First Historical News Story
Thomas Charles Howard of Elvetham, Cricketer
1781 – 1864
Thomas Charles Howard was one of the leading cricketers of the early 19th century. In over a hundred professional matches he played amongst the best of his time. He was born in Hartley Wintney and for much of his life he lived in Elvetham and worked on the Calthorpe estate. He is buried in St Mary’s, Elvetham. His descendants lived in Elvetham for decades, and still live in Hartley Wintney.
Thomas was born in Hartley Wintney on 19th July 1781, the second son of Charles and Sarah Howard. Charles was a ‘Surgeon, Apothecary and Man-Midwife’, his brother, uncles and eldest son also being surgeons. The family was moderately prosperous, living in a newly built freehold house beside the Lamb Inn which was furnished with mahogany furniture and silver plate. Thomas received handsome inheritances from his parents and uncle, but didn’t follow the family medical business. He would have had a comfortable upbringing, financially secure, with time to indulge his interests. One of which was cricket.
Thomas’ professional cricket debut was for Hampshire against Nottinghamshire & Leicestershire at Lords Old Ground on 4th – 6th July, 1803. From that time through until 1829 he played at least 100 recorded team matches of which 88 are categorised as ‘first-class’. He also played several single-wicket matches. Frederick Lillywhite, author of Cricket Scores and Biographies, who met Thomas, says that he was recommended by the legendary fast bowler and Elvetham man Davis Harris.
His speciality was fast bowling (underarm, right-handed), followed by batting and wicket keeping. One of his best performances was at Lords in 1825 when he stumped 6, caught 1, bowled 3 and scored 86 runs. To quote Lillywhite
‘a fine, fast and successful underhand bowler, an excellent wicket-keeper, a good bat, and anoted single-wicket player……one of the ‘cracks’ of his day’.
Although it was favoured by gentlemen, cricket was no gentle game. When underarm bowling, Harris ‘would bring it up from under his arm with a twist, and nearly as high as his arm-pit’. The resulting spin would sendthe ball skittering up the wicket. Harris bowled so fast that a bye once killed a dog standing beyond theboundary. Another bowler talks of leaving his adversary’s knuckles ‘handsomely knocked about’. Playerswere devoid of protective clothing, excepting a top hat and thick knitted socks. It was a manly game and thebowler’s main offensive tactic was speed. To quote a player ‘We never thought of knocks…Certainly, you would see a bump heave under a stocking, and even the blood came through; but I never knew a man killed’. Men were killed though, at least one at this time from a fast ball to the head.
As a professional for hire Thomas played for several teams, including England, Hampshire, MCC, Surrey, and Lord Beauclerk’s XI, Eighty of his matches were at Lord’s, the rest at local grounds across southern England including nearby Bramshill. He played in the first ever Gentlemen v Players at Lords in July 1806. On June 20th – 22nd of 1815 Thomas played at Lord’s for Beauclerk. On the 18th, Wellington had his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. His official despatch was published in the London Gazette on Thursday 22nd. Beauclerk lost by 9 wickets and one wonders if his notorious bad temper was at all mollified by the day’s momentous news from abroad.
In 1810 Thomas was team-mate to Lord Frederick Beauclerk of Winchfield in an infamous single-wicket game, between Beauclerk and George Osbaldeston, who had challenged Beauclerk to a match for 50 guineas, each to play with a professional. Beauclerk chose Thomas and Osbaldeston chose Surrey’s William Lambert, one of the best batsmen in England. Osbaldston fell ill on the day but Beauclerk insisted on the match going ahead, two against one. Lambert won the day by using bowling skill calculated to infuriate Beauclerk’s short temper and impair his judgement. Beauclerk lost his money and bore such a grudge that the eventually destroyed Lambert’s career by accusations of match-fixing. None of the bad feelings seem to have stuck to Thomas who went on to play for both Osbaldeston and Beauclerk on many occasions.
In 1821 he was issued a Gamekeeper’s Licence for Lord Calthorpe of Elvetham, and in 1822 he was deputed as head gamekeeper to George Lord Calthorpe of Elvetham. In this role he was successor to James Thumwood, from whom he purchased three game hounds. In Thomas’ early days he would have earned enough to live off cricket alone. However, as the Napoleonic wars dragged on the number of matches declined and Thomas was forced to get a proper job with a steady wage. His Game Licence shows that he liked shooting for sport, and his sportsman’s hand-eye co-ordination may have made him very good at it. At 5’10” and 10 stones in weight he was tall and lean – a sinewy figure of immense toughness striding across the fields of Elvetham with a flintlock shotgun in the crook of his arm and his hounds at his heels.
From 1822 to 1828 Thomas lived in Lord Calthorpe’s Keeper’s Cottage, beside the turnpike (A30) beyond the top of Star Hill. An isolated place, away from the main settlement around Hartfordbridge crossroads and with only gypsies and the rumble of passing stagecoaches for company, it still stands today. Head gamekeeper was a responsible job open only to trusted professionals. Thomas’ cricket would have taken him away from duty on many working days every year, at a time when most people worked six days per week and received no pay for missed days. William Burgess and Lord Calthorpe were presumably tolerant bosses and perhaps cricket enthusiasts to have accommodated Thomas’ sporting sideline.
Thomas gave up game keeping in 1828, and the year after he left first-class cricket; possibly age or injury left him unable to keep up at either. At 48 years of age he would have been slowing down, perhaps losing his sharpness of eye, and being overtaken by younger men. His last match as a professional player was for MCC v Norfolk in July 1829 at Lord’s.
At this time Thomas’ style of under-arm bowling was being supplanted by a new ‘round-arm style’. In fact in 1827, TC put his name to a statement which read
‘We, the undersigned, do agree that we will not play the thirdmatch between All England and Sussex, which is intended to be played at Brighton in July or August unless theSussex bowlers bowl fair - this is, abstain from throwing'.
The declaration was later withdrawn but Thomas’position was clear. Aside from style, if his age was starting to show he may have found himself eclipsed by younger men.
His last recorded ‘great game’ was as umpire on 13th July 1829 for England v Sussex, also at Lord’s.
Perhaps this was a form of testimonial, honouring an exceptional career of 27 seasons. His final match was in August 1846 as umpire between Hartley Row and I Zingari at Bramshill. At 65 years of age, this might have been a celebrity appearance by a local character.
Thomas married Charlotte Lucas from Odiham in about 1820, she being 23 years his junior. Lillywhite claims they had 19 children but there are only documented records of eight: His daughter Charlotte died in 1857 and is buried at St Mary’s, Elvetham.
From 1828, for over 30 years, Thomas worked as a woodsman for Lord Calthorpe. Estate records from the 1840’s show him working 6 days a week for 1s 10d a day on jobs like ‘Cutting Trees in the Warren’, ‘Tying up Bavins’ and ‘Cutting fir poles’. Shortly after quitting game keeping he fell behind with his rent payments, and although he eventually managed to pay them off he was in arrears for a couple of years. Whatever money he earned from cricket – typically a few pounds fee per match – didn’t survive his retirement from the game. Latterly he lived in an estate cottage called ‘Warren House’, which was set on its own amidst the woods in the northern part of Elvetham parish above the hamlet of Hartford Bridge. It’s long gone, under plantation trees. Thomas retired from labouring in the early 1860’s and Lord Calthorpe paid him a pension of 11/- a week. He died in his home of old age on 18th May 1864, attended by his niece, two months short of his 83rd birthday.
He is buried in St Mary’s church, Elvetham, and no memorial marks his resting place.
His descendants have lived in Hartley Wintney, Elvetham and Hartfordbridge ever since.
John Childs, November 2013