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around the mid-nineteenth century, cricket became synonymous with
christian values and teams often originated out of church congregations,
particularly after World War One. It was once quite common for the local vicar to be found among the membership of amateur cricket clubs in Essex. He would often act as President or Chairman or just be a committee member (The Reverend Stanley Pearce was the first president and chairman of the Thurrock & District Cricket Association when it was formed in 1946), but occasionally he would be called upon to play.
With the decline in attendance levels at Sunday schools from the 1960s, church teams virtually disappeared - or they merged with other clubs or changed their name in order to attract more players e.g. Grays Methodist Church CC became Grays CC in 1962 and Grays Parish Church CC rebranded itself in 1961 as Pauters CC (an anagram of St Peter & St Paul's Church, High Street, Grays) - both clubs have since disbanded.
A handful of gentlemen of the cloth have played first-class cricket in England. The best known, of course, being the Reverend (later Lord) David Sheppard, Bishop of Liverpool, who captained Cambridge University and Sussex CCC and who was a 'Wisden Cricketer of the Year' in 1953. He played in 22 Tests for England (twice as captain) finishing his career with an average of 37.80 and a highest score of 119 against India in 1952.
Reverend David Sheppard
Canon (Colonel) John Greig played 125 matches for Hampshire (as well as serving as the county's secretary and president) and recorded a highest score of 249 not out against Lancashire in 1901, before being ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1935 and appointed honorary Canon of Portsmouth Cathedral.
Reverend Andrew Wingfield-Digby played 39 first-class matches for Oxford University and was appointed 'Spiritual Adviser' to the England team under the chairmanship of Ted Dexter in 1989, but he was subsequently sacked by Ted's successor, Raymond Illingworth. We are told that there are far greater pressures upon the international cricketers of today, so perhaps the time is right to reintroduce the role?
Major Canon J.H. (Jack) Parsons was a fine batsman who played for Warwickshire between 1910 and 1936, amassing 17,969 runs including 38 centuries. he was awarded the Military Cross for his historic part in the famous cavalry charge against artillery at Huj in Palestine in 1917 in WW1, and returned to active service in WW2 as a Senior Chaplain serving in Italy and North Africa. He had the unique distinction of being mentioned in dispatches in two World Wars. He died in his parish of Liskeard in Cornwall in 1981.
Essex CCC has also been blessed with its very own man of the cloth - the much-loved, charming and witty Reverend Canon Frank Gillingham. Frank was born in Tokyo on 6th September 1875 and came to England at the age of 8. Educated at Dulwich College and Durham University, he was ordained in 1899 becoming a curate at Leyton Parish, thereby qualifying him to play for Essex. Attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps at Ypres in WW1, his effusive speaking style ensured that his services among our troops on the battlefields of France were always well attended. He was mentioned in dispatches and was appointed Chaplain to King George VI and subsequently to Queen Elizabeth. His son, Peter, was also ordained.
Reverend Frank Gillingham
Frank played in 181 first-class matches for Essex CCC between 1903 and 1928, scoring 9,160 runs at an average of 32.02 with a highest score of 201 against Middlesex CCC at Lord's in 1904. He was selected as a subject for a 'Spy' (Sir Leslie Ward) caricature in the society magazine, Vanity Fair, in 1906 under the caption 'Cricketing Christianity' - the only Essex cricketer ever to have featured in the highly-respected publication. He was also selected to deliver the first ball-by-ball BBC Radio commentary on a cricket match - the Essex v New Zealanders match at Leyton on 14th May 1927. And he is the oldest player to play in a Championship match for Essex - at 52 years 287 days against Surrey in 1928.
At Frinton-on-Sea in 1924, Frank officiated at the marriage of the Surrey captain and Test player, Percy Fender (with whom he toured Jamaica in 1928 as a member of Lord Tennyson's side). In 1930, at St Mary's Church, Cornhill in the city of London, he delivered the address at the memorial service for his Essex colleague and skipper, the legendary Johnny Douglas. Interestingly,
in 1924 he was initiated in Freemasonry - at the Old Alleynian Lodge
(No. 4165). Frank died while on a visit to the casino in Monaco on 1st
April 1953, aged 77.
Reverend Frank Gillingham
officiating at the wedding of Percy Fender in 1927
Although the Reverend Arthur May of All Saints Church, South Ockendon was a cricket fan and Vice President of Belhus Cricket Club in 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977, he never actually donned his whites: in fact, only one man of the church has appeared as a player for Belhus CC - the Reverend David Gamble, vicar of the very same church in the mid-1960s. David represented the club in eight matches in 1964/1965 and achieved a highest score of 8 on 5th June 1965 against, bizarrely, Evangel CC. Playing in white plimsolls and wearing baggy cream flannels (with, of course, traditional turn-ups), he was never called upon to bowl - nor did he take a catch. Perhaps not the most distinguished playing career for Belhus CC, but senior members recall David being a highly enthusiastic player whose presence in the team ensured gentlemanly conduct and behaviour and, naturally, fair play.
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Denis Reed, March 2012