The Pembrokeshire cricketer who became President of the MCC

It’s a little known fact that a cricketer from Pembrokeshire was elected in 1870 as President of the Marylebone Cricket Club. The man in question was John Henry Philipps (later Scourfield) who enjoyed a successful playing career with the MCC besides being a leading light with Haverfordwest CC before becoming the town’s MP and later being appointed to serve as the President of the MCC, thereby becoming the first Welshman to fulfil this prestigious post in English cricket.

John was the son of Owen Philipps, a wealthy landowner, who lived at Williamston and was a descendant of the prosperous family from Cwmgwili who had organized the first game of cricket on record, in August 1783, at Court Henry Down in Carmarthenshire. Born in January 1808, John was educated initially at Harrow before reading Classics at Oriel College, Oxford. Despite not playing in major matches for either seat of learning, John was a talented cricketer and, by the late 1820s, was a successful playing member of the MCC. Indeed, it was for the MCC that he made his first-class debut on 24 May 1830 against Middlesex at Lord’s , with a measure of his prowess being indicated that he batted at number three in the MCC line-up.

JH Philipps. Image Credit – Pembrokeshire County Council.

It was no surprise that, after coming down, John became the leading personality of Haverfordwest CC. He was instrumental in the founding of the club in 1834, as well as the creation of their permanent home inside the town’s racecourse on Portfield Common. It had been laid out in 1727 with the cricket club first playing “inside the ring of the racecourse” during September 1837. Impressed by the potential which the ground possessed, John and other Haverfordwest officials approached the town council during January 1839 for permission to level an area inside the course.

He found an ally in his close friend, and later brother-in-law, John Higgon of Scolton Manor with the two men being delighted when the cricket club was given permission to create a permanent field for cricket at Portfield racecourse. The club were also allowed to use the grandstand which adjoined the course although, as shown by the newspaper notice from the Pembrokeshire Herald in 1849, it was not the perfect location , with damage being caused by gentlemen who steered their pony and traps across the Common and the cricket field.

A notice from the Pembrokeshire Herald, 27 April 1849. Photo Credit – CC4 Museum of Welsh Cricket.

Nevertheless, through the efforts of John Philipps, Haverfordwest became one of the leading clubs in south-west Wales . Following a meeting in October 1847, they also played matches as ‘Pembrokeshire’, inviting the cream of talent from other clubs in the area to turn out in quasi-county games. John himself continued to play for the MCC and turned out for them on a regular basis until 1852. This was the year when John became Conservative MP for Haverfordwest – a position he held until his death in June 1876 – but despite spending many days in London, he remained a staunch supporter of Haverfordwest CC. In particular, he used his many contacts within the world of politics and cricket, to secure a fixture for the club in August 1864 against the Welsh Wanderers – a team containing some of the best players from Glamorgan, Monmouthshire and Breconshire.

In 1866 John also agreed to underwrite some of the costs associated with a planned fixture against the United All-England Eleven. Nothing eventually came of this proposal for a grand match at Portfield Racecourse, but John was not deterred and the following year he agreed to underwrite the costs of hiring a professional player for the 1867 season. Haverfordwest would have been the first club in the county to have the regular services of a paid player – something that irked some of the club’s members who relished the amateur ethos which prevailed at the time. Once again, nothing came of the proposal but the club’s officials were very grateful for Sir John’s help, as well as the way every summer he hosted the Haverfordwest cricketers in an end-of-season game at his home near Williamston, with John and his wife Augusta also overseeing a lavish dinner and ball after the game which was also attended by the great and good of Pembrokeshire politics.

In 1862 John assumed the surname of Scourfield having succeeded his maternal uncle and taken ownership of Robeston Hall near Milford Haven. A measure of his standing within the game of cricket as a whole can also be gauged from the fact that John was appointed as President of the MCC in 1870. Sadly, John died in Westminster on 3 June 1876 but his legacy was a thriving cricket club in Haverfordwest and a high standard of the game throughout Pembrokeshire itself.

Indeed, during the Spring of 1878, officials from the Haverfordwest club approached the South Wales Cricket Club about staging a two-day game at Portfield during August. Unfortunately, the South Wales officials were unable to muster an eleven for the game, and one can only reflect that had Sir John still been alive he would have persuaded his friends to turn out in what would have been the first major match to be staged on Pembrokeshire soil.

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