City and twice topped DSL batting.   He followed the footsteps of father and grandfather as City captain.   His brother John, brilliant fielder, Oxford rugby ‘blue’ and master at Denstone, took terrible toll of wayward bowling in the vacation.

Whitburn were batter-balanced, Durham City better-balanced because they had bowler-pros from First-class counties.   Harry Austin (Warwickshire) was succeeded by Joe Galley (Kent ground staff).   Breezy bat and fast bowler Bill Sadler (Surrey) was one of the highest-paid pros in the area.   Stan Ellis was a firecracker of a cricketer.   Small, cocky, off-spinner Ellis captured 315 league wickets (av 8.9) in four seasons for City after previously topping DSL bowling twice at Eppleton.   Ellis fired out 196 batsmen to ignite Horden Colliery in 1936.   His piercing appeal rent the Durham air for thirteen summers when claiming some 1,500 victims.   In his Lancashire days Ellis had two ‘hat-tricks’ while taking 10 for 26 for Barrow.   Stan also took all ten for City and for Horden in a cup-tie.

Army captain Hubert Brooks, demobbed at last in 1920, led Sunderland to further success and was leading scorer in the 1921 title side.   Major E.L.Squance, MC, continued in cavalier style, most memorably during a glorious 170 not out against Shields.   Opener Harry Gibbon asserted mastery from the first ball.   The popular pro, clean driver and strong on the leg, hit 825 runs in the 1930 title year and averaged 40 over five seasons before signing for his first club, Eppleton.   Gibbon emphasised his class with an undefeated 103 against a Yorkshire attack boasting Rhodes, Macaulay and Emmott Robinson.   A.H.Parnaby was just 16 when he hit a century in his 1933 debut season.   Next year he forged a famous opening partnership with E.S.Levy.   In 1936 Parnaby equalled Elliot’s league aggregate of 940 and Levy made 776.   The pair raised 100 on five occasions, another six over 50.   Alan Parnaby, seemingly incapable of a tasteless stroke, made 4,554 stylish league runs (av 45).   He rose to Lieut.-colonel during the war and was awarded MBE.   Parnaby was a leading cricketer in the Army side and played First-class for Combined Services.   Levy was shrewd, patient, but never dull.   Spectators loved to watch his bespectacled head bobbing up and down in time with the strides of the approaching bowler.   Sunderland were champions in 1936 with off-spinner Emmott Robinson as pro.   At 53 he lacked penetration.   His 58 wickets cost 15 apiece but he bowled 400 overs with his customary control.

Marriages are made in heaven but an unlikely earth-union brought celestial bliss to Westoe in 1929 in shape of a first DSL title.   Forster Coulson was appointed captain while Albert Howell (qv) was pro.   It was an attraction of opposites : Coulson “loud, forthright and gruff”; Howell “incapable of a spurious appeal or underhand tactic”.[4]   An elopement of sorts.   Each was escaping : Coulson from a domineering mother; Howell from the shadows of a brother with five England caps.   Coulson, stern captain, courageous batsman, brave close fielder, did not miss a league match in eleven years.   His best season was the 1929 title year and he led a second success in 1935.   Coulson’s father made his debut in 1887, father and son appeared together in 1914, son played until 1944.   His mother watched this family saga unfold from a window of their home overlooking Wood Terrace.   Forster Coulson bequeathed £5,000 that partly financed the present scorebox so, in a sense, the family is still active at Westoe.

Lyndon Herbert Weight was pro at six Durham clubs.   Sought by many a First-class county, the Welshman is best remembered at Ashbrooke and Westoe where historians reveal subtle differences in Weight’s worth.   Sunderland fears “he was always in the grip of a mechanical technique, while he batted and bowled the game drifted”[5]   Shields probes his psyche, concludes “he would defensively counter four or five deliveries before ‘stealing’ the bowling…indicative of his single-minded and conscientious application”.[6]   ‘Len’ was a patient, correct bat, strong in the arc from cover to third man.   For all his caution, Sunderland supporters contributed £128 to Weight’s benefit, “much of it in coppers and carried in his cricket bag to a taxi”.   His career figures attract respect and fascination.   Fourteen pro summers produced 7,258 league runs (av 34) and 772 wickets.   But no championship medal.   He turned amateur at 41.   It seems only then did he fully integrate into a side.   Weight made a further 4,413 league runs (av 31.5) for Shields and gained the elusive medal at the age of 46.

Chester-le-Street won a first DSL title in 1920.   Two years undefeated from 13 August 1921, they were again champions in 1922.   Jimmy Thackeray (qv), then 40, shrewdly exploited the damp conditions to top DSL bowling.   Runs came from Tom Swinhoe, then at his best, and future stalwarts George Crichton, C.F.Gowland and Jack Wake.   ‘Cestrians’ 1923 pro, an echo from the Golden Age, was destined for fame.   It took just 17 minutes for a tall, lean pit-lad with cap at rakish angle but no ‘box’ to reach 50.   He was back in the pavilion 28 minutes later with 115 to his name.   Jack Carr smashed the ball to all corners of the county for 37 seasons.   Not the most graceful.   But eagle-eyed.

Almost regardless of length Carr extended a long left leg down the wicket, swung his bat in a pendulous arc.   Sometimes the ball sliced towards third man.   Mostly it sailed over extra-cover, mid-wicket or straight.   A long way.   One towering six at Feethams cleared a goalmouth on the adjoining football field and came to rest on the half-way line; another smashed a Norton station window.   A mighty six at Blackhall crashed through the pavilion roof.   A second into the press-box scattered pressmen and pencils.   The next ball landed in a nearby wood.   Carr then captured 9 for 15, three snapped up by his short-leg pick-pocket Billy Brown.   Billy’s grandson recently appeared on television’s Antiques Roadshow with the watch Brown received when he played for West Ham United in the first Wembley Cup Final in 1923.   Though teetotal (he enjoyed the odd glass of port) Carr turned publican.   His languid nature was not ideal for the job but his ex-barmaid wife knew the trade backwards.

PRO-FILE (No. 10)


(b. Birmingham, 26 Jul 1898; d. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 26 Jul 1958)

Coach at Uppingham (1919) and ex-Warwickshire.   Testimonial after 15 years (1923-37) at South Shields.   Of rugged build with stamina and genuine speed from a flowing action.   Six ‘hat-tricks’.   Strength and quick eye made him a dangerous, if unorthodox, batsman.   Engaged at Birtley (1938-39) where he took 107 TSL wkts (av 10.5).   Returned to his roots and ended his cricket at Westoe in 1941.

League record at South Shields :      4,655 runs (av 22.1)               987 wkts (av 12)

All matches at South Shields :          5,780 runs (av 20.5)            1,271 wkts (av 11.8)

Carr was great box-office.   He earned a collection of £3 when a youth at Leadgate.   Six years later 3,000 hero-worshipers at Chester-le-Street gave £52.   Carr was idolised like the screen stars of the day.   Modest and unassuming, Jack remained faithful to his admirers.   He once broke a toe but batted with a slipper on his foot rather than withdraw from a charity match.   He was equally happy to turn out for the Wednesday XI alongside brothers Tommy and Bob.   Locals were shocked in 1932 by rumour he had been killed in a car crash.  The Leadgate lad even made the pages of the London Evening Standard :

His terrific hitting astonished even the strongest Australian Test bowling.   Like the great Sidney Barnes, Carr has preferred a lifetime in Minor County Cricket.   But what a draw he would have been at Lord’s or The Oval.

PRO-FILE (No. 11)


(b. Hebburn Colliery, 23 Nov 1881; d. Hebburn, 5 Nov 1968)

Left-arm fast bowler with smooth action.   Extracted ‘devil’ from the pitch, especially bowling round the wicket.   Took 150 wkts at South Shields (119 bowled) after being spotted by Tom Coulson at Hebburn Colliery, topping DSL bowling in debut season (1904).   Pro at Chester-le-Street (1908 and 1910-13).   At Middlesbrough in 1909 where he played soccer alongside Steve Bloomer.   Amateur at Chester-le-St. (1914-25).   Appointed groundsman at Leslies in 1926 when he took 9 for 1 v  Eslington Park and reached 100 wkts before end of July.   For a man who bowled at Grace in 1907, played soccer with the greats, he was modest to a fault   Never indulged in nostalgic tales of the past, always talked of the present and the state of Saturday’s wicket.   When the author was captain of Leslies he was closely associated with Jimmy and often wished, while writing this narrative, he could sit down with Jimmy over a pint and relive the Golden Age of Durham cricket.

DSL record :         3701 overs   895 mdns   8879 runs   909 wkts  (av 9.8)

Retired in 1941 after taking 1,350 league wkts for Leslies.

[1] W. A. Moyes : Mostly Mining

[2] Minutes of Tyneside Senior League meeting, 13 October 1933.

[3] Letter from Samuel Longstaffe to Durham County Advertiser, 26 June 1885

[4] Clive Crickmer : Grass Roots (A History of South Shields Cricket Club 1850-1984)

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

[6] Clive Crickmer : Grass Roots (A History of South Shields Cricket Club 1850-1984)

Attacking left-hander Bill Barron experienced the thrill of those famous grounds after title wins at Philadelphia in 1934 and 1938.   First of a succession of Durham men signed by Northamptonshire, he was regarded the best slip-catcher in county cricket.   Syd Ellison returned to Philly in 1930 where he was 30 years secretary and his slow left-arm claimed 1,000 league victims.   Supremely accurate, Syd conceded only 674 runs from 420 overs in 1934.   Harry Robson, another slow left-armer, was pro at Chester-le-Street where he ran a plumbing business.   Harry was a master of flight and spin and twice topped DSL bowling.   His last engagement was at Boldon where H.W.Hardy compiled at will and great Sunderland and England inside-forward Charlie Buchan batted handsomely.   Buchan’s best year was 1939 when he hit two consecutive league hundreds and topped DSL batting with an average of 68.   Eight years earlier Edwin Clarkson died.   Clarkson came to Boldon to join contractors constructing a railway and noted there was no cricket field.   Within a month he and Mr Nicholson collected £200 and laid out a ground.   It opened in 1876 and before long Mewburn was turning out regularly for the club.

Air-raid sirens mourned the end of Hendon.   Formed in 1887, they were elected to DSL in 1901.   Norman Dixon hit 3 hundreds, one when six-man Hendon gained an astonishing, last-match win over leaders Durham City to deny them the 1919 championship.   Hendon engaged Weight, Morris and Hendren (qv) but their top placing was third.   They may have had more success had they been able to retain their best batsmen.   G.H.Williamson and E.N.Randle did well at Sunderland and W.T.Charlton took his impeccable technique to Wearmouth where he averaged 45 overall in DSL and set an amateur record of 975.   Horatio Stratton Carter, brilliant Sunderland and England inside forward, stayed faithful until transferred to Derby County.   Appearances for Derbyshire justify his belief he could have been a regular if born in a First-class county and properly coached.   ‘Raich’ confessed to feeling more inner tension playing amateur cricket than professional football.   He was a studious slow left-armer, athletic cover-point and a batsman blessed with natural talent : timing, power and fleet footwork.   “By nature I belonged to the fireworks of Durham League and cup-tie cricket.”[1]   One sparkling league hundred took just 50 minutes and he smashed windows in four houses when blasting 135 in a cup-tie.

Darlington won NYSD four times in succession in 1920-23, indeed seven times in eleven years.   Polished right-hander Dick Healey cut, drove and was strong off his legs.   Dick’s outstanding captaincy was a vital element in this most glorious period of their history.   When disciplinarian Stockton captain C.P.Barrowcliff said Darlington “played with such fine spirit as to make the game enjoyable” take it as biblical truth.   Healey’s comment that Darlington’s batting was “consistent but nothing startling” says more about his own high standards than the value of patient Percy Blaylock or forceful Jake Dobson.   No doubting the ability of his younger batsmen.   It was impossible to subdue Harry Moon’s smile or gloriously uninhibited strokes, a high proportion of them boundaries.   Reg Hunt drove beautifully and hooked powerfully.   Norman Doggart’s 170 in 85 minutes was one of his many blistering innings.   Norman’s father established a chain of stores and begat a sporting dynasty.  Two of distinction.   A.G., Norman’s brother, hit a century on debut for Bishop Auckland, represented Middlesex, played soccer for England and was FA chairman.   G.H.G, Norman’s nephew, scored 215 not out on debut for Cambridge University, established a record English second-wicket partnership of 429 with J.G.Dewes that stood until 1974 and twice played for England while at Sussex.

Healey said having slow-left-arm Ashley Goodrick and pro Harry Turner in the side made the job of  captaincy a sinecure.   Goodrick’s dangerous, late-swinging ‘toe-trapper’ accounted for many of his 574 league victims.   His unerring accuracy was the equal of the pros he supported.   Turner helped win three titles by taking 346 league wickets in four seasons with medium-pace off-cutters.   He was just as successful at Bishop Auckland where, at 47, he was first to take 100 NYSD wickets.   A.C.Williams, pro in two title sides, was one of the fastest in the league even at 34.   Tall, medium in-swinger George Higgins made a huge contribution to the 1930 title with 104 wickets for 980 runs in 480 overs and ex-Northamptonshire fast bowler, George Johnson, had four successful years.   By the time the Jarrow Crusade marched through town the ‘Quakers’ were in decline.   They plunged to the bottom of NYSD where they remained, without professionals, until the outbreak of war.

F.R. Smith’s sparkling strokes earned 913 league runs in 1929.   Next year Smith just missed a third consecutive league century when dismissed on 99.   He later achieved the feat for West Hartlepool, hit a cup hundred in between for good measure.   Frank, ex-Lancashire II, scored over 10,000 runs and 20 centuries in all matches.   Smith had a set to with Blackhall skipper Tommy Elliott when the colliers were hanging on for a draw.   Elliott, fine tactician, could be “a bit of an awkward sod”.  Tommy went in at nine and ordered Norman Herron take all the bowling of pro Jack Curtis (qv).

PRO-FILE (No. 12)


(b. Chiswick, London, 15 Sep 1882; d. Paddington, London, 29 May 1962)

Ex-Middlesex and brother of ‘Patsy’ (Middlesex and England).   Nomadic wanderings at Hendon (1907-08, 1921-22, 1925-28), Durham City (1909-12), Burnmoor (1913), Sunderland (1914, 1930), Seaham Harbour (1923-24) and Wearmouth (1929).   All except Hendon contended regularly for honours.   Voluble, if temperamental, character whose runs were made “without passion, sweetly and thriftily; one here, one there, and then the sudden effortless lash and the ball among the crowd”.   Cleverly mingled spin and flight.   It was said “his mannerisms were many and strange”   Most were coded signals in collaboration with his wicket-keeper.   War service in Egypt with Durham Light Infantry.   Coach at Harrow (1919).

DSL record :         6,413 runs (av 24.8); 4 club hundreds             850 wkts (av 14.5)

Elliott would not run even when the ball was hit to within a foot of the boundary.   Curtis decided it was futile to run in, delivered the ball standing at the wicket.   Frank thought it a farce.   His patience finally snapped when he saw Elliott standing several yards behind the wicket in defiant demonstration of his refusal to run.   Smith led West Hartlepool from the field in protest.

The contretemps had underlying social implications easily detected from Smith’s post-match comment : “We have not been used to this sort of thing in NYSD”.   Smith was a businessman whose years at Darlington and West Hartlepool were in company of men far removed from Blackhall miners.   The colliery club was only four years old.   They paid a pro and a groundsman; had been investigated (and exonerated) by NYSD for allegedly paying an assistant groundsman.   Moreover, colliery manager Ernie Chicken enlisted players from far and wide.   “If yi can play cricket or in the band, see Chicken an’ ’e’ll give yi’ra job.”[2]   In Smith’s view Blackhall were little more than upstarts.   Now these miners “who could hardly use a knife and fork properly” had upset the old order.   Worse still, they were top of the league.   Blackhall audaciously signed Jack Carr on a three-year contract at £5 a week in 1931.   His impact was immediate and dramatic.   Blackhall won D.Coast, two cups and lost a third.   Carr hit 1,000 runs (av 37) and took 145 wickets at 7.7 each.   They had so much batting talent in 1932 that Carr was rarely needed after Joe Craggs, Bob Cowan, Herron and Jack Fisher.   Blackhall won a second successive title, were elected to NYSD and straightway were champions.   A second title in 1936 confirmed an astonishing rise.

Norton slumped after Townsend retired but son David led them to three titles in 1935-38.   D.C.H.Townsend was educated at Winchester and Oxford.   His 193 in the 1934 ’Varsity match earned selection for the West Indies tour.   Townsend played three Tests and was the last to represent England without having played for a First-class county.   Responsibilities in his father’s legal practice forced him to decline two later tours.   D.C.H. was modest to a fault : “I didn’t have any great ability.   I just practised and trained endlessly.”   All-rounders George Carter and Edgar Manners were brilliant close catchers and kept constantly in action by paceman Harry Barker and leg-spinner Fred Harker.   Fred’s curious habit of knocking off a bail on his way back to his mark kept umpires busy.   Manners was signed by Darlington RA and took 5 wickets in five balls against his old club in the Kerridge Cup and in the same year took all ten against Normanby Hall.   Edgar’s career was threatened when two fingers progressively curled into the palm of his hand.   Fast bowler Dr F.I.Herbert cured the problem.   Handy to have a doctor around in an emergency, particularly the day he retrieved a batsman’s testicles when they imploded into his pelvis after being hit by a thudding ball.   Dr Herbert’s modus operandi was at times ambivalent.   He once felled a batsman with bouncer then drove him to hospital to treat the injury himself.   M.M.Walford hit the odd hundred on his infrequent appearances, another on Somerset debut.   Walford, triple Oxford ‘blue’, was a master at Sherborne where he taught David Sheppard, later captain of England and Bishop of Liverpool.   Sheppard acknowledged a debt to Walford’s coaching.

PRO-FILE (No. 13)


(b. Barrow-upon-Soar, 21 Dec 1887; d. Leicester 8 Mar 1972)

Ex-Leicestershire off-spinner who took over 500 NYSD wkts at West Hartlepool (1932-6).   Took 100 league wkts in season three times, first West bowler to do so in an auspicious debut season (157 in all).   Known as The Hat-trick King, his accuracy is illustrated by figures of 18-17-2-7wkts v Normanby Hall.)

Johnny Prest kept wicket in the championship years until displaced by R.T.Spooner.   Jimmy Grigor tested their skills to the full with legerdemain more suited to the stage.   The Scot’s ‘chinamen’ were cunningly flighted, each one different.  Batsmen grew feet of lead trying to counteract prodigious break.   Grigor took 735 league wickets, many with balls pitching a yard outside off stump.   Some beat leg stump!   Even great Australian batsman, Stan McCabe, hit his wicket trying desperately to keep out a Grigor fizzer.   Among Jimmy’s amazing conjuring feats were two ‘hat-tricks’ when taking 7 for 1.

High-class wicket-keepers teemed out of south-east Durham.   Dick Spooner rose rapidly to fame after RAF service.   The left-hander was first to score 1,000 league runs for Norton, was ‘capped’ by Warwickshire in 1948 and kept for England in 1951.   He was succeeded at Warwickshire by another Norton stumper, Jack Fox.   Harold Stephenson was ever grateful for Stockton’s scholarship system, “something my parents could not afford.”   Unable to displace A.W.Austin, Harold moved to Synthonia and made his Somerset debut in 1948.   Arthur Austin was a brilliant ’keeper, particularly down the leg, whose consistency kept Spooner and Stephenson out of the county side.   He had a distinctive method of returning the ball to the bowler.   He lobbed the ball right-handed under arched left arm like a skater on one leg.   Arthur went straight from school into the family’s Wensleydale cheese business.   Secretary and chairman of Durham, he helped the county attain First-class status.   Arthur, equally proud of his work at Stockton, fondly recalls boyhood autumn mornings kneeling on a sack to pick dockings off the square with a pricker.   In the nets he stood in the confined space behind the stumps to improve his ability to stand up to fast bowling in the middle.   “In my day there were no bumpers.   They bowled line and length at the stumps.”   Arthur is envious of modern equipment.   “Except for a little reinforcement, my gauntlets were little better than ordinary gloves.   Now they are like buckets.   You can throw yourself through the air and catch with three fingers.”

Austin improved his technique to slow bowling by keeping to Sid Dixon “who spun it”, rather than C.P.Barrowcliff “who did not but got wickets from balls tossed so high that batsmen made stupid errors.”   The epitaph of many a successful slow bowler.   C.P. twice had 4 wickets in 4 balls, took 5-or-more league wickets twelve times in 17 matches in 1920, exceeded 1,500 in his career.   Percy thought he could trap Harry Heavisides every ball.   Time after time Harry’s muscular forearms hoisted him over the trees.   He once straight drove Percy, knocked the umpire off his feet, then rushed to his aid.   Over-zealous Percy thought Harry was stealing a single and ran him out.   The incident was believed to hasten Harry’s decision to take up fishing.   Barrowcliff did not court popularity : “Cricket’s greatness is measured by its contribution to life rather than by its popularity”.[3]   In fact C.P. was very unpopular and once stoned off a ground for appealing persistently.   Percy thrived on the notoriety.   The bossy captain ruled for 22 years, handy for a man who would bowl at both ends had rules allowed.   Tiny Tom Olver was Stockton’s chief run-maker, a faultless stylist with nimble footwork who ran like a lintie between the wickets.   Olver topped the club batting eleven times and was first to score 1,000 NYSD runs.   He made over 10,000 in all and hit 12 hundreds before work took him to Burnley to which club he was recommended by Learie Constantine.

A dramatic late run earned Bishop Auckland a first NYSD title in 1934.   There had been a Proud in the side ever since 1860 in the days of J.T.Proud.   Not in 1934.   His eldest son, E.B., retired in 1921.   His youngest, E.L., was at Durham City.   Grandson R.B. was at Winchester.   Each captained ‘Bishops’.   Resolute Wheldon Curry, 13 on debut for North Bitchburn, symbolised Bishop’s success.   In 29 years at Kingsway he scored 7,874 batting left-handed, took 615 wickets with leg-breaks.   Not even a career-threatening injury could prevent Curry returning to North Bitchburn after the war.   He was 65 when he took 10 for 8 against Bank Foot.   “It should have been 10 for 4 but somehow a catch went astray.”   Three years later, and still working, he took 9 for 19 against Tow Law.

It was a bitter-sweet year for slow left-arm pro, Ralph Nichol.   ‘Bishops’ could not afford to retain him but he continued as amateur.   Ralph began at Eppleton with brother Maurice who made a 2nd XI century when 14 and later hit a brilliant hundred for Durham against Leveson-Gower’s XI.   Jack Hobbs was playing and recommended him to Surrey for trials.   Maurice moved to Worcestershire and was twelfth man for England in 1927.   That winter he caught pneumonia.   In 1933 he collapsed when travelling to a match at Leyton.   An enlarged heart was diagnosed yet he scored 2,085 runs and three successive centuries.   During a match at Chelmsford next year Maurice was found dead in his hotel room.   When the awful telegram arrived Ralph withdrew from the game with Stockton.   Summer warmed and the championship momentarily lightened his grief.   Happier days lay ahead.   On 12 June 1937 Ralph became a father, did the ‘hat-trick’ and hit his only century for ‘Bishops’.

Consett, Craghead and South Moor continued to battle for NWD supremacy.   Between them they won ten of the eleven post-war championships.   Craghead’s attack was spearheaded by pro Bob Cairns, one of the fastest in DSL in his youth.   On debut as Horden pro he shattered Rev W.L.M.Law’s forearm.   Cairns took over 500 wickets for Craghead, including 6 for none to rout Burnopfield for 11.   After the war he was joined in attack by Jack Coulson who exceeded 500 wickets as prelude to greater deeds at Consett.

South Moor’s batting was formidable on their beautiful Quaking Houses wicket.   They had fine openers Jackie Dodds, whose 186 remained the club’s highest, and cheery Billy Akers who had all the shots but favoured a thumping square cut.   Patient Ernie Collins contrasted with ex-Southampton footballer Billy Turner who hit 8 sixes and 23 fours as he flayed Leadgate for 167.   Wilf Naylor never forgot the day in 1930 when he took 8 for 3 to dispatch Langley Park for 10.   South Moor were 4 for 2 when rain washed out the match!

Consett unveiled new pavilion and pro in 1921.   C.G.Whetton took 9 for 11 in front of 5,000.   The dapper little Cumbrian revitalised Consett.   They won four championships in his first seven seasons.   Celebrations were so common that jovial Joe Eltringham, their president, refused to take the trophy to a presentation “because I’ll only have to carry it back again”.   Cyril Whetton delivered “mixtures” at military medium.   He took all ten against Medomsley and against Shotley Bridge in 1923, his best season with 124 league wickets.   A late run in 1933 clinched another title.   Whetton bagged 37 scalps in the last six matches to extend his tally to 900.   Cyril could bat, too, and scored 151 not out on two successive Saturdays.   If shift-work allowed, crane-driver George Moon would help Whetton on the ground.   In return, Cyril would doff his overalls and coach George for half an hour.   As a result Moon became a capable opener, part-time groundsman and grass culture expert.   Moon went full-time when Consett Iron Company took over the ground in 1948 and prepared every county wicket until 1967.

Consett engaged lean-featured leg-spinner Jack Coulson on election to TSL in 1928.   Jack kept an immaculate length during a beautiful summer to take 107 league wickets and Consett were runners-up.   Next year they ran away with the title.   Coulson took 10 for 18 in his benefit and set a TSL record with 115 wickets.   Coulson knew the value of a good wicket-keeper.   One of the best, Billy Howgate, was integral to Jack’s success at Craghead and Consett.   Whetton maintained the momentum on return until replaced by majestic Jack Latchford (qv) who delighted with fleet footwork, deft timing, exquisite late-cuts and off-drives.   Hugh Dyson, Les Ayton, Syd Unsworth, Willie Foggin and Tom Ellison completed the nucleus of a powerful side.   Consett won three consecutive titles in 1935-37 and were undefeated in the league for two-and-a-half years.

Albert Elsdon raised Medomsley fortunes when he joined in 1929.   Elsdon, a colliery overman, started at Langley Park as an opening bat.   Albert became one of the best leg-spinners in the county and 650 victims in five seasons helped Medomsley to four successive NWD titles.   A sequence beginning in 1930 coincided with the arrival of penetrative George Hurst, one of a number of Durham cricketers who later found work at Keresley Colliery, Warwickshire.   The first, Lintz bat and Halifax footballer George Hickman, played for Warwickshire in 1929.   Elected to TSL in 1934, Medomsley ran away with that title, too.   Elsdon topped TSL bowling, snared 477 victims in six seasons.   His 1,300 wickets in all matches in the eleven seasons prior to the war was just the start of an extraordinary career.

Ryton Willows is eloquent a name for a cricket field as you could find in nineteenth century industrial Tyneside.   The riverside meadows were home to several sides from 1860 when cricket began to flourish up-river from Gateshead.   Ryton played at the Willows before acquiring a ground and winning West Tyne League.   After election to TSL Division B they were champions of Division A in 1925.   Leading bowlers were Billy Bateman and ‘Jocka’ Clark whose 10 for 8 in 1920 remained the best in TSL.

A Swalwell team played in 1861.   The present club, formed in 1880, was pioneered by Arnie Fletcher who negotiated with Sir Henry Clavering in 1892 to secure the Avenue Ground, Swalwell’s

home until 1998.   Arnie was presented with a gold watch in 1930, his 50th year as player.   Swalwell languished in NWD except for three years either side of the war when they won North Durham Senior League.   Joe Bruce, most successful of a large cricketing family, hit a maiden hundred before moving to Elswick Works where he topped TSL batting three times.   Bruce returned in 1934 to extend his TSL aggregate to 10,000.   Next year they engaged Billy Bateman and the pair transformed Swalwell from wooden-spoonists to champions in 1938.   Billy spent his boyhood in New Zealand then joined Blaydon in 1914.   He was the classic slow left-arm bowler, wily and accurate, and trapped 2,000 victims in 28 summers.   Bateman took 864 TSL wickets (av 8.7), including 100 in a season three times, and bagged 5-or-more on 103 occasions.

Gateshead Fell had a club in 1867.   The present club formed in 1878 and moved to Dryden Road two years later.   A chequered existence in NWD ended in expulsion in 1913.   Success proved equally elusive in TSL despite the efforts of two professionals.   Jimmy Towler, born in Giggleswick, schooled in Gateshead, captured over 450 league wickets in 1923-29.   George Tait was coached by Clode at Burnmoor.   Gateshead Fell was the fourth of seven engagements during which Tait exceeded 1,200 league wickets.   Fell’s fortunes rose as war approached.   Left-hander Laurie Handy thrilled with magnificent batting.   In three successive matches he hit 27 sixes and 30 fours during knocks of 81 not out, 102 and 167.

PRO-FILE (No. 14)


(b. Delph, Yorkshire, 16 Jun 1909; d. Omagh, Ireland, 30 Apr 1980)

Popular ex-Lancashire all-rounder at Consett (1934-39) and Leadgate (1946-47).   Majestic stroke-maker; penetrating quick off-cutters.   Peak season in 1935 with 1,412 runs and 130 wkts in all matches, including a century and 6 for 9 in 296-run win over Ashington.   Topped TSL batting averages four years in succession and TSL bowling twice in that period.   Took all ten wkts twice in 1936.   No hundreds for Leadgate because, it is said, he would get himself out soon after reaching 50 to check how much was in his collection.   Amateur at Consett until 1949.   Before returning to Lancashire in 1966 admirers arranged for him to play in a farewell match – on Consett rugby field!   He scored 30 and was presented with a scrapbook of his local deeds.

Consett record:    4,040 league runs     (av 49.3)           [over 6,500 in all matches]

398 league wkts        (av 8.1)             [almost 700 in all matches]

The elevation of NWD clubs to a re-organised TSL left vacancies for emerging clubs.   Crook formed in 1875 although there had been earlier, important cricket.   Crook was where Tom Hornby launched his ill-fated North of England XI in 1863.   The venture lasted one match.   Crook moved to Dawson Street in 1891, scene of five Mid-D titles.   ‘Tucker’ Taylor and Arnie Close powered them to the NWD title in 1934-35 when they won 21 successive league matches.   Arnie’s swing bowling earned over 600 wickets in 1933-37.   Short, stocky and with neat moustache, pipe-smoker Taylor made up in pace what he lacked in size.   ‘Tucker’ worked in the family fishmonger business and later in life was a welcome caller at north-west upland villages in his bakery van.

Sacriston moved to their present ground in 1874.   The south side was extended following demolition of Staffordshire Rows, home to migrant miners from that county.   Sporting Life noted a resurgence of betting in 1882, the year Sacriston lost a match for £20 to Burnhope in one of the last in the county played for stakes.   ‘Seggy’ gained league status in 1897.   They won North Durham Senior League three times in the late 1920s before election to NWD in 1931.   Tommy Lowerson, red socks flashing in mid-delivery, was pro in 1935-49.   There was cricket at Kimblesworth in 1877.   Founder members of NWD, Kimblesworth and Sacriston fought grim struggles for local supremacy.   Eight successive ‘derby’ matches were drawn.   Kimblesworth were champions in 1936-38 by a hairsbreadth, twice denying their rivals by a point, once by three points.   Between them they lost only three of 60 league matches in that period and both were undefeated in 1936.

Village cricket retained its charm.   Harry Wharton fondly remembered Waterhouses playing at Browney, Broompark and Quebec.   “It was not uncommon for clubs to use only one wicket throughout the entire season.   When a hole or bare patch appeared on the pitch it was replaced by a freshly cut sod from another part of the ground.   We journeyed on foot when visiting neighbouring clubs and players shared the duties of carrying the cricket bag to the ground and back home again.”

Minor cricket produced the unusual.   Humble surroundings maybe, but for participants every game a Test match.   A bad wicket, a mismatch of adversaries or stray ‘visitor’ might prelude moments of rare drama.   Joe Proud bowled leg-breaks for Willington II while Fred Dover crouched behind the sticks “in braces and football boots whitewashed for high season”.[4]   Oblivious of Elsdon, Fred thought Joe the best ‘leggy’ in the county.   An opinion no doubt coloured by the day Fred stumped seven Dean Bank II batsmen, six off Joe.   Four years later Dean Bank collapsed again – with laughter.   A Shildon batsman, aiming a mighty blow, succeeded only in clouting himself on the back of the head with the bat.   He retired hurt.   Hard as nails, Shildon Man resumed his innings, repeated the stroke and was carried off again.   Wolsingham were 47 for 9 when Ian Burns joined  J.W.Dent.   Dent made 169 not out in a monumental last-wicket stand of 163 to pave way for a 106-run victory over Stanhope.

Herbert Trenholm and ‘Kit’ Raisbeck were outstanding administrators.   Raisbeck’s vision vastly improved TSL organisation.   The ex-Greenside all-rounder was so diligent TSL had to dangle an honorarium to get a satisfactory replacement.   Trenholm, 40 years a player, laid claim to 2,000 wickets.   Alf Thomas, however, does not list him among those with 1,000 for Stockton firsts.   “Herbert was an avid student of his own career and knew how many wickets he had taken from his earliest days”.[5]   Prodigious work as secretary and treasurer of NYSD ensured its smooth running for 48 years.   Herbert, club treasurer and Football League referee, was made MBE for services to north-east sport.   Stockton raised the Trenholm Memorial gates as tribute to his selfless dedication to cricket.

[1]  Raich Carter : Footballer’s Progress

[2] Conversation with Ernie Chicken’s son, Alan.

[3] Stockton CC handbook 1931

[4] Mike Amos in his Backtrack column in The Northern Echo.

[5] Alf Thomas : unpublished history of Stockton CC

Chapter 17

Chapter 15

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