The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Wednesday, 31 August 2016


Larwood bowls to Bradman
In the early 1930s Australia's cricket team had some very impressive batsmen and the most feared of all was Don Bradman. With him playing it was pretty near impossible to beat the Aussies, so the English team invented a new form of bowling especially to beat the great man. It was called Bodyline, also known as fast leg bowling, and involved delivering the ball directly at the batsman on the line of leg stump. (That's the upright of the wicket that's closest to the batsman's leg.)

The tactic was seen as aggressive and threatening, and certainly 'not cricket, old man'. No-one was injured during the run up to the 1932 test series, but the Aussies saw the whole event as offensive, and feelings were running high. In the opening Test in Sydney England bowler Harold Larwood took 10 wickets using Bodyline.

Aussie captain Bill Woodfull refused to retaliate, saying he would never use tactics that would bring the game discredit. Australia won the second Test, much to the delight of the home nation.  But in the third Test in Adelaide Woodfull was hit in the chest by a ball from Larwood, and spent many minutes doubled over in pain. The crowd was incensed and a riot narrowly avoided. The next day a ball from Larwood, delivered conventionally, struck wicket keeper Bert Oldfield on the head, fracturing his skull.

Bradman at the wicket
An official row broke out, with Australia calling for an end to Bodyline bowling and saying it was dangerous,  and England claiming the tactic was not designed to injure anyone. England continued to use Bodyline for the remainder of the series and eventually won 4-1.

The row rumbled on, however, and in 1935 the MCC (cricket's ruling body) brought in new laws that meant captains had to play in the 'spirit of the game' and made it clear that Bodyline breached that spirit.

Indirectly, the 1932 debacle led to an increase in protective clothing worn by batsmen and wicket keepers. Threatening and body-close bowling is used in the modern game, but the consequences are less severe because of the armour.

So what made me choose this topic? Well, for reasons I won't go into, I had to be in Kirkby in Ashfield in Nottinghamshire this week, birthplace of Bodyline bowler Harold Larwood. The event is commemorated (if that's the right word) by a sculpture outside the town library.  A full length wicket (22 yards) with life-size figures in bronze.

For some reason Larwood emigrated to Australia in the 1950s where he was welcomed and even asked to commentate on matches between the two countries. He died, aged 90, in 1995

The sculpture was created by Neale Andrew and erected in 2002.

Anyone who knows anything about cricket will have realised by now that I don't know much. Apologies to those who understand it - and care about it. 

Monday, 29 August 2016


Entering the stumpery at Biddulph
A stumpery is a garden feature similar to a rockery, but made from the remains of dead trees. They have been a part of large and show gardens since Victorian times. The first was created in 1856 at Biddulph Grange, but they became popular after that and are still made today. Interestingly, within a fortnight of my visiting Biddulph I saw a second stumpery just a few miles down the road at Trentham Gardens. This one is modern, however, and nowhere near as large as the original.

Tree stumps and root systems, often collected from land clearance across a country estate, are piled up, or set into a wall, and secured with posts and metalwork to create an unusual, often unearthly, but effectively natural, structure.

The idea behind a stumpery is to create an attractive backdrop for greenery, and they are usually the home of ferns, mosses and lichens.  They rose to fashion at the same time as ferns were being introduced into English gardens, around the era of the Romantic Movement - the 'natural' backlash to the Industrial Revolution. Coincidentally they are also great places for wildlife, because the rotting wood attracts various insects, which attracts birds and small mammals, and so on.

More ferny stumps
The largest stumpery in Britain was constructed in 1980 by Prince Charles. (I always like that expression, when people say a member of the royals 'built' something. It's unlikely that he ever got his hands dirty - the gardeners would have followed his instructions - but he probably talks to the trees.) It's at his country home, Highgrove, and is a display area for hellebores and hostas.

If you fancy creating one in your own garden it's extremely possible and there are plenty of DIY helpers online. They suggest you can even use old railway sleepers if you can't get hold of dead tree roots. But wouldn't that be a sleepery?