SCCC 1876 to 1890: The Rise to First-Class Status

If you already have the four volumes of Somerset Cricketers then this is for you: a chance to buy the fifth!

Barry Phillips and Stephen Hill are publishing volume five of the Somerset Cricketers series to the usual high standard of the others. Somerset Cricketers 1876 to 1890 will cover the 100+ principal (but not first-class) matches played during this period, many of which have never been previously reported and have been rescued from the original scorebooks. The book also includes the biographies of the 84 cricketers that played in these matches.

As with previous volumes, this thoroughly researched book has thrown up some larger-than-life characters. Among them there is the man who made a huge fortune in the Klondike but died penniless, the great-great-grandfather of a recent prime minister, a fantasist who took to the stage claiming to have fought in the American Civil War, which had ended before he was out of primary school, a convicted felon who claimed to be a nephew of Charles Dickens and blew his brains out in a Los Angeles doss house. There is also the black sheep of Admiral Lord Nelson’s family, whose navy career was anything but illustrious, and the brother of Somerset legend S.M.J. Woods, as engaging a character as Sam.

And we Somerset supporters are fortunate to be able to acquire this book as it nearly didn’t materialise. Having spent many exhaustive hours in libraries, heritage centres, cricket museums and trawling through an endless supply of old newspapers and scorecards to complete the volumes one to four, Steve and Barry had decided to call it a day, and the decision to complete this latest edition was an emotional one, as Barry explains:

“Reasons for doing it? We had both decided that we had done enough and Steve needed some persuasion to do this one. My reason was quite simple: curiosity.

“This fifth volume was prompted by a casual enquiry from a descendant of a Somerset cricketer. Why, he wanted to know, was his great-uncle, Robert Savery, not featured in Somerset Cricketers 1882-1914? The short answer was that this hugely talented schoolboy had played during the five seasons when Somerset laboured to regain their first-class status, having lost it in 1885.

“Robert’s performances matched many of his teammates, but he moved to London in 1890 when the need to earn a living took precedence. It was his misfortune that Somerset were excluded from the top tier during the periods 1876-1881 and 1886-1890. That made me wonder how many more players fell into the same category and could legitimately claim to be a Somerset County cricketer. The answer, as the reader will soon find out, is that there were 84 non-first-class cricketers. Some made fleeting appearances, but others helped to progress the club’s claims for their subsequent elevated status.”

Savery’s story is one that appeared lost to time but has now thankfully been revived by the Somerset supporting writers so we can all enjoy. And there is a link to current Somerset skipper Tom Abell too, as Barry continues:

“Savery was a seventeen-year-old schoolboy prodigy whose debut for Somerset was in August 1886 against Hampshire. At Taunton School in the same year, he broke the record for batting with 143 against Taunton CC and then broke it again the following year with 180 against a touring side, York Rovers CC. This record stood until Tom Abell broke it in 2011 (186) and Tom would have had the distinct advantage of a vastly superior pitch.”

Savery’s debut against Hampshire at Wellington School, as hinted above, was largely unspectacular but had a slight twist. He opened Somerset’s first innings scoring 20 but was caught & bowled by A.H. Evans, the Somerset bowler (1882-85) who was guesting for Hampshire. The Somerset scorebook records his scoring shots were 2,4,4,2,3,4,1. But he rose to greater achievements. And his is one of 84 amazing tales.

The book will sit well with the other volumes. It is a hardback book of 307 pages and will be available by the end of April/early May as a strictly limited edition of 110 copies, signed by the authors. It will not be available from retailers and will be sold on a first come, first served basis direct from the authors. It is priced at £25, including P&P in the UK, and is expected to sell out quickly so if any Somerset supporter wishes to buy a copy, they should pre-order now by contacting Barry Phillips at bpwg@sky.com.