Rev AP Archie Wickham
Rev AP ‘Archie’ Wickham © Getty Images

“A peculiar picture presented itself at Lord’s in the person of A. P. Wickham, the Somerset wicket-keeper standing with legs so far apart that his head just appeared above the wicket. He looked a queer figure even without his eccentric attire. He wore leg guards with black knee pieces. Above these were grey trousers and a black band or sash. A white shirt and a brilliant part-coloured harlequin cap completed his curious ‘get up’.”

The Times, 1893.

The family appears to have descended from one John Wycomb of Bristol, an elected representative of the city in Parliament as early as 1346. The family name seems to have undergone several alterations in the spelling over the years, going through phases of being Wicomb, Wykehara, and Wickham, and the majority of them seem to have filled the office of the High Sheriff of Bristol, one Thomas Wickham also being High Sheriff of Somerset in 1393.

In the direct lineage of the Thomas Wickham mentioned above, the Rev. Edmund Dawe Wickham, MA, Vicar of St Mary Magdalene, of South Holmwood, Surrey, and his wife Emma, nee Palmer, brought up a family comprising nine children in all, three sons and six daughters. The sixth child, their second son, was born November 9, 1855 at their South Holmwood residence. In due time, the child was christened Archdale Palmer.

Archdale Palmer, ‘Archie’ to his near and dear ones, was first educated at Temple Grove, a preparatory school for boys founded at the end of the 18th century in the house that is believed to have been the residence of the 17th-century diplomat and politician Sir William Temple and his secretary, Jonathan Swift. By the dawn of the 19th century, the school was being referred to as being one of the ‘Famous Five’ of English preparatory schools, and one to which “a Duke would be pleased to send his sons.”

The next phase of his school education was at Marlborough College. Wickham is seen to have played cricket for Marlborough from September 1872 to July 1874, appearing in 9 documented games and usually giving a fairly good account of himself with the bat up the order and keeping wickets on occasion.

An interesting incident is reported from the match between Marlborough and MCC 1874, Wickham’s last year, when the three MCC professionals, Henry Nixon, Frank Farrands, and William Scotton, had failed to get off the train at Marlborough and were marked in the scorecard as being ‘absent’. MCC had finished their truncated first innings at 43 and had lost the game to the students by 9 wickets.

Wickham gained a scholarship from Marlborough to go up to New College, Oxford, where he read the Classics. While at Oxford, Wickham played 4 First-Class matches for the University between 1876 and 1878, scoring 16 runs from 8 innings at 2.67. His wicketkeeping activities consisted of 5 catches and 2 stumpings.

His only match against the Cambridge was also his last for the University, and was played in 1878. Cambridge won the match by 238 runs. The result of the match was a tribute to the all-round skills of AG Steel of Cambridge, who scored 44* and 9 and captured 8 for 62 and 5 for 11 while bowling unchanged in tandem with Phillip Morton to dismiss Oxford for 32 in the second innings. This match gained Wickham his cricket Blue.

Having studied theology at Leeds Clergy School, Wickham was ordained to the curacy of St Stephens, Norwich in 1880. His next step in Holy Orders was as the Vicar of Martock in Somerset in 1889. In 1911, he was made Vicar of St Mary’s, East Brent. His ecclesiastical career then progressed to his being nominated Prebendary of Wells Cathedral and Rural Dean of Axbridge and Burnham district till 1927.

Meanwhile, the quintessential British summer game had ensnared his affections. Writing in The Guardian under the heading Somerset Summers of Dog-Collars and Cricket Whites, David Foot says: “In the north Somerset parish of East Brent I discovered the image of cricket stumps blended artistically into the more conventional reminders of the Prebendary Archdale Wickham’s stay in the parish. He was my favourite stumper and I only regret I wasn’t around to see him in action — whether behind the stumps in Taunton or driving ducks along the main street at Martock, where he once lost heavily at cards and quick-wittedly offered his ducks instead as a suitable sacrifice.”

It was while serving his curacy at Norwich between 1881 and 1890 that Wickham had turned out for Norfolk, playing 63 Second-Class games for them, keeping wickets, and batting lower down the order with varying degrees of success.

Wickham made his First-Class debut for Oxford against MCC at Oxford in 1876, a match MCC won by 55 runs. He scored 0 and 1, held 2 catches and made a stumping.

His ministerial duties curtailed the time he could devote to cricket, and although Wickham had a relatively long First-Class career, spanning 1876 to 1907, he played in only 93 matches, scoring 760 runs with a highest of 28 and an average of 8.83. He held 90 catches and made 60 stumpings. The majority of his matches, in fact, 82 of them, were played in Somerset colours, bringing Wickham 718 runs at a marginally better average of 9.44. His performance behind the stumps for Somerset amounted to 79 catches and 52 stumpings.

The first thing that strikes one from the above figures is his surprisingly poor performance with the bat throughout his First-Class career. No wonder that his fellow amateur cricketers would often refer to him snidely as “Snickham.”

About the quality of his wicketkeeping abilities, however, there was never any doubt. It may be mentioned here that in the match at Taunton against Hampshire in 1899, Somerset had allowed only 7 extras in the Hampshire total of 672 for 7, consisting of 3 leg-byes and 4 wides. In the entire duration of the 179 overs bowled in the innings, Wickham had maintained his concentration and composure at such a level that he had not conceded a single bye.

This remained a County Championship record for the biggest innings without a bye. It has been surpassed only by Jack Russell, when Nottinghamshire compiled 746 for 9 at Bristol in 2002 against Gloucestershire, the total not containing any byes.

While serving at Martock, Wickham had allowed his name to be considered for selection in First-Class matches for Somerset. The late actor Robin Williams was fond of saying: “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” Well, Wickham had his share of ‘madness’ in no uncertain terms. Foot reports that Wickham used to have a very distinctive manner of reporting to the County Ground at Taunton when selected for a match: “He would set off in great style in his horse and trap, with his wife, family and servants lined up to give him a rousing send-off.”

Reputed to be in the habit of standing up to the stumps to even the fastest bowlers of his times, Wickham would often rehearse his upcoming sermons between deliveries in a very audible voice, throwing in the odd Latin or Greek quotation for good measure, to the utter bewilderment and distraction of the batsman taking strike. One wonders what modern international cricketers, many of whom are known to indulge in the despicable habit of passing loud and derogatory comments about female relatives of their opponents, often with sexually implicit innuendo, would have made of this mode of ‘sledging’ from an era with a vintage of over 100 years.

Often referred to on the cricket field as The Bishop, though he had never risen so high in the church, Wickham had very distinctive ideas about the proper dress to wear at cricket and about the appropriate stance for a ’keeper behind the stumps. The impression of the reporter of The Times in 1893 regarding his distinctive sartorial style has been cited above, as has his propensity for departing from the usual norm in the matter of his cricket equipment. Here is Foot’s description of his stance: “His stance, in distinctive grey flannels with a black cummerbund, was comic (if not acutely painful) as his legs seemed to stretch all the way from point to the square-leg umpire.”

Apart from his affiliation to the Church of England and his exploits on the cricket field, there was another prop to the tripod on which the Reverend chose to balance his life. Wickham was known to be an avid lepidopterist. His collection of butterflies was reputed to run into thousands, and he was a frequent visitor in the Natural History Museum.

The Royal Entomological Society of London welcomed him as a Fellow in 1917. One of his renowned feats in the field was the identification and classification of thousands of specimens brought back from the Amazon and the Rio Madeira areas by one of his sons. He was to later donate a substantial part of his esoteric collection of butterflies, moths, and manuscripts to the British Museum.

The 28-year-old Reverend Wickham was married to Emily Helena nee McPherson Baldwin, at St George’s, Hanover Square, London, in March 1883. They had three children, a daughter and two sons, all born between 1883 and 1889. After his first wife passed away in 1890, he was married a second time, this time to Harriet Elizabeth nee Strong, the ceremony being performed in June 1896 at Yeovil, Somerset. His second marriage produced three more progeny between 1897 and 1902, a son and two daughters.

At this point of the narrative, the reader may well be wondering what was so special about the eccentric man of God and Somerset ’keeper that may have merited the inclusion of his name in these columns. Both Gerald Brodribb, in Next man In, and Steve Jennings, in The Incider, mention an unusual feat performed by Wickham while playing for Somerset against Oxford at The Parks in 1901.

The three-day match ended on the second day when play was extended by an extra half hour. Somerset won by 233 runs. They batted first, scoring 173, with Wickham opening the batting and scoring a very creditable 23. Oxford were then dismissed for 81. As if that was not bad enough for the home team, their designated wicketkeeper, William Findlay, was rendered hors de combat through an injury that restricted his further participation in the game.

Seeking the permission of his skipper Sammy Woods and informing umpires Thomas Veitch and Archibald White, Wickham very generously offered to keep wickets for Oxford, standing in for Findlay after he had himself been dismissed cheaply at the top of the order in the second innings. He remains the only one in history to have kept wickets for both the teams in the same First-Class match.

A close scrutiny of the available scorecard for the match reveals the fact that the Oxford ‘keeper Findlay had been very much on the field during the Somerset first innings, taking the catch that dismissed No. 10 batsman Monty Cranfield. He also batted in the first innings, scoring 2. In the Somerset second innings, opening batsman Wickham was first dismissed, for 5. The card shows the name of the Oxford undergrad Bernard Collins fielding as a substitute during the Somerset second innings, and holding two catches.

In the absence of any further specific details, it would,perhaps, be fair to assume that Wickham’s tenure behind the stumps on behalf of Oxford would have been restricted to a short stint, because, however generous the umpires or Woods, would have been, Oxford would surely not have been allowed to field 12 men at a time in the Somerset second innings. However, there is no documented corroboration for this either way. For the sake of completeness, it must also be mentioned that Findlay did put in an appearance at the batting crease in the second innings but “failed to trouble the scorers.”

Was Wickham’s altruistic offer to help out the opponents in a crisis situation another manifestation of his inherently whimsical nature? History is silent on the issue. The fact remains, however, that this instance of a wicketkeeper doing duty behind the stumps on behalf both teams in a match is believed to be unique in the history of First-Class cricket.

Prebendary AP Wickham passed away on October 13, 1935 at East Brent, aged 79. The Obituary columns of The Times mentioned his passing, specifically mentioning that he “was beloved in his successive parishes.” He was buried in the family grave on the south side of St Mary’s Church, East Brent, his wife also being interred with him after her own passing away on October 18, 1956.

On the north side of the chancel of the same church is a stained glass window dedicated to Rev. Wickham, and depicts his great love for cricket and for his beloved butterflies and moths. In 2005, the newly erected main gates of the church were also dedicated to the late Rev. AP Wickham.