Pioneering Croydon cricketer who led the way against Australia

SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: A summer of Test cricket is little more than a week away, with the Ashes to come next month. Here DAVID MORGAN delves back 200 years into the archives to a time when the England team did actually include the world’s best wicketkeeper…

Stumper: Croydon-born Tom Lockyer was the finest wicketkeeper of his era

Little did the gathering at the service in Croydon Parish Church on Sunday December 17, 1826, know that the tiny baby being baptised would grow up to become one of the greatest professional cricket players of his era.

Thomas Lockyer was born on November 1 that year and would live in and around Croydon for the whole of his life. Initially becoming a bricklayer, Tom soon discovered a love of cricket.

His outstanding skills as a wicketkeeper attracted much attention and he made his debut for Surrey in a three-day match against Sussex at the Kennington Oval,  starting on June 28, 1847, when he was just 20 years old.

Two other young men, Julius Caesar and Billy Caffyn, made their Surrey debuts on that day, too, and years later all three would play in an England team on the first ever international cricket tour, to the United States and Canada.

It was said of Lockyer, by both spectators and journalists, that he was the greatest wicketkeeper of the round-arm era. Bowling actions were yet to develop into what we are familiar with today. He wasn’t the most elegant of ‘keepers because of his long arms and legs compared to the size of his body, which all looked out of proportion.

Historic: international tours were gruelling affairs for cricketers in the 1850s. And yes, tour organisers Fred Lillywhite was part of the family that established the West End sports outfitters

But his height and reach were invaluable in snaffling catches which shorter players would not reach.

He was a dead shot when it came to throwing down a wicket with a batsman out of their ground. Spectators who were unused to Lockyer’s keeping were often bemused by the speed at which he would return the ball to the bowler if it beat the batsman. He covered the ground quickly, rushing out from behind the stumps to collect a ball before a fielder could reach it.

Lockyer was a pretty good batter, too. In his 17 years of playing first-class cricket he amassed 4,917 runs at an average of 15.86. His highest score was 106. From time to time, Lockyer came on to bowl, usually when the opposition batters were getting on top and a partnership needed breaking. During his time with Surrey, despite not being a regular bowler, he still managed to take a total of 119 wickets.

In an old cricket book, Lockyer was quoted as saying that his slow deliveries “would puzzle any man”. That certainly proved to be the case in a match against Kent when Lockyer took six wickets and turned the match.

In due course, Lockyer captained Surrey. One writer reminisced that he was invaluable to Surrey in this role because of his “generalship and knowledge of the game”. Lockyer would survey the scene from behind the stumps, adjusting his field and not being afraid to throw the ball to a fresh bowler as he thought necessary.

All aboard: the England team, heading for North America in September 1859. John Wisden is seated on the left. The tall figure standing behind him (third left) is Tom Lockyer

Throughout his time with Surrey, Lockyer was an impressive figure. His geniality and good nature towards everyone made him universally popular.

Probably the two greatest occasions in his cricketing career were when he was part of England touring teams. In 1859, he was a member of the touring party to North America, the first international cricket tour. Lockyer and his team-mates won all their five matches, winning by six wickets against America in Philadelphia and by 10 wickets against Upper Canada in Hamilton.

All five games were played against teams containing 22 players, so the locals had a better chance against the stronger touring opposition. The Sporting Life reported that the final match was played in wintry conditions (Lockyer and his teammates had set off in September), with the England players fielding in greatcoats, mufflers and gloves, but went on to win by an innings and 68 runs.

Big loss: Lockyer did not always win. This game played in Croydon in 1863 had a £25 prize – worth around £3,000 today

One of the 12-strong England touring party was John Wisden, who in 1864 would begin the publishing of that great essential for every cricket fan’s bookcase, the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

If they had had Wisden “Cricketers of the Year” in 1859, Lockyer very likely would have been one of them. He had an outstanding tour in America and Canada. He stumped 14 and caught 14, giving him an average dismissal rate of 5.6 wickets per match. His Surrey team mate, Caffyn, excelled in the match against the Americans in New York, taking 16 wickets for 25 runs. The 12 England players who went on the tour earned £90 each – worth more than £14,000 today.

This was two years before the first England cricket tour to Australia, and the beginning of a sporting rivalry which will resume this summer, starting with the first Ashes Test in Birmingham on June 16.

Lockyer was not picked for the 1861 tour to Australia, but he was in the side sent to Australia and New Zealand in 1864, when together with Yorkshire batsman George Anderson who worked as a correspondent for The Sporting Life.

The sea journey took two months, the team sailing from Liverpool on October 15 on board SS Great Britain, the vast passenger steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and which was, at the time, the most advanced method of travel in the world – in 1845, SS Great Britain had been the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic.

Lockyer and the England team arrived in Melbourne on December 17, 1864.

Doubled up: for the match at Melbourne Cricket Ground, England’s XI was against XXII from Victoria

On the field, Lockyer was in top form. In the first five matches against Victoria, Bendigo, Ballarat, Ararat and Maryborough, he took 27 stumpings and nine catches. Each of these five teams fielded 22 players against an England XI. Lockyer and Anderson reported that the long journeys between the matches were interesting: “We were bumped about in all directions on a 10-hour overnight coach ride from Ballarat to Ararat, with several of us losing the rims of our hats during the journey.”

On arrival the team just had time for a bath and an hour’s rest before play commenced.

The crossing to New Zealand in heavy seas was even worse. Most of the team were seasick and they were pleased just to get back on to dry land in one piece. Again, Lockyer proved to be a star player, scoring 172 and claiming 56 catches or stumpings. Australian wicketkeepers learned much from the Croydon maestro.

Lockyer was already planning for his retirement from cricket even before the tour. No doubt his playing fee of over £100 would have been put to good use.

In 1863, Lockyer and his wife had become the tenants of the Prince Albert pub in Mitcham Road. He retired fully from cricket in 1866, the year he took over the Sheldon Arms in Wandle Road.

As would be customary for professional cricketers and footballers into the 1990s, in 1867 Lockyer was awarded a benefit match to help him financially for his life after cricket.

Just as in his playing days, Lockyer was a popular and likeable figure behind the bar.

When given a coin as a payment for a drink, he would often throw it down onto the counter, catch it on the rebound with his right hand before transferring it rapidly into his left. The locals were proud of their Surrey and England gloveman.

But his retirement from cricket was a short one. Lockyer died of “consumption” – probably tuberculosis – at his home at the Sheldon Arms on December 22 1869, aged just 43. His wife blamed the Australian trip, saying that it was during this time that her husband first picked up the infection. Until then, Lockyer had been a strong and powerful man, although TB was common in Victorian England.

The final six months of Lockyer’s life saw a rapid decline, with his last days spent sitting in the armchair in the parlour of the pub with no energy left. His obituary noted that he had shrunk into a mere shadow of his former self.

He left a widow and a 10-year-old son, also called Thomas, daughters aged eight and four.

His funeral was held in Christ Church, Broad Green, and he was buried in their graveyard.

Lockyer’s obituary in The Sporting Life ended with these words: “Thus does Time work its silent way and King Death stumps out, at last, the great Prince of Wicketkeepers – so boyish, simple and honest in his heart and nature.”

Recent articles by David Morgan:

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  • ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named among the country’s rottenest boroughs for a SIXTH successive year in 2022 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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