A lecture to the Royston Pike group: Part 5
Sport, and being Surrey that means cricket, features heavily in Elmbridge's history. The Elmbridge Hundred has another great triumvirate, or rather a hat trick of cricketers. Edward 'Lumpy' Stevens (1735-1819) is generally regarded as the 1st great bowler in the game's history. Lumpy was a gardener, but his bowling prowess got him a job at Walton House, the mansion that made way for Mount Felix, on the estate of the 4th earl of Tankerville. He was universally known by his nickname 'Lumpy' even on scorecards and reports, and was rarely called Stevens. His legendary nickname may have arisen because he was adept at choosing pitches to suit his subtle variations of pace, length, and direction. In those days, the leading bowler on each side chose the place where wickets would be pitched. A famous verse of the day goes: "For honest Lumpy did allow, He ne'er would pitch but o'er a brow". He probably began playing in 1st class matches in the mid-1750s when underarm bowlers still 'trundled' the ball all along the ground. It is possible that Lumpy was the first to 'give the ball air', and was involved in that crucial evolution of the game sometime before 1770. He made a careful study of flight and worked out variations in pace and length. However his greatest legacy to the game came in a match on the 22nd and 23rd May 1775 when Lumpy beat the great Hambledon batsman John Small three times with the ball going clean through the 2-stump wicket. Because of his protests, the patrons agreed that a 3rd stump should be added. William [Silver Billy] Beldham (1766-1862) was a cricketer associated with The Hurst in Molesey, and is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest batsmen of the underarm era. The Times named him as one of its 100 Greatest Cricketers of All Time. The third cricketer selected for The Elmbridge Hundred was H.H. [Heathfield Harman] Stephenson (1833 - 1896), which is apt, because he was the first cricketer to be awarded a hat for taking three wickets in consecutive balls - the origin of the word hat trick. In 1859, Stephenson was also one of the 12 players who took part in cricket's 1st overseas tour when an England team visited North America, and in 1861-62, Stephenson captained the England team that made the inaugural tour of Australia. He was born in Esher, but played for Thames Ditton and England.
In truth, there was a fourth cricketer selected for The Elmbridge Hundred, which is Wally Hammond (1903-1965), a cricketer who played for Esher and England, and is regarded as perhaps the best batsmen in the history of cricket. Personally, I think the final selection panel should have declared after the third innings to give the hat-trick real poignancy, but Elmbridge can argue to be the true home of cricket.
The one woman associated with sport who was selected for The Elmbridge Hundred is Amy Constance Gentry (1903-1976). Amy was a formidable oarswoman, and was British single sculls champion in 1932, 1933, and 1934, before retiring undefeated. She pioneered women's rowing in England, becoming a founder member, captain, and chair of Weybridge Ladies' Rowing Club. In 1960, she achieved her greatest success for women's rowing by persuading the International Rowing Federation to stage the women's European championships on the Welsh Harp in London, which marked the beginning of the acceptance of women's rowing at full international level, and led to its inclusion in the 1976 Olympics. The history of professional sport is relatively short, and still applies only to those few televised sports awash with money. Like many great sportswomen and men, Amy Gentry also worked as a secretary for Vickers Aviation at Brooklands, where she witnessed some great moments of aviation history as the personal secretary to Barnes Wallis, the chief designer. She worked for him between 1941-3 whilst developed the 'bouncing bomb', and she witnessed the first trials on Burwood Park Lake. Amy's boss, Barnes Neville Wallis (1887 - 1979) always regretted not serving in World War One. He was unable to join the RAF because he worked in the 'vital industry' of aeronautical engineering. In 1928, Wallis was appointed chief designer of Vickers aeroplane design team at Weybridge. His 'Wellington Bomber' was a key plane in World War Two. Wallis' famous development was 'the bouncing bombs', dropped by 617 Squadron on 17 May 1943. These were designed to bounce along the water, to avoid torpedo nets. The aim was to destroy the industrial heart of Germany. Another, Elmbridge resident R. C. Sherriff wrote the screenplay The Dam Busters of 1955, the popular film depicting these events.
In total, thirteen of The Elmbridge Hundred associated with Brooklands, which is one of the great crucibles of the modern world in pioneering the development of airplanes and automobiles. I don't have time to mention them now, and urge anyone who wants to know more to visit Brooklands Museum.
The one Brooklands figure I would like to say a bit more about, because he is a truly fascinating figure, and more research is needed, is Dr Eric Gardner. Gardner was a pathologist, archaeologist, and historian as well as a GP in Weybridge. In 1909, he persuaded Weybridge UDC to open a msueum for the town, and this was originally situated in the Council Offices at the bottom of Baker Street. Dr. Gardner was Honorary Curator of the museum from 1909 until his death. The core of the current museum owes much to him. Anyone who wants to know more about Elmbridge I would urge to visit 'your' local museum, and to campaign to ensure the council never closes it. If local government has any central function at all, it is to safeguard and promote the history of a place, which is the foundation of every community, alongside essential services, like Weybridge Hospital and medical practice, which Eric Gardner founded. After qualifying as a doctor, he worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, before starting the medical practice at Weybridge in 1906. When the Brooklands became a motor racing track he was appointed medical officer there, and his experience with head injuries in motor accidents led him to develop the modern crash helmet. When the RFC (later RAF) took over Brooklands in 1914 he was involved in developing the means still used for selecting and assessing the medical and psychological fitness and suitability of pilots for flying. You would think that is enough highflying achievement, but in 1936, he became pathologist to he Surrey County Coroner and was involved in numerous important and pioneering forensic pathology cases, including the gruesome 'chalk pit' murder of 1946.
The Elmbridge Hundred is full of historical exposés, a hotbed of scandals and artistic love triangles. The most famous of these by far is the Merediths. George Meredith was a celebrated Victorian novelist and poet, though he is read little today. His short-lived marriage to Mary Ellen Meredith had a great effect on his writing. George and Mary Ellen married in 1849. They settled in Weybridge at a boarding house called 'The Limes' (in what is now The Quadrant), and later at their own house at 54/56 Baker Street. The marriage was initially happy, and George wrote a series of pastoral poems inspired by the local landscape. Meredith's first fiction in 1856 was, The Shaving of Shagpat: an Arabian Entertainment, which he claimed to have 'written ... at Weybridge with duns at the door'. Around 1857, Mary Ellen began an affair with the painter Henry Wallis (a friend of her husband's). In a letter to Wallis, Mary Ellen wrote, "I love you so really, so far beyond anything I have known of love". The couple had a child, Felix, and their passionate relationship soon cooled. Mary Ellen died only a few years later, living in seclusion at Oatlands. Neither George Meredith nor Henry Wallis attended her funeral. George later remarried and moved to Box Hill, but never really got over Mary Ellen's betrayal. Her loss inspired some of his most profoundly emotional work, such as his sonnet series Modern Love of 1862. "I bleed, but her who wounds I will not blame.? Have I not felt her heart as 't were my own?Beat thro' me? Could I hurt her? Heaven and hell!?But I could hurt her cruelly!" (Sonnet 19). Mary Ellen (1821-61) was the daughter of the poet Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) she had been married before meeting Meredith to Lieutenant Edward Nicolls, who drowned two months after the married in command of HMS Dwarf in Ireland. In August 1849, after five years a young widow, she married George Meredith, an ambitious young poet with no obvious prospects. In early 1855, George Meredith met the painter Henry Wallis (1830-1916), who asked him to pose as the dead poet Thomas Chatterton for his Wallis' sublime painting, which now hangs in Tate Britain. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856 and made Wallis famous overnight. John Ruskin described it as "faultless and wonderful". As ever, Ruskin is right, but its fame and fascination for the Victorian public owed much to its link with Wallis's love affair with Mary Ellen, which began during the summer of 1857. Her father, Thomas Love Peacock, was broken hearted and lost his desire to write.
Another tale of modern love in Elmbridge, which is really just a euphemism for sex outside marriage, was that of Prince Frederick Augustus, the duke of York (1763-1827). The Grand Old Duke of York of nursery rhyme fame was the 2nd eldest son of King George 3rd. He bought Oatlands in 1794, and moved there with his new wife Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina, duchess of York (1767-1820). Frederica was the eldest daughter of Frederick William 2nd of Prussia, and great niece to Frederick the Great. Frederick and Frederica's marriage was a dynastic alliance, and the Freds unraveled soon after they wed in September 1791. James Gillray savagely caricatured the royal mismatch in Fashionable Contrasts; - or - the Duchess's little shoe yielding to the magnitude of the Duke's foot, which was published by Hannah Humphrey in January 1792. The duke's boorish clodhoppers are imposing themselves between the delicate slippers of the dainty duchess in 'fully-attired copulation', or 'dry humping' I believe is the modern parlance. In 1803, the Duke of York took as his mistress a courtesan called Mary Ann Clarke [née Thompson] (1776-1852). The duke set her up close to Oatlands at Columb's House, on the site of what is now St George's College Junior School on Thames Street in Weybridge. The former resident, Mary Ann Clarke is not a role model that the school's website promotes to prospective parents. The duke's affair became a political scandal when the Frederick was charged with corruption for promoting officers from whom Clarke had taken bribes. It was a hugely lucrative little earner if the nursery rhyme is to be believed and The Grand Old Duke really did have 10,000 men all pushing for promotion! Publicly renounced by the duke, Clarke proved politically shrewd, writing her own revealing memoirs and extracting large pensions from the government to keep her story suppressed. By 1809, the scandal had forced the duke's resignation as commander-in-chief of the army. Clarke was prosecuted for libel in 1813, and imprisoned for nine months. On her release from prison, she went to live in France where she died in Boulogne-sur-mer in 1852. To escape the scandal and her unhappy marriage, the German-born Duchess of York retired from public life to Oatlands. Having evaded a messy ménage à trois she created a no-doubt equally messy menagerie there, which included her favourite dog 'Satan', a rescued ex-racehourse called 'Eclipse', and numerous monkeys to whom she was devoted. As a regular dog-walker in Oatlands Park, I often sidestep the notion that Frederica must have started the tradition of dotty dowagers who are too posh to pick up their pet's poo in that park. Her father-in-law, George 3rd, a man not noted as a subtle psychologist "Affection must rest on something, and where there are no children, animals are the object". Jerome K. Jerome mentioned the sizeable graveyard she made for her menagerie in the 1889 book Three Men In A Boat. She died at Oatlands Park in 1820 and was buried in Weybridge old church. In 1822, York Column in Weybridge was funded by public subscription and erected in her memory as a testament to her popularity as a generous local benefactor. The great early Victorian life historian and diarist Charles Greville (1794-1865) described the duchess in later life as, "…clever and well-informed; she likes society and dislikes all form and ceremony, but in the midst of the most familiar intercourse she always preserves a certain dignity of manner… probably no person in such a situation was ever more really liked."