Bertie Lambert, a young left-arm spinner, had a meteoric rise from club cricket in the Vale of Glamorgan to Minor County cricket for Glamorgan during 1897 and a position the following year as one of the professionals attached to Cardiff CC. But if his ascendancy was swift, so was his descent as he lost his place in the Welsh county’s team the following summer, as well as his position with Cardiff and for the next few years was plying his trade, largely back with Bridgend and Cowbridge before emigrating in 1903 to South Africa.
Bertie was the eldest son of Peter and Margaret Lambert who lived in Coity, near Bridgend. His father was a house painter and on leaving school at the age of fourteen, Bertie trained as a plumber. However, he met with great success with his slow left-arm bowling for Bridgend and after some impressive performances during 1896, and warm recommendations from leading amateurs, Bertie made his Glamorgan debut against Monmouthshire in the Minor County Championship match at Swansea. The 20 year-old found the sandy pitch to his liking as he claimed three wickets on his debut and he kept his place in the line-up for the friendly against the MCC at the Arms Park.
The next week, Bertie was back in action at St. Helen’s where he produced, in the words of the local newspaper, “a capital spell” as he took figures of 6/29 and 5/16 against Cornwall with the visiting batsman struggling against his well-flighted deliveries. In the words again of the watching journalist “Lambert found his way [to the stumps] with a curly one.” He continued his good form at the end of the month with a return of 7/103 in Wiltshire’s second innings at the Arms Park with the visitors again succumbing to his lobs with one report describing how they were “bowled slogging at Lambert ….with the clever bowling of the Bridgend man proving very effective.”
Bertie’s outstanding run of form continued during mid-August during the away match with Wiltshire at Swindon where he again tricked and teased their batsmen, returning figures of 9/86 in 26.1 overs and scythed through the Wiltshire batting in a match which the Welsh county needed to win to maintain their bid for the Minor County Championship title. He bowled unchanged during the Wiltshire innings, aided by several breaks because of rain, which also helped to spice up the surface as the home side were dismissed for 151 and forced to follow on. But the weather came to Wiltshire’s assistance the following day as the game ended in a watery draw with Wiltshire on 63/6 and Bertie ending with a match haul of 12/118 which, overall, were the third-best bowling figures in the competition that summer.
With his star in the ascent, he was invited by Jack Brain, his county captain, to play for Fairwater CC in some of their friendlies besides having a brief stint with Cardiff CC in their closing games. But his wicket-taking for Glamorgan was not over for 1897 as in the closing match at Penzance, Bertie claimed 7/26 as Cornwall were dismissed for 47 in what the South Wales echo described as “sensational bowling.” It laid the foundation for a victory by 144 runs, with the young spinner finishing on top of the county’s averages with 57 victims at 12 runs apiece.
The end of season plaudits were fulsome in their praise with the correspondent of The Cambrian writing “He is one who uses his head a great deal. When at his best, he is most difficult to score against.” Bertie duly agreed professional terms with Cardiff for 1898 and began the summer with hauls of 8/33 against Mr EH Ebsworth’s XI as well as 7/38 in the game with Clifton. However, he met with little success in the opening games for Glamorgan, claiming a solitary wicket against Surrey 2nd XI at The Oval and Cornwall at Swansea. After the plaudits of 1897 came more critical comments about his well-flighted lobs. In June 1898 the correspondent of the Evening Express described his bowling as “soft stuff “, whilst in a preview for a forthcoming county fixture he added how Bertie was “bowling very badly and the [Glamorgan] committee would be perfectly justified in leaving him out.”
After missing several Minor County games, he returned to the Glamorgan line-up in mid-July when the MCC visited Swansea for their annual friendly but Bertie only bowled two overs in the match, during which he claimed the wicket of the visitors last man. A month later he was included in the Welsh county’s party for the visit to Penzance, hoping he could re-create the same havoc as on his visit to Cornwall in 1897. However, he delivered six wicketless overs in what proved to be his final county appearance.
1899 saw Bertie return to club cricket for Bridgend as well as appearances for Mr. Ebsworth’s XI in their series of matches at Cowbridge and against the other leading clubs in the area. In 1900 he also had a spell as a professional with Usk CC but by the end of the summer was back playing for Bridgend CC. So what went wrong? Did he lose confidence playing at a higher level or like other left-arm spinners suffer from the yips? A more plausible reason might be that batsmen learnt how to play his bowling. And match reports for 1898 and subsequent years do not make the same references as in one from 1897 which stated that batsmen had departed “having been bowled slogging wildly at Lambert.”
There were a few asides about his fielding as well as dropped catches, but over 120 years after these games and his dramatic rise into county cricket, we will never know for certain what led to his sudden fall. When the Census was taken in 1901 he was lodging at 43 East Village, Cowbridge, and working again as a plumber besides appearing for Mr. Ebsworth’s team as well as the team raised by John Nicholl of Merthyr Mawr House.
It appears that he left South Wales around 1903 and emigrated to South Africa where he worked as a plumber and mechanical engineer in Pretoria. However, early in 1908 Bertie contracted TB and marasmus and sadly died, aged 31, in hospital in Johannesburg.
LAMBERT, Bernard Austin (‘Bertie’).
Born – Bridgend, October 1876.
Died – Johannesburg, South Africa, 15 March 1908.
Batting and Fielding Record
Minor County Championship – 7* v Cornwall at St Helen’s, Swansea, 1898 and 9/86 v Wiltshire at Swindon, 1897.
Minor County Friendlies – 4 v MCC at Cardiff Arms Park, 1897 and 4/79 v Surrey 2nd XI at Cardiff Arms Park, 1897.