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

Garden features: stumperies

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?


Wednesday, 24 August 2016


You can find some strange things in people's gardens. Mind you, the gardens at Biddulph Grange are quite strange in themselves. They were originally designed to hold the collections of renowned plantsman James Bateman (1811–1897), who owned the property. They were drawn up with the help of seascape artist Edward William Cooke, which might explain their completely unpredictable nature.

The grounds are divided into many sections that represent different species or even different areas of the world. The two most well known are China and Egypt. When you've paid your National Trust entrance fee you're handed a map and waved off on a voyage of exploration. Other than "this way to the tea shop" and "you can buy plants here" you'll find very little signage - so you're on your own - and you'll be passed many times by visitors who have their heads facing down to a rather bedraggled piece of paper, wandering endlessly and muttering "I know China's around here somewhere" or "I think it's supposed to be near Egypt".  Meanwhile they're missing the magnificent dahlias and the unearthly 'stumpery' or the very tall trees in the pinetum.

We can be sympathetic. Each of the miniature gardens is well hidden behind intervening rockeries, banks of topiary, or a myriad other kinds of feature that obscure, entrance, and otherwise distract from the original destination.

But I digress. I was planning to discuss the oddest thing (well - I thought it the oddest) to be found in the gardens, and that's a rather squat statue of a baboon that sits hunched inside the dark catacomb of a replica tomb in the Egypt garden.

Hamadryas baboons (Papio hamadryas) held a significant place in Egyptian society. They were often kept as pets, and there's some evidence that they could be trained to pick fruit, such as figs. This is gleaned from tomb paintings, so it's a matter of interpretation, but it's not unlikely. Since the earliest, pre-dynastic, era they were considered sacred and the god Baba might be how they came to get their name. They were admired for their intelligence and their lustfulness. I'm not sure I wanted to know that their faeces was used in aphrodisiac potions. (These Egyptians wrote everything inside their tombs because they needed all the trappings of life to survive on the 'other side'.) By the time of the Old Kingdom baboons were associated with the god Thoth, who controlled wisdom, science and measurement.

So it's not odd in itself that there's a baboon in the Egypt garden, but it's not the first Egyptian god that springs to mind. He sits in an alcove underground (I had to use a flash to get a decent photo.) with just a red skylight over his head to crack the darkness. A lot of people walked straight past him without noticing.

That's all of Biddulph I'm giving you for now. I might eke out its wonders over a few posts, because there's a lot of it.

Wikipedia ( and Ancient Egypt: the mythology ( for supporting information.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Who slept here?

Miles out in the wilds of Leicestershire, close to Coalville, is a lovely little village called Donington le Heath and the delightful manor house has recently undergone a transformation to turn it into The 1620s House. It has a pretty little garden (I'll return to that in a later post.) and a collection of authentic, but not necessarily original, furniture from the early 17th century.

This fine piece is known as King Dick's bed. It was brought to Donington from Leicester, where it stood for many years in the Blue Boar Inn. According to its previous owners it's the bed that Richard III slept in on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth. (Where he died for want of a horse and ended up buried under a council car park.) However, it's just the base and the rope supports that might have even a distant connection to the king. The canopy and tester all date from the mid 17th century. (And the curtains are only a couple of years old.)

Beds like this pre-date spring mattresses, of course, and bedding was supported on a web of ropes that could be adjusted by pulling hard on them from the sides. (You can see the loops in the photo.) This is supposedly the explanation of the expression "sleep tight".