William Ewart Gladstone is famous for having had four spells as Britain’s Prime Minister – the first from December 1868 until February, followed by three further stints between 1880 and 1894 – and is regarded by historians as one of the most prominent figures in British politics during the Victorian era. What is less well-known is that prior to his first term of office, the Liberal politician played club cricket in Flintshire.
Born in Liverpool during December 1809 to a Scottish couple, William was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford before entering the world of politics and government. In 1839 he married Catherine Glynne, the eldest daughter of Sir Stephen Glynne of Hawarden Castle who, besides being the Lord Lieutenant of Flintshire, was also the MP for Flint between 1832 and 1847.
William subsequently lived at Hawarden Castle – a grand property, situated eight miles to the west of Chester, which had been built between 1752 and 1757 as the home of the Glynne family. Whilst spending time at Hawarden during the summer months, William became closely involved with the local cricket club. In June 1857 the club joined forces with Holywell to play the Chester club on The Roodee (now Chester Racecourse) and he was amongst the spectators in September that year when Hawarden entertained Wrexham to a game in the grounds of the Castle, known as Hawarden Park.
William had first played cricket whilst at Eton and despite his political commitments and duties, including a spell as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he continued to an enthusiastic player, albeit with modest pretentions. He also successfully overcame the amputation of the index finger on his left-hand which had been badly damaged during a shooting accident during 1845.
His enjoyment of cricket led to William forming a team called Hawarden Park which played in the grounds of his palatial home, and for whom he played in 1867, at the ripe old age of 58. Some historians have suggested that William might have been the “Gladstone” who batted at number eleven in the Hawarden team which met Chester in 1858. Given his limited ability with the bat that might have been the case, although given his standing in local and national society, he may well have commanded a position higher up in the batting order.
The last man in the Hawarden team that met Chester in 1858 might instead have been his eighteen-year old son Willie who, like his father, had attended Eton. Willie also followed in his father’s footsteps by subsequently attending Christ Church Oxford, and was a talented young sportsman. Indeed, in 1870 he appeared for Scotland in the unofficial football international against England at The Oval cricket ground – a game organized by Charles Alcock, the former Middlesex and Essex cricketer who served as secretary of Surrey CCC and in 1880 organized the inaugural Test Match against Australia on English soil.