Peter Wynne-Thomas 1934–2021

Peter Wynne-Thomas
Peter Wynne-Thomas in 2013, after being named Statistician of the Year for the second time

Peter Wynne-Thomas was the finest cricket statistician and historian of recent times. The genial occupant of the Library at Trent Bridge and former Honorary Secretary of the ACS stands alongside Arthur Haygarth and FS Ashley-Cooper, not to mention Messrs Wisden and Lillywhite, as one of the leading chroniclers of the summer game.

An exemplar of patience, diligence and understanding, Peter was a founder member of the ACS in 1973 and became a cornerstone of the organisation; after a brief spell as Treasurer, he was the Association’s helpful and friendly Secretary from 1974 until retiring in 2006. In many people’s eyes he was the ACS, and a visit to Trent Bridge was not complete without calling into the Library to speak with Peter.

He was also a prolific author, writing around 50 books. Among his best works were The History of Cricket: From the Weald to the World, a definitive history of the game, published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in 1997, and Cricket’s Historians, published in 2011, in which Peter wrote with typical warmth and wisdom about his fellow historians and record-keepers.

He was named ACS Statistician of the Year twice – in 1993, along with Philip Bailey and Philip Thorn, for their epic Who’s Who of Cricketers, and in 2012 for Cricket’s Historians.

A Nottinghamshire man through and through – his first book, in 1971, was Nottinghamshire Cricketers 1821–1914 – Peter was appointed the club’s President in 2016. He was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 2019 New Year’s Honours List, for services to cricket and the community of Nottinghamshire.

On hearing the sad news of Peter’s passing, David Kendix, the President of the ACS said:

‘Peter’s contribution to cricket scholarship in general and the ACS in particular was immeasurable. Visiting him in the Trent Bridge library was a pilgrimage; watching him entrance parties of visiting schoolchildren with stories of cricketing history was to see a master craftsman at work. He possessed authority without ego, and his work set standards in quality and rigour to which we can all aspire. He was also a friend for 30 years and I will miss him greatly.’

The ACS held an online event to celebrate Peter’s life on 25 September. Representatives of Nottinghamshire CCC as well as ACS members shared their memories of Peter and paid tribute to his work. This event can be viewed in an MP4 file (lasting just over an hour) here.

Many other members have been in touch to express their admiration for Peter’s work and their gratitude for his kindness and help in their own research. Some of their tributes are included below.

Duncan Anderson:
The ladies at my office shed a tear when I told them the sad news about Peter’s passing. None of them had ever met him. Contact had been limited to no more than pleasantries as they put a call through to me, but pleasantries are one thing that Peter excelled in, with his easy charm and old-fashioned manners, and they thought the world of him.
I first met Peter in 1991. A visit to Trent Bridge came to include a call to see him in the Library, which was then located behind the Long Room, or to the shop on Radcliffe Road. Our mutual interest in the history of Nottinghamshire cricket soon made us firm friends: we were in touch on something or other as often as once or twice a week, or if we had some sort of a project on, it could be once or twice in a day! That’s how his enthusiasm could sweep one along.
Peter’s knowledge of Nottinghamshire cricket, was needless to say, quite unparalleled. That said, he was never content to let matters rest, and we always had a little bit of research going on. Many a time we’d call each other with what he called ‘a scoop’ and we’d have a lovely half-hour chewing the cud and looking at where the new information was taking us.
It was fascinating to watch Peter in action as a researcher. He claimed that Roland Bowen taught him the art of research and he certainly did it well. It is perhaps fitting that during the recent lockdown Peter was involved in a book on Bowen.
I remember, when I was helping Peter with a little research for his book on Arthur Carr, I found what I thought was the most wonderful piece of revealing information on Carr, which came with what I thought was cast-iron provenance. That wasn’t Peter’s view though. He needed to understand the information and wouldn’t go near it until he could.
More recently I bought a 78 record of Harold Larwood discussing leg-theory. The problem was that I had no idea how I could play it. I shouldn’t have worried. Peter had the full set-up for 78 rpm, including a horn gramophone.
I will miss Peter dearly. Even within a week of his passing I have things that I need to discuss with him and it’s so sad that I can’t.
It’s said that no one is irreplaceable and I’m sure that’s true. The exception to the rule is Peter Wynne-Thomas. He is a man whose place in life can never, ever be replaced.

Malcolm Lorimer:
If ever there was someone who typified the cricket historian it was Peter. He was a colossus and could easily hold sway with previous historians of the game like Ashley-Cooper and Rowland Bowen – but not always agree with them!
In the time of the computer he preferred his old battered typewriter, and shared his love of the game not just with fellow historians but with thousands of schoolchildren.
He was pivotal in the ACS and yet never dictated what should happen. His foresight in buying the shop at Trent Bridge meant the ACS had a legacy which it will continue to enjoy long into the future.
For his friendliness, humour and readiness to share his knowledge with whoever asked, we are all thankful. He will be missed.

Douglas Miller:
Peter was a delightful man, though full of idiosyncrasies. Sometime in the late 1980s, I wandered into Trent Bridge in the middle of the winter, as I had never been to the ground. I was immediately befriended by Basharat Hassan, who said I should meet the great PW-T. This I did and, as ever, Peter had time for yet another casual visitor. What an ambassador!
I proudly told him I was the person who had corrected the place of death of MFS Jewell – he died in the house next to mine but was registered in Sussex. I recalled that Peter had personally written to thank me for this relatively trivial piece of information that amended cricket’s official records.
Some years later, Eric Midwinter suggested that I might join the ACS committee and I got to know Peter well.
I always think of the trio who wrote their great Who’s Who as Philip Bailey, statistician supreme and a computer wizard, Philip Thorn, the hermit of a genealogist whom few had ever met, and Peter, the unrivalled authority on the history of the game.
Committee meetings of the late 1990s were characterised by reports on publications that took the form of Peter opening a large hand-written ledger and assuring us that a particular title was doing ‘very well’. The computer had yet to play much part in maintaining records, and the word processor was also kept at bay: Peter always favoured his portable typewriter with a ribbon.
I believe he never changed, but such men – I can think of a couple of others – seemed somehow the stronger and more authoritative for still relying on sharpness of eye and memory in questioning the outpourings of those who made full use of digital aids. Proofreading has certainly been more challenging and seems not to have improved since we all relied on our keyboards.
There must be scores of cricket devotees who have been given far more time than they merited as they had the wisdom to consult the oracle in his lair at Trent Bridge either personally or on the telephone. I know how much he helped me on occasions, sometimes going off to one of his filing cabinets and knowing exactly where he might find an answer or a photograph.
I shall always think of him surrounded by publications still awaiting a spot on the already overcrowded shelves.
One hopes that someone will emerge to take on Peter’s mantle, but very sadly we don’t seem to make them any longer. As in so many fields of life, true craftsmen are a dying breed.

Robin Isherwood:
It is with much personal sadness I read of Peter’s death. He did all the maps for the South African Provincial Cricketers booklets (re-drawn from my own initial amateurish efforts) and we exchanged many letters. He couldn’t have been more helpful and didn’t want any acknowledgement.
A few years ago, during a Notts vs Lancs match, I spent over an hour with Peter in the Trent Bridge library. Alongside the manual typewriter on his desk were numerous local newspapers and Notts scorebooks. He told me he was in the process of checking who won the toss in Notts first-class matches, had found well over 100 differences with Wisden, and was only up to the 1950s. Heaven knows how many hours he had already spent on such a massive project at that time.
Peter was a wonderful person to have known and will be greatly missed but never forgotten.

John Ward:
I first visited the Trent Bridge ground when I was over in England in 1988, and I made a point of dropping in at the library, all crammed into a much smaller room then, to meet Peter for the first time.
He looked like a figure from a bygone age, with his braces, moustache and ancient typewriter, but was always friendly and welcoming, full of knowledge. He was obviously delighted to move in due time to the magnificent new library, and whenever I was at Trent Bridge (which was often during my years as a county cricket reporter for Cricinfo, before the American ESPN took it over and messed it up) I would drop in to visit him and do research, with his guidance.
I soon encountered his Luddite tendencies: he affected disdain for just about anything that had been invented since he was born. He even boasted about never using a car – though it came out, in his conversation with another visitor, that he had once actually owned one!
I did cause him some awkwardness on one occasion. He was decrying computers, and a few minutes later I went upstairs in the library and saw a large computer sitting on his desk. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: Why is there a computer up here if you never use one?
PWT, reluctantly: Well, it has been used…
Me: Who by?
PWT: Various people… have used it at times…
Me (mischievously, expecting another condemnation of these machines): But have you ever used it?
(Long pause)
PWT, mumbling, with extreme reluctance: Well, I… have used it… on occasions…
But obviously they must have been occasions when there was no alternative and he could not use his beloved typewriter! He bore me no ill will for wringing that confession from him, although he probably felt his reputation had been tarnished for ever!
He was obviously very popular at Trent Bridge. I soon noticed that if I told the club officials I wanted to visit the library they would allow me to do so; if I told them that I wanted to visit Peter at the library, they did so with big smiles.
In more recent times, when lack of money and a paid county cricket job have prevented me from visiting England any more, I have wondered if I would ever be able to drop in at the library – I still have much I would like to research there – and meet Peter again, but sadly the second part of that desire will not happen. He was a unique man.

Ric Finlay:
I visited Trent Bridge in April 2010, where I met Peter Wynne-Thomas in his wonderful library. He was a cultured, erudite man: I found him fascinating and very eager to converse with me about our passion. I was in nirvana, and two hours just flew by. A huge loss for our profession.

David Jeater:
Just a small anecdote about Peter, if I may.
While I was (enjoying) editing his book on William Clarke for our Lives in Cricket series, I noticed our local library had a full-scale history of the prep school Peter had attended here in West Sussex and mentioned this to him. Within days he had obtained a copy – online, incidentally – and had read it. He then asked me a series of questions about the school and what had happened to its site. I simply found it remarkable that he had filleted the key pieces of information from it and had identified the significant gaps in the tale. All this while he was progressing the Clarke book itself during the cricket season, undertaking his various duties at Trent Bridge, and writing another unrelated cricket book.

Derek Barnard:
Peter Wynne-Thomas was one the finest cricket statisticians and historians of the period immediately following the Second World War. A trained architect, his greatest achievement was the development of the Trent Bridge Library – now called the Wynne-Thomas Library – where he built an enormous collection of books, letters, photographs and many items of cricket memorabilia.
In June 2017, when Peter was president of Nottinghamshire CCC, they hosted Kent in a first-class day/night game, in which lunch was taken at 4 pm. Peter gave an eloquent address as he welcomed the Kent members. I said that I had read a number of his books and asked if I could visit the library. He gave of his time freely: we met at 10 am each day and he allowed me to ferret around for about four hours on the last three days of the match.
On the fourth day I asked if he had still in his possession the card index to The Cricketer. He said he did, and a week later posted me all the magazine’s references to Colin Cowdrey.
Here was a man who had given his life to Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club and to cricket history. He will be well remembered.

Robby Wilton:
Thank you for the enlightenment and pleasure you brought to so many cricket lovers for so many years.

Mark Asquith:
I knew Pete from mid-1977. I spoke to him last when I was back in the UK two years ago. He still hadn’t read all the works of Dickens we spoke about ten years before. Like me, he struggled with Barnaby Rudge.
He introduced me to John Arlott and Bomber Wells among others.
He was worth going a long way to talk to.
Not many of us left from the days when the guides were very much up in the air and the AGM was at Edgbaston.
Good on you Pete.

Vijitha Senaratne:
It was very sad to hear the demise of Mr Peter Wynne-Thomas the leading cricket statistician and former Secretary of the ACS. Going through the lists of ACS publications I found some of his works, namely Cricket Grounds of Nottinghamshire, Cricket’s Historians, William Clarke: The Old General, F.S.Ashley-Cooper: A Biographical Sketch & Bibliography and Harold Larwood, George Parr and Ivo Bligh in the Famous Cricketers series. I would like to read Ivo Bligh because he led the first ever visiting team to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1882. I admire your invaluable service to the cricketing world Mr Wynne-Thomas. Rest in Peace.