by David Battersby
Gilbert Jessop was to score England’s fastest-ever century in a Test – at The Oval in 1902 against Australia – in not only minutes, 77, but also in terms of balls faced, 76. That famous Test was his tenth out of an eventual eighteen for his country. Jessop, often referred to as ‘The Croucher’, had made his first-class debut for Gloucestershire in 1894 at Old Trafford. In the modern day, Jessop would no doubt would have been one of greatest one-day cricketers of all time, his signature fought over by franchises the world over. He would have been a modern-day cricketing superstar on a par with the likes of Chris Gayle, Ben Stokes and Virat Kohli.
Jessop only played in six matches in Wales and in one of those, he captained a Cardiff Club and Ground Eleven in a light-hearted exhibition game. Two further matches – in 1905 and 1906 – did not commence because of rain and were abandoned without a ball being bowled. The listing below outlines the games in which he played and the others where he was scheduled to appear:
Match # 1 – Glamorgan versus WM Brownlee’s XI at Cardiff Arms Park – May 2nd 1900
Jessop’s visits to Wales were far and few. The first recorded game in which he played was the fixture between Glamorgan and Gloucestershire – a one-day affair – that took place on Wednesday May 2nd 1900. The match would also be stated in some reports as ‘Glamorganshire (Mr JH Brain’s Eleven) versus Gloucestershire (Mr WM Brownlee’s Eleven)’. At the time, Jessop was the Gloucestershire captain.
The South Wales Daily News on 30th April stated ‘Mr JH Brain, captain of the Glamorgan Club, has arranged for the opening of the local cricket season with a scratch one-day’s match between a representative team of the Glamorgan Club and a combination of Gloucestershire amateurs, got together by Mr WD Brownlee. The match will be played on the Cardiff Arms Park on Wednesday next. Among the visitors will be GL Jessop, who will make his first appearance in Wales; CL Townsend, JA Bush, SWA Brown and EM Ball’.
The Evening Express duly reported ‘Although South Walians will be disappointed that the fixture with the South African team had fallen through, they will be in a measure recompensed by a visit from a particularly strong Gloucestershire Eleven’. The paper went on to add that Mr JH Brain, the Glamorgan skipper, had experienced some difficulty in getting together a representative side. HB Letcher had left the district, and would not be available for the county – and it was feared for the season – whilst EW Jones was another who had yet to accept. However, Brain was able to call upon Glamorgan’s first professional, Billy Bancroft, who would become one of the finest all-rounders in Minor County cricket.
It was a rare occasion for the South Walian public to get a glimpse of first-class cricketers like Jessop. The Evening Express stating on the morning of the day’s play that it was probably the finest eleven Glamorgan had have ever turned out which was also complimented by the inclusion of all-rounder, Arthur Silverlock, the Monmouthshire and Newport professional. ‘The groundsman had prepared an excellent wicket, and when at 11.55 am, a start was made, there was only a handful of spectators present, the wall flowers, as usual being predominant’ with the paper adding that ‘For once in a way Mr J. H. Brain’s proverbial luck with the spin of the nimble ha’penny deserted him and Mr. Bush the visiting captain, elected to face first knock’.
When play commenced the visitors would soon lose both openers Leigh Brownlee and Percy Robinson to right-arm quick Sam Lowe, the latter losing his middle stump. A third wicket partnership between Charlie Townsend and Somerset’s Australian, Sammy Woods – with some spirited hitting – took the score from 35-2 to 118 when Townsend was smartly caught and bowled by left-arm medium-pacer, Harry Creber, for 57. The partnership between Townsend and Woods had lasted exactly one hour. This then brought the Gloucestershire skipper, Gilbert Jessop, to the crease for his first appearance on Welsh soil.
The Evening Express reported how Jessop ‘at once commenced to demonstrate his hard hitting abilities, placing Creber to the boundary on two successive occasions, whilst in the next over he once placed Silverlock in a similar place. The next over of the Newport man was again severely punished by the ‘Cestrian captain, who on one occasion lifted the ball right over the pavilion, and landing it on the plantation’.
However, when his score had reached 29 – and the visitors on 151-4 – Jessop who had been the crease for only ten minutes and faced just 16 balls, was smartly taken deep at extra-cover by William Russell off Harry Creber. Woods continued to plunder the bowling but when on 69 was clean bowled by Lowe and with the score on 181-5 – from sixty-nine overs – the players headed off for lunch.
After the interval Sam Lowe dismissed Peppin, Magniac and Bush with successive deliveries for which he was loudly cheered and wrapped up the innings to finish with figures of 7/35, Brownlee’s XI all out for 203 from 61.3 overs. A collection for Lowe’s feats raised £2 16s and 9d whose hat-trick was the third of his career to date, the previous two being against Herefordshire at Hereford and Cornwall at Swansea.
The Glamorgan innings began with Jessop bowling to Silverlock. With only his second delivery, Jessop removed the batsman as the ball hit the stumps after deflecting off Silverlock’s arm. After losing Russell for 39 to the Somerset skipper Sammy Woods, Glamorgan saw Herbie Morgan and skipper JH Brain begin rebuilding the innings but with the score on 96, Brain fell, caught by another Silverlock – fielding as a substitute – for 20 off the bowling of Magniac. Billy Bancroft strolled to the crease and almost immediately Morgan brought up the 100 with a boundary.
Jessop came back into the attack – replacing the younger Townsend – and with rain in the air and the light becoming bad, Morgan continued to hit freely. After being dropped by Robinson, Morgan played on to a ball from Jessop and was bowled for 73 as Glamorgan now had lost their fourth wicket with 141 on the board. A couple of overs later, Bancroft – the Swansea professional – was bowled by Jessop for five, with the bowler then dismissing WH Brain, who presented Russell with a soft catch. When Jessop bowled Captain Pritchard for seven – and with the score on 163-7 – the ‘Croucher’ had claimed his fifth wicket. Edmund David – Glamorgan’s first ever captain back in 1889 – was next in but did not last long as Jessop bowled him for just one. With Creber having fallen next to Woods, the score now stood on 190 for nine, Glamorgan still twenty-four short of victory with the Nottinghamshire-born Lowe brothers, Richard and Sam, at the crease. Richard Lowe after scoring a three, pulled Jessop to the boundary. With only fourteen required the younger Lowe brother, Sam, was nearly run out after a throw in by Jessop was poorly fielded by Woods. As the clock ticked down towards stumps Richard Lowe bravely batted on despite suffering a nasty smack near the heart and when stumps were called, Glamorgan had reached 190-9 from 55 overs with Jessop finishing with figures of 6/55 and the match drawn. With most of the Glamorgan players playing in their first game of the season the performance gave hope for the forthcoming season and for Glamorgan to hopefully make a prominent show in the Minor Counties Championship.
On reviewing the game on the 3rd May, the Evening Express stated ‘It remained, however, for Gilbert Jessop, the Gloucestershire captain, to provide the tit-bit of the day. When I say that every one of the spectators who speculated their “sixpence” to witness the game did so with the expectations of witnessing the famous Light Blue playing ducks and drakes with the Glamorganshire bowling, in this I do not think they were disappointed, as for the ten minutes the Cheltenham man was at the wickets he displayed such scoring abilities that proved most enjoyable to the crowd’. The newspaper also reflected on the almighty hit over the pavilion into the plantation.
Match # 2 – Cardiff CC versus Thornbury CC at Cardiff Arms Park – July 1st 1903
Three years would pass before Jessop would return to play his second match in Wales. There was huge excitement amongst cricket fans in Cardiff as it was announced by Cardiff CC that the forthcoming visitors – Dr EM Grace’s Thornbury Eleven – would include ‘The Croucher’. In anticipation of a record crowd, arrangements were put in place to throw open the football field gate. Cardiff would be captained by Vernon Hill and the side would include amongst others, JH Brain, WH Brain and Norman Riches.
The weather was gloriously fine on the day of the match with the wicket in perfect condition with the captain’s deciding that the game would be played twelve-a-side. Thornbury fielded six County players – Jessop, Sellick, Langdon, Board, Nott and Cranfield. Vernon Hill won the toss and elected to bat, much to the disappointment of the majority of the crowd who now had to wait to watch Jessop at the crease. Hill – batting at four – brought up his fifty in just 30 minutes and was loudly applauded when he reached his century after batting for exactly an hour. Hill eventually fell for 117, caught by Grace off Cranfield, an innings that had included twenty-two 4’s and two 3’s.
‘EM Grace and Langdon opened the Thornbury innings at 3.30, and at this time there was a record attendance for all club and county matches. The ladies, dressed in their brightest summer costumes made a pretty picture on the grand-stand, and the scene all-round the ground was reminiscent of a first-class county match’ stated the Evening Express. With the score on 21, the first wicket fell – that of opener EM Grace for 11 – which brought Jessop to the wicket ‘to a hearty round of applause all-round the ring’. Jessop opened with a nice drive for single with every stroke of his watched with excited keenness. When he had advanced to nine, Jessop opened his shoulders to a ball from Jack Nash. ‘It went high up towards the boundary on the pavilion side. Anderson ran in for the ball, and judging its flight correctly, brought off a capital catch, which brought forth a deep groan from the crowd and some applause’. Thornbury were undone by both Tom Poole – seven wickets – and Jack Nash – three wickets – and were bowled out for 107 losing by 104 runs. The only batsmen to reach double figures were those of Board – not out – with 25 and Sellick for 29. Poole, originally a native of Leicestershire and had represented their Second Eleven, had arrived in Cardiff via club cricket in Scotland and Lancashire and was been employed by Cardiff as their professional bowler in 1903, having succeeded Sam Lowe.
Match # 3 – Cardiff CC versus Dr EM Grace’s Team at Cardiff Arms Park – June 29th 1904
The week before Dr EM Grace’s team took on Cardiff CC on June 29th 1904 talk was that Jessop would be included in the visitors line-up. However, when the match took place to open the Cardiff club’s grand new pavilion, Jessop did not participate.
The Evening Express on July 2nd 1904 speculated that Jessop was likely to be included in the Sir George Robey’s XI proposed fixture against Cardiff in August. However, no details have been found of any game or if ‘The Croucher’ appeared in the music hall artists team of English County Cricketers.
Match # 4 – Maesteg CC v Gloucestershire CCC at Maesteg 25th April 1905
Jessop’s next scheduled match was due to take place at Maesteg, where Gloucestershire being the visitors, would open the home side’s new ground. A strong Gloucestershire side had been named to take part but the match unfortunately was abandoned. The Evening Express stated ‘The Gloucester County Eleven, who were to play at Maesteg to-day, arrived at Maesteg by the 11.40 am train but, owing to the bad weather, the match has been abandoned’. Before the visitors departed home they were entertained at the White Lion Hotel.
Match # 5 – Cardiff CC versus Dr EM Grace’s Team at Cardiff Arms Park – May 23rd 1906
Jessop’s next visit to Wales also ended in it being a futile visit as rain put paid to any possible play between Cardiff CC and Dr EM Grace’s Eleven, much to the disappointment of the supporters of the Cardiff Club. Dr Grace had brought down a powerful side that included not only Jessop, but Langdon, Spry, Dennett and Winstone.
Match # 6 – Cardiff CC versus Mr. Gilbert Jessop’s Eleven at Cardiff Arms Park – June 3rd 1908
Cardiff CC had enjoyed a great start to the 1908 season going undefeated and having won each game handsomely, but would face its sternest test yet when it faced a strong side captained by Gilbert Jessop. The match would be Jessop’s third appearance in Wales.
Jessop on winning the toss in glorious weather decided to take first knock. The Evening Express stating that ‘Nash, the Cardiff groundsman, had never prepared a better wicket’. With the score on 37-3, Jessop found himself walking out to the middle to the sound of hearty applause. Soon ‘pulling a ball from Nash in characteristic fashion, he found the boundary, and the next ball he also sent out of the ring, and this he followed up with a shot through the slips for three. To the evident delight of the crowd, Jessop was playing with confidence and looked like settling down to one of his big scores’. Jessop with a late cut to the boundary brought up his team’s hundred, the innings lasting an hour and a half. In Nash’s next over, Jessop hit the bowler to the boundary with a hard on-drive and a lofty pull to leg. Symonds replaced Nash and his first delivery was sent to the boundary by Jessop. The Express stating ‘With another boundary and a couple of braces, Jessop reached his fifty after batting forty minutes’.
Cardiff were set two hours and a quarter to reach their target and at stumps had reached 137-7 with opener, Norman Riches, undefeated on 69. Riches invaluable and faultless innings had contained half-a-dozen 4’s and the same number of 3’s. The Cardiff line up had also included Percy Bush – the Welsh Rugby International who had played three matches for Glamorgan – and Vernon Hill – the ex-Somerset Championship player. The Evening Express summed up the days Cricket – ‘The match, as expected, was productive of the most attractive and interesting cricket of the season, and especially gratifying was the splendid innings played by Jessop’.
Match # 7 – East of England v West of England at Cardiff Arms Park – June 20th and 21st 1910
Gilbert Jessop next appearance – his fourth in the Principality – saw him captain the West of England in a three-day first-class match against the East of England at Cardiff Arms Park, which began on Wednesday June 20th 1910. The match had been arranged jointly by the committee’s of Glamorgan and Gloucestershire to help raise funds for the Welsh county’s bid for first-class status – it was almost a dozen years before the latter happened!
The match in 1910 saw the East of England bowled out for 295 in their first innings after winning the toss. In reply the West made 199 with Jessop out for 16, caught by Jimmy Stone off the right-arm quick, Bert Tremlin. The East could only post 112 second time around setting the West 208 to win. With the score on 138 for six – the match still in its second day – Jessop strolled to the crease to join Somerset’s Talbot Lewis, with the West of England still seventy short of victory. The Evening Express stating that ‘The Gloucester skipper at once commenced to hit freely, and, after putting Walter Mead to leg twice for four, he made a beautiful straight drive along the carpet to the boundary off Tremlin’. Jessop in fact scored 14 from Tremlin’s first over, hitting the bowler to the off and on boundaries and lifting the last ball into the ditch for six. With Lewis reaching his half-century, Tremlin was relieved by Phil Mead. Jessop, however, straight away hit the bowler for six and in the next over he placed the same bowler to the leg boundary – this being the winning hit – the West therefore winning by four wickets. Jessop had hit 47 out of 72 in half an hour. ‘The Croucher’ did not bowl in the game.
March # 8 – Cardiff Club and Ground XI v Sammy Woods XI at Cardiff Arms Park – June 22nd 1910
With the original East of England versus West of England three-day fixture ending inside two, and the guarantees for the players to appear on three days to help raise funds for Glmaorgan’s campaing for elevation into the County Championship. the third day was filled with a scratch match between a Cardiff Club and Ground XI and another team led by Sammy Woods.
Jessop duly captained and opened the batting for the Cardiff side. The Woods XI – after winning the toss – scored 260 for five declared with opener, Charlie McGahey of Essex, scoring 113 before retiring out. The Cardiff XI finished on 184-6 at as the match ended in a draw. Jessop had begun his innings by despatching Arthur Osborne to the boundary but when on 30 faced for the first time in the game Sammy Woods and was bowled.
Match # 9 – Glamorgan v Mr. Harry Webb’s Team at Cardiff Arms Park – August 18th and 19th 1913
Jessop’s sixth and final game in Wales took place at the Arms Park in August 1913, when he turned out for Mr Harry Webb’s Eleven against Glamorgan. Webb was a mining magnate and Member of Parliament for the Forest of Dean who lived at Llwynarthen House in St.Mellon’s. The house had its own private cricket ground which was used for many years by Cardiff YMCA and is the present home of Lisvane CC.
Harry assembled a strong team that included seven Gloucestershire players, the Phillips brothers from Monmouth, WC Hands of Warwickshire, WW Odell of Leicestershire – who was now living and working in South Wales – plus the music hall impresario Sir George Robey who was a cricketing fanatic.
The match – being played as a twelve-a-side contest – saw Glamorgan bat first and score 146, with left-arm spinner, George Dennett, picking up six victims at a cost of 73 runs. In reply Webb’s team matched Glamorgan’s in scoring 146, with Jessop out for 66 in very short time, caught by Norman Riches off Harry Creber. Jessop reached his half-century in just 20 minutes. The last seven wickets of the innings had fallen for just 30 runs with fast-medium bowler, Jimmy Maxwell taking 4/8 and Creber 3/20. Batting a second time Glamorgan declared on 202-3, once skipper Norman Riches reached his century. It then needed WSA Brown to dig in and save the Webb XI from defeat as they finished at stumps on 131-8 with Maxwell finishing with match figures of 8/60.
Match # 10 – Glamorgan v MCC at Cardiff Arms Park on 21st and 22nd August, 1914
The Cambrian Daily Leader for 27th May 1914 reported on the AGM of Glamorgan CCC – held at the Queen’s Hotel in Cardiff – at which it was said that ‘an MCC side captained by Gilbert Jessop would play at Cardiff on August 21st and 22nd.’
However, due to the outbreak of the First World War in July 1914, the fixture never took place and Jessop never played on Welsh soil again.