Somerset County Cricket Club is one of eighteen first-class county clubs within the domestic cricket structure of England and Wales. It represents the historic county of Somerset. Founded in 1875, Somerset was initially regarded as a minor county until official first-class status was first achieved in 1881 and held until the end of the 1885 season. First class status was then regained in 1891 and held ever since.
The Club has competed in the County Championship since 1891 and has subsequently played in every top-level domestic cricket competition in England.
On the 18th of September 1875, Somerset County Cricket Club was officially founded. We all know the story about how our Club came into being following the two-day match between the Gentlemen of Somerset and the Gentlemen of Devon at Sidmouth all those years ago, but to mark the anniversary of the club’s conception, we thought we would take a more detailed look at the history of the of its origins and the main protagonists involved.
Although August 18th, 1875 was the day that our Club was officially founded, the history of Somerset cricket goes back even further than that.
We can go as far back as 1798 to find a first recorded county match by a team bearing the name of Somerset. Eleven Gentlemen of Bath & the County of Somerset faced Eleven Gentlemen of Wiltshire at Devizes in a match that saw Wiltshire’s Gentlemen triumph. Following the match, a return fixture was organised between the two sides, and it was a game that caused something of a rumpus. Following a resounding victory for the Bath & Somerset team, it was alleged that several of their players were in fact drafted in from other counties.
Whilst interest in the game at the County level waned, several club sides sprung up throughout Somerset at places such as Somerton, Langport, Milverton, Taunton, Wiveliscombe and the Lansdown Club in Bath (see the individual Club histories)
A team bearing the name Somerset re-emerged in 1845 for two matches against Dorset. The first at Lansdown CC resulted in a two-wicket win for Somerset, with the second fixture at Dorchester seeing an even more resounding win, by an innings and 29 runs.
Dorset gained a modicum of revenge when the two sides met again at Kingston Park the following year, but Somerset cricket inexplicably disappeared once more.
The Gentleman of Somerset emerged to fill the void in 1860 to take on the Gentlemen of Devon at Culm Vale. The two sides clashed a further nine times up to 1871.
A prospective move to eliminate the malaise surrounding the game at a county level emerged in Yeovil in 1865 when a committee was formed in order to attempt to create a Yeovil & County Cricket Club. Sadly, for those involved, this project would not bear fruit.
This brings us back to that celebrated day at Sidmouth in 1875 and the important events that followed the fixture between the Gentlemen of Somerset and the Gentlemen of Devon.
The Somerset Gentlemen won the match by eight wickets, and after the conclusion of the fixture the team called a meeting. The discussions were chaired by Reverend Alexander Colvin Ainslie (pictured below) and the proposal was a simple one; that Somerset should have its own County Cricket Club in order to compete with the established Counties.
The resolution was passed and those present decided upon three key elements which should be progressed:
- That it is desirable to organise annual matches against the neighbouring counties and against First Class clubs, such as the Incogniti, etc.
- That the secretaries of leading cricket clubs in Somerset be communicated with upon the subject, and their co-operation invited.
- That the clubs which possess first rate grounds, in convenient situations, be requested to allow the use of their grounds for county matches.
Edward Western, a teacher at Fullands School in Taunton, who had top scored for the Gentlemen of Somerset in the match, was requested to act as County Secretary and he set about writing the following letter and sending it to potential benefactors amongst the Taunton elite:
I beg to enclose a copy of the resolutions passed at Sidmouth in August 1875, relative to the establishment of a county cricket club in Somerset. The following is the scheme:
- That there shall be no county ground.
- That the club shall depend upon its support by voluntary subscriptions.
- That county matches shall be played on any ground in the county that may be selected by the Committee.
- That a president, vice-president, treasurer, and secretary be nominated, and a committee consisting of nine gentlemen, three from each division of the county, shall be appointed.
Matches have been arranged against Dorset, Devon, South Wales, the Incogniti, and the Civil Service.
I am requested to solicit you to become a subscriber of 10s.6d. to the Somerset County Club.
This appeal is being made throughout the county, and it is hoped that the result will be as such to prevent the great expense of county matches falling too heavily on the individual players; otherwise, many good men are excluded, and the county cannot do itself justice.
I am, Sir,
Edward Western, Hon. Sec.
Initially, this plea was not as successful as expected.
A meagre 112 subscribers were forthcoming and only £70 17s. was deposited into Somerset County Cricket Club’s initial bank account.
What of the players who featured that day?
Let’s find out a little more about those eleven players and what became of them.
Stirling Voules was appointed as Somerset’s first Captain. He was born in 1843 in Middle Chinnock and was a right-handed batsman and right-arm fast bowler. He attended Marlborough College before winning a place at Lincoln College, Oxford where he played for the Varsity team. After his graduation he began a teaching career. In 1878, he became the rector of Ashley, near Market Drayton.
Edward Wright was an all rounder who was born in Devon in 1858. Educated at Sydney College, Bath, he was one of only four of the players who featured for the Somerset Gentlemen that day who did not go on to play for the newly created Somerset team. He became a police officer in the West Indies but died as a result of injuries sustained following an outbreak of rioting in Montego Bay at the age of 46.
The origins of Edward Western, who became Somerset’s first Secretary at that inaugural meeting, are somewhat mysterious. What we do know is that he was born in May 1845, but the location of his birth is uncertain. What we do know is that he was placed into the care of the Edols sisters in Brislington at a young age. The sisters took in abandoned and orphaned children, giving them a home and an education. He eventually attended Fullands School and would stay on to teach maths. As mentioned previously, he top scored for the Gentleman of Somerset during that match at Sidmouth and as Secretary he was tasked with organising the fixtures for the newly created County Club. After resigning as Secretary, he returned to education and eventually set up a private school in Alcombe, Minehead. He remained in the town with his wife until his death at the age of 74 in 1919.
William Gresswell was another of those who did not eventually play for Somerset. The son of the rector of Kilve, he was born in 1848. He was educated at Somersetshire College in Bath before attending Brasenose College, Oxford. Following his graduation, he lectured in Classics and English Literature in Cape Town. He also wrote books on colonial history and geography whilst overseas. Upon his return to Somerset he was appointed rector of Dodington, Nether Stowey. A member of the Somerset Archaeological Society, he helped to secure funds which were used to acquire Coleridge’s cottage in Nether Stowey for the people. He remained in West Somerset for the remainder of his life. His son, named Bill, went on to play over 100 First Class matches for the County that his father had helped to found. Bill would also later go on to become President of SCCC.
William Pulman (pictured below) was born in Wellington in 1852. He was educated at Uffculme Grammar School in Devon before attending Marlborough College. He went on to gain a First in Classics at St John’s College, Oxford where he was also awarded blues at cricket and rowing. He played six matches for Somerset before playing for Worcestershire in 1879. He was ordained in 1876, and in 1889 he became rector of Wellington and West Buckland, a position previously held by his father. He remained in the post for 43 years. He passed away in the town in 1936, a year after celebrating his golden wedding anniversary.
Francis Reed was born in Ottery St Mary in 1850. He went to Exeter College, Oxford where he played cricket but failed to make the University XI. After graduation, he became a chaplain and a teacher at Fullands School in Taunton. He played regularly for Somerset until 1884 as a right-arm medium pace bowler. He also played rugby for Somerset. He eventually became headmaster at Donnington Grammar School in Lincolnshire, beating over 100 other applicants for the post. He transferred to a school in Yorkshire in 1887, but two years later he was living in Middlesbrough and offering his services as a tutor. It is reported that he spent a number of years lodging in doss houses, and from 1901 he was regularly admitted to the Stepney Workhouse in London’s East End and the Whitechapel Infirmary where he passed away in 1912.
Henry Dodington was born in 1843 at Horsington House, near Templecombe and was educated at Eton before making his way to Trinity College, Cambridge. Although he never made any impact on the cricket field, he was selected for the 1863 Boat Race. Sadly, a last-minute injury prevented his appearance. In 1865, he attended Wells Theological College, where he trained for the priesthood. He made his debut for the Gentlemen of Somerset as a 20-year-old in 1863 and appeared for the newly formed Somerset in 1876. He pursued a career in the church and travelled widely before become President of Somerset CCC in 1885. He was a keen archer and in later life he had a farm in Sherbourne. He died in the town’s hospital in 1916 at the age of 72.
Tristram Welman (below) was a highly regarded wicket keeper. He was born at Norton Manor, near Taunton in 1849 and was eventually sent to St Mary’s Roman Catholic College in Birmingham. He came from a wealthy family and was a well-known socialite. He made two pilgrimages to Rome, one in 1869 and one in 1877, and was rewarded with the Bene Mereti medal by Pope Pius IX. He played for Somerset until 1901, by which point, according to the Taunton Courier, ‘age had robbed him of his former brilliance’. During his career, he also played for Middlesex and the MCC.
Sealy Poole was one of the four players who never went on to play for Somerset. Born in Huntspill, near Bridgwater in 1850, he attended Exeter College, Oxford and was in the same year as Francis Reed (see above). He often played for Corfe CC and also featured for Fullands in Taunton. The likelihood is that he would have played for Somerset beyond 1875, but he took up the position of deacon at Hereford Cathedral meaning that he left the region. Via Worcestershire and Norton Fitzwarren, he became the rector of Chickerell, in Dorset. It was a position that he held for 42 years. In 1934 he retired to Weymouth, where he died the following year surrounded by his family.
Gordon Voules was the fourth man not to go on to make his bow for Somerset. Born in 1839, he was the brother of Somerset’s first captain, Stirling Voules. He worked as an auditor for the Admiralty and eventually received a knighthood for his outstanding service. He was married in Tiverton in 1866 and moved to London for a time. He died aged 84 in 1924.
Ernest Cassan was born in Bruton in 1835. After attending King’s School in Bruton, he was awarded a place at Magdalen Hall, Oxford. However, it allegedly took him seven years to complete his degree. He played cricket at university and took nine Cambridge wickets in his only Varsity match. He played for Somerset until 1878, at which point he joined Dorset. He became a mainstay at Lansdown CC in Bath, and a photograph from 1863 suggests that his cricketing prowess was even more remarkable given that he appears to have a physical disability with his left arm. Indeed, the Bath Chronicle describes his technique as ‘slow to medium left round-arm’ whilst noting that ‘his left hand was paralysed, and he placed the ball in it with his right.’ He eventually hung up his bat at the age of 63 in 1899. Sadly, he took his own life on Christmas Eve 1904. The official verdict of his death is ‘suicide by shooting himself during a fit of temporary insanity.’
This band of brothers paved the way for the heroes of today, and the rest, as they say, is history!
Many thanks have to go the researchers in Somerset Cricket Museum for assisting in the creation of this article. This piece would also not have been possible without the following excellent publications:
- Somerset Cricketers 1876 – 1890 by Stephen Hill & Barry Phillips
- Somerset Cricketers 1882 – 1914 by Stephen Hill
- From Jimmy to Sammy by Peter Roebuck
This article has been republished with the kind permission of Somerset County Cricket Club