William Russell was a canny spin bowler and forceful batter who played over a hundred times for Glamorgan between 1897 and 1906 following a move to South Wales from the Middlesex groundstaff. He had spent a couple of years at Lord’s but, without the prospect of playing 1st XI cricket, he welcomed an offer in 1896 from Harry Ebsworth, the well-to-do businessman who owned Llandough Castle, to move to South Wales and act as groundsman-professional at Cowbridge. He had also received an offer to join his native Sussex, but it was only for a year, so by moving to South Wales to work for such an influential figure as Ebsworth, there was a chance to play regularly for Glamorgan.
Ebsworth had already invested considerable sums in acquiring the five and a half acre field, known as Cae Wyndham, at the western end of the market town, and had already employed Kent’s Alex Hearne in laying a wicket and creating practice facilities. The presence of the Middlesex man in the area was good news for the Glamorgan hierarchy who duly included the all-rounder in their squad in early June 1897 for their inaugural match as a Minor County against Surrey 2nd XI at The Oval.
However, the terms offered to Russell and the Cowbridge club for his release were quite modest and with plenty or work to be done at Cae Wyndham, Ebsworth refused to release him for the match in London. Several attempts were made by the Glamorgan officials to get Ebsworth to change his mind, but the financial terms remained the same and the stood firm. In fact, he was not the sort of man to be trifled with as his lavish home contained tokens of his skill with the rifle, including an enormous stuffed brown bear which he had, apparently, shot at close range whilst on a business trip to Russia.
Russell’s unavailability was a blow to Jack Brain and his team, and it came as no surprise that Ebsworth was pilloried in the Press for what was portrayed as selfish actions rather thinking of the good his release would create. The Western Mail’s correspondent summed up the situation by saying “Russell’s inclusion would help the side to win a match in which the victory would do the Welsh county no end of good, for the winning or losing of this game may have much to do with the future of Glamorgan cricket.”
The game ended in a draw, but an olive branch came from Ebsworth when a month later, he released Russell for the match against the MCC at the Arms Park. The all-rounder however went wicketless, and scored just 9 and 14, and did not really justify the sum demanded for his release. Consequently, Glamorgan looked elsewhere for their professional talent for the remainder of the 1897 season.
The dispute did nobody any favours, especially with Ebsworth eager to raise the standard of Cowbridge CC by having a county cricketer in their ranks, and someone who could help attract better players and decent fixtures. In a bid to settle things, Ebsworth agreed to release Russell for their Minor County Championship match in June 1898 against Cornwall at Swansea. Once again, he did little in the game, making a duck and taking a sole wicket as Glamorgan won by ten wickets.
Nevertheless, it was a start, and a deal, agreeable to both parties, was duly agreed upon in late July and with the ink barely dry on the paperwork, the all-rounder took ten wickets and struck a half-century against Wiltshire at the Arms Park, before a month later taking eleven wickets in the visit to Penzance for the away match with Cornwall. He also impressed greatly as a fielder at cover point, and proof that his star was in ascent came during 1899 as William struck his first century for Glamorgan, making 143 against Berkshire at the Arms Park, besides sharing a stand of 148 for the third wicket with Herbie Morgan. Their efforts saw Glamorgan amass 428 – at the time, the Club’s highest-ever total – and the following day, Berkshire were forced to follow-on before succumbing to the Welsh bowlers for a second time as Glamorgan secured an innings victory.
Although he failed to reach three figures in 1900, Russell’s spin bowling was to the fore again, with a ten wicket haul against Wiltshire at Swansea, plus nine against both Surrey 2nd XI at The Oval and Berkshire at Reading, with his efforts in the latter game helping Glamorgan to share the Minor County title. The next two summers saw him make, in all, just over 500 runs and a tally of just 60 wickets suggested his bowling prowess was on the wane.
There were rumours of heavy drinking and during 1903 some Glamorgan officials considered whether or not to terminate his contract. But in the last match of the season he bounced back to form claiming a ten-wicket match haul against Devon at Exeter, besides taking career-best figures of 7/43. But he only took seven wickets the following summer for Glamorgan and averaged just nine with the bat. In his defence, William had picked up a few niggling injuries and to his great delight, he was back to form in 1905 with 456 runs as well as 30 wickets.
It was not though the start of a renaissance to his career, as he made only 105 runs at an average of a mere six in 1906, and despite taking 6/8 against Durham at the Arms Park, the Glamorgan committee opted against using the services of the professional in future seasons. The loss of the Glamorgan contract hit him hard and his health deteriorated during 1907. Some believe his off-field excesses had finally caught up with him, but he had been a very popular and well-liked professional at Cowbridge CC and, following his death in March 1908, there was a massive turn out from the local community for his funeral.
Born – Robertsbridge, Sussex 1870.
Died – Cowbridge, 8 March 1908.
Batting and Fielding Record
Minor County Championship – 143 v Berkshire at Cardiff Arms Park, 1899 and 7/43 v Devon at Exeter, 1903.
Minor County Friendlies – 93 v Monmouthshire at Cardiff Arms Park, 1900 and 5/46 v Cornwall at Truro, 1899.