Batty about cricket bats

Arthur Shrewsbury posing with his last bat, three months before his death.

Arthur Shrewsbury posing with his last bat, three months before his death. - Credit: Roger Mann

When Jenny and I got married in 1978, she knew that I played cricket in the summer, and had even begun to enjoy watching the game.

What she didn’t realise was that, within a very short time, she would be living in a house with cricket pictures on every wall, dogs called Wisden, Ranji, and Jessop, and a parrot called George Hirst! 

In our house, cricket bats were tucked into every corner, and even the W.C. was renamed the W.G.

Before my marriage, cricket bats were my number one passion in life, but after it, of course, they took a grudging second place!

Despite tripping over them almost every day, Jen was very patient.  

Her first instinct was to learn more about them, rather than to hit me with them! 

In medieval times, a wife, after she married, might retire to the drawing room and pluck the strings of a harp, whereas my wife would spend hours patiently stringing the handle of an old cricket bat.   

Jen gets her birthday present.

Jen gets her birthday present. - Credit: Roger Mann

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Eventually, Jen became so involved that, in 1983, when I asked her what she would like for her birthday, she chose... a statuette of W.G. Grace!

I was lucky indeed!

One of the many downsides of becoming my wife was that, every few months, we would get up at 3am to drive to London for cricket auctions.

Viewing began at 9am, and cricket bats needed very close scrutiny, so we couldn’t afford to be late.

One morning, we had driven up to Phillips, in central London, and I had been looking at a number of old individual bats when I came to Lot 64 – “A box of miscellaneous cricket bats”.  

I reached under the display shelves and pulled out a dusty old box, marked “64”, and containing about 20 old bats.

My first thought was that it had been entered into the sale by a private school which was selling off some sports junk which it had accumulated over the years.    

But, any cricket bat interests me, so, one by one, I checked them over and found nothing even remotely interesting... until I turned over the very last one. 

Arthur Shrewsbury's last bat.

Arthur Shrewsbury's last bat. - Credit: Roger Mann

On the back was written 'This was Arthur’s last bat – given to W.F. Grundy'. 

As soon as I read the inscription, I knew what it was.   

William Grundy had been the beneficiary of Arthur Shrewsbury’s estate, and this was a Shaw & Shrewsbury bat made by the company of which Arthur was a partner.  

When W.G. Grace was asked “After you, yourself, who is the world’s finest batsman?” he replied “Give me Arthur!” 

Arthur Shrewsbury, of Nottinghamshire and England, was a master batsman, but, also, a very strange fellow who always wore a cricket cap to hide his baldness, even at home, in the bath, or in bed! 

In 1903, at the age of 46, he scored 1,153 runs for his county, at an average of 46, but had begun to believe that he had an incurable illness. 

Sadly, one night, obsessed by fear for his future, he shot himself, in his bedroom. The bat, which I was now holding, was found beside his bed, the next morning. 

Naturally, when I read the inscription, I couldn’t believe my eyes! 

Examining some old cricket bats with Dave Thomas

Examining some old cricket bats with Dave Thomas - Credit: Roger Mann

I packed the bats back into the box, with the special one right on the bottom, shared my news with Jen, and then plucked up courage to tell her my plan.

Because I had more viewing to do, I asked her if she would mind standing right in front of the box to hide Lot 64 from casual passers-by. 

I had pushed it right under the shelf, and hoped no-one else would bother to search for it.   

“But there’s still an hour-and-a-half before viewing ends!” she exclaimed.

I put on my sweetest, appealing, smile and only my new trousers stopped me from dropping to my knees! “Pleeeease, darling,” I begged. 

Two hours later, we took our places in the auction and held our breath. 

It seemed ages until the auctioneer reached lot 64, but when he did, I was the only bidder, and bought the box for four pounds! 

All the way home, I wore a cricket cap out of respect for Arthur, and now, 40 years later, I’m still doing favours for Jen to make up for her selfless vigil!