Kenneth Lotherington Hutchings © Getty images
Kenneth Lotherington Hutchings © Getty images

“Genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind” — F Scott-Fitzgerald.

In John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales covering the period 1870 to 1872, the village of Southborough is described as a chapelry of the parish of Tunbridge, Kent, being located 2 miles north of Tunbridge Wells, and south-east of River Medway. It has long been the abode of the Maids and Men of Kent (as opposed to the Kentish Maids and Men who have been residents of the West of the same river). The village has a long history of continuous habitation although demographic documentation of the area had begun only in the early 1860s.

The family of Dr Edward John Hutchings (himself a club cricketer of merit) and his wife Catharine Lotherington née Colebrooke, of Highbury, 71 London Road, Southborough, welcomed the youngest of their four sons on December 7, 1882. In due time, the child was named Kenneth ‘Ken’ Lotherington, and was enrolled, as were his brothers before him, in the prestigious Tonbridge School.

Following in the footprints of his siblings, Kenneth was in the 1st XI of the school, but outshone them with a longer tenure of five years from 1898, captaining the 1st XI in 1901 and 1902. In his last year at the helm of the school team, Ken topped 1,000 runs, an extremely rare feat for a short school season, with a highest score of 205 and a batting average of 63.3. A star had thus been launched in the firmament of Kent cricket. Years later, the annals of cricket at Tonbridge School would be enriched by the all-round exploits of a plump, chubby-cheeked English boy born in India and bearing the iconic initials of MCC.

Simon Burnton, writing in The Guardian of September 13, 2016 mentions that by a coincidence that had been the exact day, 110 years ago, that Kent had just completed their first title-winning season at The Oval. In the considered opinion of the author, Kent had owed their first title primarily to four players; bowlers Colin Blythe and Arthur Fielder, and batsmen ‘Pinky’ Burnup and a 23-year old playing his first full season — Kenneth Hutchings.

“Hutchings is brilliancy personified. Not for a long time have we seen anyone quite like him,” The Guardian of the time had gushed, in a very uncharacteristic burst of enthusiasm.

Cricket has had a rather long innings at Kent, the earliest mention of the game being played within the confines of the county being a notice in The Postman of 1705 announcing “a match of cricket” between 11 Gentlemen of West Kent against as many of Chatham for 11 guineas a man at Maulden (Malling). It was in 1746 that the first properly organised cricket game was played between Kent and All-England at the Artillery Ground, London, Kent winning the game by 1 wicket. One of the earliest recorded centuries in cricket was scored in 1768, when John Small of Petersfield flayed the Kent attack in the game against Hambledon at Broadhalfpenny Down.

Things began to move forward in real earnest when, on the initiative of Thomas Selby and Silas Norton, the Town Malling Cricket Club was formed in 1835. Fuller Pilch was persuaded to turn out for the new club at a consideration of £100 per annum. In 1842, there were two cricket clubs bearing the name of Kent, the reconstituted Beverley Club now named as the Kent County Cricket Club, and the Beverley Kent Cricket Club. The two were amalgamated to form the Kent CCC in 1870.

A significant step in the gradual development of Kent cricket was the formation of the Tonbridge Nursery in 1897 by Tom Pawley, an ex-Kent cricketer and landlord of the local Rose and Crown hotel. Under the gentle guidance of Captain William McCanlis, an ex-player for Kent in the 1860s and 1870s, who was appointed as the coach of the young trainees, the Nursery proved to be a boon for Kent cricket, producing many outstanding cricketers, mainly bowlers, and by the early 1900s Kent found themselves in the possession of a clutch of very promising young professional cricketers.

The cricket odyssey of Ken Hutchings, having begun among the cloisters of Tonbridge School, received a fillip with his initiation into First-Class cricket in 1902, his last year in school. A hard-hitting right hand batsman and a right-arm fast-to-fast-medium bowler, the gentleman cricketer Hutchings made his debut playing for Kent against Worcestershire at Angel Ground, Tonbridge. Hutchings began his journey in senior cricket with modest scores of 10 and 1 as Kent won the game by 9 wickets when he had opened the batting along with Burnup. Hutchings played only this one game in 1902.

In a relatively short First-Class career spanning 1902 to 1912, Ken Hutchings played 207 matches in all, scoring a total of 10,054 runs with a highest of 176 and an average of 33.62. He scored 22 centuries and 56 fifties, and held 179 catches. He scored 1,000 runs in a season six times, beginning with 1906. He also claimed 24 wickets.

The above statistics include 7 Tests in which he scored 341 runs with a highest of 126 (his only century) and an average of 28.41. He had another fifty and held 9 catches. As always, however, figures do not tell the whole tale.

Although Hutchings had scored his maiden First-Class century (106) against Somerset at Taunton in 1903, The Guardian was effusive about his 84* against Hampshire that allowed Kent to win by an innings and 17 runs, stating that Hutchings “played with great confidence and in splendid style, defending perfectly and hitting all round the wicket with certainty and strength.”

This was at a time when England was in awe of Victor Trumper, who had first visited the English shores in 1899 and had paid three subsequent visits in the first decade of the 1900s. The beauty and grace of Trumper’s batting had been forever captured in the epochal photograph taken by George Beldam at The Oval in 1902. A desperate hunt was on for an English equivalent.

Towards the end of the 1903 season, The Guardian had opined: “Of all the batsmen Hutchings is the most brilliant. He can do no wrong, being full of confidence and at the top of his game. So great is his hitting power and so aggressive his method that he may become a sort of English Victor Trumper. He gets most of his runs in front of the wicket, driving with a power that is calculated to startle men who stand at mid-off and mid-on for him. We are told that he uses a bat of the substantial weight of two pounds, eight ounces, but for this statement we cannot vouch.”

Ken Hutchings played his first full English season in 1906, and it would not be in the realm of hyperbole to state that he dazzled one and all with the brilliance of his batting. Even Times, one of the most conservative of newspapers, seem to have been overwhelmed by his outstanding prowess and panache at the wicket, noting, in their review of the season: “The batting strength was very largely increased by the presence of Mr Hutchings, who burst upon the cricket world with a brilliance unsurpassed even by Mr Trumper. A more aggressive bat is not to be found in England. Quite a Trumper in his daring, dash and skill, his sudden rush to the top has been most dazzling.”

His numbers for the season bear out the intensity of the effusion he had evoked at the time. In 21 matches he had notched 1,597 runs. He had 4 centuries and 11 fifties in the season and he averaged 53.23. For Kent alone he scored 1,454 runs at 60.58.

In the drawn game against Middlesex at Tonbridge, in only his second game of the season, he very nearly had a century in each innings, scoring 125 and 97*. In the very next match, against a Yorkshire attack comprising George Hirst, Wilfred Rhodes, and Schofield Haigh, among others, Hutchings scored 131. Indeed, so ferocious had been his assault on the bowling in this innings that there were contemporary reports of his having broken 3 bats in the process. He followed this up with 50* in the second innings when Kent, needing 253 to win in 200 minutes, ended up with 189 for 7.

Having got the better of the White Rose county, Hutchings turned his attention to their Red Rose counterparts at Canterbury, in a game Kent won quite decisively by an innings and 195 runs. Cloudesley Henry Bullock ‘Slug’ Marsham, the extravagantly named Kent captain, won the toss and the home team batted first. Hutchings arrived at the wicket at the fall of the second wicket at the total of 109. There followed a third-wicket stand of 99 with Burnup (94) and 213 with Jack Mason (88). Hutchings scored 176, his highest First-Class score. The innings was spread over 3 hours and contained 27 punishing fours. Kent amassed 479 and dismissed Lancashire for 169 and 115, Fielder (4 for 81 and 7 for 49) and Colin Blythe (5 for 80 and 3 for 27) picking up all 20 wickets between them.

In his last Championship match of the season, against Hampshire at Bournemouth, Hutchings signed off with another century in another innings victory for Kent. Kent scored 610, Burnup (179) and Hutchings (124) sharing a third-wicket stand of 180. The match notes reveal that the Hutchings century had come in a mere 65 minutes of batting. Blythe claimed 12 wickets in the match.

Kent won their first Championship title that season, the result of excellent performances on the part of the bowlers and heavy scoring on the part of most of the batsmen, particularly by Burnup and Hutchings. The left-handed all-rounder, Frank Woolley, later to be known as the Pride of Kent, and to become the only one to do the 50,000 run-2,000 wicket-1,000 catch treble in First-Class cricket, made his First-Class debut in this season. “To the triumph of the side,” Wisden was to record later in his obituary,” no one contributed more than Hutchings.” Here was a man who had the confidence to state, on a given sunny summer morning, “I will score a century today.”

On the strength of his exemplary performance in the 1906 season, Ken Hutchings was named amongst Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1907. In the citation, the editor of Wisden expressed the opinion that Hutchings was “the batting sensation of the year” and that “he suggests to a far greater extent than Trumper muscular power, his forearms being immensely strong.” The citation states further: “Batting so remarkable and individual as his, has not been seen since Ranjitsinhji and Trumper first delighted the cricket world. Not in the slightest degree resembling either of these famous players, Hutchings has a style that is entirely his own.”

In 1907 Hutchings had suffered a severe hand injury from a fast delivery from South African bowler Johannes Kotze while representing Kent against the visiting South Africans at Catford. The injury did not, however, prevent him from achieving an unusual feat in the very next match, a drawn game against Worcestershire in the first week of August, when he scored twin centuries in the game, 109 and 109*, providing one of the early instances of a person scoring identical centuries in both innings of a First-Class match.

A projected tour to Australia for 1906-07 was called off in September when the State Associations made it clear that they were unable to organise an England tour to Australia on a unified platform. It was on April 23 that MCC announced their intention of sending out a team to tour Australia for 1907-08. Stanley Jackson and ‘Tip’ Foster were approached in turn to fill the captaincy role. When both declined, Plum Warner, Jack Mason, and even Lord Hawke were approached by the MCC authorities, but all of them declined the offer for personal or business reasons.

Finally, it was announced on July 30 that Arthur Jones of Nottinghamshire had accepted the responsibility of leading the England team. There were three Kent representatives in the 14-man squad, Blythe, Fielder, and Hutchings. George Gunn, who was on his way to Australia on health grounds, and travelling with the England team on the same ship, was not in the original tour party and was to have fulfilled the role of scorer and reinforcement, should the need arise. As things turned out, Gunn played in all 5 Tests matches on the tour. The tour also marked the debut of a Surrey youth who went by the name of Jack Hobbs.

Hutchings was, unfortunately, not able to recapture the phenomenal flair of his 1906 form in Australia. England fared poorly on the tour, losing 4 out of the 5 Tests splayed. In all, Hutchings played 17 matches on the tour, inclusive of the 5 Tests, scoring 953 runs at an average of 34.03.

Jones contracted pneumonia very early on the tour, and vice-captain Fred Fane won the toss at Sydney, launching the Test series with a match that Australia won by 2 wickets. Gunn led off with 119 and 74 and Hutchings scored 42 and 17. Australian captain Monty Noble had the satisfaction of drawing first blood in the Ashes series.

The teams arrived at Melbourne to begin the second. Trumper had a good Test, scoring 49 and 63, but could not prevent England from registering their only Test victory of the series, by 1 wicket. The batting hero for the visitors was Hutchings with a 126 and 39, showing uncharacteristic restraint in his batting in both innings. This, unfortunately, was to be his only hurrah in the entire series.

Australia won the third Test at Adelaide by 245 runs. Jones was back in the team for the fourth Test, at Melbourne. Despite Trumper registering a pair, Australia won by a momentous margin of 308 runs, riding on a forcing second-innings 133* by Warwick Armstrong. Hutchings had another poor game, scoring 8 and 3.

Australia made it 4-1 in the last Test at Sydney, with a winning margin of 49 runs. Gunn scored a splendid 122* in the first innings but registered a duck in the second. Trumper came into his own after the humiliation of the pair with a classic 166, passing 2000 Test runs in the process. Continuing his poor form, Hutchings could only manage 13 and 2.

Back home, Hutchings could not do full justice to his extraordinary talents in 1908, this, despite his totalling 1,218 runs for the season, replete with 3 centuries and 7 fifties, and an average of 29. In the words of Wisden, “Hutchings did not fulfil all the hopes formed of him,” and, as time progressed on his career, he only showed occasional glimpses of his undoubted genius.

In terms of the weight of runs, the 1909 domestic season proved to be his most prolific, with 1,697 runs from 37 matches, 3 centuries, 11 fifties, and an average of 36.10. It seemed that Hutchings was gradually regaining his Midas touch. His performance against Somerset (37 and 155 — in 135 minutes, with 24 fours and 1 six) prompted England to cap him for the fourth Test against the touring Australians at Old Trafford late in July. But a score of 9 in his only innings in a drawn game would have disappointed not only the cricket-loving public but also himself.

The last Test of the series, at The Oval, was to be a sort of water-shed in England-Australia cricketing relations. It was the swansong of both skippers, MacLaren and Noble, two veritable pillars of the establishment for both the traditional cricketing rivals. Following MacLaren into the sunset were wicketkeeper Dick Lilley, Jack Sharp, and Hutchings, while Douglas Carr played his only Test. Noble left the Test arena along with all-rounders Bert Hopkins and Frank laver. England’s rising star Woolley played the first of his 64 Tests, and left-handed Australian opener Warren Bardsley created a sensation by becoming the first man in history to score a century in each innings of a Test.

Noble won his last toss, Australia batted first and scored 325, Bardsley scoring 136 of these. In the England innings total of 352, Sharp scored 105, in this, the concluding Test of his 3-match career. Playing his very last Test innings, Hutchings scored 59. His seventh-wicket stand with Sharp realised 142 in only 108 minutes. Tibby Cotter made his presence felt for Australia with figures of 6 for 95. Australia declared their second innings at 339 for 5, scored in a round 100 overs, after another virtuoso performance by Bardsley (130). When time ran out, England had reached 104 for 3, and the Test ended in a draw, giving Australia a 2-1 series victory with 2 Tests drawn.

Disappointing as the Test series may have been, Kent won their second Championship title in 1909, Blythe claiming 178 wickets. There were moments in 1910 that were reminiscent of Ken Hutchings’ annus mirabilis of 1906, with a total of 1,654 runs, an average of 41.35, 5 centuries, and 8 fifties.

He regaled the Northampton crowd with scores of 59 and 104, ensuring a Kent victory by 241 runs. He also scored centuries against Derbyshire (122), Leicestershire (109), Sussex (144), and Yorkshire on behalf of the MCC (114). Fielder claimed 81 wickets and Blythe took 175 the season that saw Kent annexing their third championship title.

Although Hutchings scored 1028 runs from 25 matches and 40 innings (with 2 not outs) in 1911, there was only 1 century against his name and 5 fifties. Sadly, the sparkle seemed to be missing from his game. His health deteriorating, his form slumped to such an extent in 1912 that he dropped out of First-Class cricket altogether after playing only a handful matches in the season.

Being an amateur cricketer, Hutchings had to take recourse to some form of gainful employment to support himself. While he was playing for Kent, he found a position at Wiggins Teape, a paper manufacturing concern near Dover. Later, he joined the paper manufacturing business at Liverpool. When World War I broke out in 1914, the 33-year old Hutchings was one of the first to volunteer his services, doing so within two or three days of the declaration of war.

Hutchings was gazetted to the Special Reserve of the King’s Liverpool Regiment on September 24, 1914. His three brothers, William, Frederick, and John, also served in the war, and were individually wounded in service. Hutchings was posted in France from April 26, 1915, being attached to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers till September. He was a gazetted Lieutenant on December 17 and returned to England to undergo an operation.

Returning to France in July 1916, Hutchings was attached to the 12th Battalion of his own regiment, the King’s Liverpool Regiment. On September 3, while he was leading his men in an attack at Ginchy, he was killed instantly by machine-gun fire. His Commanding Officer had this to say of Hutchings: “During the short time he was with this Battalion, he gained the respect of the officers and men as a keen, hard-working officer and a good sportsman.”

Hutchings’ body was never recovered and his name is forever engraved on the great War Memorial to the missing of the Somme at Thiepval. In his obituary, the Daily Telegraph wrote: “By his death…one of the greatest cricketers has been taken from us. A typical man of Kent, in that his cricket was splendidly characteristic of his county — bright, free, sparkling — Hutchings at his best was the most engaging batsman of his day… He brought out all that was best in a glorious game. On any wicket, against any bowling — circumstances did not matter — he was magnificent. His dash, his vigour, his quick eye, his indifference to care… made him unlike any other cricketer; not in this generation have we seen his equal.”

Perhaps the last word about the genius of Ken Hutchings should come from a Scottish-born cricket aficionado brought up in the dour Yorkshire gharana of cricket from his childhood days. Writing about Hutchings, AA Thompson, in his book Pavilioned in Splendour, says: “Good players are many; great players are few. Players with the touch of sheer magic — a Ranji, a Trumper, a Kenneth Hutchings — are fewer still.”