Ossett - the history of a Yorkshire town

Geoffrey Wilson: 1895 - 1960 Geoffrey Wilson

Captain of Yorkshire County Cricket Team: 1922-1924

Geoffrey Wilson was born in 1895 at Potternewton, Leeds. He was the grandson of Ossett mill owner, Joshua Wilson (1824-1897) and the son of Ossett born Gladstone Wilson (1866-1946), who by the time of Geoffrey’s birth, was a wealthy businessman and joint managing director of the Joshua Wilson worsted clothing business at Bean Ing Mills in Leeds.  Geoffrey’s parents lived in Harrogate and he was born into a life of privilege and wealth when the Wilson clothing empire was at its peak.  Gladstone Wilson was a long-standing member of Yorkshire Cricket Club and he encouraged his son to take an interest in cricket.

Geoffrey attended Harrow School 1912-1915 and then Trinity College, Cambridge where he was awarded his Blue in 1919 after service in the Royal Marines during WW1. He was Captain of Yorkshire Cricket Club for three years between 1922-24 and he also played cricket for Cambridge University and the MCC.

Although Yorkshire won the county championship every year during Geoffrey Wilson’s tenure as captain, he resigned under difficult circumstances in 1924 following a disagreement with Yorkshire fast bowler Abe Waddington.  There was a bad-tempered match between Yorkshire and Middlesex at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, which was a "grudge" return match.  Previously, Middlesex had thrashed Yorkshire by an innings in the previous game at Lord's, when Yorkshire had been without four key players who were involved in a Test trial. The July 1924 return fixture saw Yorkshire and Middlesex first and second in the championship table with Yorkshire anxious to avenge the heavy defeat by Middlesex earlier in the season. In essence, two relatively minor episodes led to the ill-feeling. On the first day in front of a Saturday crowd of some 10,000, Yorkshire fast bowler Abe Waddington had an appeal turned down for a catch at the wicket. The spectators showed their disapproval and were so noisy that the game was held up for a short while until order was restored.

On the Monday, in front of another large crowd, the umpires gave three leg before wicket decisions against Yorkshire batsmen in quick succession and spectators on the popular side created another scene, shouting insulting remarks to the umpire, behaviour which they repeated on the final day. The fall-out from the game started almost immediately and continued virtually to the end of the season. Waddington, who was deemed to have encouraged the crowd's display of disapproval, was dropped for the next game and asked to write a public letter of apology following an enquiry into the incident by the MCC. Middlesex at one stage threatened to "take their bat and ball home" and cancel future games against Yorkshire. The Middlesex team at that time was made up of highly skilled amateur players with a professional attitude and they were often more than a match for Yorkshire. However, there was a strong feeling in Yorkshire of a north-south class divide with Middlesex playing at Lords, the MCC headquarters.

Yorkshire CC 1922

Wilson, as captain, took some of the flak. However, this is not given as the principal reason for him resigning.  It has been suggested that he wasn't strong enough to control a very powerful team of professionals who were lording it over all other counties at the time.  Wilson, being an amateur, was a "gentleman" and didn't always go along with the hard-nosed professional approach of the rest of the team.  Also, In 1924, there were rumours that Yorkshire fielders made extensive use of the tactic of roughing up the wicket in order to help their bowlers, accompanied by rumours of excessive verbal intimidation of opposition batsmen (now known as sledging and perfected by the Australians). In such circumstances, Yorkshire newspapers were quick to speak of "an absurd level" of criticism from external, especially southern sources.

That was the way cricket was in those days. Yorkshire always had an amateur captain, some of whom weren't really worth their place in the team on playing merit, and who were afforded little respect by the professionals. Wilson was most definitely worthy of his place on the strength of his cricketing ability alone, however, there was a school of thought that he wasn't strong enough as a captain.  This may not be the case and it is possible that he resigned simply because he had other priorities. However, it is more likely that he was simply sick of the press coverage, the criticism from the likes of Lord Hawke and the arrogant attitude of professional players like Waddington.

Wilson was replaced for the 1925 season by 43 year-old Bradford wine and spirits merchant Major A.W. Lupton and while being an extremely modest cricketer, he was clearly expected to engender better discipline in the next season.

Wilson's First-Class cricket career lasted from 1919 - 1924. with a highest score of 142 runs and an average of 16.22 runs.  A right-hand bat and right-arm medium bowler, he once scored 173 in one innings when playing for Harrow school against Eton, a record that still stands.

Geoffrey Wilson toured with the MCC to New Zealand and Australia in 1922-23 averaging only 12.82 in New Zealand, yet averaging 39.09 in Australia on the same tour after scoring a century in Victoria.  A brilliant cover point fielder, he had a good start with Yorkshire in 1919 averaging 26, but never batted as well for his county.

Geoffrey WilsonObituary - Mr Geoffrey Wilson
The death occurred yesterday in his home at Merton Road, Southsea of Mr. Geoffrey Wilson who was captain of Yorkshire’s county cricket team in 1922-23-24.  He was 65.

Mr. Wilson was the son of Mrs. Gladstone Wilson, who is now living at Eastbourne, and the late Mr. Gladstone Wilson, who died several years ago.  The family lived for many years at Stratford House, Chapeltown, Leeds.

After resigning from the Yorkshire captaincy in 1924, Mr. Wilson concentrated on his career as a director of the family business of Joshua Wilson and Sons Ltd, worsted coating manufacturers,Wellington Street, Leeds.  He went to live in Southsea after his retirement.

Cambridge Blue
It was as a young man of 18 at Harrow that Mr. Wilson first attracted the attention of the cricket world by scoring 173 in the annual match with Eton at Lord's.  After service with the Royal Marines in the First World War, he went to Cambridge and obtained his Blue in 1919.

He came into the Yorkshire team in the same year, scoring 27 and 56 against Northants at Sheffield and a few days later playing a fine innings of 76 against Leicestershire at Huddersfield.  In 1933, he toured New Zealand with an MCC team led by A.C. Maclaren.

Although Mr. Wilson was never able to produce his best batting form during his captaincy, Yorkshire won the championship in each of the three years they were led by him.  Playing against Lancashire in a Roses match at Old Trafford in 1922, he was taken ill with appendicitis and had to undergo an operation.  He was a bachelor.

Published in the Ossett Observer 29th November 1960

Geoffrey Wilson was a very heavy cigarette smoker and it is believed that his early death from lung cancer was largely because of his chain smoking habit. He was cremated in Golders Green crematorium in London in December 1960.

The stuff of true legends - Monday, August 27, 1923
Roses_matchThere was only one place to be on August Bank Holiday Monday in 1923 - Park Avenue cricket ground in Bradford, where Yorkshire were facing the old enemy, Lancashire. The day was hot and sunny, the match was nicely poised - if you were a Yorkshireman and by three quarters of an hour before play began the ground was full. Thousands were locked out, even after ground staff had toured the seated spectators asking them to ‘shove up a bit’ to let another one or two sit down. 26,000 were reckoned to be crammed into the ground that day.

The happiest, said the Bradford Daily Telegraph, were those who had to sit on the grass. At least they could move their legs. After the lunch interval, during which spectators had spilled on to the hallowed soil of the pitch, a mounted policeman, at the suggestion of Yorkshire skipper Geoffrey Wilson, was used to usher them back behind the boundary ropes - a tactic which had worked just the year before at the first ever Wembley Cup Final.

Roses matches had always roused greater interest than any other (sometimes even more than Test matches). But the 1923 game was special.  Apart from the glorious weather, there was the prospect of a victory because Yorkshire were on one of their most formidable rolls. The County Championship was well within reach - in fact nothing short of an outbreak of bubonic plague was going to stop them winning it. Lancashire was not a bad side - they had the Tyldesley brothers playing, and England wicket keeper George Duckworth. But Yorkshire had a side, which could, and did, trouble Test teams. Not surprising, since eight of the team at Park Avenue were, or were to become, Test players themselves.

The list is, in fact, part of the Who’s Who of great White Rose cricketers: Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe, one of the greatest opening pairs any county ever had; Edgar Oldroyd, probably the best bad-wicket batsman never to play for England, and the man who, at Pudsey St Lawrence, helped guide the young Len Hutton; Maurice Leyland, a stylish but powerful left-hander of whom Hutton once recalled, with awe, “his forearms were thicker than my thighs!”; then came the stuff of legend - Wilfred Rhodes, the greatest all-rounder of his or any other time, who had opened the batting for England and took more wickets than any other player in the history of the game; Roy Kilner, left-arm bowler, was also handy with the bat and popular outside the county (when he died tragically young while coaching in India, 100,000 were said to have lined the streets of Wombwell for his funeral); Emmott Robinson, the essence of Yorkshireness, handy batsman and a seam bowler who cherished the shine on the ball like a lover; George Macaulay, hot-tempered fast bowler who could change to quickish off-spin and be just as destructive; Abe Waddington, mercurial fast bowler with what we’d now call ‘an attitude’; Arthur Dolphin, wicket-keeper who could bat a bit but in this season rarely needed to - Yorkshire usually declared; and Geoffrey Wilson, spinner whose bowling had sometimes changed the course of a game was the Yorkshire captain.

Geoffrey Wilson

Full name: Geoffrey Wilson
Born: August 21, 1895, Potternewtown, Leeds, Yorkshire
Died: November 29, 1960, Southsea, Hampshire (aged 65 years 100 days)
Major teams: Cambridge University, Yorkshire, MCC
Batting style: Right-hand bat
Bowling style: Right-arm medium

 Batting and fielding averages
class  mat  inns  no  runs  hs  ave  100  ct  st
First-class   115   129   18   1801   142*   16.22   1   44   0

 Bowling averages
class  mat  runs  wkts  bbi  ave  5  10
First-class   115   55   1   1/44   55.00   0   0

 Career statistics
First-class span  1919 - 1924

Yorkshire's Gentlemen Captains

For many years, Yorkshire County Cricket club had an amateur or gentleman captain and professional players. The first and best known of the modern amateur captains was Lord Hawke, or the Rt. Hon. Martin Bladen Hawke as he was on taking over the post in 1883.

He was certainly a very competent player and tactician, the most gifted probably of the pre-1930s generation. Above all, though, it was as a team builder and manager that he gained his reputation. He set out to win the respect of his side by a combination of tough discipline and paternal encouragement. Three players, Bobby Peel, Joe Preston and Edmund Peate were all summarily dismissed for disciplinary offences in the 1880s and 90s, the fact that Peel was probably the finest left arm spinner in the country, carrying little weight with his Lordship.

Hawke, however, although a good cricketer and clearly a man with great respect for his team, showed a decidedly conservative view of the amateur-professional relationship which became ever more pronounced after his retirement. He became ever more prone to make public statements about professional players which greatly embarrassed his county. Individual players were criticised during his presidential addresses at Annual General Meetings. In 1925 Geoffrey Wilson's captaincy, George MaCaulay's poor temperament and Morris Leyland's limitations as an attacking batsman and fielder were his chosen targets.

Yorkshire's professional cricketers were not easy men to lead. The amateur captains of the 1920s and 1930s were often ignored when the decisions were made by the professionals such as Wilfred Rhodes, George Hirst, Bill Bowes and Herbert Sutcliffe.

While some of the many stories concerning Yorkshire captains being told that they could come into the pavilion now because one of his senior professional had decided to declare, are probably much exaggerated, it does seem that good social standing and a generally firm style of leadership were seen as the essential requirements. It was thus that 43 year old Bradford wine and spirits merchant Major A.W. Lupton was appointed in 1924 after lapses of protocol and discipline in the previous season.

The previous incumbent, Geoffrey Wilson, a highly successful captain in terms of results, was so aware of his responsibilities as a gentleman leader that he offered to resign before the season finished. This was not accepted.

Standards clearly rose from the 1930s, but as late as 1958, the county still felt it necessary to select Ronnie Burnett, a 39 year old with no first class experience in order to impose discipline on a divided dressing room.

The exploits of such players was often the subject for satire. Reporting on the 1926 Roses Match at Bradford, Neville Cardus noted how Lupton "astonished and delighted the multitude (and possibly himself) by achieving a superb off drive from MacDonald, also a savage blow to the on - both boundary hits."

Yorkshire's inter-war professional Morris Leyland was rather more acerbic when commenting that: "I never counted the captain of the Yorkshire side - we won a few championships with the handicap of having one.'"

The key points to emerge can be summarised as follows. The gentleman amateur Yorkshire cricket captain received (literally) a good press, stressing his usefulness and decency. He was believed to have earned and justified his position if not by ability, then by the quality of the service that he offered to the county side and its followers. Such a view, coupled with the fact that there were genuine differences between the social structure of the Yorkshire side and that of some other teams, conveniently glossed over some inconsistencies between county self-image and reality. Alongside this, the captain and his professional colleagues, united in common purpose despite a sometimes immense social gulf between them, representing the whole county of Yorkshire in actual and symbolic battle with other counties. These battles took on particular significance when they were against representatives of the south, where players could often win a county place partly because of their social position, or where, as in the case of Middlesex, the opposing side was strongly associated with southern metropolitan privilege.

Much of the above is adapted from a paper by Dave Rusell, which is available at the link below:

Amateurs, Professionals and the Construction of Social Identity

Dave Russell

Department of Historical and Critical Studies

University of Central Lancashire

Yorkshire County Cricket Club, 1890-1939