George Brown, the cricketer who played for Hampshire and England, was very well known and respected in his day. He played his first Test Match in July 1921 at Leeds against Australia, and during his professional career he scored 25,649 runs, 37 centuries, 629 wickets, 528 catches and 68 stumpings.
He was a big, powerful, man and a colourful character. The well known cricket commentator John Arlott wrote of him — “There was never a more zestful, brave, exciting or variously gifted cricketer than George Brown. He did everything, enough and well enough to be called the most complete all-round cricketer the game has ever known. Tall, with high, craggy shoulders, the essence of raw-boned strength, he personified aggression, even in the act of taking guard”.
George was born at Cowley, in Oxfordshire, on the 6th of October 1887 to Edwin and Sarah Brown. George’s father Edwin did not have a promising start in life. As a young child he had lived in the workhouse in Cowley with his single mother and his older sister. But when he grew up he became a bricklayer, married and raised a large family, and eventually became a foreman.
When George was a teenager he worked with his father on building sites. At the age of 13 he was a builder’s errand boy. According to rumour, he learnt cricket by watching the Oxford college boys play and then joining in with them. Another rumour says that having decided that life on building sites was not for him, he got a job at the hospital and joined their cricket team, where he was spotted by Sir Russell Bencraft who recommended him to Hampshire Cricket Club.
George moved to Southampton where he became a professional cricketer playing for the county side. He lodged at 140 Milton Road with a coachman, George Bennett, and his family.
In 1909, at the age of 21 years, he married one of George Bennett’s daughters. Her full name was Ada Mabel Frances Bennett, but she was usually called Mabel. The wedding was held at Saint Mark’s Church, Southampton, on the 20th of January. One of the witnesses was the Hampshire cricketer John Alfred ‘Jack’ Newman.
The couple went to live in Cromwell Road, just one street away from her parents. A few months later, George and Mabel had their first child, whom they named Stella. Their second child, Lynda, was born about a year later and in 1912 their son George Edwin was born. They had one more daughter, Peggy Noreen, who was born in 1922.
George was an all-rounder, a left-handed batsman who also kept wicket for England. And, as a young man, he was a fast bowler. He soon became famous, so much so that a magazine, The Boys Realm, included him in their set of collectable cards.
During the English winters, George moved to Johannesburg in South Africa where he worked as a player-coach to the Wanderers’ club.
In 1929, George’s playing career was briefly interrupted while he recovered from a motorcycle accident. The local paper reported that “George Brown, Hampshire's general utility man, who was injured in a motor-cycle smash last Friday, is very badly bruised, but luckily no bones are broken. Brown will, however, be out of the side for a week or ten days”.
George continued to play cricket for Hampshire until 1933, and in 1934 he received a farewell testimonial. The newspapers reported — “George Brown, the Hampshire cricketer who was recently appointed a first-class umpire, was yesterday presented with a cheque for £292 by Sir Russell Bencraft on behalf of the Hampshire County Cricket Club as a farewell testimonial, raised by subscriptions from members of the club and by collections at matches last summer. Brown received a four-figure cheque for his benefit a few seasons ago.”
When George’s career as a player was over he worked as an umpire. In 1935 he was the first umpire to declare a first-class batsman “out” under the newly introduced, and still experimental, leg before wicket rule. The unfortunate batsman was P. Sunnucks, who was playing for Kent against Leicestershire.
In 1950 George, and his friend Jack Newman, were made honorary life members of Hampshire County Cricket Club.
John Arlott, the well known cricket commentator, wrote the following article about George Brown in The Cricketer —
George Brown was one of the most colourful of cricketers. Countless stories were and still are told about him and, if some are apocryphal, they are no more surprising than many that are undoubtedly true. The earliest recounts that, in the spring of 1906, when he was eighteen, he set out from Cowley in Oxfordshire - that prolific nursery of Hampshire cricketers - with a tin trunk, a bat, a pair of plimsolls and the bare price of a single ticket to Southampton. The last, so far as his playing career is concerned, relates that in 1933, rising 46, he began his last season by opening the innings against Surrey on a difficult Oval wicket and carrying his bat for 150 of his side's total of 294. In the interim this remarkable man, utterly fearless, over six feet tall, possessed of immense physical strength and with a deep tan, high cheek bones and imperious nose which gave him the appearance of a Red Indian chief, made a highly individual and varied way across 27 years of cricket. No one has quite equalled his allround record. He went in first for England and, with an average of fifty, was the only consistent English batsman in the 1921 Tests against Armstrong’s Australians with Gregory and McDonald as their attacking edge. A left-handed bat with a naturally aggressive approach, he drove and hooked with quite savage power.
He was never his county’s regular wicketkeeper, but at a moment’s notice he would pull on a pair of gloves and keep - so one highly critical contemporary declared - as well as anyone in the world: and he kept wicket for England in seven Test Matches. He was chosen for the decisive Oval Test of the 1926 rubber, but had to fall out because of injury.
In his twenties he was a genuinely fast right-arm bowler and, even into his forties, he continued to take good wickets. He was reckoned a great mid-off and to possess the longest throw in pre-1914 cricket: certainly he achieved some spectacular run-outs. But he himself preferred the excitement of fielding close to the wicket and the 1920 Wisden described his catching of Jack Hobbs at silly point from a hard drive as “marvellous”.
Figures show Brown as an erratic player but, unlike many to whom that description may be applied, his failures were usually against weak opposition. It was his nature to rise to an occasion. Thus, when Hampshire beat the Australians in 1912 - the last county side to do so until Surrey in 1956 - Brown took four key wickets. When, at Edgbaston in 1922, Warwickshire bowled out Hampshire for 15, made them follow on and had taken six second innings wickets with 31 still wanted to avoid an innings defeat, it was George who led the recovery, unparalleled in cricket history, which enabled Hampshire to win by 155 runs.
Also against Warwickshire, this time at Southampton, after some disagreement with his equally unpredictable captain, Lord Tennyson, George Brown went in to bat at No.10 bearing some strange ruin of a bat. Almost at once he received a fast, short ball from Harry Howell and, swinging round, hit it up over the wicketkeeper and over the sight-screen behind him for six. A few moments later a powerful stroke split the old bat: George tore the blade in two as if it were a toy, gave the spare piece to the umpire and batted on unconcernedly with half the blade.
In 1913, at Portsmouth, some feeling crept into the game with Kent and Arthur Fielder, the Kent fast bowler, let go a bouncer at Brown who dropped his bat to his side, stood up, took the ball full in the chest, gave an exultant roar of "He's not fast" and went on to score 71.
The record books credit George Brown with 25,649 runs, 37 centuries, 629 wickets, 528 catches and 68 stumpings. But figures do less than justice to a cricketer who was “big” in every sense. He could tear a pack of cards in his huge hand; his anger was quick and flaming, his friendship loyal and if, in his later days, he was less than prosperous, he was dignified, jovial, generous, a good father and husband and, to the end, he was pointed out as one of the sights of Winchester.
An incident in George’s private life made the national press. Late in 1930 George was injured in an assault by his daughter Stella’s estranged husband and his family. After the marriage broke up and the couple were legally separated a dispute arose over the ownership of some furniture and George was attacked by his son-in-law, Arthur Eames, who was urged on by his parents and brother.
Many newspapers reported the incident. For example, the Gloucester Citizen, in its edition of Tuesday 25 November 1930, said:
ALLEGED ATTACK BY HIS SON-IN-LAW
Arthur Frederick George Eames (31), his mother, Annie Eames (48), his father, Albert Smith Eames (58), and his brother, Albert Charles Thomas Eames (22), all of Chandler's Ford, near Romsey, were charged at Eastleigh, Hampshire, with wounding George Brown, aged 43, the Hampshire cricket professional.
George Brown, who limped into court with the aid of a stick, said that his daughter married Arthur Eames, but was separated from him. When he asked Eames for some furniture belonging to his daughter, Eames challenged him to fight. he accepted this challenge and fought Eames in a field opposite the house and landed several straight "lefts" and right hooks. He did not follow up his advantage, and Eames then attacked him with the "hooligan's butt," and threw him to the ground.
Eames’s father and mother urged their son on. Eames kicked him in the stomach and when he fell Eames clawed at his face. Mrs. Eames also hit him on the head with something hard.
The Bench reduced the charge to one of causing grievous bodily harm.
The accused, who reserved their defence, elected to go for trial at the Quarter Sessions, and they were allowed bail.
At the Winchester Quarter Sessions in January 1931, a doctor described George Brown’s injuries as “consistent with his having been kicked by a mule or a horse”. All the defendants were found guilty and Arthur Eames was sentenced to one month’s hard labour. The other three were bound over.
After his retirement from cricket, George lived a quiet life in Winchester, where he died on the 3rd of December 1964. His wife continued to live in Winchester until she died there in 1982.
You are free to make use of the information in these web pages in any way that you wish but please be aware that the author, Mike Parsons, is unable to accept respsonsibility for any errors or omissions.
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The information in these web pages comes from a number of sources including: Hampshire County Records Office, Somerset Heritage Centre; Dorset County Records Office; Southampton City Archives; the General Register Office; several on-line newspaper archives; several on-line transcriptions of Parish Register Entries; and several on-line indexes of births, marriages and deaths. The research has also been guided at times by the published work of others, both on-line and in the form of printed books, and by information from personal correspondence with other researchers, for all of which thanks are given. However, all of the information in these web pages has been independently verified by the author from original sources, facimile copies, or, in the case of a few parish register entries, transcriptions published by on-line genealogy sites. The author is aware that some other researchers have in some cases drawn different conclusions and have published information which is at variance from that shown in these web pages.
Copyright © 2013 Mike Parsons. All rights reserved.