Un-Official Ashes Test, Old Buckenham, 1921
Limited edition Giclee print measuring 19″ x 32″ (overall size including a 2 inch white border)
“My painting of the Un-Official Ashes Test of 1921 came about by pure chance. I was commissioned to paint Old Buckenham Cricket Club in Norfolk. While I was at the ground painting I was shown inside the pavilion by the club members who mentioned with great pride the fact that Sir Jack Hobbs, Percy Fender and many other famous cricketers had played on the ground. In the pavilion were a collection of photographs showing a match from 1921. Either side of World War One the owner of the ground and nearby hall was cricket mad Australian Lionel Robinson. He employed the legendary England International Archie MacLaren to arrange matches on the estate. In 1921 the Australian Touring Team, under the leadership of the towing figure of Warwick Armstrong, were invited to play against an England XI in a three day match. It came to be known as The Un-Official Ashes Test.
Due to the pitch conditions and the strength of the Australian bowling, Sir Jack Hobbs admitted in his autobiography that his 85 retired hurt on the second day was one of the finest of his career. Quite a statement from the man who holds the world record for the most hundreds scored in first class cricket. This was such an important and relatively unknown moment in cricketing history that I simply had to paint it! I decided to make Hobbs the central feature alongside the unique circular thatched pavilion that was on the ground at that time. I say unique because I’d never come across such a design before. To get the weather conditions right I asked BBC Weathermen Philip Avery and John Hammond to research the precise conditions on the day Hobbs make his brilliant score. Searching archives for that area for 5th May, they found the temperature a little chilly reaching a maximum for the day of around 10 to 12 Celsius. That’s why the Australian fielders in the painting have their top shirt buttons done up and are wearing their long sleeve sweaters. Phil and John were also able to tell me of the type of clouds and likely cloud formation for that day. So momentous was the occasion that there were thousands of spectators jam packed around the boundary edge, many of them having travelled to the ground in cars. Painting vintage cars in a cricket picture was a first for me. Research for this was achieved by painting cars from that period held in the Dr James Hull Collection.
Also, in those days most people wore a hat so most of the spectators are wearing caps or stylish hats! Warwick Armstrong had to feature so I placed him at gully where he would regularly field. For obvious reasons I’ve a strong interest in the wicketkeepers, so delving deeper I found out that the Australian ‘keeper, Hanson “Sammy” Carter, was aged 43 at the time! Originally born in Yorkshire he moved to Australian when a youngster. He was an undertaker by trade. When playing for New South Wales he would often be seen arriving at matches driving a hearse! The circular thatched pavilion still survives to this day. With the death of Lionel Robinson only a few years after this unusual contest matches ceased and the ground went to ruin. The pavilion was moved to south of the border to Old Buckenham Hall School at Brettenham where it is preserved to this day.”
Jack Russell MBE
N.B. Further research can be found in the book “Lives in Cricket: Lionel Robinson, Cricket at Old Buckenham” by Stephen Musk ISBN: 978 1 908165 52 7