Book Review: HH Stephenson: a Cricketing Journey: Kennington Oval to Uppingham School

(by Roy Stephenson, Uppingham Local History Study Group 2009, pp 68, A4 Paperback, £12, ISBN 978 0 9540076 6 9)

HH Stephenson, the prominent Surrey and All England professional who also umpired the first Test match in England, has the almost unique distinction of being on the first England representative tour to North America in 1859 and the next year captaining them on their first visit to Australia. Only William Caffyn also went on both tours. As the new book appeared to be written by a relative I looked forward to receiving it, expecting much new important and interesting information about the famous player.

Although it is always useful to see players’ careers set out in a chronological order I must confess to being a bit disappointed. Whether Roy Stephenson is a relative I do not know because there is no reference either way [I understand that he is not - RL] and from the cricketing point of view there is virtually no new information. It is mostly regurgitated from the numerous well known treatises such as, amongst others, Frederick Lillywhite’s The English Cricketers’ Trip to Canada and the United States in 1859 (Lillywhite 1860), David Frith’s The Trailblazers: The First English Cricket Tour to Australia 1861-2 (Boundary Books 1999) and Arthur Haygarth’s Scores and Biographies (Vol III & IV Lillywhite 1863). Arthur would have been annoyed that the quotes from the latter source have been attributed to Frederick Lillywhite! Although other books have been looked at many are secondary references whereas the primary sources should have been consulted. This has led to some confusion for example with regard to the “hat-trick”. Stephenson took a wicket with each of three consecutive balls in Sheffield in 1858 and this is the first instance where we know a hat was taken around the ground for a collection. It is not the first recorded instance of three wickets being taken in three balls (a point acknowledged by the author although not in so many words) but the first where the term applies. Also I do not know of an instance where a county cap was awarded for such a feat. It is a shame also that J.N. Pentelow’s article on Uppingham School in 1915 Ayers Cricket Companion (F.H. Ayres 1916) does not seem to have been inspected as a fine photograph of our subject in old age could have been usefully reproduced together with a famous quote by Stephenson regarding cricket: “To the batsman—the straight bat; to the bowler—the good length; to all cricketers—enthusiasm.”

This is not only a cricketing biography, however, as it is published by an Uppingham history group to provide information about historic local residents, so perhaps I am being too pedantic. The pieces about his early life in Esher after his father, a surgeon, died when he was only six and his connections, as a paid huntsman and whipper in, with the exiled King and Queen of France are interesting but, as with the rest of the book, lack depth. (The early death of his father perhaps explains why he became a professional cricketer rather than an amateur as might have been expected, although that is not discussed.) There is also a great deal of repetition in each chapter with unnecessary introductions and conclusions. The appendices also leave a little to be desired taking up ten pages when they could be meaningfully truncated. A comparison of his performances against other players of his day would also have been useful. There are some good illustrations but I do get the feeling that the text was made to fill the book rather than the research made into a book.
Despite the above I am pleased to have a copy in my library but it could be so much better.

Roger Heavens – Verdict: 7
Summer 2010

 

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