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HDG Leveson-Gower – captain, selector, legislator and man behind the Scarborough festival matches

HDG Leveson-Gower  – captain, selector, legislator and man behind the Scarborough festival matches
HDG Leveson-Gower. Photo Courtesy – Ebay.

HDG Leveson-Gower, born May 8, 1873, was an England captain, a famed legislator and Test selector who was instrumental in the success of the Scarborough Festival matches for half a century.  Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the man who was universally known as ‘Shrimp’ and was knighted for his services to the game.

Scarborough Festival Matches

Scarborough, September 1948. Don Bradman appeared in his last First-Class game in England, ending the spectacular 18-year journey with a fascinatingly entertaining knock of 153. The runs were scored in just over three hours, studded with 19 fours and two sixes – before the great man departed for the last time with the familiar c Hutton b Bedser against his name. The three-day game, with much of the first washed away by rain, ended in a draw as Len Hutton, Laurie Fishlock and Bill Edrich batted out the limited amount of time that remained in the second innings of the HDG Leveson-Gower XI.

Apart from the farewell of The Don, it was a memorable milestone for the man who celebrated 50 years of association with the season ending Scarborough Festival match and lending his name to the home side.  From 1899 he had been responsible for the selection of the sides taking part in the Scarborough match, and he would go on to do so till 1950 – the year he was honoured by being made a Freeman of the Borough of Scarborough. In 1948, he also celebrated the 50-year anniversaries of his election to the Surrey Committee and to the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) Committee. HDG Leveson-Gower, legislator and Test selector for long, was one of the most important men in English cricket.

Not only had he selected sides and lent his name to them. He had also been responsible for most of the excellent old photographs that adorned The Cricketers’ Room at the Grand Hotel at Scarborough. CI Thornton had initiated the festival in the 1870s. Leveson-Gower donated an excellent collection of the photographs of the early cricketers who played in the event from the earliest days. They were invaluable images captured by Hawkins, a firm of photographers based in Brighton. After they had gone out of business, the pictures had been acquired by a shop in Fleet Street. Leveson-Gower had come across them and scooped them up at a very nominal price, because according to the shopkeeper, “There is very little demand for them now.”

Leveson-Gower, the man who led England in all the three Tests he played in, had served in the Army during the Great War. He had attained the rank of major and had been mentioned in dispatches. However, something rankled during the days of peace that followed. Highlighting the differences between pre-War and post-War cricket, he wrote, “One of the casualties of World War I was country-house cricket which never recovered its former glories in the changed era that followed 1918. No doubt one cause is expense, and another is that there is now a great deal more cricket played than there used to be in the earlier days. It was easier then to get players for a cricket week, but now they have very little leisure time during the season.”

Hence, as the chief organiser of the Scarborough festival, Leveson-Gower made every effort to recreate the country-house atmosphere. The players were the great entertainers,specially hand-picked to draw the crowd with their craft and charisma. The matches were light-hearted, without the fetters of competition. Holidaymakers streamed in to enjoy the festivities – from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland alike. They enjoyed the frolic provided by the merry men in white on the green fields as they basked in the sun. For much of these moments of bliss they needed to be grateful to Sir Henry Dudley Gresham Leveson-Gower.

The games and tours of the hyphenated worry

Born on May 8, 1873, Leveson-Gower was the seventh of 12 brothers. He saw the light of the day at Titsey Place near Oxted in Surrey, with plenty of noble blood running in his veins. His father Granville William Gresham Leveson-Gower was the great-great grandson of John Leveson-Gower, first Earl Gower, and served as Liberal MP for two years for Reigate from 1863 to 1865. His mother the Hon. Sophia Leveson-Gower née Leigh was the daughter of Chandos Leigh, first Baron Leigh and sister of First-Class cricketer and barrister Sir Edward Chandos Leigh QC and the Anglican priest James Wentworth Leigh.

Leveson-Gower was not much of an athlete in his schooldays. His slight physique gave birth to the name which followed him even in his days of pomp, glory and knighthood – Shrimp.

He learnt the game at Winchester. There, in 1892, he led the school to their first victory over Eton since 1882, scoring 83 in the second innings and capturing eight for 33 in the match.

Moving to Magdalen College, Oxford, he was awarded his Blue in his very first year. In the varsity match of 1895, he scored 73 and captured seven wickets. The following season he was made the captain.

He left Oxford without earning a degree, and joined Surrey as an amateur. Perhaps the fruitless tenure in the campus irked him, and he hammered his highest score against Oxford for Surrey in 1899 when he scored 155 in his old University grounds. For the county side Leveson-Gower batsman of substance and a keen fielder at cover-point. He also turned his arm over occasionally, bowling useful leg-breaks.

From his early days, he was an eager cricketing traveller. He kicked off his long series of tours when he visited the West Indies with Lord Hawke’s side in 1896-97. In the autumn of 1897 he toured in America with the side captained by Plum Warner.

It was during this American trip that some of the newspapers were incensed over the complications of his name – and let me add that the author of this piece is full of sympathy for those pitiable publications. They found epithets for him which were hilarious if not necessarily simpler to print. One called him The Hyphenated Worry and another The Man with the Sanguinary Name. Ralph D Paine, the Philadelphian journalist, published the following piece of verse in which his surname was pulled up for major discussion:

At one end stocky Jessop frowned,

The human catapult

Who wrecks the roofs of distant towns

When set in his assault.

His mate was that perplexing man

We know as “Looshun-Gore”,

It isn’t spelt at all that way,

We don’t know what it’s for.

But as with Cholmondeley and St. John

The alphabet is mixed,

And Yankees cannot help but ask -

“Why don’t you get it fixed?”

The name remained unchanged and the cricketer merrily went along to South Africa with the England side in 1905-06 – although he did not participate in the Test matches. He visited the land again in 1909-10, leading England in the first three Tests, winning one and losing two. Frederick Fane led in the fourth and fifth Tests, and Leveson-Gower did not play for England any more. His three Tests were brought rather ordinary returns, with 95 runs at 23.75.

Leveson-Gower continued to play for Surrey and captained the county side between 1908 and 1910. Surrey ended third on the championship tables in his first year at the helm, and rose to number two in the final season. He represented the county even after the Great War, playing his last game in 1920.   He also took part in several Gentlemen-Players encounters.

Long after his serious cricketing days were over, Leveson-Gower continued on his cricket tours to exotic lands like Malta, Gibraltar and Portugal. In all he played 277 First-Class matches, scoring 7,638 runs at 23.72 with four hundreds. He seldom bowled much in his later days, but did capture 46 wickets with his occasional leg-breaks. As many as 24 of them were claimed on his 1896-97 tour to West Indies, which included all the three five-wicket hauls of his career. He was an outstanding fielder for much of his career.

Away from cricket, Leveson-Gower earned his living as a stockbroker. In 1909, still very much an active player, he became a Test selector. After his days as a serious cricketer were over, he became a treasurer for Surrey from 1926 to 1928. At the same time he served as the chairman of selectors for England in 1924 and again from 1927 to 1930.

Scarborough encounters between the touring side and HDG Leveson-Gower’s XI was a regular feature in the England cricket calendar until 1950. And the hand-picked HDG Leveson-Gower’s XI also met the Oxford and Cambridge University sides at Eastbourne.

In 1953, three years after the last match of the eleven sporting his name, HDG Leveson-Gower was knighted for his services to the game. In the same year he also published his reminiscences- Off and on the Field.

Shrimp Leveson-Gower passed away the following February at Kensington, London.  He was 80.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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