SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: The publication of the 2022 season’s fixture list might help distract English cricket supporters from the uncomfortable memories of the latest Ashes defeats. DAVID MORGAN has found some solace in happier cricketing memories from the Croydon Minster archives
There have been a surprising number of clergymen who have played first-class cricket, including first-class and Test cricketers who have gone into the church, swapping their whites for vestments.
Thanks to a discovery in its archives, Croydon Minster can now lay claim to having a first-class cricketing curate, albeit a very long time ago.
You will need to be a supporter of a particular vintage to remember the Rev David Sheppard striding out to open the batting for England.
The Sussex batsman last played a Test in 1963 against New Zealand. He played 22 Tests in all, had a top score of 119 and even captained the side in an era of Dexter, May and Cowdrey.
In his ecclesiastical career, Sheppard went on to become Bishop of Woolwich and was an outstanding Bishop of Liverpool who campaigned against apartheid (he protested against the 1970 South Africa cricket tour) and poverty.
Essex County Cricket Club had their very own cricketing reverend, namely Frank Gillingham. He holds the record for that county as being the oldest player to have played in a Championship match for them, aged 52 years 287 days versus Surrey in 1928.
Back in 1873, the Rev Frederic Tobin was one of the clerics at Croydon Parish Church. He was made a deacon by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archibald Tait, in the church on Sunday September 21 and ordained a priest the following year. The record of these events informs us that he held a BA degree from St. John’s College, Cambridge, later upgraded to an MA.
The fact that he was at Cambridge is important in his cricketing education. Having attended Rugby School where he had excelled in sport, he quickly established himself in the university team as a batsman. He played his first match at Lords in 1870 representing Cambridge against Oxford, an annual fixture which was first played in 1827 and had first-class status until the 2020 game.
The 1870 fixture is written up in the history of cricket as “Cobden’s Match”.
Cobden was the Cambridge bowler who won the contest in extraordinary fashion for the Light Blues. Oxford, in their second innings (of what, in those days, was a three-day game) had reached 175 for 7 and needed only four more runs for victory. Cobden began his over conceding a single to the batsman. Three needed.
Back then, an over consisted of just four deliveries. Sensationally, Cobden took a wicket with each of the remaining three balls of the over to pluck victory from the jaws of defeat for Cambridge. Tobin played just a small part in the victory, scoring just 13 and 2 with the bat in his two innings.
Back at Lords the following year, Tobin fared a little better with scores of 5 and 30. Cambridge, though, lost largely due to the remarkable achievement of SE Butler who took all 10 Cambridge first-innings wickets for just 38 runs. Tobin opened the batting and was first out with the score at 22. After that, his team was skittled out for 65.
Various match reports provide details about Tobin’s play. One stated that, “Tobin was a fine hitter of the ball”, while another said, “as a batsman he was ungainly in style”. His top score as a batsman was 77, achieved against a Surrey side at The Oval in 1872. That innings would have been spoken about for many years.
There’s no record of Tobin ever bowling in a first-class match, but there are many comments about his fielding. Evidently, he was not used as a close catcher but “spent most of his time in the field as either a long stop or a deep mid-wicket”. Another report said, “He rendered his greatest service to his side as a fieldsman, especially as a longstop to Mr Powys’ fast bowling.”
When playing for an AS Bartholomew’s XI against the MCC, Tobin again excelled in the field: “We must not omit the excellent back-stopping of Tobin.”
In an obituary in Rugby School alumni’s Meteor magazine, he was described as “possessing a sound defence, as a batsman, and could cut hard and well but his style was rather stiff”.
Tobin was awarded his Cambridge cricket Blue in 1870, 1871 and 1872.
After leaving Cambridge to concentrate on his church career, his cricket took a back seat. There is no record of him playing while a curate here in Croydon.
It wasn’t until 1885 that Tobin played for Warwickshire. In a match against Northamptonshire played at Coventry on May 27 and 28, he helped them win a low-scoring match by 22 runs. Playing as a middle-order batsman, Tobin scored just four in the first innings and only two in the second. This game did not count as a first-class match; Warwickshire had not yet achieved that status.
Tobin must have been playing some cricket as he was still turning out for the Rugby Old Boys against the school side. In 1880, he hit a half-century and took six wickets in a defeat for the Old Boys against their schoolboy opposition.
Tobin left Croydon Parish Church in 1875 to become the curate of Caversham Church in Oxfordshire. From there he moved to become the vicar of Charlecote in Warwickshire in 1884.
This move seems to have given him more opportunities to play cricket. As well as his appearances for the county side, he played for his local village, Wellesbourne. In a match in August 1885 against an Old Carthusians, Tobin scored 44 in helping the village team to an emphatic win. He was one of three vicars in his team, which also included an army major and Lord Willoughby de Broke.
In 1908, his name appeared in the papers again. Described as a “leading clergyman from Warwickshire”, he and another colleague retired from a local deanery and canonry, “as a protest against the immorality of a certain portion of the hunting set in the Kinneton and Wellesbourne district”. Clearly, he was a man of principle and not afraid to act boldly.
He was vicar at Charlecote for 30 years. He died in Folkestone in September 1914.
This tale will finish as it started, with Rev Sheppard.
Although he did hold some excellent slip catches, there were some Test matches where he dropped a couple of crucial chances. “Fiery” Fred Trueman, the record-breaking and outspoken fast bowler from Yorkshire, is supposed to have said, “Pretend it’s a Sunday and keep your hands together, Reverend.”
And while on tour with England in Australia, a couple approached Mrs Sheppard to ask if her husband would christen their baby. She advised them not to as he was bound to drop it.
Hopefully, Rev Tobin didn’t have any mishaps at the font.
Previously by David Morgan: Last orders for Bishop who stood up for Croydon’s refugees
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I saw David Sheppard playing in a charity match at Woking alongside Peter May and the Bedser twins
Think I paid one shilling (5p) on the gate
Don’t make them like that any longer
Another excellent local history story – thank you