Book review: Somerset Cricketers 1919-1939 by Stephen Hill & Barry Phillips

SOMERSET CRICKETERS 1919-1939 has been published by Halsgrove and has been available for a while now. But it’s a real gem of a book from a pair of writers who are working their way painstakingly through the lives of the men who’ve played cricket for Somerset. There are biographies of every player with an impressive collection of photographs and the book is jam-packed with interesting snippets. This one covers all the 124 players who appeared for the first time between the two World Wars. We’re introduced to them in chronological order of their debut.

Stephen Hill observes in conversation that he and co-writer Barry Phillips are more interested in understanding the lives of the players than reeling off cricketing statistics. Because of this, some of the great characters – people like Algie Bligh, an eccentric who used to go around exterminating wasps for a hobby in the Minehead area, or Punch Barlow, who built up a global business and helped to dismantle the Apartheid regime – are given as much prominence as international stars like Arthur Wellard, hero-worshipped in his heyday by schoolboys across the country. Stephen says that: ‘When you’re researching the lives of these men, you inevitably find out some fascinating stuff about social history and Barry and I both love all the quirky asides. My acid test is if my wife enjoys it then it must be OK because she couldn’t tell one end of a cricket bat from another. If she likes it, then the cricket aficionados are likely to love it!’

The authors both grew up in Taunton. Stephen Hill was educated at Queen’s College and Barry Phillips at Huish’s Grammar School. They spent a year tracking down information about the players featured in this book, finding innumerable new facts and unearthing many unpublished images stored by sons or daughters of the former stars. They also include copies of the autographs of the players. These aren’t just as a reference for collectors. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by autographs and not just because I collected them as a boy,’ Stephen says. ‘They say a lot about the man, perhaps more than the person signing them realises. If a picture paints a thousand words, as the saying goes, then maybe a signature paints about a hundred!’

The authors have offered up an enjoyable journey through Somerset’s cricketing past. I cannot recommend it enough.

If any proof were required that these books are a cut above the usual cricket publications, the first volume – SOMERSET CRICKETERS 1882-1914 – was well received, with the authors being voted Cricketer Historians of the Year by the sport’s official body and awarded the Brooke-Lambert Trophy, presented by former England cricket captain M. J. K. Smith. The book was also voted elsewhere as the best cricket publication in the UK in 2016.

SOMERSET CRICKETERS 1919-1939 by STEPHEN HILL and BARRY PHILLIPS is a great Christmas present for the Somerset supporter in your life. Published by Halsgrove (RRP £16.99), it and can be obtained (including a limited number of signed copies) from the publisher. It can also be bought at any good bookshop, including Somerset County Sports at the Coopers Associates County Ground in Taunton and can be found on amazon. The first volume, SOMERSET CRICKETERS 1882-1914 (also £16.99) is still available.