Cricket may not be the first sport you’d think to associate with Glasgow. But, perhaps surprisingly, the city has close links with the game dating back two centuries; in fact people were putting bat to ball on Glasgow Green back in the 1820s, well before giants of Glaswegian sport Celtic and Rangers football clubs were founded or the rules of Association Football were even codified.
The earliest Glasgow cricket club, Western, was established in 1829 and boasted over 80 members. Its original membership list and rules, two copies of which survive here in University of Glasgow Library ASC, include an eye-opening final section regulating in-match betting between the players.1
The following year the University also started a cricket club which reportedly initially attracted the majority of its players from the English student body. These students were “all adepts … of the game” who according to one contemporary source “observed, with satisfaction, the strenuous exertions which the Western Cricketers were making to become proficient…”.2 When another reference to the Western players is also considered, which describes them as “in sober seriousness … burly fellows”,3 I think – reading between the lines – Glasgow cricket of the 1820s was likely a fairly robust affair and not for the fainthearted!
David Murray (1842-1928), whose impressive library we hold, seems to have taken a special interest in the history of Western, perhaps because his father (also David Murray) was the club’s first secretary. Amongst Murray’s books can be found a fascinating little collection of items which shed some light on the early days of the club and its members. These centre on the comic poem The Pump, privately printed in 1835, “Ane richte lamentable dirge composit be Baikie Peakodde, Poet Laureate to ye Cricket Club” but actually written by club member and University of Glasgow alumnus, Robert Jackson Macgeorge (1808-1884). 23 copies of the poem were apparently printed, only five of which I can find to have survived, four (and the original manuscript) in the Murray collection and the other in the British Library.4
The poem itself – written in a deliberately archaic style and metre – is no masterpiece but is interesting in some of the social historical detail. It concerns Western committee member and main target of the satire, Robert Maxwell, who, due to play a match for the club, is tricked into exhausting himself ahead of the start pumping great quantities of water to refill a cistern he had emptied taking a bath. Not perhaps the most thrilling subject matter, so presumably an in-joke relating to a real event.
The poem commences with the players “with yellow shoes, and jackets white” assembling on Glasgow Green for the start of the match against Perth. A large crowd of spectators begins to form in anticipation:
The Chronicle had puffed the match, and from the town did pour
A motley mob of all degrees, – squire, commoner, and whore;
There was a swatch of all mankind, from saint down to sinner,
Curdownie, – Clelland LL.D. – Stoddart – and Mr Jenner
However the match can’t get underway since Bob Maxwell has yet to appear. As the players kick their heels waiting, the assembled crowd becomes impatient:
The poem proceeds with the “ghost” of poor exhausted Maxwell appearing, borne aloft by ten Kirkintilloch weavers, to recount his rather tedious tale of woe (you can read the rest of the poem here). The Pump is rather odd, in truth, but clearly the club members found it hilarious since it was printed and distributed. One of our surviving copies has even been printed on vellum and illuminated by hand, in the style of a presentation copy of an incunabulum!
The time flew by – no sign of Bob – the crowd began to tire;
The Keelies,5 cheated of their fun, began to show their ire,
By launching at the hapless band a cloud of dogs and cats,
While some did cry “their castors ‘tile’6 – or “brain them with their bats”
One of the most attractive aspects of this little collection of cricketing history is the survival of a small number of unpublished pen-and-ink sketches illustrating the poem and accompanying the vellum copy. According to a note by David Murray, these were made by the author’s brother, Andrew Macgeorge (1810-1891). The sketches are light of touch but full of character. While Andrew trained as an ecclesiastical lawyer he was clearly a talented artist too and he subsequently went on to illustrate a number of different published works.
The Western Cricket Club seems to have folded at some point during the first half of the 19th century. A club of the same name was founded in the early 1860s – the heyday of cricketing popularity in the city – absorbing some of the earlier club’s players and playing its matches at the Western Infirmary. The new Western players’ over-ambitiousness was the club’s downfall though; they purchased a new ground off Crow Road in Anniesland and built the “finest [pavilion] in Scotland, at the time” at great expense.7 Unable to settle the debt incurred, the club went bankrupt.
Despite being a very popular sport in mid 19th century Glasgow, with perhaps 30 or 40 separate clubs active in the city,8 cricket’s popularity failed to hold up into the 20th century owing to a mixture of factors including competition for players with other sports (namely but not exclusively football), the cost, and perhaps the climate too.9 Writing at the end of the 19th century and looking back on the golden age of Scottish cricket, Glaswegian David Drummond Bone had this to say:
Cricket in Scotland was young when I first bent a bat, rude and vigorous: professionals, round-arm-bowling, even umpires (at times), were unknown; but I think the game was loved more truly then than now. Rivals it had few: golf was a peculiarity; tennis a culpable admission; bowls a last retreat; cricket reigned supreme. The times are changed and changing – “What maun be, will be”.10
Notes and references
1 Betting has a close association with the early years of cricket. The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that “heavy betting and disorderly crowds were common at matches [during the early years]” and the first reference to an 11-a-side match, which took place in Sussex in the late 17th century, had 50 guineas staked on the outcome. We know that Western also bet on the outcome of their matches: an 1831 report (cf. The Scotsman, “Letter to the Editor 1”, 22/6/1831) of their match with the Brunswick Club of Edinburgh states that a whopping £23 was staked by each side. Given the average income at the time, this is equivalent to £34,560 per side today (https://www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk/) . Western lost by 8 wickets.
See: “Cricket.” Britannica Academic, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 25 Mar. 2015. academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/cricket/108488#30476.toc. Accessed 9 Mar. 2017.
2 See: “Cricketting” [sic] The Day, a journal of literature, fine arts, fashion &c. (Glasgow: R. and J. Finlay, 1829), p. 24.
3 See: “Letters from the West. No. VI” The Edinburgh Literary Journal; or Weekly Register of Criticism and Belles Lettres, volume 2 (June 1829-December 1829) (Edinburgh: Constable & Co., 1829) p.268
4 The copy in the British Library (now digitised on Google Books) was in the collection of the antiquarian and librarian David Laing (1793-1878) and bears a note from a Mr J. Reid on the title page presenting it to him and stating that only 23 copies were printed.
5 A “keelie” was apparently a “male city dweller of the rougher sort” cf. “Keelie n.2, v.“. Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 10 Mar 2017 <http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/keelie_n2_v>
6 I have no idea what “their castors ‘tile’” might refer to. However, it is interesting to note that in the original manuscript version of the poem the line is rendered: “While some did cry the b–rs down or brain them with their bats”.
7 See: D.D. Bone: Fifty Years’ Reminiscences of Scottish Cricket (Glasgow: Aird and Coghill, 1898), pp.29, 48.
8 See: D.D. Bone: Fifty Years’ Reminiscences of Scottish Cricket (Glasgow: Aird and Coghill, 1898), pp.28-29.
9 See: Richard Penman (1992) “The failure of cricket in Scotland”, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 9:2, pp. 302-315.
10See: D.D. Bone: Fifty Years’ Reminiscences of Scottish Cricket (Glasgow: Aird and Coghill, 1898), p.290