Legends: Arthur Wellard (1927-50)

The following article is an extract from SOMERSET CRICKETERS 1919-1939 by STEPHEN HILL & BARRY PHILLIPS (Published by Halsgrove 2017)

An exhilarating fast bowler and a batsman who scored a quarter of his runs in sixes, Arthur Wellard gave heart and soul, always with a wide smile. While he had bat or ball in hand, Somerset cricket was imbued with hope and the crowd would be afforded a flurry of excitement.

He was born in Southfleet, Kent, on 8 April 1902, the unplanned, third child of Ernest Arthur Wellard, an agricultural labourer. Ten years later, Ernest, exhausted by his work and approaching sixty, moved the family to Bexley, taking over the tenancy of a pub, The Black Horse. Unable or unprepared to settle down at school, Arthur regularly played truant and was actively involved in running the pub from an early age as his father’s health deteriorated. He left school at fourteen and even at this age had an imposing physique. A natural sportsman, he played in goal for Bexley FC and the Kent X1. Some of his pub regulars were members of Bexley CC and they encouraged him to try cricket. He did so for the first time at the age of nineteen and was soon a first team regular, attracting the attention of the Kent authorities.

Bexley’s 1926 fixture with Kent Club & Ground was Arthur’s unofficial trial and Gerry Weigall, the autocratic Kent coach, was there to pass judgment. Arthur was called away during the lunch interval to help his mother, Amy, deal with some unruly customers. He was late back and Weigall marked him down as unreliable. Arthur was not engaged despite taking 5 wickets in the match and signed instead for Somerset. Kent had missed their opportunity. He served his two-year residency qualification with Weston-super-Mare CC and lodged with the family of his future Somerset bowling partner, Bill Andrews.

In 1928, while guesting for Bexley in their annual fixture against the Kent XI, Arthur was approached by Gerry Weigall, and asked to reconsider his future and sign for Kent. A witness to the event – Bexley’s scorer, George Lovegrove – overhead Wellard, normally the most taciturn of men, angrily telling Weigall to ‘stuff your contract up your arse’. Later in the day, Wellard clean bowled Weigall with one of the fastest deliveries he had ever mustered.

He achieved the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in 1933 and 1935, the latter achievement leading to his being named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1936. Most commentators – Wisden included – thought him unfortunate not to have been given a Test place against South Africa. He had to wait until 1937 before being chosen for the Second Test against New Zealand at Old Trafford. At the end of that season he was invited to join Lord Tennyson’s tour of India where in the Fifth Unofficial Test at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay he hit a six out of the ground. A number of reliable witnesses, including Tennyson himself, claimed it was the biggest they had ever seen.

He would hit 561 sixes in a first-class career that spanned four decades from 1927 to 1950. The total included a mighty six in his second and last Test appearance for England versus Australia at Lord’s in 1938. Twice he hit five sixes in an over, but he was technically sound, with a batting average for the county of 19.34, including two first-class centuries and 54 half-centuries. Bowling was, however, his defining skill. He took 1517 first-class wickets for Somerset at 24.32 apiece. Only Jack White has taken more. The war interrupted his career and denied him an MCC tour of India for which he had been chosen in 1939/40.

Having served with the Army in Italy, he was welcomed back to the Somerset fold and most supporters considered his release in 1950 to be premature, despite his advancing years. The committee would have believed him to be forty-eight, although Arthur had lied about his age throughout his career and was in reality approaching fifty. The normal rules concerning the ageing process never applied to him. Two productive seasons with Kidderminster and Lancaster made the point.

He returned to Sutton in Kent and to his longsuffering wife, Vera, known as ‘Jack’, whom he had married in 1928. They had spent more time apart than together and never had children. With the exception of a three-year period when they separated temporarily, Jack tolerated his absences and occupied herself with the running of a sweet shop in Sutton, an enterprise with which Arthur himself had few if any dealings. Throughout his career, he had lived a peripatetic lifestyle. Although built like an aurochs, he was almost childlike and otherwordly. Unable to drive, he relied on friends or public transport and, often out of pocket, he was dependent on offers of free accommodation. Somerset committee member Len Creed, in particular, would invite him for extended stays at his farm in Evercreech and here Arthur was able to indulge his passion for shooting and fishing. Calling on his skills as a gambler – no one knew more about horse or greyhound racing – Arthur was able to help Len in the setting up of a betting shop which became a successful enterprise.

Arthur bowling to Surrey at The Oval in 1934

After his first-class playing days were over, he took to coaching at the indoor school run by his longstanding friend Alf Gover. Later he coached at the Finchley Indoor School and Epsom College. He was still coaching well into his seventies and continued to play for anyone who asked, including Sutton CC, Putney Eccentrics and Gaieties CC. Playwright Harold Pinter, a Gaieties player, idolised Arthur and wrote a moving tribute to him after his death. Arthur ceased playing for the Gaieties in 1975 but still managed to turn out for Old Somerset at Clarence Park in his seventy-fourth year.

He retired eventually to Eastbourne, persuaded to do so by his wife, Jack. He died there on the 31st December 1980, aged seventy-eight. Bill Andrews, his bowling partner and lifetime friend, summed up Arthur’s career by stating that ‘he challenged fate blithely, even recklessly, and whether his gambles came off or not, the crowd loved him.’