Martha Grace was the first woman to find a mention in Wisden, in 1915. Photo courtesy: Reminiscences, by WG Grace.
Martha Grace was the first woman to find a mention in Wisden, in 1915. Photo courtesy: Reminiscences (WG Grace).

Martha Grace, mother of the famous Grace brothers, passed away on July 25, 1884. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the demise that had led to the abandonment of a Championship match between Gloucestershire and Lancashire the only time a First-Class match has been abandoned for such a reason.

From the onset, it seemed to be just another Championship match: WG Grace won the toss and decided to bat at Old Trafford, and Dick Barlow and Alexander Watson began proceedings against EM Grace and Walter Gilbert (a cousin of the Graces who later fled to Canada after being caught for theft in a dressing-room).

There were the usual early inroads before WG Grace walked out to bat at 34 for 4; after the fifth wicket fell at 38 he somewhat rebuilt the innings, adding 52 with the wicketkeeper Joseph Brain in which the latter contributed 12. Barlow and Watson kept away picking up wickets; Grace s 53 allowed the tourists to reach 119 as Barlow picked up 5 for 49 and Watson 4 for 39.

WG Grace opened bowling and struck early, removing Barlow for a duck. The middle-order fought back before Herbert Page s off-breaks triggered a collapse and Lancashire slid from 79 for 2 to 79 for 5 (including the Lancashire captain Albert ‘Monkey Hornby). They finished Day One at 104 for 6, still 15 runs behind, with Reginald Wood on 12 and Daff Whittaker on 1.

The left-arm bowling of William Woof finished the Lancashire innings for 142. Woof eventually picked up 4 for 48 and Page s spell earned him respectable figures of 3 for 25.

EM Grace scored a few brisk runs in return but was caught by Whittaker off Barlow. WG Grace to join Gilbert walked out and Gloucestershire managed to go past Lancashire with 1 wicket down.

The telegram

It was then that a telegram arrived at Old Trafford carrying the news of the passing away of Martha Grace. She had been ill for some time. It had been a week after her 72nd birthday.

Hornby offered to stop the match immediately. He agreed to abandon it, allowing the Grace brothers to leave for bereavement the only time a First-Class match has been abandoned for such a reason.

It was a magnanimous gesture on behalf of the Lancashire captain, who probably knew the significance of the late woman in the formation of modern cricket in England. As Arunabha Sengupta wrote, “The matriarchal role in the development of the Grace supremacy cannot be exaggerated.”

Martha Grace n e Pocock was, to quote Sengupta, “a tall, strong, imperious woman who arguably knew more about cricket than the most addicted gentleman following the game”. She hailed from a family of cricketers (her brother Alfred was a keen cricketer, referred to as ‘Uncle Pocock’ by WG-philes, an excellent coach usually credited with the formation of WG s early years).

Richard Daft, one of the finest batsmen when WG made his First-Class debut, mentioned that Martha Grace “knew ten times as much about cricket as any lady ever knew”.

William Clarke, mastermind behind the All-England Eleven, bought her a copy of William Boland’s Cricket Notes (Clarke himself contributed to the appendix). It became a Grace family heirloom.

Martha was the daughter of the famous inventor George Pocock. The Frenchay Club website mentions in the article Cricket and the Graces at Frenchay: “George Pocock’s best remembered inventions involved huge kites, some designed to pull carriages, and one from which the brave Martha, in an armchair, was flown up over the Avon Gorge.”

Afrer his wedding with Henry Mills Grace she gave birth to nine children. Three of them WG, EM, and Fred played Tests for England; Henry played First-Class cricket for Gloucestershire; and Alfred played grade, club, and other matches. She followed their careers keenly: Eric Midwinter wrote that, “until her death she maintained logs and scrapbooks of all her sons doings.”

It was not be the first time that WG and EM could not be at the bedside when someone very close passed away. Four years before Martha s death they had received a telegram at Bradford-upon-Avon that of the death of little brother Fred, then only 29.

Martha found a mention in WG s Wisden obituary in 1915.

Brief scores:

Gloucestershire 119 (WG Grace 53; Dick Barlow 5 for 49, Alexander Watson 4 for 39) and 25 for 1 drew with Lancashire 142 (Monkey Hornby 46; William Woof 4 for 48, Herbert Page 3 for 25).

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian at CricketCountry, thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and can be followed @ovshake42.)