1/12/2021 6 Comments
Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) is a trailblazing sporting figure of national significance: the first black West Indian to play county cricket in England who helped break down major barriers of racial prejudice in his lifetime. He played matches all over the country in front of thousands of spectators against some of the biggest names in international cricket at the time, capturing the attention of fans of the sport and newspaper reporters wherever he went. In one match in 1902, Ollivierre memorably provoked the ire of England’s most famous cricketing icon Dr W. G. Grace (1848-1915). In another match in 1904, regarded as one of the most 'phenomenal' games in county cricket history, he managed to upstage the soon-to-be crowned 'Wisden Cricketer of the Year' Percy Perrin (1876-1945) despite the latter scoring an almost unprecedented 343 not out in the game. Beyond these shores, Olliviere played a key role in helping to revive the fortunes of cricket in the Netherlands, contributing to the 'golden age' of cricket for the Dutch in the 1930s. But, up to now, not much has been written about the impact Ollivierre had at a local level in Derbyshire (his home for over a decade) and the Peak District (through which he travelled extensively playing the game in which he excelled).
In the following blog (a version of which was first published on the old Peak in the Past website in September 2019 which has since been reconstructed), archivist Tim Knebel takes a brief look at C. A. Ollivierre’s life and cricketing career and seeks to highlight the intriguing mark he made on the Peak District. It is a little known fact that between the years 1900 and 1911, in between duels on the national stage with cricketing titans such as the legendary Australian captain Joe Darling (1870-1905) and Dr Grace, Ollivierre also ‘graced’ many smaller and much more picturesque Peak District playing fields. Ollivierre's outings in the Peak District came through regular fixtures for the local club sides of Glossop and Darley Dale he represented, as well as matches he played for select “Derbyshire Elevens” and the mysterious ‘Wye Valley Wanderers’ touring team, set up by the charismatic “Peak Doctor-Cricketer” Dr Thomas Graeme Dickson (1867-1920), often scheduled to coincide with “Wakes Weeks” celebrations for individual Peakland villages. Ollivierre thrilled cricket spectators throughout the Peak District and beyond with his dynamic batting, bowling and fielding displays but he also won many friends and admirers amongst local people off the pitch through his warm, engaging personality. Not even a fine he incurred at the Bakewell Magistrates Court for cycling on a local footpath would diminish his standing in the region...
Pictured above: Derbyshire County Cricket Club team photograph, 1904, including Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) in the dark jacket, seated second left
The photograph above of the Derbyshire County Cricket team dating from 1904 includes several noteworthy characters from very different backgrounds. Stood third from the left is the imposing figure of the fiery fast bowler William Bestwick (1875-1938), popularly known as the “bad boy” of cricket, who would later kill a man following a drunken brawl in 1907 (albeit ultimately adjudged at trial to have acted in self-defence). Outside of the cricket season, Bestwick worked down the pit as a coal miner throughout an astonishingly long county career for Derbyshire which stretched (in two separate spells) from 1898 to 1925. Stood on the far right is Ernest 'Nudger' Needham (1873-1936) who captained Sheffield United to the first division football league title in 1898 and also FA cup triumphs in 1899 and 1902 (one of several members of this Derbyshire cricket side to combine playing county cricket in the summer months with professional football duties for top flight English teams the rest of the year round). Sat on the far right is Captain Henry FitzHerbert Wright (1870-1947), Derbyshire-born but educated at Eton and Cambridge, who would go on to serve as an army captain with the 4th North Midland Howitzer Brigade (Royal Field Artillery) in the First World War (one of several members of this Derbyshire team who saw active service in the war), as well becoming a Justice of the Peace, alderman for Derbyshire County Council, a Conservative MP and High Sheriff of Derbyshire.
But the stand-out figure in the photograph is arguably that of Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949), seated second from the left, wearing a dark jacket, the first black West Indian to play county cricket in England. Ollivierre first announced himself on the English cricketing stage through his performances as part of a West Indian touring team to these shores in the summer of 1900 where he was widely acclaimed as the most accomplished batsmen for the “Colonials”, with the calibre to grace any first-class county side.
Ollivierre’s cricketing prowess was all the more remarkable considering how he was a largely self-taught cricketer. Born in Kingstown, the port city capital of the Southern Caribbean island of St Vincent in July 1876, it was reported how he had not received any proper cricket coaching as a youngster, instead honing his technique through studying illustrated cricket books. Growing up in St Vincent, it was said that Ollivierre and his friends used 'branches of coconut trees' as improvised bats, and 'small bread fruits' as balls for their childhood games of cricket (Derby Daily Telegraph, 13 May 1901 p.3). Ollivierre completed his education at Queen’s Royal College on the neighbouring, more populous island of Trinidad, where, in his first cricket season at school, he finished with a batting average of 51.8. He progressed to playing first-class cricket for Trinidad (where he worked on the island as a clerk in government offices, having supposedly been forced to give up studying for medicine on the death of his father due to lack of money) and he eventually caught the eye of selectors seeking to round of up the cream of West Indian cricketing talent for the tour of England in 1900.
Pictured above: Kingstown, the home town of Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949), the port city capital of the Caribbean island of St Vincent, early 1900s
The West Indian tour was an experimental one, building on earlier English cricketing tours to the West Indies in the 1890s, initiated by Yorkshire and England international cricketer Lord Hawke (1860-1938). Originally, a South African side had been due to tour England in the summer of 1900, only for the Boer War to scupper those plans and the West Indian side duly filled the void. The combined West Indies team was drawn from representatives of the various Caribbean islands of Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, British Guiana, Grenada and St Vincent. The majority of the touring West Indies squad were white but Ollivierre was one of five black players included.
There was widespread scepticism in the British press about the tour at the outset, with questions raised about the quality of the West Indians and whether they would be able to compete against the various English first-class county sides who had been lined up as opposition. There were consequently doubts as to whether the matches would capture much public interest:
“the tour of the West Indians is purely an experiment, and no-one can say with any certainty how it will turn out to be...a capital list of matches has been arranged, but one cannot help thinking that the programme is a little too ambitious…the West Indians may be sure of a hearty welcome from English cricketers, but, unless they show surprisingly good form, it is not to be expected that they will attract much public attention” (Leeds Mercury, 13 April 1900 p.8).
The West Indians’ first tour match, which began on 11th June 1900 at Crystal Palace, saw Ollivierre pitted against the formidable figure of arguably England’s most instantly recognisable cricketer Dr W. G. Grace (1848-1915), the veteran captain of the hosts London County Cricket Club. The West Indians suffered a heavy defeat, losing by an innings and 198 runs. Later that same month, Ollivierre faced Grace for the second time with the great “Doctor” lining up for the opposition Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). Grace dismissed Ollivierre leg before wicket for 21 runs in the West Indians’ first innings, but, in turn, Ollivierre took a “fine catch” to send Grace back to the pavilion for 11 in the MCC’s first innings. In the second innings, Ollivierre scored a creditable 32 and, although the tourists ended up losing by 5 wickets, Ollivierre outscored Grace over the course of the match.
Pictured above: The West Indian cricket touring team of 1900 (including Charles Augustus Ollivierre) and their opponents in the first match of the tour, London County Cricket Club, captained by the unmistakable bearded figure of Dr. W. G. Grace, pictured in 'The Sphere', 23 Jun 1900 (p.10)
After suffering several heavy defeats early on in the tour, at its conclusion the West Indians had amassed a more than respectable five victories compared to eight defeats in 17 matches (with four draws) and the tour, overall, was hailed in the press as “an unqualified success” (St James’s Gazette, 13 Aug 1900 p.5). That the tourists exceeded expectations, and proved many of the doubters wrong, was thanks in no small part to Ollivierre. During the tour, he thrilled crowds around the country with his exhilarating batting and athletic fielding displays. Although primarily used as batsman, rather than a bowler, he also chipped in with useful wickets.
A tall, strapping figure, Ollivierre was a powerful hitter with the bat, but was also capable of refined stroke-play, blessed with a rich variety of shots. In press reports from the time, Ollivierre’s batting style during the West Indians’ tour was described in terms such as “stylish”, “elegant”, “attractive”, “graceful”, “fluent” and (occasionally!) “reckless”. It was commented how Ollivierre’s “abilities as a batsman would justify his inclusion in any first-class county” (North Devon Gazette, 31 Jul 1900 p.6). At the end of the tour, Ollivierre headed the batting averages for the West Indians, amassing 883 runs in 27 innings at an average of 32.70. His highest individual scores came in the tourists’ victories against Leicestershire and Surrey where he scored 159 and 94 respectively.
At the end of the two-month tour, Olliviere’s impressive performances for the West Indian team led him to receive offers to sign for several first-class counties. Consequently, Ollivierre, chose not to sail back to the Caribbean with the rest of his team-mates but decided to remain in England to become a county cricketer, opting to join Derbyshire. Before he could become a fully-fledged county player, he first had to achieve the requisite qualification period of living in Derbyshire for two years.
Ollivierre’s decision to choose the “Peak County” over other county teams who were interested in procuring his services is attributed (in the main) to the then Derbyshire cricket captain Samuel Hill-Wood (1872-1949), a cotton-manufacturer who later became a Conservative MP for the High Peak and also chairman of Arsenal Football Club. Hill-Wood offered Ollivierre a role as an office clerk working for his family business in the market town of Glossop in the High Peak in the north-west corner of Derbyshire and Ollivierre settled in Glossop to embark on his on two-year qualification period (by residency). Ollivierre’s salary was reported to be £150 a year for the first two years whilst he was in the process of qualifying and then £200 thereafter. (As an “amateur” in the Derbyshire team, he would be obligated to continue working, even after qualification as a county player, to make a living). In Glossop (according to the 1901 census) Ollivierre took up lodgings at 15 Talbot Street, home of the family of William H. Cunnington (born c.1850), who was caretaker of St Luke’s Church which was located nearby.
View of Glossop, the High Peak market town in Derbyshire where Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) was resident from the late summer of 1900 through to c.1906, [pictured early 1900s]
One of Ollivierre’s first cricketing engagements in Derbyshire, following his tour with the West Indian team, was to represent his new county as part of a select “Derbyshire Eleven” in a series of matches against local Derbyshire club sides. At the time, such matches were commonplace where a Derbyshire XI (comprising a mixture of established and former county players, young Derbyshire Colts and trialists/prospective county cricketers such as Ollivierre) would travel around the county playing friendly matches against local teams. The local club sides were often permitted to have more than the usual allotted eleven players in their line-ups against the Derbyshire XI to try to make the games more of an even contest. The aim of these matches was to generate interest in county cricket and also give the county side the opportunity to unearth new talent amongst some of Derbyshire’s remote, rural and scattered communities.
Such fixtures were often scheduled to coincide with “Wakes” festivals and other local dates of celebration in the Derbyshire calendar, particular to the villages/communities involved. The opportunity to watch well-known and skilful county cricketers playing at local grounds was a big allure and such matches tended to draw in large crowds from the neighbourhood. It is apparent that the prospect of seeing the “famous West Indian” (as Ollivierre was already being referred to in the British press by the late summer of 1900) proved to be an added attraction for the Derbyshire XI. It is worth remembering how most people living in rural Derbyshire at the time would never have encountered a person of African-Caribbean heritage before and so the imposing figure of Ollivierre must have held extra fascination to them.
Ollivierre’s first Derbyshire XI outing was a two-day match on 20th-21st August 1900 against his newly adopted town of Glossop. The match was held in connection with the annual Glossop “Wakes” holidays and was played in front of “a very good gate”. Ollivierre scored an attractive 38, opening the batting for the Derbyshire XI (captained by home-town Glossop hero Samuel Hill-Wood) with “the style of his play being greatly admired” by the assembled crowd as the county side coasted to a comfortable victory (Derby Daily Telegraph, 21 Aug 1900 p.4). Included in the same Derbyshire XI for this match against Glossop was Ollivierre’s fellow black West Indian team-mate Tommie Burton (1878-1946), a pace bowler, and the leading wicket taker for the West Indians on the summer tour. Along with Ollivierre, Burton had initially signalled his intention to remain in England after the tour to seek qualification as a Derbyshire county cricketer. However, soon after the Glossop match (despite taking an impressive 5 wickets in the Glossop innings) Burton had a change of heart and returned to the Caribbean, leaving Ollivierre as the sole West Indian seeking to make his mark on the county game.
Next up for Ollivierre was a match for the Derbyshire XI on 24th August 1900 against a Darley Dale and District Sixteen, scheduled on the occasion of the annual Darley Dale Flower Show, held in the Whitworth grounds in the village just outside Matlock in central Derbyshire on the south-eastern fringe of the Peak District. The match was hailed as “one of the principal attractions of the show” and a huge crowd of 2,000 people are reported to have assembled to watch it (Derbyshire Times, 1 Sep 1900 p.6). Unfortunately, inclement weather prevented the match from being completed.
Pictured above: View towards Mount Famine near Hayfield, High Peak, Derbyshire, early 1900s. Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) played against the village of Hayfield, at the foot of this valley, on 3rd September 1900, for a touring Derbyshire XI, in a match which is reported to have "attracted lovers of cricket from all parts of the Peak".
Just over a week later, Ollivierre played a series of matches for “Walter Sugg’s Derbyshire X1” on a ten-day tour of Derbyshire which took him through the heart of the Peak District. The Derbyshire XI, captained by former Yorkshire and Derbyshire county cricketer Walter Sugg (1860-1933), began the tour with a match against a Hayfield and District Fifteen on 3rd September 1900. At the time, the village of Hayfield in the High Peak was considered to have one of the best local club sides in Derbyshire and played their home matches in the dramatic setting of the shadow of the towering Kinder Scout, the highest mountain in the Peak District. The match against the Derbyshire XI is reported to have “attracted lovers of cricket from all parts of the Peak to the village at the foot of the “Scout”” (Derby Mercury, 5 Sep 1900 p.5).
In terms of other matches on Walter Sugg’s Derbyshire XI tour, held at specifically Peak District venues, Ollivierre played against a Baslow and District Eighteen at the Wheatsheaf Grounds in the village of Baslow on 4th September 1900. The match attracted a crowd of 200 people (a substantial one given the size of the village). A few days later, on 8th September, Ollivierre played against a Bakewell and District Fifteen at the Rutland Sports Grounds in the Peak District market town of Bakewell. Ollivierre’s individual batting scores on Sugg’s ten-day tour were fairly modest in what proved to be a series of very low-scoring matches but he contributed useful wickets with his bowling and, ever the dynamic fielder, took an array of fine catches, and his presence in the Derbyshire XI clearly generated extra interest amongst spectators.
Pictured above: Glossop cricket pavilion with Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) standing in front in the centre, flanked by two Glossop team-mates, Alfred Charlesworth (1865-1928), landlord of the Norfolk Arms pub, on the left and seasoned club-pro Alf Berwick on the right, early 1900s (picture courtesy of Graeme Siddall)
In the late summer of 1900, Ollivierre also began playing cricket for his new home town of Glossop, who he continued to represent throughout his two-year qualification period before he was eligible to become a fully-fledged county player. He immediately made an impact on his debut for Glossop on 18th August 1900, opening the batting with a handy knock of 26, helping his side to victory over the Manchester-team Longsight. The following year, in 1901, in his first full season for Glossop (who were then playing in the Central Lancashire League), Ollivierre played a pivotal role in helping secure the “Peak Players” the league championship, scoring heavily at the top of the order for the team throughout the summer, winning the club's end-of-season "batting prize", compiling over 600 runs at an average of 27.27. In 1903, Glossop were again Central Lancashire League champions with Ollivierre once more crucial to the team's success, finishing the season second in the club's batting averages, amassing a total of 391 runs in 13 innings with a top score of 107 and average of 30.07. Ollivierre continued to play for Glossop Cricket Club (when his county commitments permitted) through to the Summer of 1907 and right up until the end of his spell with the club he was racking up the runs "with characteristic dash and brilliance" (Glossopdale Chronicle, 31 Aug 1906 p.7).
Whilst Ollivierre's cricketing achievements in Glossop are a matter of historical record, there are other stories associated with Ollivierre's residence in the High Peak town which are difficult to substantiate but which have become embedded in local folklore. These include his "legendary" six hit from Glossop Cricket Ground "to the football flagstaff near the Arundel Street Railway Bridge" (as retold in correspondence between old Glossop Cricket Club members in the 1990s now in the custody of Glossop Heritage Trust). Then there is a remarkable tale of a confrontation between Ollivierre and the famous US soldier-turned-showman Buffalo Bill Cody (1846-1917) in the Norfolk Arms pub, when the latter is said to have objected to sharing a bar room with a black man, which led to Buffalo Bill being ejected from the premises. As fanciful as this story might sound, the historical editions of The Glossop Chronicle confirm that Buffalo Bill's touring Wild West Show came to Glossop in October 1904 after which Buffalo Bill did indeed visit the Norfolk Arms. The pub was a regular haunt at the time for Glossop's cricketers, run by stalwart Glossop cricketer Alfred Charlesworth (1865-1928), who is pictured in the photograph above alongside Ollivierre in front of Glossop cricket's pavilion. It seems quite conceivable that Buffalo Bill would have encountered Ollivierre on his visit to the pub and that Charlesworth would have leapt to his friend and team-mate's defence should racial tensions have broken out between the American and the West Indian.
Pictured above: 1) Advertisement for Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Glossop, from 'The Glossopdale Chronicle', 7 Oct 1904 (p.4); 2) Early 1900s view of Norfolk Street, Glossop, Derbyshire, looking towards the railway station, with the building on the near left being the Norfolk Arms pub, where Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) and Buffalo Bill Coady (1846-1917) are thought to have clashed in October 1904
A letter written by Samuel Hill-Wood (1872-1949) to a long-standing senior member of Glossop Cricket Club, Walter Oliver (1859-1935), which has recently been acquired by Glossop Heritage Trust, sheds intriguing light on Ollivierre's employment conditions whilst on Hill-Wood's payroll, suggesting how turning out for Glossop Cricket Club was one of the requirements expected of him. In the letter, dated 16th June 1902 (pictured below), Hill-Wood instructs Ollivierre to play cricket that coming Wednesday and somewhat spikily demands to know why Olliviere was not playing for Glossop that day, warning "I am not going to pay him if he refuses to play for no reason".
Pictured above: 1) Letter from Samuel Hill-Wood (1872-1949) to senior Glossop Cricket Club member Walter Oliver (1859-1935) regarding Charles Ollivierre and his Glossop Cricket Club commitments, 16 Jun 1902; 2) Section of a colourised photograph of the Glossop Cricket Club side who won the Central Lancashire League championship of 1903, including Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) bottom right and his employer whilst living in Glossop, Samuel Hill-Wood (1872-1949), middle row on the left (images reproduced courtesy of Glossop Heritage Trust)
Notable team-mates of Ollivierre’s in the Glossop side at the time he joined the club included the burly fast bowler William Bestwick (1875-1938) and all-rounder Sam Cadman (1877-1952) who also both feature alongside Ollivierre in the Derbyshire County Cricket Club team photograph of 1904 above. Both Bestwick and Cadman are noted for the longevity of their county cricket careers for Derbyshire. As mentioned earlier, Bestwick played for Derbyshire in two separate spells between 1898 and 1926, totalling 19 seasons. Remarkably, his best season did not come until 1921 when, at the age of 46, he amassed his highest total wicket tally and lowest bowling average for the season, including the rare feat of taking all ten wickets in an innings against Glamorgan. Cadman played for Derbyshire for over a quarter of a century from 1900-1926, becoming the county’s oldest centurion in 1924 at the age of 47. It was a pity that Ollivierre was not afforded anything like the same length of county career.
Another of Ollivierre's Glossop team-mates was the well-known Peak District cricketing character Harry Bagshaw (1859-1927) who memorably ended up buried (in accordance with his wishes) at Eyam Churchyard, wearing his umpire's coat, complete with six 'counting pebbles' in its pocket, and a cricket ball clasped in his right hand. Bagshaw's distinctive cricketing headstone in the churchyard at Eyam remains something of a visitor's attraction to this day. Bagshaw, born and raised in humble circumstances in the tiny Peak District village of Foolow, started out working in local lead mines aged just 11 (as evidenced by the 1871 census). His presence in the Glossop side, alongside the likes of Eton-educated, future baronet Samuel Hill-Wood is a reminder of cricket's long tradition of welcoming individuals from very different backgrounds into the same team.
Pictured above: 1) Newspaper article reporting the death and unusual burial (in his umpire's coat and with cricket ball in hand) of the well-known Peak District cricketing personality Harry Bagshaw (1859-1927), a former Glossop team-mate of Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949), at Eyam Church (St Lawrence), Derbyshire, from 'Athletic News', 7 Feb 1927 (p.2); 2) Harry Bagshaw's distinctive cricketing gravestone in Eyam Churchyard
Whilst serving his qualification period, Ollivierre shone in various friendly/practice/trial matches for Derbyshire. He renewed acquaintances with W. G. Grace in a match for Derbyshire against London County held at Crystal Palace, 13th-15th May 1901, literally rubbing shoulders with the great doctor as illustrated in the photograph below of the combined teams who featured in this match. Derbyshire were heavily beaten by an innings and 119 runs by a London County side who were bolstered by the addition of a couple of South Africans on tour with their country that Summer, including the gigantic 6 foot 4 figure of Jimmy Sinclair (1876-193), who took 8 wickets in Derbyshire's first innings as the away side crumbled to 64 all out (with Olliverre being one of only two players to reach double figure scores). In the second innings however, Ollivierre top-scored with 54 to ensure Derbyshire were not completely humiliated.
Pictured above: Photograph of the combined Derbyshire and London County teams who played each other in a match at Crystal Palace, 13-15 May 1901, including Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949), middle row third from right seated next to the bearded figure of W. G. Grace (1848-1915). Also pictured in this photograph are several Derbyshire team-mates of Ollivierre's who also played with him for Glossop Cricket Club: Harry Bagshaw (1859-1927) [seated middle row, 2nd from left], Alf Berwick [standing back row, far right] and Bill Bestwick (1875-1938) [standing back row, 4th from left] (image reproduced courtesy of Ian Barber and Glossop Heritage Trust)
In the return fixture later that Summer in July 1901 at Chesterfield's Queen's Park ground, Ollivierre again featured for Derbyshire and opened the batting, facing up to W. G. Grace's opening bowling spell for London County. The match ended up being a rain-interrupted draw but with the home side on top and Ollivierre impressing with scores of 34 and 49 over the two innings and drawing high praise from the crowd: "The fine cricket of Ollivierre attracted the admiration of the spectators from the outset...The West Indian displayed the utmost freedom...some of his drives being remarkably clean and characterised by great power..." (The Field, 6 Jul 1901 p36).
In a Derbyshire County Cricket Club “trial match” held on 1st May 1902 at the County Ground in Derby between “Dr E. M. Ashcroft’s XI” and “W. Chatterton’s XI”, Ollivierre played for the side captained by Edward Maynard Ashcroft (1875-1955). Dr Ashcroft was a medical doctor, as well as Derbyshire county cricketer between the years 1897 and 1906, who served a brief spell as county captain in 1904 at the time of the above photograph of the Derbyshire County team. Opening the batting for Ashcroft’s team, Ollivierre retired after scoring a fine unbeaten half-century which included two sixes (Derby Daily Telegraph, 1 May 1902 p.3).
Ollivierre’s practice matches for Derbyshire even included a couple of games against touring international sides held at the County Ground at Derby. In June 1901, he opened the batting against the touring South African team, with impressive scores of 44 and 54 in his two innings. The following year, in June 1902, he opened the batting against Australia (facing a side considered to be one of the best teams in Australian cricket history). Despite being dismissed for fairly modest scores of 15 in both innings in an eight-wicket defeat, Ollivierre is said to have impressed the tourists with one local newspaper reporting how “the West Indian struck the Australians as being a sound and clever batsman and a clever bowler” (Yorkshire Evening Post, 20 Jun 1902 p.3). Although generally deployed as a batsman, rather than a bowler, during the match Ollivierre even had the distinction of bowling out the legendary Australian captain Joe Darling (1870-1946).
Pictured above: The famous Australian cricket team of 1902, captained by Joe Darling (1870-1946), who Glossop-based Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) impressed whilst playing against them for Derbyshire in a match in June 1902 as part of their tour of England
Ollivierre followed up the match against the Australians with a creditable performance at Derby for Derbyshire against London County at the end of June 1902, where he crossed swords once more with Dr W. G. Grace. Ollivierre scored 49 for Derbyshire in the second innings but the game was notable for a controversial incident (which newspaper reports described as “regrettable”) involving Dr Grace and Ollivierre. Bowling to Ollivierre, Grace appealed for obstruction and Ollivierre was initially given out by the umpire, only to protest that he had played the ball, prompting the umpire to reverse his decision, much to the annoyance of the famously irritable Grace!
After serving his two-year qualification period, Ollivierre made his County Championship debut for Derbyshire in July 1902, thereby becoming the first black West Indian to play county cricket. He made a successful start to his county career. In his second match against Hampshire at Derby at the beginning of August 1902, he scored a quick-fire 58 in just fifty-five minutes. He followed this up with his maiden first-class century later that month against Warwickshire in August 1902 (a “magnificent” innings of 167) and finished his debut season with a more than respectable batting average of 34.93.
Pictured above: Derbyshire County Cricket Club team photograph, Jul 1902, including Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) seated on the front row second from the right (image reproduced courtesy of Derbyshire County Cricket Club Archive)
The year the first photograph above was taken (1904) was Ollivierre’s most successful season for Derbyshire, amassing 1,268 runs at an average of 34.27, including a career highest score of 229. This innings took place in one of the most astonishing games in the history of English County Cricket - a match against Essex in July 1904 held at Queen’s Park, Chesterfield. Batting first, Essex amassed a huge total of 597 with batsman Percy Perrin (1876-1945) scoring a sensational 343 not out. Incredibly, given such a seemingly unassailable first innings’ total, Essex went on to lose the game. Derbyshire’s triumph was in large part down to Ollivierre who contributed his own sparkling first innings' knock of 229, helping Derbyshire to a total of 548 (within 50 runs of Essex’s first innings' score). Then, when Essex were skittled out for 97 in their second innings, Ollivierre guided the Peak County home to a nine-wicket victory with an unbeaten 92 not out in Derbyshire’s second innings (which took place on the occasion of Ollivierre’s 28th birthday). When the victory target was reached, the estimated home crowd of 3,000 people were sent into delirium, with many of the spectators, “animated by common impulse”, streaming onto the pitch "to congratulate the Derbyshire batsmen even before the winning hit had reached the boundary" (Derby Daily Telegraph, 21 Jul 1904 p.2). The 1905 Wisden cricket annual extolled Derbyshire’s victory as “the most phenomenal performance ever recorded in first-class cricket”.
Pictured above: 1) Queen's Park, Chesterfield, with the town's famous "crooked spire" of St Mary's Church visible in the background, early 1900s. The park was the scene of Charles Augustus Ollivierre's greatest cricketing triumph in July 1904, guiding Derbyshire to an improbable win against Essex, despite Essex batsman Percy Perrin (1876-1945) scoring am incredible 343 not out in the match, one of the most astonishing games in the history of English county cricket; 2) Extract from local newspaper report on Derbyshire's "astounding" victory against Essex, spearheaded by Olliviere, from 'The Derby Daily Telegraph', 21 Jul 1904 (pp.2-3); 3) Scorecard from the same 'Derby Daily Telegraph' article as the previous report extract
Ollivierre’s form dipped the following season, scoring a total of 759 runs at an average of 18.07 in 1905. He improved on this average in the 1906 season to 25.06 (second in the county's batting averages) which included another "sparkling" century (157) in a victory against Leicestershire in June in a match played at his home ground of Glossop. That same June also saw Ollivierre play in a match in Derby against his younger brother Richard Ollivierre (1880-1937) who had been selected for another touring West Indian side that summer. Ollivierre, no doubt eager to be reunited with his brother, is reported by the press as greeting the West Indian tourists as their steam ship docked at Southampton on 4th June. Richard clearly shared his older brother’s talent for cricket and was generally regarded as one of the best West Indian players on the 1906 tour. A fine attacking all-rounder, who could also keep wicket, Richard scored a combative 40 in the West Indian’s second innings tour match against Derbyshire only for his big brother "Charlie" to outdo him with a score of 63 not out in Derbyshire’s second innings' reply to help the county side to a six-wicket victory.
Pictured above: 1) Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) practising in the nets, c.1905 (colourised image of black and white original); 2) Charles' younger brother Richard Ollivierre (1880-1937) pictured in 'Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News', 11 Aug 1906 (p.21). The brothers were reunited after years apart living on different continents and pitted against each other on opposing sides in a match in June 1906 at Derby with Charles playing for Derbyshire and Richard playing for a touring West Indian team.
The following rain-sodden summer of 1907 proved to be a wretched one for Derbyshire County Cricket Club, and for Olliviere, with the team finishing rock bottom of the County Championship for the second successive season and Ollivierre failing to rediscover his run-scoring form of earlier seasons. Olliviere’s batting average that season slumped to 12.26 as he struggled on pitches which were largely slow and wet, and he battled ongoing eye-sight problems which are said ultimately to have forced him to step down from the county side at the season’s close. Ollivierre had contended with eye-sight issues for a number of years ever since suffering a mishap playing lawn tennis back in August 1901 when he was struck in the left eye by a tennis ball!
Despite the curtain coming down on Ollivierre’s first class county career in 1907, this certainly did not mean the end of his cricketing exploits in Derbyshire. After being released from the county side, Ollivierre continued to play club cricket in Derbyshire, initially for the village of Darley Dale who he represented between the 1906 - 1911 seasons. By c.1906, it appears that Ollivierre had relocated from the High Peak to Matlock (in central Derbyshire) where he had found work as a “Commercial Traveller”. Living in Matlock, it proved more convenient for Ollivierre to play cricket at club level for the neighbouring village of Darley Dale (rather than his former side of Glossop some 30 miles away). At the time, the Darley Dale team included amongst their ranks the former Derbyshire County cricket captain Albert Edward Lawton (1879-1955) who also lived in Matlock and no doubt would have had an influence on his erstwhile county team-mate joining the club. For four consecutive seasons 1907 - 1910, Ollivierre topped the batting averages for the Darley Dale first team.
Pictured above: 1) Crown Square in the centre of Matlock, Derbyshire, early 1900s, around the time Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) was resident in the town, having relocated to Matlock from Glossop by 1906. Whilst living in Matlock, Ollivierre (an all-round sportsman) represented the town at lawn tennis, hockey and golf between the years 1906-1911, as well as playing cricket for the neighbouring village of Darley Dale; 2) Extract from a Darley Dale Cricket Club annual report 1908 with Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) heading the batting averages (reproduced courtesy of Derbyshire Record Office: document ref. D7718/2/1)
Between 1907 and 1910, Ollivierre also played for (and occasionally captained) a wonderfully-named cricket side, the 'Wye Valley Wanderers', a name which conjures an appropriate sense of romance and mystery, given they appear to have been a nomadic club without a geographical base and not much can be discovered about them, but they did undeniably have Peak District connections. From snippets of clues in local newspapers, we can deduce that the Wye Valley Wanderers were evidently a touring cricket club made up of notable players from the Derbyshire, Manchester and Sheffield districts, set up at the instigation of Dr Thomas Graeme Dickson (1867-1920), known as the “Peak Doctor-Cricketer”, who lived at Buxton (and later Bakewell) in Derbyshire. The Wye Valley Wanderers played matches against local club sides throughout the Peak District and wider Derbyshire. The club was seemingly established with the aim of helping to promote cricket and to discover and encourage young players in the region. Whilst representing the Wye Valley Wanderers, Ollivierre graced such picturesque Peak District cricket grounds as Bakewell, Great Longstone, Edale, Chatsworth, Ashford-in-the-Water, Tideswell and Chapel-en-le-Frith, regularly playing in matches which (as with many of Derbyshire XI games in which Ollivierre was involved) coincided with “Wakes week” celebrations at individual Derbyshire villages to broaden their appeal.
The opportunity to see the “great West Indian batsman” Ollivierre in action for the Wye Valley Wanderers at these village grounds no doubt helped to bring in extra crowds and stimulate interest in cricket in the locality. The appeal of Ollivierre for the Wye Valley Wanderers, and the spectators who came to watch them, is neatly illustrated in an earlier local press report in September 1904 concerning an occasion when Ollivierre brought a team of Derbyshire cricketers, referred to as “C. A. Ollivierre’s XI”, to play the Wye Valley Wanderers at Buxton (the Derbyshire spa town often regarded as the western gateway to the Peak District). The reporter expressed irritation that “Umpire Woodruff” had seen fit to give Ollivierre out leg before wicket early in his innings because “it was to see him that people paid for” (Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal, 23 Sep 1904 p.10). Amongst notable feats for the Wye Valley Wanderers, Ollivierre, along with his team-mate W. F. Jacques, set a then Derbyshire Club record for a first innings' partnership of 219 in one match against Wirksworth.
Ollivierre's team-mates for the Wye Valley Wanderers included George Smith Marple (1868-1932), a former Sheffield Wednesday cricketer (and respected Sheffield businessman), as well as an occasional Derbyshire county player and Derbyshire County Cricket Club Committee member. Marple became captain of Millhouses Cricket Club (on the southerly outskirts of Sheffield). Evidently through his association with Marple, Ollivierre developed ties with Millhouses Cricket Club, who were then playing in the Hallamshire League. Ollivierre was a distinguished guest at the Millhouses CC Jubilee celebrations, held at the Robin Hood Hotel in Millhouses in October 1904, where he "delighted everyone by a capital speech" (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 26 Oct 1904 p. 12). Later in December that same year, he returned to the Robin Hood Hotel where he regaled a crowded audience at the Millhouses CC annual concert with a series of "humorous recitals" (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 7 Dec 1904 p. 12). Ollivierre also played occasional matches for Millhouses CC in the 1907 and 1908 seasons (in between his various other cricketing commitments).
Even when no longer part of the official Derbyshire County set-up, Ollivierre continued to play in friendly/exhibition matches for select “Derbyshire Elevens” against local club sides where his presence helped to generate excitement amongst the watching crowds. In September 1909, for instance, he had the distinction of captaining a Derbyshire XI against his own club-side Darley Dale. In a “brilliant” match at the Darley Bridge ground, “Mr C. A. Ollivierre’s Eleven”, as the team was referred to in the local press, a side which included fellow feted former Derbyshire county cricketer Walter Sugg (1860-1933), triumphed thanks largely to Ollivierre who top-scored with a memorable 99 not out, “batting magnificently throughout” (Belper News, 17 Sep 1909 p.8).
The following summer, in July 1910, Ollivierre found himself back in the heart of the Peak District, playing for a Derbyshire XI, captained by former Derbyshire county cricketer William Louis Shipton (1861-1941) against Chapel-en-le-Frith, the High Peak town often referred to as “the Capital of the Peak”. Also lining up alongside Ollivierre in the Derbyshire XI, was former Derbyshire cricket captain Samuel Hill-Wood (1872-1949) who had been instrumental in bringing Ollivierre to Derbyshire in the first place. The match was played as part of what local newspapers referred to as a “Cricket Festival” held at Chapel-en-Frith and took place in front of a “record gate” (Buxton Advertiser, 16 Jul 1910 p.6). Ollivierre top-scored with a “dashing innings” of 74 not out and also posted highly impressive bowling figure of four wickets for seven as he helped the visitors to a comfortable victory against their High Peak hosts.
That Ollivierre was unquestionably a major draw for spectators is clearly spelt out in press reports. For example, an article in the Hull Daily Mail, reflecting on his county career with Derbyshire, summarised Ollivierre as follows: “Though often terribly reckless, Ollivierre was a delightful batsman to watch…and he was an undoubted attraction on the visiting grounds” (Hull Daily Mail, 27 Jul 1908, p.5).
Pictured above: The village square at Baslow, Derbyshire, early 1900s. Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) played a cricket match for a Derbyshire XI against a Baslow and District 'Eighteen' at the village's cricket pitch on 4th September 1900 which attracted a reported crowd of 200 people (around one quarter of the estimated total population of the village at the time). A few years later, Ollivierre incurred a fine of 5 shillings for a minor transport infringement in the village in December 1908 - cycling along the footpath!
Ollivierre clearly made a favourable impression on the Peak District through his exhilarating cricketing feats, but he did have one minor brush with the law in the region. In December 1908, local newspaper reports reveal how he was fined 5 shillings for “cycling on a footpath” in the village of Baslow. When the case was brought before the “Bakewell Bench”, Ollivierre did not appear in person but sent a letter pleading extenuating circumstances on account of the “very bad state” of the Peak District roads, an excuse with the Chairman looked on favourably when imposing a lesser fine (Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 11 Dec 1908 p.6). It is worth remembering that motor cars were yet to become prevalent at this point in time and the roads in the Peak District were largely rough and unsurfaced dirt tracks, which were extremely difficult to navigate by bicycle, particularly in the wet winter months when they were invariably mud-clogged.
Ollivierre’s cricketing abilities would also take him on further overseas’ trips (albeit on much shorter journeys than the 4,000-mile voyage across the North Atlantic from the West Indies which had brought him to England back in 1900 in the first place). In August 1909, Ollivierre travelled around Northern Ireland with a touring cricket side calling themselves the “Lancashire Nomads”, which included various well-known former county players, including fellow former Derbyshire County cricketing brothers Walter Sugg (1860-1933) and Frank Sugg (1862-1933).
Later, in 1925, Ollivierre accepted an appointment with the Amsterdam Cricket League, coaching cricket in Holland, something he continued to do annually through to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Cricket had been a reasonably popular sport in the Netherlands in the 19th-century with regular touring matches taking place between English and Dutch teams throughout the 1890s. However, at the beginning of the 20th-century, cricket had fallen out of favour amongst the Dutch, partly, it is thought, as a result of disapproval of English military interventions against the Boers in South Africa, prompting them to turn away from a game they came to see as tarnished with English associations. Ollivierre thereby helped to play a role in reviving the fortunes of cricket in the Netherlands, contributing to what is generally thought to be the heyday of Dutch cricket in the 1930s.
Pictured above: 1) Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) pictured coaching in the Netherlands, c.1925 (image reproduced courtesy of Glossop Heritage Trust; 2) Article in 'The Sheffield Daily Telegraph' , 16 Apr 1925 (p.6), regarding Charles Augustus Ollivierre's cricket coaching commitments in Holland
Ollivierre’s sporting talents were not just restricted to cricket. He was an excellent all-round sportsman. Way back in 1894, he was awarded a silver cup for winning a half mile running race whilst at Trinidad College. On English shores, outside of cricket, he also represented Matlock competitively at lawn tennis, hockey and golf whilst living in the town between the years 1906 - 1911. Playing alongside him for Matlock Hockey Club (which became the Darley Dale Hockey Club in 1909) was fellow Derbyshire county cricketer (and former county captain) Albert Edward Lawton (1879-1955) who also played club cricket with Ollivierre at Darley Dale.
Pictured above: 1) Caricature of Charles Augustus Ollivierre from 'The Nottingham Evening Post', 23 Jul 1906 (p.6), captioned "The Derbyshire Ranji" with reference to the famous Indian-born Sussex county cricketer Ranjitsinhji (1892-1933) to whom Ollivierre was often rather reductively compared at the time on account of them both being in the unusual position of non-Caucasian county cricketers (but with both also regarded as highly talented batsmen); 2) Derbyshire County Cricket XI of 1903 (including Charles Augustus Ollivierre, sat third from left) as pictured in ‘The Derby Daily Telegraph’, 31 Jul 1936 (p.5)
By 1912, Ollivierre had relocated to Featherstone on the outskirts of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where he was employed in a local works. He represented Featherstone Cricket Club with some distinction in the 1912 and 1913 seasons. Ollivierre eventually settled in the market town of Pontefract, West Yorkshire where he continued his sporting activities and became a respected member of the local community. Local newspaper reports reveal that he continued to play lawn tennis, winning a doubles' tournament in Pontefract in 1921. He also became secretary of Pontefract Hockey Club and played billiards for Pontefract Constitutional Club. In 1924, local newspapers reported how Ollivierre "came out of cricket retirement" to play for Pontefract Cricket Club and, at the end of his comeback season, he headed the club’s batting averages. It was stated how Ollivierre’s activities as a cricketer, lawn tennis player and secretary of the Pontefract Hockey Club ensured he had “made many friends” in the town (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 16 Apr 1925 p.6).
Living in rural Derbyshire for so many years and playing sports where the people around him were almost exclusively white, Ollivierre clearly had to endure racial prejudices of the time which must have made life difficult for him both on and off the sports' field. Black people in England in Ollivierre’s day were often viewed with suspicion and treated with outright hostility (as illustrated by the alleged clash Ollivierre had with Buffalo Bill in Glossop mentioned above). Although it was said that a decline in form brought on by worsening eyesight issues was the principle reason for him getting jettisoned from the Derbyshire first-team at the end of the 1907 season, there is a suggestion that racism may also have been a factor, particularly in light of how Ollivierre continued to excel at cricket at club level in the county in subsequent seasons. In a letter to the Sheffield Independent newspaper, published on 26th July 1909, a correspondent, who described himself as a long-time supporter of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, bemoaned how the Derbyshire selectors had frozen out Ollivierre of the county set-up for the past couple of years despite him being “one of the finest bats in the country”. The correspondent acknowledged how “some have taken exception to his colour” but reasoned that the county selection committee would do “better to play a man with a black face than a black character” (Sheffield Independent, 26 Jul 1909 p.8).
Pictured above: 1) Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) taken from a Taddy & Co. cigarette card, c. 1904; 2) Letter pressing for Ollivierre's recall to the Derbyshire 1st Eleven and suggesting his continued exclusion may be on account of his 'colour', from 'The Sheffield Independent', 26 Jul 1909 (p.8)
That Ollivierre won so many admirers and made a success of his time in England as a cricketer, despite the ingrained and open racism in the country at the time, is testament not only to his cricketing skill but also to his strength of character and personality. It is clear he was a popular and engaging figure, equally adept at make friends off the cricket pitch as he was at attracting fans on it. Local newspaper articles from the time included glowing assessments of his character. In one report, he was described as “intelligent and well-spoken” (North Devon Gazette, 31 Jul 1900 p. 6). Another report gushed how: “Gifted with an attractive manner, his unassuming and pleasant ways have won for him many friends in “picturesque Derbyshire”” (Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter, 6 Sep 1901 p.6).
Upon being presented with a “winning bat” at the annual meeting of Darley Dale Cricket Club in April 1908 for having topped the batting averages the previous season, it was reported that Ollivierre remarked how “it had given him great pleasure to be at the top of the averages, though he would have been more pleased if one of the youngsters had won the prize” (Belper News, 17 Apr 1908 p.2). This speaks volumes as to Ollivierre’s charm and humility. His affable, easy-going nature, and desire to put the team before individual accolades, is also illustrated in an anecdote relayed in the Derby Daily Telegraph in the aftermath of his greatest cricketing triumph - guiding Derbyshire to that sensational victory over Essex back in July 1904 with his individual scores of 229 in the first innings and 92 not out in the second. Ollivierre’s batting partner at the moment Derbyshire clinched the winning runs in that match was Bill Storer (1867-1912) who also features in the above 1904 photograph of the Derbyshire team (sat next to Ollivierre on the far left) and who contributed a useful 48 not out in Derbyshire’s successful second innings’ run chase. Back in the pavilion in the immediate aftermath of the game, the following incident was reported:
“When Storer learned how near the West Indian had been to reaching three figures for the second time in the match he went and expressed his regret that he had not afforded him an opportunity of getting the additional eight runs. Ollivierre laughed cheerily in reply and said he was only too pleased to see the runs got, no matter who got them” (Derby Daily Telegraph, 21 Jul 1904 p.2).
Undoubtedly, Ollivierre challenged racial stereotypes and misconceptions about black people in England at the time and helped to blaze a trail for other black and ethnic minority people to follow. Ollivierre died in Pontefract on 25th March 1949, aged 72. He was buried at St Stephen's Church, Fylingdales on the Yorkshire coast overlooking Robin Hood's Bay, a place which was particularly close to his heart, having enjoyed many stays there during his time in England (as reflected in correspondence between a long-time resident of Robin Hood's Bay and Glossop Cricket Club members during the 1990s, and the photographs below, now held with Glossop Heritage Trust). Ollivierre was a regular visitor to the old Fylingdales Inn, Fylingthorpe, near Robin Hood's Bay, where he became good friends with the landlord there Charles William Goody (1891-1964) and his wife Ida Annie Goody (1892-1960) (the latter becoming the main beneficiary of Ollivierre's will, in which he describes her as "my dear friend" and bequeaths his residual property to her "in recognition of her great kindness to me over many years").
Pictured above: 1) Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) with an unknown companion in the dock of Robin Hood's Bay on the North Yorkshire coast, c.1920; 2) Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) in the garden of the old Fylingdales Inn, Fylingthorpe, near Robin Hood's Bay, c.1930s (images reproduced courtesy of Glossop Heritage Trust)
As with his birth-place, Ollivierre's final resting place was by the sea. He is not thought to have married or had any children whilst in England, but, in the words of local newspaper reports, he had “made innumerable friends” in the country. Ollivierre’s gravestone (incorrectly referencing his birthplace as Kingston, Jamaica, instead of Kingstown, St Vincent) bears the simple inscription “to a dear friend”, making no reference to his sporting abilities and accomplishments but speaking instead to his warmth and generosity of spirit, a man who was clearly a positive and inspiring role model for others and a true pioneer.
Gravestone for Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) as it stands at St Stephen's Church, Fylingdales, incorrectly referencing his birthplace as Kngston, Jamaica, rather than Kingstown, St Vincent
In March 2022, following our release of a short documentary film (based on the above blog) highlighting Charles Augustus Ollivierre’s Peak District connections, we received an email which shed new light on Ollivierre and contradicted the widely held assumption in the UK that he had no children. The email came from 'descendants' of Ollivierre in the Caribbean who informed us that prior to coming to England, Ollivierre had a daughter, born 8th October 1898, named Cecilia Bridget Da Silva, affectionately called Keke, the oldest child of Hannah Da Silva. Keke went on to have various children of her own in St Vincent, through which there are a number of direct descendants of Ollivierre's living to this day in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Ollivierre’s family members have kindly expressed their appreciation for the “insight into Ollivierre’s life beyond the shores of St Vincent” provided through our blog and short film but wish to correct the previously held view (adopted by us and other commentators in the UK) that Ollivierre did not have children and put on record how he is “remembered and loved” by his descendants today.
In October 2022, we (at Peak in the Past) were delighted to be invited to a blue plaque unveiling at Glossop Cricket Club, organised by the Glossop Heritage Trust, in association with the cricket club, to honour Ollivierre's trailblazing achievements and positive impact he had on Glossop cricket and local life. We were also very pleased to be able to put the organisers of the event in touch with Ollivierre's direct descendants (with whom we had established contact through our blog and short film) and, as a result, one of Ollivierre's great great grandson's Randolph Benn (together with his partner Audrey) was a guest of honour at the ceremony, representing the family. At the ceremony, Peak in the Past researcher Tim Knebel had the honour of delivering a short opening address about Ollivierre's life and achievements in the locality.
Pictured above: 1) Guests at the unveiling ceremony of a blue plaque in honour of Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949) at Glossop Cricket Club, 8 Oct 2022 (photograph reproduced courtesy of David Griffin, Heritage Officer, Derbyshire County Cricket Club): 2) Randolph Benn, guest of honour at Glossop Cricket Club, after unveiling the plaque to commemorate his great great grandfather Charles Augustus Ollivierre (1876-1949), 8 Oct 2022 (photograph reproduced courtesy of David Griffin, Heritage Officer, Derbyshire County Cricket Club); 3) Archivist and Ollivierre researcher Tim Knebel with Ollivierre's great great grandson Randolph Benn, looking at the bat reputed to have been used by Charles Augustus Ollivierre on display at the Ollivierre blue plaque unveiling ceremony at Glossop Cricket Club (note: the bat is now in the custody of the Glossop Heritage Trust), 8 Oct 2022 .
1/5/2021 1 Comment
One of the historical challenges facing a region like the Peak District in past decades was how to effectively police a scattered series of geographically isolated villages in a remote and often inhospitable landscape in an era before police officers could be quickly mobilised to crime and incident scenes via squad cars and motorcycles. A key solution was the deployment of the ‘Village Bobby’ - a fulltime, paid police constable sent to live in and patrol a particular village, assisted (when required) by ‘special constables’ - trained volunteers drawn from the local community.
In the following blog (a version of which was first published on the old Peak in the Past website in July 2017 which has since been reconstructed), archivist Tim Knebel, with the help of the reminiscences of Les Bradwell, considers the role of the police constabulary in the Derbyshire Peak District village of Bradwell in the interwar years and seeks to shed some light on the men in the photograph of the ‘Bradwell Constabulary’ below. This photograph (along with others in the blog) has been reproduced with the kind permission of Les Bradwell and his family. Les Bradwell grew up in Bradwell (the village which shares its name with his surname) in the 1920s and 1930s and his father Thomas Frost Bradwell (one of the men featured in the photograph) served as ‘special constable’ in Bradwell after the First World War.
Pictured above: The Bradwell Constabulary, [c. 1940]; Left-Right: Thomas Frost Bradwell (Special Constable), PC Applegate (Village Bobby), Cyril Evans (Special Sergeant) and Mr Bromage
The ‘Special Constabulary’ and the ‘Village Bobby’
The roots of the ‘Special Constabulary’ in the UK can be traced back centuries but the body which exists more-or-less as we know it today was effectively formalised during the First World War: a voluntary, part-time organisation paid only expenses. During the war, the primary function of the Special Constabulary was to safeguard against the infiltration of German spies who it was feared were intent on trying to disrupt the country’s water supply. After the war, the Special Constabulary concept continued to play a key role in community policing, particularly in remote rural areas such as the Peak District. At a parish level, the ‘specials’ were trained volunteers drawn from the village, and paid only expenses, who would support the work of a fulltime paid policeman, the ‘Village Bobby’. During the interwar years, before police motorcycles and cars became prevalent, the village bobby would often conduct his patrols on bicycle.
In the decades leading up to the First World War, the village of Bradwell had experienced a remarkable period of continuity with regards to local policing. PC Thomas Brown had been the popular village constable there for 30 years from 1883 up until his retirement in September 1913, which was a police service record. Local newspapers reported how ‘never before in the history of the County Police’ had an officer served in the same station for such a length of time.
Pictured above: PC Thomas Brown pictured in the 'Sheffield Telegraph' newspaper, having attained a record 30 years service as police constable for Bradwell, 20 Sep 1913
Thomas Brown’s successor as village constable was PC Charles William Roome who died prematurely in post (following illness) in March 1919 aged 48. This created a vacancy which PC Applegate would fill, heralding another long period of stability of policing in Bradwell with the village once more having a bobby who would remain in post for over two decades…
PC Herbert Stanley Applegate (1896-1969), the ‘Village Bobby’
PC Herbert Stanley Applegate was the only salaried police officer in the above photograph of the Bradwell Constabulary. He was employed by the Derbyshire Constabulary to serve as the fulltime ‘Village Bobby’ for Bradwell.
Applegate was a not a native of Bradwell. He was born on 8 March 1896 in Ribblehead in the Yorkshire Dales, the son of Eleazer Applegate (c.1863-1915), a ‘railway signalman’, and his wife Harriett (nee Morriss) (1861-1928). Eleazer Applegate’s job as a railway signalman evidently led to the family moving around somewhat from place to place during Herbert’s upbringing. By the time of the 1901 census, the family had relocated to Derbyshire where they lived in Belper and, by the time of the 1911 census, they were living in Derby where Herbert (aged 15) worked as an ‘Office Boy’. In September 1916, aged 20 and now working as a clerk in Derby, Applegate was recruited into the Royal Garrison Artillery where he served as a ‘gunner’ in France during the First World War.
A First World War service record (held at the National Archives) survives for Herbert Applegate which reveals his height on enlisting as 5’ 9¼” which was well-above average for the time (his taller stature would make him perfectly suited to the role of a police officer!). Applegate was discharged from the army in 1919 and shortly afterwards he married Hilda Parkin in 1920 (the marriage took place in the Selby district of North Yorkshire). Herbert and Hilda Applegate had a daughter Joan born (in the Chapel-le-Frith district of Derbyshire) in 1921.
By 1921, Applegate had also become a police constable, having joined the Derbyshire Constabulary where he was stationed at Buxton. His First World War army service record includes a letter he wrote to the military authorities in October 1921 requesting that the war medals to which he was entitled (the ‘Victory’ and the ‘General Service Medal’) could be sent to him as soon as possible to his new address in Buxton. In the letter, Applegate cited his particular reasons for wanting to have his medals at the earliest opportunity: the Buxton Police HQ had two ‘special dress’ parades coming up and they were also expecting a visit from HRH Princess Mary. Clearly he wanted to look the part and be proudly bedecked with his army medals for the occasions!
Pictured above: Letter written to military authorities from PC Herbert Stanley Applegate of the Derbyshire Constabulary requesting his First World War service medals be sent to his new address in Buxton, 21 Oct 1921
At some point in the early 1920s, Applegate was posted to Bradwell to become the ‘Village Bobby’ there. The 1939 register reveals how the Applegate family home in Bradwell was at 1 New Church Street.
Local newspaper reports paint PC Applegate out to be quite the daring ‘all action’ hero who was prepared to go to extreme lengths in the line of duty. In January 1936 for example, he was commended for diving into an icy pool on the windswept Bradwell moors on a bitterly cold day to recover the body of a missing man (Joseph Ollerenshaw) who had tragically drowned.
PC Applegate was particularly noted for undertaking several courageous animal rescue attempts in what was often treacherous landscape around Bradwell. In October 1933, he was awarded the National Canine Defence League’s silver medal after he volunteered to be lowered 40-foot down by a rope tied around his waist through a narrow shaft of a disused leadmine at Dirtlow Rake (on the moors above Bradwell) so he could rescue a ‘valuable sheep dog’ which had fallen down the shaft onto a narrow ledge. Applegate carried out the rescue despite the danger caused by falling loose stones around him. Remarkably, the reports reveal how he had carried out a ‘similar rescue’ just a couple of months previously. In December 1933, he was also awarded the RSPCA ‘Bronze Medal for Animal Rescue’ for saving the sheepdog.
At the end of December 1934, PC Applegate was again praised in the local press for showing ‘great heroism’ when on Christmas Eve he used a rope and pulley to undertake a ‘perilous descent into darkness’ in what proved to be an ultimately unsuccessful rescue attempt of a young cow which had fallen 60-foot down a disused spar mine in the moors above Bradwell.
In October 1936, Applegate again distinguished himself in a gallant act of animal rescue along with another local police officer Sergeant Frank Shimwell of Castleton. The officers were supervising the ‘dipping of sheep’ at a Ministry of Agriculture compound in the neighbouring Derbyshire village of Hope at the time. Whilst waiting for the first batch of sheep to arrive, they had taken a walk alongside the River Styx, which was heavily swollen with floodwater following recent heavy rains, when they noticed a sheep stranded and terrified on a small island in the middle of the river with the water rising around it. Using a rope and plunging into the water, the officers were able to haul the sheep to safety.
In May 1938, PC Applegate was one of five local men reported as having risked their lives to carry out a daring rescue of another sheep and a lamb which had fallen over a 250-foot high cliff in Bradwell. Applegate scaled down part of the cliff face and lowered a sack down at the end of a long rope whilst two other men, Robert Wilson of Hope, manager of the Bradwell Dale Quarry, and Albert Hancock of Bradwell, clambered further down the cliff to where the sheep were trapped. Although the ewe perished the lamb was saved.
By all accounts Applegate was a brave and well-liked police officer who also took an active role in village social affairs. In March 1933, for example, he is reported as having organised a ‘Whist Drive and Dance at Bradwell Memorial Hall’ in aid of the Derbyshire Constabulary Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund.
Applegate died in the Chesterfield District of Derbyshire in 1969, aged 73.
Pictured above: Local newspaper article relating to PC Applegate rescue of the 'valuable sheepdog' from the disused leadmine taken from the 'Sheffield Telegraph', 17 Oct 1933
Thomas Frost Bradwell (1890-1970), Special Constable
Small, bespectacled, quiet and unassuming, at first glance Thomas Frost Bradwell might seem like an unlikely volunteer police constable. Bradwell lived at Towngate in Bradwell where he worked as a master butcher, grocer and farmer. His son Les Bradwell remembers Thomas Frost Bradwell as a kind and gentle soul who would often give away for free his meat and grocery produce to the poorest members of the village. However, although Thomas Frost Bradwell was short in stature, Les recalls how his father was physically very strong. Bradwell never wore gloves, even in the bitterest of weathers, and would heft sheep and pigs around in the slaughterhouse with an ease which could scarcely be believed.
Thomas Frost Bradwell also followed in a long family tradition of playing an active role in public affairs of the village. He was from ancient Bradwell stock - his family had lived in the village for generations where they hugely respected. He was born in Bradwell on 3 September 1890, the son of Spencer Joshua Bradwell (1844-1919) and his wife Nancy. Spencer Joshua Bradwell was a butcher and grocer (who passed on the family business to his son) and who also served as secretary of the Bradwell Wesleyan Sunday School as well as acting as a trustee for the school and secretary of Marshall’s Educational Charity.
The roots of an effective police officer in the Bradwell family genes can be traced directly back to the figure of Thomas Frost Bradwell’s great grandfather John Bradwell (1789-1853), who was a widely revered figure in Bradwell. He was an innkeeper, butcher, lead ore merchant and leadmine owner, as well as a Wesleyan local preacher who also officiated as ‘village scribe’ and ‘counsellor and confidential adviser to the whole village and its immediate neighbourhood’. To John Bradwell’s ‘counsel and judgement’ were ‘referred all matters of dispute around him’ and it was noted how ‘rarely indeed did he fail to bring matters to a satisfactory and peaceful termination’. (Such high praise for John Bradwell can be found in a newspaper obituary for him printed after his death in 1853, the text of which is reproduced in Bradwell Ancient and Modern by Seth Evans, 1912, p.65).
Like his forebears, Thomas Frost Bradwell, was a committed Wesleyan Methodist. He acted as superintendent of the Bradwell Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School as well as serving on the committees of the Bradwell Wesley Guild and the Bradwell Hospital Association (which he chaired) and he also presided over meetings of the Bradwell Band of Hope.
Thomas Frost Bradwell married Louisa (1886-1958) on 6 November 1916 and they had four surviving children: Jessie (1919-1984), Cyril (1922-1991), Leslie (born 1923) and Stanley (born 1926). Given his multiple family business concerns, and responsibilities juggling various official roles for the Bradwell Wesleyan Church and other local organisations, in addition to raising four children, it is incredible to think of how Bradwell managed to find time to undertake additional duties as a special constable as well! However, Les recalls his father's many stories about how he, along with his ‘boss’, special sergeant Cyril Evans, used to venture out to arrest ‘villains’ in the neighbourhood and cart them off to lock-up cells in the neighbouring village of Castleton.
Bradwell died in his home village of Bradwell in 1970, aged 79.
Pictured above: Thomas Frost Bradwell, [c. 1940s]
Cyril Evans (1894-1987), Special Sergeant
Like his friend, neighbour and special constabulary colleague Thomas Frost Bradwell, Cyril Evans was a fellow “Bradda-ite” through and through. Born in the village on 28 April 1894, Evans was also from a well-regarded Bradwell family who had been in the village for generations. Similarly, like the Bradwells, the Evans family were also staunch Wesleyan Methodists who played prominent roles in local public affairs.
Cyril was the son of Dennis Evans (1862-1923) and his wife Felicia (1861-1942). Dennis Evans was a limestone waller and builder, who later became manager of the Spar Works at Oatland Head, Bradwell (the concern of Messrs Hodkin and Jones of Sheffield). Dennis Evans also became chairman of Bradwell Parish Council and was a teacher of the Wesleyan Sunday School in the village for over 40 years, and conductor of the Wesleyan Church Choir for 36 years.
As a young man, by the outbreak of the First World War, Cyril Evans was one of the secretaries of the Bradwell Wesleyan Sunday School. In August 1916, Evans enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters with whom he fought in France during the First World War. In March 1917, local newspapers reported how Evans was hospitalised in France suffering with ‘trench feet’.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Cyril Evans became a builder along with his older brother Fred and worked his way up to becoming a ‘Master Builder’. The 1939 register reveals how he lived at Brookside in Bradwell. Like his father Dennis, Cyril also served on the Bradwell Parish Council and was also involved with the Bradwell Wesleyan Choir, taking charge of various choir outings amongst other things. He also served as treasurer of Bradwell Hospital Association (the same local organisation which his special constable Thomas Frost Bradwell chaired).
After serving as special sergeant in the village for many years, retaining a lifelong interest in helping to uphold law and order, in 1949 Cyril Evans was appointed both a ‘Magistrate’ and ‘Justice of the Peace’ for Derbyshire.
Having remained a bachelor for most of his life, in 1951, Evans married Dorothy Leech (1909-1974). Evans died in his home village of Bradwell on 31 August 1987, aged 93.
Mr Ernest Arthur Bromage (1879-1951)
The non-uniformed man in the bowler hat Mr Bromage’s precise role in connection with the Bradwell Constabulary which led to him being photographed in the group shot is unclear. However, he is known to have served on the Bradwell Parish Council and so may have had some kind of liaison role between the village police and parish council.
Like Applegate, Bromage was not a native of Bradwell and is understood to have moved to the village at some point in the 1920s where he became manager of a grocery store. Ernest Arthur Bromage was born Arthur Ernest Bromage on 9 Feb 1879 in the market town of Pershore in Worcestershire. He was the son of William Henry Bromage (1851-1906) a railway porter, and his wife Charlotte (nee White) (c. 1851-1926).
Bromage married Florence Martin (1879 - 1933) in 1904 in Sheffield. The couple had a daughter Edna Bromage born in Sheffield in 1908. At the time of the 1911 census, the family lived at 110 Pomona Street, Sheffield, where Bromage worked as a foreman packer in the grocery industry.
Although only arriving in Bradwell later on in life, Bromage quickly established himself as a prominent public figure in the village and became one of the leading lights on the Bradwell Parish Council. Like Thomas Frost Bradwell and Cyril Evans, he was also a committed Wesleyan (his grandfather Thomas Bromage had been a Wesleyan Minister). Bromage presided over the Young People’s Guild in the Bradwell Primitive Methodist Schoolroom and took charge of outings of the ‘Sunshine Methodist Sunday School’. He also joined Bradwell and Evans on the Committee of the Bradwell Hospital Association for which he was elected president.
Following the death of his first wife Florence in 1933, he later married Winifred Bromage (born 1898) in 1935. Bromage lived at East View, the Hills, Bradwell and he died in the village on 22 Sep 1951 age 72.
Stanley Bradwell (1894-1970)
Although he does not feature in the group photograph of the Bradwell Constabulary, the best-known police officer to come from the village of Bradwell is Stanley Bradwell. Stanley was special constable Thomas Frost Bradwell’s brother-in-law (and Les Bradwell’s uncle) as well as a former school class mate of special sergeant Cyril Evans.
Stanley was born in Bradwell on 18 December 1894, the son of John Bradwell (1857-1896) and his wife Nancy. John Bradwell, who worked as a green grocer and lived at Water Lane, Bradwell, died when Stanley was just a toddler and so never got to witness the impressive accomplishments of his son as both a soldier and police officer. Stanley went on to serve with distinction with the Sherwood Foresters during the First World War, for which he was awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and Military Cross (MC) for gallantry, before becoming a ‘Police Inspector’ and later ‘Police Superintendent’ in Derby.
Pictured above: 1) Stanley Bradwell of Bradwell on joining the police service, 1913; 2) 2nd Lieutenant Stanley Bradwell of the Sherwood Foresters awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in the First World War, 1918
Stanley joined the police service in 1913. At the time, he was also a member of the territorial section (Chatsworth Rifles) of the Sherwood Foresters. In Bradwell, he also served as a Sunday School teacher at the Bradwell Wesleyan Chapel and was a member of the Wesleyan Chapel choir.
Stanley was sent to France in 1915 as a sergeant with the Sherwood Foresters. On 5 June 1916, he won the DCM for his action at Givenchy. His citation reveals how the medal was awarded for: ‘conspicuous gallantry during a raid on enemy’s trenches. He repelled an enemy counter-bombing attack, driving three of the enemy into a dug-out, where he bombed them. Later he assisted in the rescue of one of his officers who was wounded during the withdrawal.’
In July 1916, Stanley was ‘severely wounded’ in France according to local newspaper reports and hospitalised. He eventually recovered to return to the front line but, during his recuperation period, he was afforded the opportunity to give his sister Louisa away at her wedding to special constable Thomas Frost Bradwell at the Bradwell Wesleyan Chapel on 6th November 1916. On returning to action in the First World War, Stanley later gained promotion to temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion. On 29 September 1918, he was awarded the MC for his gallantry at Bellenglise during an attack on the Hindenberg Line. The citation for his medal in the London Gazette reports how he showed: ‘exceptional powers of leadership and organisation throughout the action. When the advance of his platoon was temporarily checked, he showed absolute disregard for danger, although exposed to machine gun and snipers’ fire, and his leadership and devotion to duty enabled the advance of his flank to be continued’. Stanley is said to have shot three Germans with one bullet from his revolver.
After the war, Stanley re-joined Derbyshire Police Force where he had a glittering career. He served as a sergeant in Alfreton before becoming an inspector at Staveley and later joined Derby Divisional Headquarters. In 1937, as an inspector in Derby, he was selected to represent the Derbyshire County Police at the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. In 1941, he was promoted to police superintendent.
Stanley married Lily Walker in the Stafford District in 1920. They had a son John (1925-1929) and two daughters Joan (born 1922) and Stella (born 1930). Stanley Bradwell died in Derby in 1970, aged 75.
Les recalls his mother Louisa saying of her brother (and Les’ uncle) Stanley: ‘He was frightened of nothing and no-one’.
Pictured above: 1) Announcement in the 'Sheffield Telegraph' newspaper of Inspector Stanley Bradwell's selection to represent the Derbyshire County Police at the Coronation, 6 Apr 1937; 2) Photograph of Derby Police Superintendent Stanley Bradwell [c.1940s]
In the second half of the 20th-century, communication and transport developments meant that the localised policing model of the ‘Village Bobby’, supported by the special constabulary sourced from volunteers from the village, became outdated, replaced by a more centralised system. There still remains however much nostalgia for this parochial system of the benign, bicycle-riding bobby, well-known and regarded in the local community.
Archival research, along with Les Bradwell’s long memory, allow us to build up a picture of the background and personalities of the men who served in the Bradwell Constabulary. More than just policemen, they were pillars of the community. Shaped by their experiences of the First World War, their strong Wesleyan faith and an unwavering sense of public duty, they were driven by a determination to keep their local village and neighbourhood safe. They were clearly greatly esteemed by the community they strived to protect during their lifetime, and are deserving of our respect and admiration today.