The Legends: Archie Wickham – “A peculiar presence!”

Rev Wickham was one of the great eccentrics of the cricketing world. Writing about the Somerset match against Middlesex, at Lord’s, in 1893, the reporter from The Times seems mesmerised by Wickham’s appearance, when he writes:

wickham2A peculiar picture presented itself at Lord’s in the person of A. P. Wickham, the Somerset wicket-keeper standing with legs so far apart that his head just appeared above the wicket. He looked a queer figure even without his eccentric attire. He wore leg guards with black knee pieces. Above these were grey trousers and a black band or sash. A white shirt and a brilliant part-coloured harlequin cap completed his curious ‘get up’.

Archdale Palmer Wickham was born in South Holmwood, Surrey, on 9 November 1855 and a product of Marlborough College and Oxford, he had previously played for Norfolk (whilst a curate in Norwich). It was when he became vicar of Martock that he made himself available for Somerset. David Foot reports that when Archie was selected to play at the County Ground, he would set off in great style in his horse and trap, with his wife, family and servants lined up to give him a rousing send-off.  His style of wicket-keeping was as unorthodox as his attire. He would apparently unnerve batsmen by loudly proclaiming Greek and Latin verse. Some claimed he should have been considered for an England cap: the consternation that his unusual form of sledging would have caused the visiting Australians is perhaps the main argument in his favour.

He kept his hands resting on his knees and took the ball disconcertingly late, apparently showing wonderful reflexes. The technique seems to have worked. He held the record of the largest innings without conceding a bye (Hampshire’s 672 for 7 declared, in 1899) until he was finally knocked off that pedestal by another eccentric but brilliant keeper, Jack Russell of Gloucestershire, in 2002. Wickham batted on 136 occasions but seemed to show little in the way of improvement over the years. His other great claim to cricketing immortality says less about his skill than his appetite for the game.

wickham3In 1901, when the Oxford University wicket-keeper, William Finlay, was injured, Archie Wickham volunteered to keep wicket for both sides. He remains the only person to have done so in a first-class game. Archie demonstrated admirable longevity, playing his last game at the age of fifty-one.

His three great passions were the church, cricket and lepidoptery. A Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, he built up an impressive collection of mounted moths and butterflies which is now housed in the British Museum, along with his copious notes on the subject. He served in a number of Somerset parishes, the last being East Brent, where he would live out his days, much-loved by his parishioners. He died on 13 October 1935, aged seventy-nine, and is buried in St Mary’s church there. The stained glass window erected in his honour depicts those three great loves of his.

Stephen Edden was born and brought up in the Taunton area and began watching Somerset in 1963. After retiring from a career in business, he is now a writer. He has just completed a set of biographies of the 167 players who appeared for Somerset CCC in the County Championship up to 1914 and he hopes that the book will be published in 2016. He’s already started to repeat the exercise for the men who played first-class cricket for Somerset in the 1880s and is always on the look-out for early photographs or documents.

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