Jack Brain was the man who oversaw Glamorgan’s elevation from the third-class ranks to a fully-fledged Minor County. During his time in charge of the Welsh county, the influential member of the Cardiff-based brewery drew heavily on his business and sporting contacts across South Wales – as well as further afield – to improve Glamorgan’s financial position and their on-field performances, with the side being joint Champions in 1900 and before the Great War one of the strongest sides below first-class level.
It had been all very different back in the late 1880s when Brain first arrived in South Wales, with the Welsh county struggling in their second playing season and several cynics wryly suggesting that the new county club would soon go the way of the old Glamorganshire side. Brain moved across the Severn Estuary in 1890, after completing his studies at Oxford and gaining a little experience in the business world, to oversee the running of the Old Brewery in Cardiff which his uncle, Samuel Arthur, himself an enthusiastic cricketer, had acquired in 1882 through marriage.
Jack had enjoyed a highly successful time at Oxford where, as a Freshman, he was in the XI that defeated the 1884 Australians and later in the summer, he hit an attractive 108 for Gloucestershire against the tourists. Many believed Brain would succeed W.G. Grace as captain of the Gloucestershire side, but it was to Glamorgan that he subsequently devoted his efforts. He began by liaising with officials from top Welsh clubs, so that a Glamorgan Colts side could be raised as well as using his contacts in the west of England to arrange fund-raising games at the Arms Park, besides securing the services of talented amateur batsmen from Gloucestershire and Somerset. On several occasions he also dipped into his pockets to hire a couple of professionals, who in addition to playing for the county, could help coach the emerging talent, and work as labourers in the Old Brewery during the winter months.
With a stronger side taking the field, Glamorgan’s results improved, with his side winning six of their nine games in 1892, including four successive victories in May and June. The better form also allowed Brain to secure a fixture with the 1894 South Africans – Glamorgan’s first against a touring side – whilst he was instrumental in the hiring of Billy Bancroft as the Club’s first regular, and homegrown, professional. The improved results allowed Glamorgan to hire further paid players as the Club, through Jack’s guidance, mounted a campaign to join the Minor County Championship. Jack – who made his maiden century for Glamorgan in 1896 with 114 against the M.C.C. – served as Chairman of the Minor County Cricket Association between 1896 and 1898, and during his time as Chair, the MCC endorsed Glamorgan’s application.
To his delight Glamorgan were joint Minor County champions in 1900 – a summer when Jack was also in the runs with 88 against Surrey 2nd XI at The Oval plus 102 in the return match at the Arms Park. Glamorgan’s success mirrored that of Brain’s Brewery who in 1882 supplied just 11 pubs in the Cardiff area. By 1900 they either owned or leased 80, as output had increased from around 100 barrels a week to in excess of 1,000, with The Old Brewery becoming the largest in South Wales. In 1899/1900, S.A. Brain was also appointed Lord Mayor of Cardiff.
With Jack being a highly influential figure in the corridors of power at Lord’s, the Glamorgan captain, with the full backing of the Club’s committee, began a campaign to secure a Test Match for Wales. It began with the 1902 Australians meeting a combined Glamorgan and Wiltshire XI at Arms Park, before a fund-raising scheme which saw the creation of a spacious new pavilion at the Cardiff ground. In the autumn of 1904 Brain also led a delegation to address the MCC committee as Glamorgan vied with Nottinghamshire as the hosts of the First Test of the 1905 series with Australia. The decision went in favour of Trent Bridge by a single vote, but the Arms Park secured a fixture between the 1905 Australians and a combined South Wales XI – match watched by a crowd in excess of 10,000 on the first day.
In 1907 Glamorgan, under Jack’s leadership, won the western group in the Minor County Championship in 1907, before losing the final to Lancashire 2nd XI, despite a stubborn 80 from their captain. It proved to be his swansong as over the winter months, he went into semi-retirement and agreed only to play again in an emergency. This duly happened in 1908 when Glamorgan secured a semi-final tie with Wiltshire, but in the days leading up to the contest, Jack’s brother Sam, the Glamorgan wicket-keeper, was injured so he stepped into his brother’s shoes and kept wicket in the match at Chippenham. Batting down the order, he made 26 in what proved to be his final innings for the county as they secured a place in the final against Staffordshire at Stoke-on-Trent.
Over the course of the next few years, Brain was delighted to maintain a watching brief as an energetic, and influential, committee member, as Glamorgan maintained their campaign for first-class recognition. The downswing in the local economy hindered their campaign for a while, but after the Great War, they duly secured a place in the County Championship. Sadly, Brain never lived to see the fruits of his labours, as in June 1914 he was taken gravely ill, and died after a short illness. A host of tributes were paid to the man who had put Glamorgan cricket on the map, with the Western Mail summing up his immense contribution both on and off the field, by saying “his prowess at the wicket won him celebrity; his sportsmanship won him friendship; his generous patronage of the game won him gratitude.”
BRAIN, Joseph Hugh (‘Jack’).
Born – Kingswood, Bristol, 11 September 1863.
Died – Bonvilston, 26 June 1914.
Batting and Fielding Record
Minor County Championship – 117 v Devon at Exeter, 1907.
Minor County Friendlies -144 v MCC at Lord’s, 1896 and 6/62 v VT Hill’s XI at Cardiff Arms Park, 1895.