The above photograph is just one of many fascinating images held at the CC4 Museum of Welsh Cricket at Sophia Gardens. Recent research suggests, however, that it is quite special in that it is one of the earliest photographs of a famous Welsh team, the Cygnets.
The Cygnets were formed in 1927. The proposal for an all-Wales amateur team was first discussed at the Wales Ireland match in Belfast in 1926. To test the water invitations to join the Cygnets were sent to 41 amateur players who had either played for Wales or been approached to play for Wales. Meetings were also held in North and South Wales to discuss how the club might operate. Six months later, with acceptances received from 39 players, the Cygnets were formally established at the Royal Hotel, Cardiff on Friday 21 January 1927.
While the club was run by a committee, with representation from north and south Wales, two figures dominated the early years, N V H Riches and G E Rowland. Norman Riches was the driving force in the creation and running of the club for many years. A talented batsman and wicket keeper who played for Cardiff, Glamorgan and MCC, it was Riches who recognised the need for a side that would provide an opportunity for the very best young amateurs to play together. Hopefully, for many, it would also provide a pathway to greater things with Wales and, possibly, Glamorgan. Based on the format used for the Free Foresters, the Cygnets would be a “wandering or nomadic club” that would take cricket to all parts of Wales.
Riches had been Glamorgan’s captain during their inaugural summer as a first-class county in 1921, and had been the leading batsman in their Minor County days before the Great War. He was in his 45th year when this photograph was taken at Llandudno and, although he played occasionally for Glamorgan in Championship cricket until 1934, Norman was starting to think about the next phase in his playing career. He had a wealth of contacts within the MCC, club cricket in Wales and the first-class game as a whole, so there was no finer person than the Cardiff-based dentist to instigate and develop this wandering club.
Gwilym Evans Rowland had been President of the North Wales Cricket Association since 1924. His sons Cyril and William were both talented players and amongst the early recruits to the ranks of the Cygnets. Rowland had taken up the banner, first raised by Lord Mostyn during the late nineteenth century, to develop the profile and quality of cricket in North Wales. Through his business interests in engineering he was a wealthy man and he had played a key role in attracting sides such as MCC to tour North Wales with games in 1926 staged at Marchwiel, Rydal School, Llanrwst and Llandudno.
Rowland had ambitions to tie the emerging structures in the north to wider pan-Wales developments. In April 1927 he was to become the first President of the Welsh Cricket Union and the Cygnets were a valuable tool in forging further links between north and south. It was Riches, who played in the match at Belfast, scoring the small matter of 243 not out, who chaired the meeting that established the Cygnets in January 1927. GE Rowland was appointed as the club’s first President with this son Cyril as Secretary. With Riches often leading the team and drawing in talented players and Rowland providing the connections in the north and the financial muscle, the Cygnets had a firm base from the outset.
The fixture list in the first year was drawn up to emphasise the all Wales approach. The opening game was against Panteg on Thursday 16 June 1927. The team that day, captained by T B Williams of Newport and Monmouthshire, brought together players from Cardiff, Newport, Neath , Llandudno and Colwyn Bay. The newly formed Cygnets scored 206 largely due to a battling 50 scored by Williams batting at no 9. With Panteg dismissed for 134, the match was the beginning of a remarkable run with the Cygnets undefeated for 8 years.
Games followed that summer against Caernarvonshire at Llandudno, Denbighshire at Colwyn Bay and a touring side, the Cambridge Crusaders. Our photograph, however, was taken in September at a game that provided the highlight of the first season. But more of that next time in the second instalment.