Reading time: 20 minutes
Saturday, September 15, 1934
There were 6,000 people crammed into Camborne’s cricket ground at North Roskear. Fans, children and autograph hunters of all ages were there. The place was rammed. You could sense the anticipation. You were about to see something special1.
An adjacent field – presumably the one that later became the home of Heathcoats CC – had been given over as an overspill carpark. To avoid a crush at the entrances, people had been advised to buy their tickets in advance2.
A. E. Rodda, the local dairy kingpin, was providing refreshments. Such had been the demand that he had requested, and been granted, a licence to sell alcohol at the ground for the day. Doubtless, he made a killing3.
The crowd weren’t here to witness Camborne’s all-conquering team, even though they had been the alpha-XI of Cornish cricket for eight consecutive seasons5.
Camborne’s captain, Clarence Paull, was a man who played cricket and rugby for Cornwall, boasted a decent golf handicap, and still found time to manage South Crofty mine6.
He wasn’t the big draw. Nor was Fred Rogers, the popular all-rounder born of a Cornish father and an Indian mother7.
The crowd weren’t especially bothered that the team Camborne were to play was a County XI, in an end-of-season friendly.
And, obviously, it wasn’t the Vinter Cup Final night8.
No. The people in the ground that day had eyes for only one man. A short, broad figure with long arms, pawing the turf near the top of his run-up. No doubt he bowled downhill, towards the pavilion.
The umpire called play. The expectant murmuring, the buzz, ceased. Glasses, halfway toward open mouths, paused. Pipes and cigarettes stayed unlit. The bowler began his run.
That bowler was Harold Larwood. The fastest the world had ever seen. And he once played at Camborne.
Oh, they’d be a lot calmer,
In Ned Kelly’s armour,
When Larwood, the wrecker, begins.From an Australian music hall song, qtd. in Duncan Hamilton, Harold Larwood, Quercus, 2009, p15
By the early 1930s, Harold Larwood had gone from a pale, undernourished Methodist pitboy who called everybody ‘Sir’ and only sipped shandy, to the chain-smoking, ale-swilling, vengeance-wreaking quickest thing in cricket9.
Cutting-edge equipment (stopwatches) timed his deliveries at anywhere between 96-100mph. His Nottinghamshire coaches streamlined his action so perfectly he could hit a florin placed on a length at 90mph for fun.
Take Mark Wood’s sheer pace and combine it with Jimmy Anderson’s unerring accuracy and skill. Then imagine facing this unholy alliance without a thigh-pad, chest-guard or helmet.
The result? Unadulterated carnage.
In cahoots with his fast-bowling blood brother Bill Voce, Larwood was the terrifying scourge of county sides in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Fuelled by ale carted to his changing-room in a bucket, a hundred wickets a season was the accepted norm. He petrified countless batsmen and became a crowd favourite.
Amateur batsmen would regularly cry off a fixture involving Larwood. Others were to be found cowering in the toilets when their turn to face him came. Many received injuries. Some were stretchered from the field of play. The man was truly dangerous, especially when riled – and batsmen, as a rule, tried not to agitate him.
He could hit the peak of a man’s cap with a bouncer and send it swirling toward his slip-catchers, often to win a private bet with Voce. Cloche hats, an item of feminine sartorial elegance, were employed by enterprising batsmen to manufacture makeshift helmets. It made little difference to the outcome.
Whenever a team hosted Nottinghamshire, they would deliberately prepare a slow wicket, in an attempt to neutralise Larwood and Voce. The pair of them, with their team-mates, would urinate on any suspect pitch under cover of darkness in protest.
Small wonder that the England Captain, Douglas Jardine, wanted both Larwood and Voce to spearhead his attack for the 1932-33 Ashes Tour to Australia.
It’s f__king mutual
This was the meanest, most unpleasant Ashes Tour in cricket history – the ‘Bodyline’ series. Larwood, with Voce, consistently bowled fast and short at the Australians’ ribcages, to a leg-side field prowling with catchers. It was Jardine’s brainchild, born of the necessity to curb the near-freakish run-machine that was Don Bradman.
Jardine’s XI didn’t speak to the Press, alienating the media. They also took their nets behind closed doors, alienating the public as well. Jardine only ever referred to Bradman as ‘the little bastard’, and insisted his men do the same. When someone suggested to him that, after a period of his being barracked in a match, the Australians didn’t seem all that keen on him, Jardine shot back:
It’s f__king mutual.Qtd in Duncan Hamilton, Harold Larwood, Quercus, 2009, p129
England’s cricket was intense, almost brutal. Bill Voce sums it up best:
…if we don’t beat you, we’ll knock your bloody heads off…Qtd in Duncan Hamilton, Harold Larwood, Quercus, 2009, p143
Jardine’s Bodyline tactics (the term was an Australian invention), lethally deployed by Larwood, laid accusations of unsportsmanlike play at the MCC’s door and caused uproar. But it worked.
Larwood, supping ale during drinks breaks, gave his hecklers the v-sign – and he was called ‘bastard’ more than Bradman ever was. He poleaxed two batsmen in Adelaide – nearly provoking a riot – and needed a police escort from the ground. Hatemail arrived by the sackload. Yet he reduced Bradman to a frantic, jittery shadow of his former self.
The extreme toll on Larwood’s body and mind caused him to vomit at the end of a day’s play and wring the blood from his socks – yet he took 33 wickets. England won the Ashes 4-1. Larwood returned home a hero – a working class hero.
Yet he never played for England again.
I won’t sign
Larwood has carried the day for England, and the tour will ever be memorable for his exploits, and the childish outcry set up “down under” against his bowling, which had Australia’s star batsmen always at his mercy…Nottingham Evening Post, February 16 1933, p8
Unfortunately for Larwood, the ‘childish’ outcry had very adult ramifications.
Such was the Australian anger Larwood provoked in his outspoken, ghost-written ‘paper columns and book about the Tour, it dawned on the MCC that their original endorsement of England’s Ashes victory – in effect, a rubberstamping of Bodyline – would have to be reversed.
The Australian Cricket Board was very clear: if (if) their team was to tour England in 1934, there must be no repeat of what happened in 1932-33. They even pressed the MCC to alter the laws of cricket that regulate the number of fielders allowed on the leg-side: less leg-side fielders, less chance of Bodyline11.
The MCC was in handwringing turmoil. No Australian tour meant a massive loss of revenue and, more importantly, the accusations that their team had been unsporting meant a massive loss of face.
Jardine, sniffing the wind, resigned the captaincy. But it was not enough.
The MCC needed a blood sacrifice. It couldn’t be one of their entitled own. Larwood, having recently put his name to some phrases describing Australian complaints about his bowling as “effeminate”12, fit the bill perfectly.
In May 1934 an MCC flunky tried to coax Larwood into signing a paper apologising to the Australians for the way he bowled, and assuring them he would do no such thing in the future. Sign, and he could play for England again.
But he didn’t sign. Still carrying the foot injury he had suffered in Australia that robbed him of a yard of pace and a season with Notts, his international career was over.
His dignity may have been intact, but Larwood was short on money, down on his luck, and not playing much. The dejection that would see him retire from cricket in 1938 and, with great irony, emigrate to Australia in 1950 had set in.
Then, at some point in 1934, a letter arrived from an old acquaintance, offering him – and Bill Voce – a short holiday, appearance money in a cricket match, and the chance to show another mining community what he could do…
That acquaintance was the esteemed conductor of the Camborne Town Band, Alfred W. Parker. Parker had formerly played in the Kirkby Colliery band, situated in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Notts. Kirkby was only a couple of miles from Larwood’s birthplace, Nuncargate, and Annesley Colliery, where he had worked as a boy14.
Obviously a cricket nut, Parker was more than aware of the challenges faced by Camborne CC in 1934. The club began the season in a state of
…financial chaos…Cornishman, September 13 1934, p11
Debts totalled £224. That’s £12,931 today. In any era, that’s a serious deficit15.
Various ventures were undertaken to alleviate the monetary stress. The club’s secretary, Stanley Williams, undertook what he called the “ten thousand sixpences” scheme. This involved him walking around Camborne and cadging shrapnel from anyone in sight for the club’s coffers16.
Luckily for the club, Parker had the contacts, and the imagination, to think bigger. He must have approached the committee with his plan:
Arrange an end-of-season game…our lads against a County Invitation XI…charge entry…we’ll split the profits 50/50…why? I can get you Larwood and Voce…
So Parker wrote his letter, and probably said “top-hole”17 when Larwood sent the following response:
Both dates (Sept. 14, dance, Sept. 15, cricket), will suit us, so we will leave everything with you, the only request we both make is, No speech-making by either of us. Looking forward to our visit…Cornish Post and Mining News, September 8 1934, p6
Larwood wasn’t about to utter anything about Bodyline in public again in a hurry, and Voce, as ever, took his lead.
Grinning, Parker went quickly back to the committee. Raising two teams shouldn’t prove difficult – who would turn down the opportunity of telling their grandchildren they once played with Larwood and Voce – and he wanted to get the rumour mill grinding for his coin-spinner18.
Bodyline at North Roskear
There was a strong agitation for the inclusion of these two outstanding bowlers in the England team against the Australians…but for some mysterious reason neither took part…West Briton, September 17 1934, p3
6,000 people at North Roskear cheered Larwood and Voce to the rafters as they took to the field. No doubt both were rather bleary-eyed after spending the previous evening hosting a dance given in their honour at the Town Hall, with Camborne Town Band providing the tunes19.
6,000 people watched Larwood (who, with Voce, was representing Camborne) thunder downhill at the batsman awarded the dubious honour of taking first dig.
This was Falmouth’s Wearne Cory, an ex-Camborne player good enough to score a hundred against his old team the previous season20.
The ball whistled past his ear before he could even react. The ‘keeper, Liskeard’s G. H. I. Bickford, a Cornwall captain21, was slow on the uptake also and Larwood’s missile scorched toward the boundary. The crowd roared its approval.
Make no mistake: ‘The Wrecker’ was in town.
This wasn’t so much a game of cricket as an exhibition of just how good – or lethal – Larwood and Voce actually were. The result was immaterial; indeed, the County XI batted a second time, just to give the evening spectators a look at the Notts’ speedsters. As the West Briton noted,
…they gave a demonstration of how destructive they could be when fully extended…September 17 1934, p3
Several players even joined the autograph hunters to get their own bats signed. Others received more immediate, or physical, mementoes.
Voce worked up such a head of steam that he dislocated Bickford’s finger when he managed to gather one of his deliveries. Not wanting to leave the field, a local physician popped Bickford’s stray digit back into its socket and he was able to continue.
G. Rogers, one of six Camborne players to be selected for Cornwall that season22, was seriously roughed-up by Voce before one of his exocets broke his bail. Larwood, not to be outdone, made a total mess of one tail-ender’s wicket and actually reduced one of M. G. Cullen’s stumps to kindling. Both items were claimed as souvenirs.
(When playing for Notts, Larwood did this so often that spare sets of stumps were kept handy whenever he was operating.)
St Austell’s L. Martin would win a Jack Hobbs bat award in 1935 for his unbeaten 138, made against Fowey23. Larwood smashed him with a delivery to the face and there was a stoppage in play for several minutes.
This was serious. In Australia, a similar Larwood effort had fractured Bertie Oldfield’s skull. But Martin played on.
Oldfield famously didn’t blame Larwood for his injury (he was one of very few Australians to do so), and similar happened at North Roskear:
…no blame could be attached to the bowler, as Martin leant forward to hook the ball, but it kicked…West Briton, September 17 1934, p3
Lest we forget, both Notts men could hold a bat too. Voce was a dangerous lower-order hitter, and Larwood…well, Larwood had made 98 in Australia as a night-watchman.
So when their turn for Camborne came, they put on 70 runs in under half-an-hour of glorious, uninhibited slogging.
Voce smoked three sixes and nine fours, including a massive heave into New Dolcoath mine. In local parlance, whenever a batsman dismisses the ball to that location, it’s known as went stack.
This was no shameless tonking of a below-par attack. Cullen, the bowler Voce most took a liking to, was of course out for revenge after Larwood had ruined his stump. He had also forced his way into the Camborne side that season after a promising showing for the School of Mines XI25.
Of course, the crowd, already glutted on the performances thus far, would not have been truly sated unless they saw one thing: a spell of Bodyline. They were to be obliged.
It had probably been quietly agreed beforehand: the Notts’ bowlers would set the field and, if not quite go through the motions, then at least give the public their money’s worth.
In the event, only Voce bowled Bodyline. Larwood, maybe sensing after his earlier exploits that he was simply too rapid for the opposition, declined.
E. M. Cunnack, of Helston, was to be in the firing line, but he was no stooge, and was recognised in Cornish cricket as one of its “outstanding personalities”27. He made over 30, and withstood the threat of Voce who, it was euphemistically noted in the Press, “changed his method” from earlier in the day28.
Camborne’s Cricket Club and Town Band realised a profit of over £100 (£5,700 today) which they shared evenly. Larwood and Voce received commemorative tankards for their efforts, and were treated to tours of Crofty and Holmans before returning north. They also each received £12 (£690 today), and were well fed and watered30.
Camborne CC had gone some way toward clearing their debt, but I like to think that, for those who were lucky enough to be there that day, monetary concerns were an irrelevance. You can see it on the peoples’ exhilarated, smiling faces in the photograph below.
They had witnessed something unforgettable. They had seen Harold Larwood bowl.
Many thanks for reading
- The Cornish Post and Mining News of September 22, 1934 (p6) puts the total number of spectators at 6,000. The West Briton of September 17, 1934 (p3) says 5,000. The Newquay Express of September 20, 1934 (p12) estimated 4,000. Let’s go with the bigger number.
- Cornish Post and Mining News, September 8 1934, p4.
- Cornish Post and Mining News, September 13 1934, p4.
- From: https://www.roddas.co.uk/
- In those days, the ‘alpha-XI’ of Cornish cricket was determined each season by the winner of the top Western League playing their Eastern counterpart, on neutral territory. The victor – Cornish Champions – were presented with a fine trophy, which was sponsored by the Western Morning News. Camborne won this trophy every season from 1927-1933.
In 1934, the News commissioned a brand new trophy, allowing Camborne to keep the old one in perpetuity. They won that too. See the Western Morning News, January 15 1934, p5&8, and the Cornishman, September 13 1934, p8.
- From his obituary in the Cornishman, November 24 1949, p2. Gates were opened in his memory at Camborne’s North Roskear ground in 1950. From the Cornishman, July 27 1950, p9.
- From the West Briton, March 26 1981, p52. The obituary also mentions Rogers’ less-than sensitive nickname: Darkie.
- In fact, 1934 was the inaugural season of the popular Vinter Cup, an evening knockout competition. I remember the ‘Final Night’ being the busiest of the year for Camborne CC, with the ground at maximum capacity. See the Western Morning News, May 15 1934, p14.
- The details of Larwood’s life, career and the events of the 1932-33 Bodyline Series are taken from Harold Larwood, by Duncan Hamilton, Quercus, 2009. Also highly recommended is David Frith’s Bodyline Autopsy, ABC Books, 2002.
- From: https://www.espncricinfo.com/photo/bill-woodfull-drops-his-bat-after-being-hit-by-harold-larwood-316667
- In 1935, the MCC decreed that ‘direct attack’ bowling (ie, Bodyline) was unfair and was the responsibility of the umpires to identify and stop. It wasn’t until 1957 that the laws were altered, permitting only two fielders behind square on the leg-side. From the Wikipedia page on Bodyline.
- From Harold Larwood, by Duncan Hamilton, Quercus, 2009, p195.
- Image from: https://www.camborneband.com/PHOTOGALLERY
- If Camborne’s cricket team were a source of civic pride, they were rivalled in this respect by the town’s brass band. Under Parker’s leadership, Camborne Town Band became “generally recognised as one of the premier brass bands in the country”. During his twenty-plus year tenure, the band won a whole host of accolades, enjoyed regular live broadcasts by the BBC, and even performed at the Royal Albert Hall. See the Cornish Post and Mining News, January 31 1925, p5, and the West Briton, October 25 1951, p5. That Larwood worked at Annesley is asserted by his Wikipedia entry here. The West Briton of February 12, 1931 (p6) asserted that Parker was in fact Larwood’s brother-in-law, but this cannot be true as Larwood only had brothers, according to Duncan Hamilton’s biography (p51). I am grateful to Mr Martin Gilbert for showing me this last reference.
- Cornish Post and Mining News, September 22 1934, p6.
- Cornishman, June 7 1934, p6.
- The phrase was uttered by Parker on at least one occasion: Cornishman, November 17 1949, p3. He was commenting on his band’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall.
- The rumours first saw print in the Cornishman, August 30 1934, p6, and were confirmed that same day in the West Briton, p6. The Cornish Post and Mining News of September 1 1934 (p5) retold the whisper that Larwood had “half promised” to visit Camborne for a year or two. Indeed, he had previously threatened a visit, according to the West Briton of February 12, 1931 (p6). Clearly, Parker and Camborne CC were content to feed the Press and stoke the publicity.
- The narrative of the match is taken from the West Briton, September 17 1934 (p3), Newquay Express, September 20 1934 (p12), and Cornish Post and Mining News, September 22 1934 (p6).
- Cornishman, September 14 1933, p6.
- Western Morning News, June 24 1936, p12.
- Cornishman, July 12 1934, p6.
- London Daily News, July 12 1935, p6.
- From: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bodyline_3rd_Test_Oldfield_02.jpg
- West Briton, May 3 1934, p9, and Cornish Post and Mining News, May 5 1934, p6.
- From: https://www.espncricinfo.com/photo/bill-voce-bowls-to-bill-ponsford-with-a-bodyline-field-316668
- Cornishman, November 29 1934, p10.
- Cornish Post and Mining News, September 22 1934, p6.
- From the West Briton, September 27 1934, p7.
- Cornishman, 20 September 1934, p5, and West Briton, September 27 1934, p7.
4 thoughts on “Bodyline at North Roskear”
Great article. The only thing I can add is that according to my records Larwood was Alfred Parker’s brother-in-law.
Hi Martin, haha, looks like I missed that one! Would you be able to provide the records in some way that I can update my article? I’ll credit you obviously! Many thanks for the kind words, Francis
If you have access to the Newspaper Archive look at the West Briton of 12th February 1931 on page 6. However it is strange that in most other reports they are described as personal friends. Have fun sorting it out!
I’ve just checked Larwood’s biography: he only had brothers. However I’ve added this as a note in my post (reference #14), and credited you. Thanks again and stay tuned for more posts!