W. G. Grace
Dr William Gilbert ("WG") Grace, MRCS, LRCP (born 18 July 1848 at Downend, near Bristol; died 23 October 1915 at Mottingham, Kent) was an English amateur cricketer who has been widely acknowledged as the greatest player of all time, especially in terms of his importance to the development of the sport. Universally known as "WG", his initials being a sobriquet, he played first-class cricket for a record-equalling 44 seasons, from 1865 to 1908, during which he captained England, Gloucestershire, the Gentlemen, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the United South of England Eleven (USEE) and several other teams.
Right-handed as both batsman and bowler, Grace dominated the sport during his career and left, through his enormous influence and technical innovations, a lasting legacy. An outstanding all-rounder, he excelled at all the essential skills of batting, bowling and fielding, but it is for his batting that he is most renowned as he is held to have invented modern batting. An opening batsman, he was particularly noted for his mastery of all strokes and this level of expertise was said by contemporary reviewers to be unique. He generally captained the teams he played for at all levels and was noted for his tactical acumen. He came from a cricketing family and his brothers Edward (also known by his initials, "EM") and Fred both played Test cricket for England.
Grace was a medical practitioner who qualified in 1879. Because of his profession, he was nominally an amateur cricketer but he is said to have made more money from his cricketing activities than any professional. He was an extremely competitive player and, although he was arguably the most famous celebrity in Victorian England, he was also one of the most controversial on account of his gamesmanship and his mercenary attitude. He took part in other sports and, as a young man, was a champion 440 yard hurdler. In later life, he became interested in golf, bowls and gardening. He captained the England bowls team for a few years in the 1900s.
W. G. Grace was born in Downend on 18 July 1848 at his parents' home, Downend House, and was baptised at the local church on 8 August. He was called Gilbert in the family circle, except by his mother who called him Willie.
His parents were Henry Mills Grace and Martha (née Pocock), who were married in Bristol on Thursday, 3 November 1831 and lived out their lives at Downend, where his father was the local GP. Downend is near Mangotsfield and, although it is now a suburb of Bristol, it was then "a distinct village surrounded by countryside" and about four miles from Bristol. Henry and Martha Grace had nine children in all: "the same number as Victoria and Albert – and in every respect they were the typical Victorian family". WG was the eighth child in the family; he had three older brothers, including EM, and four older sisters. Only Fred, born in 1850, was younger than WG.
Grace's parents and his uncle Alfred Pocock shared a passionate enthusiasm for cricket. In 1850, when WG was two and Fred was expected, the family moved to a nearby house called "The Chesnuts" which had a sizeable orchard and Henry Grace organised clearance of this to establish a practice pitch that was to become famous throughout the world of cricket. All nine children in the Grace family, including the four daughters, were encouraged to play cricket although the girls, along with the dogs, were required for fielding only. WG claimed that he first handled a cricket bat at the age of two. It was in the Downend orchard and as members of their local cricket clubs that he and his brothers developed their skills, mainly under the tutelage of Alfred Pocock, who was an exceptional coach.
Apart from his cricket and his schooling, Grace lived the life of a country boy and roamed freely with the other village boys. One of his regular activities was stone throwing at birds in the fields and he later claimed that this was the source of his eventual skill as an outfielder.
Grace was "notoriously unscholarly". His first schooling was with a Miss Trotman in Downend village and then with a Mr Curtis of Winterbourne. He subsequently attended a day school called Rudgway House, run by a Mr Malpas, until he was fourteen. One of his schoolmasters, David Barnard, later married Grace's sister Alice. In 1863, following Grace's serious illness with pneumonia, his father removed him from Rudgway House and he continued his education at home where one of his tutors was the Reverend John Dann, who was the Downend parish church curate. Like Mr Barnard before him, Mr Dann became Grace's brother-in-law, marrying Blanche Grace in 1869.
Grace never went to university as his father was intent upon him pursuing a medical career. But Grace was approached by both Oxford University and Cambridge University. In 1866, when he played a match at Oxford, one of the Oxford players, E. S. Carter, tried to interest him in becoming an undergraduate. Then, in 1868, Grace received overtures from Caius College, Cambridge, which had a long medical tradition. Grace said he would have gone to either Oxford or Cambridge if his father had allowed it. Instead, he enrolled at Bristol Medical School in October 1868, when he was 20.
Adult and professional life
Despite living in London for many years, W. G. Grace never lost his Gloucestershire accent. His entire life, including his cricket and medical careers, is inseparable from his close-knit family background which was strongly influenced by his father Henry Grace, who set great store by qualifications and was determined to succeed. He passed this attitude on to each of his five sons. Therefore, like his father and his brothers, WG chose a professional career in medicine, though because of his cricketing commitments he did not complete his qualification as a doctor until 1879 when he was 31 years old. He began his medical training at Bristol Medical School in 1867 and afterwards trained at St Bartholomew's Hospital and Westminster Hospital Medical School, both in London.
Grace was married on 9 October 1873 to Agnes Nicholls Day (1853–1930), who was the daughter of his first cousin William Day. Two weeks later, they began their honeymoon by taking ship to Australia for Grace's 1873–74 tour. They returned from the tour in May 1874 with Agnes six months pregnant. Their eldest son William Gilbert junior (1874–1905) was born on 6 July. Grace had to catch up with his studies at Bristol Medical School and he and his wife and son lived at Downend until February 1875 with his mother, brother Fred and sister Fanny.
The Graces moved to London in February 1875 when WG was assigned to St Bartholomew's Hospital and lived in an Earl's Court apartment, about five miles from the hospital. Their second son Henry Edgar (1876–1937) was born in London in July 1876. A ward in the Queen Elizabeth II Wing at St Bartholomew's still bears the name W. G. Grace Ward, caring for patients recovering from cardiothoracic surgery.
In the autumn of 1877, the family moved back to Gloucestershire where they lived with Grace's elder brother Henry, who was a general practitioner. Grace's studies had reached a crucial point with a theoretical backlog to catch up followed by his final practical session. Agnes became pregnant again at this time and their third child Bessie (1878–98) was born in May 1878.
Following the 1878 season, Grace was assigned to Westminster Hospital for his final year of medical practice and this curtailed his cricket for a time as he did not play in the 1879 season until June. The family moved back to London and lived at Acton. But the upheaval was worthwhile because, in November 1879, Grace finally received his diploma from the University of Edinburgh, having qualified as a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians (LRCP) and became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS).
After qualifying he worked both in his own practice at 51, Stapleton Road in Easton, a largely poor district of Bristol, employing two locums during the cricket season, and for the Bristol Poor Law Union. There are many testimonies from his patients that he was a good doctor, for example: "Poor families knew that they did not need to worry about calling him in, as the bills would never arrive". The family lived at four different addresses close to the practice over the next twenty years and their fourth and last child Charles Butler (1882–1938) was born.
After leaving Gloucestershire in 1900, the Graces lived in Mottingham, a south-east London suburb, not far from the Crystal Palace where he played for London County, or from Eltham where he played club cricket in his sixties. A blue plaque marks their residence, 'Fairmont', in Mottingham Lane.
Grace endured a number of tragedies in his life beginning with the death of his father in December 1871. He was badly upset by the early death of his younger brother Fred in 1880, only two weeks after he, WG and EM had all played in a Test for England against Australia. In July 1884, Grace's rival A N Hornby stopped play in a Lancashire v Gloucestershire match at Old Trafford so that EM and WG could return home on receipt of a cable reporting the death of Mrs Martha Grace at the age of 72. The greatest tragedy of Grace's life was the loss of his daughter Bessie in 1898, aged only 20, from typhoid. She had been his favourite child. Then, in February 1905, his eldest son WG junior died of appendicitis at the age of 30.
In August 1914, soon after the First World War began, Grace wrote a letter to The Sportsman in which he called for the immediate closure of the county cricket season and for all first-class cricketers to set an example and serve their country. Grace was distressed by the war and was known to shake his fist and shout at the German Zeppelins floating over his home in South London. When H.D.G. Leveson-Gower remonstrated that he had not allowed fast bowlers to unsettle him, Grace retorted: "I could see those beggars; I can't see these."
W. G. Grace died on 23 October 1915, aged 67, after suffering a heart attack. His death "shook the nation almost as much as Winston Churchill's fifty years later". He is buried in the family grave at Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery, Kent.
Importance of his family
Henry Grace, WG's father, founded Mangotsfield Cricket Club in 1845 to represent several neighbouring villages including Downend, where the Grace family resided. In 1846, this club merged with the West Gloucestershire Cricket Club whose name was adopted until 1867. It has been said that the Grace family ran the West Gloucestershire "almost as a private club". Henry Grace managed to organise matches against Lansdown Cricket Club in Bath, which was the premier West Country club. West Gloucestershire fared poorly in these games and, sometime in the 1850s, Henry and Alfred Pocock decided to join Lansdown, although they continued to run the West Gloucestershire and this remained their primary club.
Alfred Pocock was especially instrumental in coaching the Grace brothers and spent long hours with them on the practice pitch at Downend. EM, who was seven years older than WG, had always played with a full size bat and so developed a tendency, that he never lost, to hit across the line, the bat being too big for him to "play straight". Pocock recognised this problem and determined that WG and his youngest brother Fred should not follow suit. He therefore fashioned smaller bats for them, to suit their sizes, and they were taught to play straight and "learn defence, with the left shoulder well forward", before attempting to hit.
WG recorded that he saw his first great cricket match in 1854 when he was barely six years old, the occasion being a game between William Clarke's All-England Eleven and twenty-two of West Gloucestershire.
It was through Grace's elder brother EM that the family name first became famous. His mother, Martha, wrote the following in a letter to Clarke's successor George Parr in 1860 or 1861:
"I am writing to ask you to consider the inclusion of my son, E. M. Grace – a splendid hitter and most excellent catch – in your England XI. I am sure he would play very well and do the team much credit. It may interest you to learn that I have another son (i.e., WG), now twelve years of age, who will in time be a much better player than his brother because his back stroke is sounder, and he always plays with a straight bat".
WG was just short of his thirteenth birthday when, on 5 July 1861, he made his debut for Lansdown and played two matches that month. EM had made his debut in 1857, aged sixteen. In August, WG made his debut for West Gloucestershire, playing against Lansdown at Sydenham Field in Bath.
In August 1862, Grace played for West Gloucestershire against a Devonshire team. A year later, following "a dangerous bout of pneumonia" that left him bed-ridden for several weeks, he returned to score 52 not out and took 6 for 43 against a Somerset XI. It was following this illness that Grace grew rapidly to his full height of 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m). He was one of four family members who played for Bristol and Didcot XVIII against the All-England Eleven in August 1863. He bowled well and scored 32 off the bowling of John Jackson, George Tarrant and Cris Tinley. EM took ten wickets in the match, which Bristol and Didcot won by an innings, and the outcome of that was that EM was invited to tour Australia a few months later with George Parr's England team.
In July 1864, Grace was invited to play for the South Wales Club which had arranged a series of matches in London and Sussex. He replaced EM, who was still in Australia. This was the first time that Grace left the West Country and he made his debut appearances at both Lord's and The Oval. The tour was a great success for Grace, who celebrated his sixteenth birthday while the team was in Kent. The highlight was his performance against the Gentlemen of Sussex at Hove where he scored 170 and 56 not out.
His name now well known in cricketing circles, Grace made his first-class debut for Gentlemen of the South v Players of the South in June 1865 when he was still only 16 but already 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) tall and weighing 11 st (70 kg). He bowled extremely well and had match figures of 13 for 84. It was this performance that earned him his first selection for the prestigious Gentlemen v Players fixture.
Gentlemen versus Players
Grace represented the Gentlemen in their matches against the Players from 1865 to 1906. It was he who enabled the amateurs to meet the paid professionals on level terms and to defeat them more often than not. His ability to master fast bowling was the key factor. Before Grace's debut in the fixture, the Gentlemen had lost 19 consecutive games; of the next 39 games they won 27 and lost only 4. In consecutive innings against the Players from 1871 to 1873, Grace scored 217, 77 and 112, 117, 163, 158 and 70. In his whole career, he scored a record 15 centuries in the fixture.
Grace's 1865 debut in the fixture did not turn the tide as the Players won at The Oval by 118 runs. He played quite well and took seven wickets in the match but could only score 23 and 12 not out. In the second 1865 match, this time at Lord's, the Gentlemen finally ended their losing streak and won by 8 wickets, but it was E M Grace, not WG, who was the key factor with 11 wickets in the match. Even so, WG made his mark by scoring 34 out of 77-2 in the second innings to steer the Gentlemen to victory.
Grace establishes his reputation
Just after his eighteenth birthday in July 1866, Grace confirmed his potential once and for all when he scored 224 not out for All-England against Surrey at The Oval. Grace was a fine athlete and an example of his physical fitness was his 440 yards hurdles victory in the National and Olympian Association meeting at Crystal Palace the day after his long innings at The Oval. He was thenceforward the biggest name in cricket and the main spectator attraction. As Harry Altham records, from then on "the successes came thick and fast".
Although photographs of Grace in later life reveal that he was rather corpulent, he was a fit athlete in his younger days, as his feats in 1866 confirm. At his peak, he was 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) tall and usually weighed about 12 st (76 kg). A non-smoker, he kept himself in condition all year round by shooting, hunting or running with the beagles as soon as the cricket season was over.
Grace was out of the game for much of the 1867 season due to illness and injury. He scored 134, all run, out of 201 for the Gentlemen at Lord's in 1868 and said later that it was "my finest innings" as the pitch was playing "queerly". Soon afterwards, he scored two centuries in a match for South v North, only the second time in cricket history that this had been done, following William Lambert in 1817.
The highest wicket partnership involving Grace was 283 runs for the first wicket with B B Cooper for the Gentlemen of the South v the Players of the South at The Oval in 1869. Grace scored 180 and Cooper 101. He scored nine centuries in 1869, the year of his 21st birthday, and in 1870 he scored 215 for the Gentlemen which was the first time anyone scored a double century in the Gentlemen v Players fixture.
Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was particularly keen to recruit Grace and, in 1869, he became a member after being proposed by the treasurer and seconded by the secretary Robert Allan Fitzgerald. Grace wore MCC colours for the rest of his career and their red and yellow hooped cap became as synonymous with him as his large black beard. Grace played for MCC on an expenses only basis but any hopes that the premier club had of keeping him firmly within the amateur ranks would soon be disappointed for his services were in much demand. Grace first played for MCC at Lord's in May 1869 against the official South, which consisted mainly of his future United South of England Eleven (USEE) colleagues. The South won by an innings and 17 runs. He continued to play for MCC on an irregular basis until 1904.
United South of England Eleven
The USEE had been formed by Ned Willsher in 1865 but the heyday of the travelling teams was over and their organisers were desperate to feature new attractions. Grace joined the United South in 1870 as its match organiser, for which he received payment, but he played for expenses only. He made his debut for the USEE in July 1870 against the United North of England Eleven at Lord's, but his team was well beaten by an innings. The United South survived until 1882 and was the last of the great travelling elevens to fold, its longevity due to Grace's involvement.
Gloucestershire County Cricket Club
Also in 1870, Gloucestershire was founded and immediately acquired first-class status when its team played against Surrey at Durdham Down near Bristol on 2, 3 & 4 June 1870. With Grace and his brothers EM and Fred playing, Gloucestershire won that game and quickly became one of the best teams in England. The club was rated Champion County in 1874, 1876 and 1877 as well as sharing the title in 1873.
The Grace family "ran the show" at Gloucestershire and EM was chosen as secretary which, as Birley points out, "put him in charge of expenses, a source of scandal that was to surface before the end of the decade". WG, though aged only 21, was from the start the team captain and Birley puts this down to his commercial drawing power. It was at this time, "scorning the puny modern fashion of moustaches", that he grew the enormous black beard that made him so recognisable. In addition, his "ample girth" had developed for he weighed 15st. in his early twenties. Grace was a non-smoker but he enjoyed good food and wine; many years later, when discussing the overheads incurred during Lord Sheffield's profitless tour of Australia in 1891–92, Arthur Shrewsbury commented: "I told you what wine would be drunk by the amateurs; Grace himself would drink enough to swim a ship".
1871 – Annus mirabilis
According to Altham, 1871 was Grace's annus mirabilis, except that he produced another outstanding year in 1895. In all first-class matches in 1871, a total of 17 centuries were scored and Grace accounted for 10 of them, including the first century in a first-class match at Trent Bridge. He averaged 78.25 and the next best average by a batsman playing more than a single innings was 39.57, barely more than half his figure. His aggregate for the season was 2,739; Harry Jupp was next best with 1,068. The year was marred by the death of his father in December and, as he was still a medical student only, Grace had to increase his involvement with the United South XI to cover the family's loss of income.
1872 tour of North America
Grace made three overseas tours during his career. The first was to the United States and Canada in early 1872, with R A Fitzgerald's team. The expenses of this tour were paid by the Montreal Club. Grace and his all-amateur colleagues made "short work of the weak teams" they faced.
Records broken and the first "double"
Grace became the first batsman to score a century before lunch in a first-class match when he made 134 for Gentlemen of the South versus Players of the South at The Oval in 1873. In the same season, he became the first player ever to complete the "double" of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in a season. Grace's best season as a bowler was 1875 when he took 191 wickets. He also scored 1,498 runs to complete his third double and he went on to do that eight times in all:
- 1873 – 2,139 runs and 106 wickets
- 1874 – 1,664 runs and 140 wickets
- 1875 – 1,498 runs and 191 wickets
- 1876 – 2,622 runs and 129 wickets
- 1877 – 1,474 runs and 179 wickets
- 1878 – 1,151 runs and 152 wickets
- 1885 – 1,688 runs and 117 wickets
- 1886 – 1,846 runs and 122 wickets
1873–74 tour of Australia
Grace visited Australia in 1873–74 as captain of "W. G. Grace's XI". On the morning of the team's departure from Southampton, Grace responded to well-wishers by saying that his team "had a duty to perform to maintain the honour of English cricket, and to uphold the high character of English cricketers". But both his and the team's performance fell well short of this goal. The tour was not a success and the only positive outcome was the fact of the tour having taken place, ten years after the previous one, as it "gave Australian cricket a much needed fillip". Most of the problems lay with Grace himself and his "overbearing personality" which quickly exhausted all personal goodwill towards him. There was also bad feeling within the team itself because Grace, who normally got on well with professional players, enforced the class divide throughout the tour. In terms of results, the team fared reasonably well following a poor start in which they were beaten by both Victoria and New South Wales. They played 15 matches in all but none are recognised as first-class.
1874 and 1875 seasons
Grace's team landed in England on 18 May 1874 and he was quickly back into domestic cricket. The 1874 season was very successful for him as he completed a second successive double, scoring 1,664 runs and taking 140 wickets, and he led Gloucestershire to its first Champion County title. Another good season followed in 1875 when he again completed the double with 1,498 runs and 191 wickets.
1876 and 1877 seasons
One of the most outstanding phases of Grace's career occurred in the 1876 season, beginning with his career highest score of 344 for MCC v Kent at Canterbury in August. Two days after his innings at Canterbury, he made 177 for Gloucestershire v Nottinghamshire; and two days after that 318 not out for Gloucestershire v Yorkshire, these two innings against counties with exceptionally strong bowling attacks. Thus, in three consecutive innings, Grace scored 839 runs and was only out twice. His innings of 344 was the first triple century scored in first-class cricket and broke the record for the highest individual score in all classes of cricket, previously held by William Ward who made 278 in 1820. Ward's record had stood for 56 years and, within a week, Grace bettered it twice. Grace scored a then-record 2,622 runs in the 1876 season and completed another double with 129 wickets, while Gloucestershire won the championship title for the second time.
In 1877, Gloucestershire won the championship for the third and (to date) final time, largely thanks to another outstanding season by Grace who scored 1,474 runs and took 179 wickets.
The first Australian team to tour England arrived in May 1878 and, at Lord's on 27 May, took part in one of the most famous matches of all time when they defeated a strong MCC team, including Grace, by nine wickets. The match was scheduled for three days but was completed in one. MCC were dismissed during the morning session for 33, Grace having scored 4, and then the Australians were themselves bowled out for 41. In the second innings, Grace was clean bowled by Fred Spofforth without scoring and MCC were all out for only 19, the Australians needing 12 to win. The match caused a sensation with the crowd rapidly increasing through the day as news spread.
The Australians came down like a wolf on the fold,
The Marylebone cracks for a trifle were bowled;
Our Grace before dinner was very soon done,
And Grace after dinner did not get a run.
There was bad feeling between Grace and some of the 1878 Australians, especially their manager John Conway; this came to a head on 20 June in a row over the services of Grace's friend Billy Midwinter, an Australian who had played for Gloucestershire in 1877. Midwinter was already in England before the main Australian party arrived and had joined them for their first match in May. On 20 June, Midwinter was at Lord's where he was due to play for the Australians against Middlesex. On the same day, the Gloucestershire team was at The Oval to play Surrey but arrived a man short. As a result, a group of Gloucestershire players led by WG and EM went to Lord's and persuaded Midwinter to accompany them back to The Oval to make up their numbers. They were pursued by three of the Australians who caught them at The Oval gates where a furious altercation ensued in front of bystanders. At one point, WG called the Australians "a damned lot of sneaks" (he later apologised). In the end, Grace got his way and Midwinter stayed with Gloucestershire for the rest of the season, although he did not play for the county against the Australians. Afterwards, the row was patched up and Gloucestershire invited the Australians to play the county team, minus Midwinter, at Clifton College. The Australians took a measure of revenge and won easily by 10 wickets, with Spofforth taking 12 wickets and making the top score. It was Gloucestershire's first ever home defeat.
In other matches that season, Gloucestershire made its first visit to Old Trafford Cricket Ground in July to play Lancashire and this was the match immortalised by Francis Thompson in his idyllic poem At Lord's. In a match against Surrey at Clifton, the ball lodged in Grace's shirt after he had played it and he seized the opportunity to complete several runs before the fielders forced him to stop. He disingenuously claimed that he would have been out handled the ball if he had removed it and, following a discussion, it was agreed that three runs should be awarded.
Despite his troubles in 1878, it was another good season for him on the field as he completed a sixth successive double with 1,151 runs and 152 wickets.
Following the 1878 season, Grace was assigned to Westminster Hospital for his final year of medical practice and this curtailed his cricket for a time as he did not play in the 1879 season until June. He finally qualified as a doctor in November 1879. Meanwhile, the events at The Oval had a postscript in January 1879 when WG and EM were called to account by the Gloucestershire membership because of the expenses they had claimed from Surrey for that match, and which Surrey had refused to authorise. But, although their ears burned and EM had to comply with some new rules imposed by a finance committee, little changed and they continued very much as before.
Grace's amateur status
The enquiry at Gloucestershire took place in January 1879. WG and EM were forced to answer charges that they had claimed "exorbitant expenses", one of the few times that their money-making activity was seriously challenged. The Graces managed to survive "a protracted and stormy meeting" with EM retaining his key post as club secretary, although he was forced to liaise in future with a new finance committee and abide by stricter rules.
The incident highlighted an ongoing issue about the nominal amateur status of the Grace brothers. The amateur was, by definition, not a professional and the dictum of the amateur-dominated Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was that "a gentleman ought not to make any profit from playing cricket". Like all amateur players, they claimed expenses for travel and accommodation to and from cricket matches, but there is plenty of evidence that the Graces made rather more money by playing than their basic expenses would allow and WG in particular "made more than any professional". However, in his later years he had to pay for a locum tenens to run his medical practice while he was playing cricket and he had a reputation for treating his poorer patients without charging a fee. He was paid a salary for his roles as secretary and manager of the London County club. He was the recipient of two national testimonials. The first was presented to him by Lord Fitzhardinge at Lord's on 22 July 1879 in the form of a marble clock, two bronze ornaments and a cheque for £1,458. The second, collected by MCC, the county of Gloucestershire, the Daily Telegraph and The Sportsman, amounted to £9,703 and was presented to him in 1896 in appreciation of his "Indian Summer" season of 1895.
Whatever criticisms may be made of Grace for making money for himself out of cricket, he was "punctilious in his aid when (professional players) were the beneficiaries". For example, when Alfred Shaw's benefit match in 1879 was ruined by rain, Grace insisted on donating to Shaw the proceeds of another match that had been arranged to support Grace's own testimonial fund. After the same thing happened to Ned Willsher's benefit match, Grace took a select team to play Kent a few days later, the proceeds all going to Willsher. On another occasion, he altered the date of a Gloucestershire match so that he could travel to Sheffield and take part in a Yorkshire player's benefit match, knowing full well the impact that his appearance would have on the gate. As John Arlott recorded, "it was no uncommon sight to see outside a cricket ground":
If W. G. Grace plays
Grace and his brother Fred faced financial difficulty after their father died in December 1871 as they were still living with their mother who had been left just enough to retain the family home. As medical students, they faced considerable outlay in addition to their living expenses and it became imperative for them to make what they could out of cricket, especially the United South of England Eleven. Grace as its match organiser had to find gaps in the first-class fixture list and then pull together a team to visit a location where a suitable profit could be made. It has been estimated that the standard fee paid to the USEE was £100 for a three-day match with £5 each going to the nine professionals in the team and the other £45 to WG and Fred: a sizeable amount in 1872 when £100 was perhaps the equivalent of £3000-plus at the end of the 20th century. Otherwise, Grace played for expenses but these were loaded as, for example, he is known to have claimed £15 per appearance for Gloucestershire and £20 for representing the Gentlemen. Although the money he was paid is "small beer" compared with 21st century sports stars, there is no doubt he had a comfortable living out of cricket and made far more money than any contemporary professional.
Medical practice takes priority
Grace missed a large part of the 1879 season because he was doing the final practical for his medical qualification and, for the first time since 1869, he did not complete 1000 runs, though he did succeed in taking 105 wickets.
Having qualified as a doctor in November 1879, Grace had to give priority to his new practice in Bristol for the next five years. As a result, his cricket sometimes had to be set aside and in 1883 he missed a Gentlemen v Players match for the first time since 1867. He had other troubles including a serious bout of mumps in 1882 and injury problems in 1884. He never topped the seasonal batting averages in the 1880s and from 1879 to 1882, he did not complete 1000 runs in the season.
Decline of Gloucestershire
In addition, Gloucestershire had declined following its heady success in the 1870s. One of the reasons was the early death of WG's younger brother Fred from pneumonia in 1880, there being a view that "the county was never quite the same without him". Apart from WG himself, the only players of Fred Grace's calibre at this time were the leading professionals. Unlike the south-east and northern counties, Gloucestershire had neither the large home gates nor the necessary funds that could have secured the services of good quality professionals. This was at a time when a new generation of professionals was appearing with the likes of Billy Gunn, Maurice Read and Arthur Shrewsbury. As a result, Gloucestershire fell away in county competition and could no longer match Nottinghamshire, Surrey and Lancashire who had the strongest sides in the 1880s.
Test cricket began in 1877 when Grace was already 28 and he made his debut in 1880, scoring England's first-ever Test century against Australia. He played for England in 22 Tests through the 1880s and 1890s, all of them against Australia, and was an automatic selection for England at home, but his only Test-playing tour of Australia was that of 1891–92.
His most significant Test was England v Australia in 1882 at The Oval. Thanks to Spofforth who took 14 wickets in the match, Australia won by 7 runs and the legend of The Ashes was born immediately afterwards. Grace scored only 4 and 32 but he has been held responsible for "firing up" Spofforth. This came about through a typical piece of gamesmanship by Grace when he effected an unsporting, albeit legal, run out of Sammy Jones.
1883 to 1890
Grace had a good season with the bat in 1883 when he scored 1,762 runs but his best return in the decade was 2,062 runs in 1887 with six centuries. In 1888, he scored two centuries in one match v Yorkshire (148 and 153) and labelled this "my champion match".
He achieved his career-best bowling analysis of 10/49 when playing for MCC against Oxford University at The Parks in 1886; and he scored 104 in his only innings to complete a rare "match double". 1886 was the last time he took 100 wickets in a season and he became an occasional bowler only from 1889.
The highest Test wicket partnership involving Grace was at The Oval in 1886 when he and William Scotton scored 170 for the first wicket against Australia. Grace's own score was also 170 and was the highest in his Test career.
1891 to 1895
Injury problems, particularly a bad knee, took their toll in the early 1890s and Grace had his worst season in 1891 when he scored no centuries and could only average 19.76. Even so, few doubted that he should captain England in Australia the following winter when he led Lord Sheffield's team to Australia in 1891–92. Australia, led by Jack Blackham, won the three-match series 2–1.
1895 – The Indian Summer
Grace rallied somewhat during the next three seasons, despite continuing problems at Gloucestershire, and then, against all expectation, produced in 1895 a season that has been called his "Indian Summer". He completed his hundredth century playing for Gloucestershire against Somerset in May. Charles Townsend, his batting partner when he reached the milestone, said that as he approached his hundred: "This was the one and only time I ever saw him flustered..." Eventually Sammy Woods bowled a full toss which Grace drove for four to reach his century. He then went on to score 1,000 runs in the month, the first time this had ever been done, with scores of 13, 103, 18, 25, 288, 52, 257, 73 not out, 18 and 169 totalling 1,016 runs between 9 and 30 May. His aggregate for the whole season was 2,346 at an average of 51.00 with nine centuries.
1896 to 1899
An oft-repeated story about Grace is that, in 1896, the Australian pace bowler Ernie Jones bowled a short-pitched delivery so close to his face that it appeared to go through the famous beard which made him so instantly recognisable. Grace reportedly reacted by demanding of Australian captain Harry Trott: "Here, what's all this?" Trott said to Jones: "Steady, Jonah". To which Jones laconically replied: "Sorry, doctor, she slipped". There are multiple variations of the story and, although some sources have recorded that the incident happened in a Test match, there is little doubt that the game in question was the tour opener at Sheffield Park. This is separately confirmed by C. B. Fry and Stanley Jackson who were both playing in the match, Jackson batting with Grace at the time.
By the time of his fiftieth birthday in July 1898, Grace had developed a somewhat corpulent figure and had lost his former agility, which meant he was no longer a capable fielder. He remained a very good batsman and at need a useful slow bowler, but he was clearly entering the twilight of his career and was now generally referred to as "The Old Man". As a special occasion, the MCC committee arranged the 1898 Gentlemen v Players match to coincide with his fiftieth birthday and he celebrated the event by scoring 43 and 31 not out, though handicapped by lameness and an injured hand.
In 1898, Grace received an invitation from the Crystal Palace Company in London to help them form the London County club. Grace accepted the offer and became the club's secretary, manager and captain with an annual salary of £600. As a result, he severed his connection with Gloucestershire during the 1899 season.
End of Grace's Test career
Grace captained England in the First Test of the 1899 series against Australia at Trent Bridge, when he was 51. By this time his bulk had made him a liability in the field and, afterwards, realising his limitations all too clearly, he decided to stand down and surrendered both his place and the captaincy to Archie MacLaren. It is evident that Grace "plotted" his own omission from the England team by asking Fry, another selector who had arrived late for their meeting, if he thought that MacLaren should play in the Second Test. Fry answered: "Yes, I do." "That settles it", said Grace, and he promptly retired from international cricket.
London County Cricket Club
Having ended his international career, Grace then began the last phase of his overall first-class career when he joined the new London County club, based at Crystal Palace Park, which played first-class matches between 1900 and 1904. Grace's presence initially attracted other leading players into the team, including Fry, Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji and Johnny Douglas, but the increased importance of the County Championship, combined with Grace's inevitable decline in form and the lack of a competitive element in London's matches, led to reduced attendances and consequently the club lost money. Nevertheless, Grace remained an attraction and could still produce good performances. As late as 1902, though aged 54 by the end of the season, he scored 1187 runs in first-class cricket, with two centuries, at an average of 37.09. But London's final first-class matches were played in 1904 and the enterprise folded in 1908.
Grace last played at Lord's for the Gentlemen in 1899 but he continued to play for the team at other venues for the next few seasons, until the game in July 1906 at The Oval. He made his 880th and final first-class appearance on 20–22 April 1908 for the Gentlemen of England v Surrey at The Oval, where, opening the innings, he scored 15 and 25. His first-class career had lasted 44 seasons from 1865 to 1908 and equalled the record for the longest career span held by John Sherman, who played from 1809 to 1852.
Grace's last game of minor cricket was for Eltham Cricket Club at Grove Park on 25 July 1914, a week after his 66th birthday. He contributed an undefeated 69 to a total of 155-6 declared, having begun his innings when they were 31-4. Grove Park made 99-8 in reply.
Style and technique
Grace's approach to cricket
Grace himself had much to say about how to play cricket in his two books Cricket (1891) and Reminiscences (1899), which were both ghost-written. His fundamental opinion was that cricketers are "not born" but must be nurtured to develop their skills through coaching and practice; in his own case, he had achieved his skill through constant practice as a boy at home under the tutelage of his uncle Alfred Pocock.
Although the work ethic was of prime importance in his development, Grace insisted that cricket must also be enjoyable and freely admitted that his family all played in a way that was "noisy and boisterous" with much "chaff" (i.e., a Victorian term for teasing). WG and EM in particular were noted throughout their careers for being noisy and boisterous on the field. They were extremely competitive and always playing to win. Sometimes this went to extremes (e.g., on one occasion at school, EM was so upset about a decision going against him that he went home and took the stumps with him) and developed into the gamesmanship for which EM and WG were always controversial.
It was because of gamesmanship and insistence on his rights, as he saw them, that Grace never enjoyed good relations with Australians in general, though he had personal friends like Billy Midwinter and Billy Murdoch. In 1874, an Australian newspaper wrote: "We in Australia did not take kindly to WG. For so big a man, he is surprisingly tenacious on very small points. We thought him too apt to wrangle in the spirit of a duo-decimo lawyer over small points of the game".
But he was just the same in England and even his long-term friend Lord Harris agreed that "his gamesmanship added to the fund of stories about him". The point was that Grace "approached cricket as if he were fighting a small war" and he was "out to win at all costs". The Australians understood this twenty years later when Joe Darling, touring England for the first time in 1896, said: "We were all told not to trust the Old Man as he was out to win every time and was a great bluffer".
With regard to Grace's batsmanship, C. L. R. James held that the best analysis of his style and technique was written by another top-class batsman, Ranjitsinhji, in his Jubilee Book of Cricket (co-written with C. B. Fry). Ranjitsinhji wrote that, by his extraordinary skills, Grace "revolutionised cricket and developed most of the techniques of modern batting". Before him, batsmen would play either forward or back and make a speciality of a certain stroke. Grace "made utility the criterion of style" and incorporated both forward and back play into his repertoire of strokes, favouring only that which was appropriate to the ball being delivered at the moment. In an oft-quoted phrase, Ranjitsinhji said of Grace that "he turned the old one-stringed instrument (i.e., the cricket bat) into a many-chorded lyre". He ended by saying that "the theory of modern batting is in all essentials the result of WG's thinking and working on the game".
But Grace's extraordinary skill had already been recognised very early in his career, especially by the professional bowlers. A very prescient comment was made by the laconic Yorkshire and England fast bowler Tom Emmett who, after playing against Grace for the first time in 1869, called him a "nonesuch" who "ought to be made to play with a littler bat".
Altham pointed out that for most of Grace's career, he played on pitches that "the modern schoolboy would consider unfit for a house match" and on grounds without boundaries where every hit including those "into the country" had to be run in full. Rowland Bowen records that 1895, the year of Grace's "Indian Summer", was the season in which marl was first used as a binding agent in the composition of English pitches, its benefit being to ensure "good lasting wickets".
It was through Alfred Pocock's perseverance that Grace had learned to play straight and to develop a sound defence so that he would stop or leave the good deliveries and score off the poor ones. This contrasted him with EM who was "always a hitter" and whose basic defence was not as sound. However, as Grace's skills developed, he became a very powerful hitter himself with a full range of shots and, at his best, would score runs freely. Despite being an all-rounder, Grace was also an opening batsman.
Grace originally bowled at a fastish medium pace but in the 1870s he adopted a slower style which utilised a leg break. The chief feature of his bowling was the excellent length which he consistently maintained. He put very little break on the ball, just enough to bring it across from the batsman's legs to the wicket. He was unusual in persisting with a roundarm action throughout his career, when almost all other bowlers adopted the new overarm style.
In his prime, Grace was noted for his outstanding fielding and was a very strong thrower of the ball; he was once credited with throwing the cricket ball 122 yards during an athletics event at Eastbourne. He attributed this skill to his country-bred childhood in which stone throwing at crows was a daily exercise. In later life, Grace commented upon a decline in English fielding standards and blamed it on "the falling numbers of country-bred boys who strengthen their arms by throwing stones at birds in the fields".
Much of Grace's success as a bowler was due to his magnificent fielding to his own bowling; as soon as he had delivered the ball he covered so much ground to the left that he made himself into an extra mid-off and he took some extraordinary catches in this way. In his early career, Grace generally fielded at long-leg or cover-point; later he was usually at point. In his prime, he was a fine thrower, a fast runner and a safe catcher.
Honours and legacy
As well as "The Doctor" and "The Old Man", Grace was most auspiciously nicknamed "The Champion". He was first acclaimed as "the Champion Cricketer" by Lillywhite's Companion in recognition of his exploits in 1871.
Following his "Indian Summer" in 1895, Grace was the sole recipient of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year award for 1896, the first of only three times that Wisden has restricted the award to a single player, there being normally five recipients.
In the Jubilee Book of Cricket that was published by Fry and Ranjitsinhji in 1897, Ranjitsinhji said of Grace:
I hold him to be not only the finest player born or unborn, but the maker of modern batting.
The preface to MCC's Memorial Biography, published in 1919, begins with this passage:
Never was such a band of cricketers gathered for any tour as has assembled to do honour to the greatest of all players in the present Memorial Biography. That such a volume should go forth under the auspices of the Committee of MCC is in itself unique in the history of the game, and that such an array of cricketers, critics and enthusiasts should pay tribute to its finest exponent has no parallel in any other branch of sport. In itself this presents a noble monument of what W. G. Grace was, a testimony to his prowess and to his personality.
In 1923, the W. G. Grace Memorial Gates were erected at the St John's Wood Road entrance to Lord's. They were designed by Sir Herbert Baker and the opening ceremony was performed by Sir Stanley Jackson, who had suggested the inclusion of the words The Great Cricketer in the dedication.
In many of the tributes paid to Grace, he was referred to as "The Great Cricketer". Harry Altham, for one, described him as "the greatest of all cricketers". John Arlott summarised him as "timeless" and "the greatest (cricketer) of them all". The anti-establishment writer C. L. R. James, in his classic work Beyond a Boundary, included a section "WG: Pre-Eminent Victorian", containing four chapters and covering some sixty pages. He declared Grace "the best-known Englishman of his time" and aligned him with Thomas Arnold and Thomas Hughes as "the three most eminent Victorians". James wrote of cricket as "the game he (Grace) transformed into a national institution". Simon Rae also commented upon Grace's eminence in Victorian England by saying that his public recognition was equalled only by Queen Victoria herself and William Ewart Gladstone.
Derek Birley, who devoted whole passages of his book to criticism of Grace's gamesmanship and moneymaking, wrote that the "bleakness (of the war) was exemplified in November (sic) 1915 by the death of WG, which seemed depressingly emblematic of the end of an era". Rowland Bowen wrote that "many of Grace's achievements would be rated extremely good by our standards" but "by the standards of his day they were phenomenal: nothing like them had ever been done before".
In the 1963 edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, Grace was selected by Neville Cardus as one the Six Giants of the Wisden Century. This was a special commemorative selection requested by Wisden for its 100th edition. The other five players chosen were:
Cricket writer David Frith summed up Grace's legacy to cricket by writing that "his influence lasted long after his final appearance in first-class cricket in 1908 and his death in 1915". "For decades", wrote Frith, "Grace had been arguably the most famous man in England", easily recognisable because of "his beard and his bulk", and revered because of "his batsmanship". Even though his records have been overtaken, "his pre-eminence has not" and he remains "the most famous cricketer of them all", the one who "elevated the game in public esteem".
- Rae, p.16.
- Rae, p.11.
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- Midwinter, p.11-12.
- Rae, p.21-22.
- Rae, p.78.
- Rae mentions on page 3 of his book that Dr Henry Grace's medical qualifications were Licenciate of the Society of Apothecaries (LSA) in 1828 and Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) in 1830.
- List of wards at St Bartholomew's Hospital.
- Barts Museum Celebrates W. G. Grace Anniversary.
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- englishhistory.net – The Destruction of Sennacherib
- Altham, p.135.
- Bowen, p.130, says that Midwinter was still under a contractual obligation to Gloucestershire and that the Australian press had reported this before the team embarked.
- Midwinter, p.73.
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- Midwinter, pp.73-74.
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- Birley, p.137.
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- Rae, p.20.
- Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1916 – W. G. Grace's obituary.
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- In the famous poem At Lord's by Francis Thompson, Grace is hailed as "The Champion of the Centuries".
- Midwinter, p.34.
- Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1896.
- Birley, p.167.
- Arlott, p.1.
- Gordon, p.v.
- Lord's milestones – 1923.
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- James, ch.14.
- Rae, p.1.
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- Bowen, p.108.
- Six Giants of the Wisden Century, Neville Cardus, Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, 1963.
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