A surprising number of Somerset captains have been left-handed batsmen – people like Marcus Trescothick, Justin Langer, Brian Rose and Brian Close. Hugh Watts may be less famous but he fitted the bill, too. Jack White wasn’t among them. One of the greatest slow left-armers of all time, he batted right-handed.
125 years ago, when Somerset were starting out their journey in the County Championship, they were blessed with a captain who led like Brian Close and batted like Marcus Trescothick. Followers of Somerset cricket should be grateful to Herbie Hewett for the brief but invaluable role he played in securing the county’s first-class status. Although regarded by many as difficult, he was a born leader and had been offered the captaincy at the relatively young age of twenty-six. Trained as a barrister, he developed an idiosyncratic habit of utilising a toothpick while he pondered tactics. Once he was set on a course, he would often prove immoveable in his opinions. Herbie could be brooding as well as stubborn, not one to forgive easily. Born Herbert Tremenheere Hewett on 25 May 1864 in Norton Fitzwarren, no more than a couple of miles from the County Ground, his family had made their money through farming, brewing, and the retailing of wine and spirits. In cricketing terms, he was a late developer, with a modest record for Harrow and Oxford, but he gained his wings when he came back home to captain the Somerset side, leading from the front during their triumphant unbeaten season in 1890.
If his performances in 1890 and 1891 established his reputation as a captain, then 1892 was a triumph for Hewett the batsman. He was tall and well-built, a forceful and intimidating left-hander who bludgeoned opponents right from the start of an innings, not with agricultural slogs but with generally aggressive intent and powerful stroke play. In a season where runs were hard to come by and rain was plentiful, he was the only player to reach 1,000 runs in county games. The highpoint was his remarkable opening stand of 346 with Lionel Palairet, against Yorkshire. Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes reported that ‘the cricket season of 1892 … presented no feature more brilliant that the batting of Mr Herbert Tremenheere Hewett’. During the1893 season, Hewett and Somerset were consolidating their burgeoning reputations, but this would be his last season with the county. Somerset’s cricketing folklore has it that Hewett resigned as a result of a fiasco where play against the Australians was abandoned, only for the tourists to be tracked down later in the day in order to calm the baying multitudes who had come from afar to see them in an action. A limited amount of play was possible on a stinker of a rain-affected wicket. Hewett unfairly shouldered the blame for the about-turn. Yes, he was in high dudgeon, but he did not resign. The club had already announced the previous April that he would be forsaking county cricket in favour of a career in law. He left on a high, having blasted a couple of quick-fire centuries to round off the season. He was considered a huge loss to the game.
While he practiced as a barrister, Herbie Hewett lived in London, unmarried and perhaps wisely so, given his inability to accept the idea of compromise in his relationships with others. He died in Hove, on 4 March 1921, at the age of fifty-six, though he was buried at Norton Fitzwarren. Three surviving sisters were among those who mourned a diffident and difficult but brilliant man. Sadly, he had seen Somerset’s fortunes plummet after his departure. Herbie Hewett’s resignation would prove to be the first in a series of disasters to befall the club. It could even be regarded the greatest misfortune in its long history. Had Herbie remained in situ, he would never have countenanced the happy-go-lucky amateurism that engulfed the club.
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.