Louis Hall Yorkshire England
Louis Hall (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

It is said that when Lord Hawke had taken over the captaincy of Yorkshire as a 22-year old (with three years of study still to be completed at Cambridge) in a match against the MCC at Scarborough in 1882, he had taken on “a band of rogues and vagabonds,” comprising “10 drunks and a parson”. This is the story of the abstemious teetotaller, reputed to be the very first person whose lips had never been sullied by alcoholic beverages, to represent Yorkshire in First-Class cricket, something of a social misfit in the company of his teammates, and a lay Nonconformist preacher to boot.

On the subject of the West Riding habitations of Yorkshire, the Doomsday Book makes mention of the town of Bateleia in the year 1086, the name of the town also appearing in the list of the 1379 Polls Tax. Quite early in its history, the town seems to have acquired the name of Batley, perhaps as a Danish adaptation of the genealogical name of a socially prominent local family of the times named Battle.Batley soon became a thriving industrial hub, replete with several mills principally concerned with processing woollen and other yarns.

Perpetuating the legend that cricket has always been ingrained in the blood of the average son of Yorkshire, historians believe that some form of cricket has been played in the Batley area as early as the 1840s, though the tradition of the game may well be even of an even greater vintage in these parts.

One important milestone in the history of cricket at Batley was established when George Parr’s itinerant All-England XI visited Batley in 1862 and defeated a local team by 62 runs. Batley Cricket Club was founded in the following year as a successor of the Prince of Wales CC, in the same year in which Abraham Lincoln was delivering the deathless prose of his Gettysburg Address.

Biographer Martin Howe tells the fascinating story of Louis Hall, one of the pillars of Lord Hawke’s Yorkshire team, and, along with George Ulyett, two of the English peer’s most trusted lieutenants.

When Hall was born at Batley on November 1, 1852, he was the last of the eight children born to mill worker Thomas and Martha Hall. Employed in a mill producing ‘shoddy’, a variety of woven fabric made from finely shredded cotton rags mixed with virgin wool yarn, and used in the manufacture of blankets, military uniforms and other such heavy duty purposes, Thomas was one of five Halls in the establishment, being accompanied by four of his sons at the time of the birth of Louis, the youngest working son being a mere nine at the time.

They worked long and laborious hours in the days of rapid industrial growth in the UK during the mid-1850s. By the end of the decade, Thomas was able to strike out on his own, under the title Thomas Hall and Sons, wool manufacturers. While Louis’ brothers were all involved in the family business in some capacity or other, his own involvement in the family firm was minimal, being confined mostly to the winter months when cricket was not on the agenda for a growing Yorkshire lad. Misfortune struck the Hall family when their main woollen mill was destroyed in a devastating fire in the late 1880s, and the family business gradually went into a state of decline.

Having picked up the rudiments of cricket in his schooldays with Osborne’s School, Louis began to turn out for a team that went by the name Rose of England, followed by a stint with Victoria CC. The 19-year-old Louis Hall joined Batley CC in 1871 as a right-hand batsman and an under-arm right arm bowler. His tenure with Batley lasted till 1879, and by the time he moved on from the club, Hall had become the first genuine star player of the local club. A brochure of the club had this to say about him: “He was a thin, wiry man with a lived-in face and a fierce, drooping moustache. Known as the Batley Giant despite his average size, his characteristic upright stance belied his real height.”

That the name of the teenager was very much in the mind of the Yorkshire cognoscenti is evident from the fact that he was selected in a Yorkshire Colts team comprising twenty young hopefuls to take on XI of Yorkshire at Bramall Lane in 1872. Put into bat, the Colts were all out for 108, Hall (run out for 7) being the 14th wicket to fall.

His next opportunity for turning out for a representative Yorkshire team came at Scarborough for a team of Yorkshire Colts against the United North of England XI later that year. The 19-member Colts team lost by 8 wickets. Hall scored 11 and 2, and captured a wicket with his lobs.

Not yet 21, Hall made his First-Class debut for Yorkshire at Chelsea against Middlesex in 1873. Hall top-scored with 37 in the Yorkshire first innings of 163 in a match Yorkshire lost by 10 wickets. The media were quick to laud the efforts of the tyro, The Sportsman commenting that the innings of 37 was “one of the soundest and most careful exhibitions of batting ever shown by a young player”. Even Wisden was moved to say: “a promising batting display that showed careful and good defence.” Hall, however, played only 9 matches in the season, scoring 118 runs at 8.42, with the 37 on debut as his highest.

Disappointed with his own performances in his debut season, Hall dropped out from First-Class cricket for the next four domestic seasons, going back to club cricket instead. He was engaged as a professional by Birstall Young England CC and, later in the season, by the Cliffe End CC, Longwood, in 1875. The following year saw him fulfilling the role of coach of Perth CC and playing two games for them, and scoring a solid 133 in one of them.

Hall’s career then took an upswing with his performance for the Hunslet XVIII against the touring Australians at Hunslet in 1878. The visitors batted first and scored 205, powered by 52 from Charles Bannerman. Hunslet had lost their first wicket at 14 when Hall made his way to the wicket. He was eighth dismissed, the total reading 183 at that point; Hall had scored 79 out of the 169 added while he was at the wicket.

Hall’s 79 turned out to be the highest individual score of the match, and the fact that it was made against the bowling of Fred Spofforth, Frank Allan, Tom Garrett, Harry Boyle, and Tom Horan, bowlers he had never faced before, added a special dimension to the batting performance. This was the highest score made against the visitors up to this point of their tour, and it inspired the Yorkshire committee to reinstate Hall in the Yorkshire XI after a gap of four years.

Hall’s comeback game was an away match at The Oval against Surrey. As things turned out, it was a happy occasion for him. Yorkshire won by 75 runs. Hall scored 35 (joint top score) and 13 and capturing 2 for 21. His 9 matches in 1878 brought him 351 runs at 27 with a highest of 82*, against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham. Hall was second in the Yorkshire batting averages for the season, behind Ulyett. From this point of his career, Hall was back in mainstream Yorkshire cricket.

Between 1873 and 1894, Louis Hall played 315 matches, scoring 11,095 runs with a highest of 160, and an average of 23.06, a fairly commendable figure in the era of uncovered wickets. He had 12 centuries in his long career to go with his 42 fifties. He held 197 catches, while his lobs bought him 22 wickets at 41.13.

Hall topped the 1,000-run mark in 1883 (1180 at 33.71 with 2 centuries), 1884 (1,058 at 27.12 with 4 centuries), and 1887 (1,240 at 38.75 with 4 centuries). In keeping with the usual Yorkshire custom of appointing professionals as captains, Hall led the White Roses over 65 First-Class games, usually on the occasions when Hawke was unable to turn out, beginning with the match against Kent at Sheffield in 1884.

Comfortable in the company of the flamboyant Ulyett, his opening partner and batting counterpoint, Hall began his leadership stint with 100 in the first innings, and had the satisfaction of seeing Yorkshire winning the match by 8 wickets. It may be mentioned here that in his previous innings, against the undergrads of Cambridge, Hall had scored 116 at the top of the order, one of the three centurions for Yorkshire in their innings of 539.

At Huddersfield against Sussex in 1884, Hall carried his bat for 128 in the Yorkshire first innings of 285. This brings us to the issue of his propensity for carrying the bat in First-Class cricket. In his entire career, Louis Hall had carried his bat 15 times through a completed innings, a record 14 times for Yorkshire, and once for North against South at Scarborough in 1887.

His first experience of this was for at Hove against Sussex when he had remained undefeated on 31 in a total of 94. The habit seemed to grow on him, and his last instance of this for Yorkshire was at Sheffield against Nottinghamshire in 1891.

An interesting aspect of his habit of carrying the bat is the number of times his score has been 50 or less in the innings. He failed to cross 50 on 6 of his 15 occasions, reaching a century only 5 times (4 times for Yorkshire). This speaks volumes for his patience, tenacity, and technique at the crease in the era of grossly underprepared wickets left to the mercy of the elements where it was often more important to occupy the crease for long periods in the interest of the team than to try to cover oneself with glory by pleasing the crowd and scoring centuries.

The table below may help to put in perspective Hall’s unselfish contribution to the cause of Yorkshire over his career, particularly when compared to the performance of other luminaries that have played for Yorkshire over the years:

Batsman Span Carried bat Centuries while carrying bat Centuries for Yorkshire
Louis Hall 1873-1894 14 4 10
Geoffrey Boycott 1962-1986 8 6 103
Herbert Sutcliffe 1919-1945 6 6 112
Percy Holmes 1913-1933 3 3 60

Indeed, Hall’s feat of carrying the bat for Yorkshire a record 14 times is very unlikely to be surpassed in the foreseeable future, given the shift in the dynamics of the game in the present day and age.

For Yorkshire alone, Hall played 279 First-Class matches, scoring 9,999 runs at 23.52. He had 10 centuries and 38 fifties for his county and held 176 catches.

As is well known to students of cricket history, the idea of a formal appreciation of the performances of the more successful cricketers over particular seasons occurred rather belatedly to the editors of Wisden until they thought of recognising Six Great Bowlers of the Year in 1889, Johnny Briggs, JJ Ferris, George Lohmann, Bobby Peel, Charlie Turner, and Sammy Woods sharing the first batch of bowling honours.

In 1890, Wisden initiated the nomination of Nine Great Batsmen of the Year for their performances over the 1889 season, the first batch comprising Bobby Abel, Billy Barnes, Billy Gunn, Louis Hall, Robert Henderson, Maurice Read, Arthur Shrewsbury, Frank Sugg, and Albert Ward.

Generous in their admiration of Hall’s batting, Wisden made the following comment in the citation: “He has been one of the most consistent of players, and has, year after year, been either at the top, or very near the top, of the Yorkshire averages, the county having certainly been able to boast no other batsman so safe, steady, and dependable. Having no grace of style to recommend him, his slow play is at times found very tedious by spectators, but a batsman is bound to adopt the game that suits him best, and as to Hall’s immense value on a side there cannot be two opinions.”

This is what Hawke had to say about this teetotal opening batsman with the characteristically lugubrious expression on his face: “… a strict teetotaller, the first who ever played for Yorkshire. Of angular build, painfully thin and severe of expression, Hall stood apart from his fellows.”

Spare of build and 5’ 10” in height, Hall was the first of a long line of very obdurate Yorkshire opening batsmen, eschewing any suspicion of flamboyance in his batting style, and believing firmly in the dictum that the responsibility of a reliable opener is to wear down the bowling to the extent possible.

Yorkshire honoured Hall by granting him a benefit season for 1891 in recognition of his sterling contribution to the cause of Yorkshire cricket, the rain-affected match against Surrey at Bramall Lane alone fetching Hall a purse of £570, the fourth-largest for any Yorkshire player till then.

Acknowledging the value of Hall’s batting for Yorkshire, Hawke would often refer fondly to him in private as Old Stolidity, and comment that his: “impassiveness with a bat became proverbial.” AG Steel, who would have confronted Hall on behalf of Lancashire in several crucial Roses matches, had once remarked of Hall: “Nothing in cricket can be more dull or dismal than bowling to this batsman on a sodden wicket at Bramall Lane in a real Sheffield fog.”

As usual, Wisden had the final definitive comment on the batting of Hall, as follows: “It cannot be said that he was an attractive bat to watch — he was at times a veritable stonewaller — but in the Yorkshire eleven which included George Ulyett and William Bates, his stubborn defence was of priceless value. In match after match he kept up his wicket while one or other of those brilliant hitters demoralised the bowling.”

It is reported that in his later years, Louis Hall had explained his batting philosophy to “Old Ebor” (Alfred Pullin), as follows: “In local cricket in my early days I used to score as fast as most batsman. I cannot tell how I acquired a slow style. I suppose it was natural cautiousness. But I found afterwards it was of more value to my side than to myself, and I don’t think I should adopt the same principle again…..My favourite style was playing forward, but I could hit to leg on occasion.”

In a Yorkshire CCC newsletter, Nigel Pullan and Paul Dyson, while reminiscing over several matches involving Yorkshire from history, have this to say about Hall: “A tall, austere man from Batley, he was a notably slow scorer but hard to dislodge — in fact he carried his bat 14 times and this remains a Yorkshire record. At a period when some Yorkshire players were not averse to a drink, Hall was a teetotaller, member of the local Wesleyan chapel, a lay preacher, a liberal councillor for nine years, and he deferred his benefit for a year so the stricken Billy Bates could have his instead. He was also secretary of Batley Rugby Club when the change to the Northern Union came about.”

Hall concluded his First-Class career by playing a single game in 1894 at Liverpool, representing Yorkshire against Liverpool and District, as captain of the team. He scored 22 and had the satisfaction of seeing Yorkshire winning by 10 wickets. Never overtly demonstrative by nature, he, nevertheless, may have thumbed his nose mentally at Steel, his rival skipper and his long-time friend and Roses foe.

Having considered the salient aspects of Hall’s playing career, it may be worthwhile to reflect on the issue of batsmen carrying the bat in First-Class cricket on most occasions. Almost inevitably, WG Grace stands like a colossus at the head of the table given below of all batsmen who have carried their bats on 10 or more occasions in First-Class cricket:

Batsman Instances of carrying bat
WG Grace 17
Louis Hall 15
Cecil Wood 15
Henry Jupp 12
Alfred Dipper 11
Wally Hardinge 11
Dick Barlow 10
Plum Warner 10

As can be seen, Hall lies in joint second place on the all-time list along with Wood of Leicestershire. Wood is one of only six players in the history of First-Class cricket to carry his bat in each innings of a match.

Having forsaken his cricket creams in the First-Class arena, Hall donned the long white coat and officiated in 53 First-Class matches from 1894 to 1904, the list including 39 championship games.

Upon his retirement from Yorkshire as a professional, Hall accepted a position as cricket coach in Uppingham School, a public school founded in 1584, and deeply steeped in antiquity. By all accounts, he was a patient and tactful mentor, instilling in the minds of his young wards the value of a sound defence.

He also established a sports goods shop in the town. He played club cricket for a few teams, mainly for Batley CC, for whom he turned out till after the age of 50 years.

In his later years, Hall became Chairman of the Yorkshire Cricketers’ Benevolent Fund, his objective being to ensure that the “old cricketers” were well cared for after their active playing days were over. Towards the end of his official tenure, he would remark: “With regard to old cricketers, I think the county is now in a position which should enable it to prevent the layers of the foundation stones of Yorkshire cricket ending their days in poverty.”

In his retirement, Hall joined the textile industry, becoming a wool merchant like his father before him. From 1904 to 1913, Hall was an elected Liberal member of the Batley Borough Council until ill health caused him to step down. He served on several prestigious committees in a senior capacity. He moved to Morecambe, Lancashire, in his twilight years believing that the sea air would be beneficial for his health.

Louis Hall passed away at his Morecambe residence on November 19, 1915, many notable personages from the sporting, business, political, and Methodist communities attending his funeral. Fulsome tributes were paid to him by people whom he had come in contact with in his 63 years. His crowning achievement, however, and the one that has etched his name in the annals of Yorkshire cricket history, is his feat of carrying the bat for his county 14 times in his career.