WG never lost his Gloucestershire accent, he took 11 years to pass his medical exams and scored 1,098 runs for England in a career that popularised cricket
But WG Grace, was first and last a Gloucestershire man born in Downend in 1848 in a time when along with Mangotsfield the north Bristol suburbs were country villages quite separate from the city.
With his bushy beard, MCC cap and large 6ft 2in frame William Gilbert Grace (always known as WG) is perhaps the most instantly recognisable cricketer in the history of the game. Born into a cricketing and medical family WG was the eighth of nine children to Dr Henry and Martha Grace with his older brother EM Grace, Henry Grace and younger brother Fred Grace all fine cricketers.
Not known for his academic prowess at school he eventually was enrolled at Bristol Medical School although due to his cricketing career it took him 11 years to pass the final exams and could practice as a physician. WG punished opposing cricket teams with a career average over 30 runs an innings but when practising as a GP often failed to bill his poorest patients.
WG was no stranger to Gloucester Road and Nevil Road where he played for Gloucester County Cricket Club from 1870 to 1899, doubling up with caps for the Marylebone cricket Club (MCC) from 1869 and turning out for London County from 1900 to 1904 after moving to the Southeast. However, it was not until 1889 that the county ground at Nevil Road became the pitch of choice. Before that WG and Gloucestershire had played at several grounds including Durdham Down and before that he and his brothers had played for various teams including the county’s emergence from the West Gloucestershire club.
WG’s bowling, batting and fielding along with his dominating personality and natural charisma set him apart creating a cricketing celebrity. Whenever or wherever he played it was not unknown for the entrance ticket price to be doubled such was his pulling power. The stats said it all with 1,098 runs in 22 test matches along with 170 scored against Australia, ten wicket hauls in 66 first class matches and a top score of 344 in county games.
One aspect of WG’s career that has often been mulled over was his ability to earn cash from the sport in the era of Gentlemen (amateurs) and Players (professionals). WG was officially an amateur but amateurs could claim expenses for travel and accommodation from their clubs – something which WG did and was criticised for claiming excessive expenses which effectively meant he was paid. In his later career he was paid hundreds of pounds as the secretary and manager. Compared with the earnings of his fellow professionals it was a fortune although in today’s fully professional era perhaps not such riches.
And that’s another point of interest. How would he have got on in today’s era. The Grace brothers and their cousins and father were all gifted cricketers which reminds modern players of the Broads, the Bairstow’s, the Butchers, the Compton’s and the Cowdrey’s to name but a few. Surely one of the Graces would have made it into the county side based on natural skill alone. Most analysts place WG in or around the top ten all time batsmen – achieved in part as he played as a teenager to 60 years of age. Fitness regimes were not as they are now and it’s well recorded, he enjoyed his food and wine – but that aside his hand-eye coordination would have ensured his inclusion in today’s England XI who have returned from defeated in recent test series against Australia and West Indies.
Harry Mottram writes features for the Voice publications in Bristol and Bath and is a freelance journalist. Visit http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/