Saturday, 8 November 2014

Lionel Robinson and cricket at Old Buckenham

New book on Old Buckenham resident
Thank you to Tom Walshe who has provided all these details.
Old Buckenham’s remembrance of the Fallen, 100 years on from the start of the Great War, coincides with publication of a new book recalling the man who gave the village its fine war memorial along with the cricket ground and racing stud.
‘Lionel Robinson: Cricket at Old Buckenham’ is a biography by Norwich author Stephen Musk who traces the life and times of the Australian stockbroker and recounts how his purchase of the Old Buckenham Hall estate from Prince Frederick Duleep Singh changed the course of village history.

The book reveals in detail for the first time the influence Robinson and his colourful associates had on cricket, horse racing, commerce and politics across the world. It also attempts to unravel Robinson’s complex character, which could swing from kind and generous to autocratic and explosive. And it examines the question of whether Lionel, despite his wealth and patronage, ever really gained acceptance in English society.
The narrative begins in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where Robinson was born – illegitimately it turns out – in 1866. It moves to Australia, where he made his fortune as a wheeler-dealer stockbroker and financier during the mining boom, and then to England when he switched to the London Stock Exchange.
In 1906 he bought Old Buckenham Hall estate, building a vast mansion, two cricket grounds, the stud farm and paddocks. He entertained lavishly and shooting parties on the estate were renowned affairs. He was Lord of the Manor, High Sherriff of Norfolk in 1916, and helped bankroll the famous Triangular Test cricket series in England in 1912. That year, in addition to sponsoring the South African touring team, he brought the Australians to play an England XI at the Lakenham Cricket ground in Norwich and South Africa to play his own team of top cricketers at his new ground at Old Buckenham Hall.
In 1919 the first international cricket match played in England after the Great War was at Old Buckenham where Lionel Robinson’s team entertained the Australian Imperial Forces in a 12-a-side match. And most famously of all, in 1921, the all-conquering Australian Test team travelled to Old Buckenham for a three-day game against an almost full strength England side playing as Lionel Robinson’s XI.

Jack Hobbs batting at the Hall ground in 1921 (Sydney Smith Collection, State Library of New South Wales)
The book traces Lionel’s encounters with some of the greatest cricketers of all time, including Jack Hobbs and Archie MacLaren. The latter organised Robinson’s cricket and lived at Old Buckenham for a decade.
A section is devoted to Lionel’s success as a breeder and owner of racehorses, both in Australia where he and his business partner Bill Clark won prestigious races including the Melbourne Cup and the Caulfield Cup, and in England where their victories – such as that in the 1907 Cesarewitch – were often accompanied by big betting coups.
Essentially a cricket book, however, Stephen Musk’s comprehensive work traces the largely forgotten story of cricket at Old Buckenham either side of the Great War, and shows how the haughty and humble aspects of the country house and village game shared a not always cohesive relationship.
Here are snapshots of local characters such as William Groom, aka Squibs, unkindly dubbed “the village idiot” by one visiting toff, but a talented cricketer and wholehearted chap. And Old Buckenham schoolmaster Len Hart who spent so much time on the cricket field that he sometimes adopted a scorebook alias, borrowed from a local vicar, to mask his absences from the classroom.
The book contains more than 50 illustrations, mostly contemporary photographs sourced from both Britain and Australia, many previously unpublished. Some – including the cover shot of Lionel Robinson, a photo of Squibs and others of Archie MacLaren at Old Buckenham – are from a photo album kept by MacLaren’s son, Ian, and loaned by the cricketer’s biographer, Michael Down.
Lionel Robinson died the year following his most famous match and lies buried in Old Buckenham churchyard. The Hall and cricket affairs passed to another enigmatic character – businessman, playboy (and later Member of Parliament) Everard Gates. An account of his (ultimately unsuccessful) struggle to keep the estate and cricket going during the Depression, and the key role played in the latter by Len Hart, is covered in a closing chapter that forms a fascinating adjunct to the grandeur of the Robinson years.

 ‘Lionel Robinson: Cricket at Old Buckenham’, is published by the Association of Cricket Statisticians (ACS) and is available via their website - - at £14.



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