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Book review: ‘Too fond of winning’ by Barry Phillips

Look back at the history of Somerset County Cricket Club and it can be easy to forget that it is not one awash with years of trophy-winning success. The club were often on the periphery of the county cricket circuit – outsiders if you like. Unfashionable and, for many years, unsuccessful. A club happy to amble on, to survive.

Yet one thing the county is able to boast is an abundance of great characters to have worn the Wyvern. 671 players have represented Somerset in first-class cricket with a further 16 playing List A or 20-over cricket only. This exclusive list has given Somerset’s cricket community so many fantastic tales and legends. From Woods to Trescothick, Palairet to Hildreth, Gimblett to Abell. And so the list goes on.

Barry and his new book

And some of the more incredible tales herald from players who time can appear to have forgotten. Now a new book chronicles one such player, whose death at a tragically young age carried major repercussions for Somerset’s cricket club and the local community the gentleman served.

Too Fond of Winning is a book by Barry Phillips telling the remarkable story of a long-forgotten Victorian cricketer and the cricket club he founded. Henry Thomas Stanley was born in 1873 and played 50 first-class matches for Somerset between 1894 & 1899. His mentor was S.M.J. ‘Sammy’ Woods whose comment about the young master being ‘too fond of winning’ provides the title of the book.

Henry was just 27 years and 27 days old when he was killed in action during the 2nd Boer War on September 16, 1900. He had gained the rank of Lieutenant in the West Somerset Yeoman Cavalry but fell in Hekpoort, South Africa. A tragedy in itself, what makes Henry’s story more poignant is that he was due to inherit a substantial fortune and become the master of the Quantock Lodge Estate near Over Stowey, Bridgwater. He also formed the Quantock Lodge Cricket Club and, thanks to his privileged station in life, his cricket club was able to call on an extraordinary number of county and international cricketers.

The book covers the young master’s tragically short life and documents all the matches played by the club. It also charts the history of the Quantock Lodge Estate which will be of great interest to local people and historians.

The author concludes that Henry Stanley’s untimely death led to the demise of the Estate which had a huge impact on its dependant local community. The Estate was inherited by Henry’s younger brother who squandered the family’s fortune and the story of his profligate spending makes fascinating reading.

The author is well known to Somerset fans. Barry Phillips first cut his teeth as a writer when his book No Mere Slogger hit bookshelves in 1996, telling the life story of his great hero Arthur Wellard. In recent years he has helped Stephen Hill as a researcher for Somerset Cricketers 1882 to 1914 before enjoying co-author status in the two subsequent books that covered every player to represent Somerset from 1919 to 1939, and the third book in the series covering 1946 to 1970.

Born in Taunton in 1946, and educated at Huish’s Grammar School, Barry admits his cricket interests reach ‘trainspotting’ proportions and he is an avid collector of memorabilia. He first started watching his home county in the 1950s and is still a keen visitor, despite residing in Oxfordshire these days.

And the story of Henry was one Barry felt compelled to share with fellow Somerset fans. “I guess that you can say I have always been drawn to the diverse characters that have inhabited Somerset cricket,” Barry says. “I was drawn to Henry Stanley partly for that reason but mainly because of his tragic story. To die at 27 is a tragedy in itself and doubly so, from a cricket perspective, because he was beginning to blossom as a Somerset cricketer.

“But the real tragedy is that his early death had a profound effect on the future of the Quantock Lodge Estate which he was due to inherit.”

Henry became the 86th cricketer to debut for Somerset when he lined up against Oxford University in May 1894. He would go on to score 1,691 first-class runs in the 63 matches he played including one century, and his final first-class appearance was a three-day match at Taunton versus Hampshire that started on July 20, 1899, which the visitors won with ease.

The Bath Chronicle described him as a “batsman of the safe and steady school, his defence was of the soundest possible description.”

But this book is much more than just a cricket biography, as Barry adds: “I am also pleased that I have been able to record the complete history of the cricket club that Henry Stanley founded and to be able to link the club with some fantastically clear Chaffin & Sons photographs that hitherto have never been published.

“The book also covers the demise of the Quantock Lodge Estate in some detail which will hopefully be of some interest to the local community in the Quantocks.”

It’s a fascinating read and a must-have addition for the library of all Somerset supporters. Elegantly presented, the book is in hardback, has 213 pages, is profusely illustrated and costs just £14.99. It can be purchased at Somerset County Sports at the CACG or, for those unable to visit the shop, directly from Barry Phillips for the same price (including P&P) by contacting him at bpwg@sky.com.