Frederick Livsey Cole
Died 1 July 1941
Gloucestershire 1879 to 1890.
188 runs Average 8.17
Highest Score 36
Fred Cole was born on the 4th October 1842 or 1852 or 1856 depending on where you look or who you believe.
Wisden, up until 1934, taking its cue from MCC Scores and Biographies had the date recorded as 1856 when it was changed to 1842 but his birth certificate records him as being born in Patricroft, Lancashire (now a part of Salford) in 1852, the year and place now generally accepted to be the correct one despite what we learn from some of his stories in later life.
He would be a man of mystery from his first day to his last.
His father, John, born in 1801 was a commercial traveller and his work had taken him to various parts of the country; the 1841 census shows him living at home in Leicester with his parents and in 1851 after the death of his mother, he and his father have moved to Broughton in Lancashire where they are living with his brother-in-law John Jones, the husband of his younger sister Caroline, and their three children. John, now aged fifty is still unmarried. The 1861 census has John, now married and living with his wife Sarah and their family of six in Stapleton, Bristol. John had eventually tied the knot and had married Sarah Sansome in Loughborough in the early part of 1852. Three of the six children pre-date the marriage and are possibly Sarah’s children from an earlier marriage but more importantly for our purposes, Frederick, aged eight and Arthur, aged one, who we will encounter later on appear along with another brother, William, aged four.
Where Fred was educated is uncertain; it was believed that he went to Bristol Grammar School, but his obituary in the 1942 Wisden states that enquiries at the school failed to trace him there as a pupil. What is certain, however, is that by 1872 and whilst still just a teenager, he is playing cricket for Bedminster who, along with the Clifton club were probably at that time, the two strongest sides in local Bristol cricket. Over the next few years he would become one of Bedminster’s main players winning three seasonal prizes for the highest individual score, also the highest aggregate of runs and in 1878 the prize for the best bowling average. What is also certain is that in September 1876 (once the cricket season is finished?) he marries Elizabeth Annie Payne and the 1881 census records the couple living in St. Paul’s in Bristol together with Elizabeth’s widowed mother. It is interesting to note that his age is given as 26, not the only time that we can calculate a different year of birth.
From those early days and over the course of the next twenty or so years he would become well known in local cricket as a more than competent batsman, an occasional bowler and in later years a wicket-keeper good enough to play behind the stumps for Gloucestershire as they sought a replacement for “Frizzie” Bush and before the arrival of Jack Board
As well as regular appearances for Bedminster he is on record as turning out in local Bristol cricket for Long Ashton, Schoolmasters, Thornbury, Knowle, Bohemians, Clifton Victoria, Mangotsfield, Cotham, Frenchay and Kaleidoscopes. Further afield he is seen playing for Cricklade, where in 1883 he offered a bat as a prize for the player with the highest aggregate of runs in the season, Stroud, Gloucester City, Badminton, Wells, Yatton, Lansdown, Weston-super-Mare and East Somerset.
His job as the Bristol and District representative for Grant and Co. of Turnmill Street, London, Engravers, Printers, Stationers and Publishers clearly was not designed to occupy all his time.
With both E.M. and W.G. Grace frequent performers in local cricket he was soon identified as a possible candidate for the County Eleven and in 1879 he made his debut for the Shire against Surrey at the Oval followed by a game at Lord’s against Middlesex. He batted once in each game scoring, in total, just twenty runs. Whilst not a disaster, he was not required again during the season and he returned to local cricket.
Maybe during the week in London he was able to find time for a business meeting with his employers whose offices and printing works in Turnmill Street were just a couple of miles away from both grounds.
A similar fate befell him in 1880 with games against the same sides at the same venues and with similar outcomes – an aggregate 31 runs from three innings’.
Although not now required for the County, he nonetheless took opportunities to watch them in action, turning up in Cheltenham in August 1882 where, for a time, he acted as a substitute fielder for Yorkshire’s Hon. Matthew (later Lord) Hawke when they played against Gloucestershire at the College.
1884 saw him back in the County side for the trip to the Oval, but scores of 0 and 3 did his cause no good. His Gloucestershire career apparently at an end, he announced in June of 1886 that he had left the Gloucester county team and joined Somerset, “the county of his birth.” He’d evidently misplaced his Birth Certificate!
On 17th June 1886 he made his debut for Somerset against Warwickshire, at the time neither a first-class county, at Combe Park in Bath, the home of the Lansdown club, scoring 15 and 22 not out as Warwickshire won the game by 91 runs. Of the five matches played by Somerset in the season it was his only game for them.
Still a free-scoring batsman in local cricket he was starting to keep wicket on a regular basis and in a game for Schoolmasters against Clifton, he stumped his County colleague, W.O. Moberly off the bowling of W.G. Grace who was making one of his rare appearances for the Schoolmasters.
After his brief foray with Somerset, May 1887 saw him back in the Gloucestershire side. The first game of the season was against Kent at Blackheath, the first game to be played there on the Rectory Field. Of his selection for the game, the Bristol Mercury commented “Mr. F.L. Cole reappears after a lengthened interval and his many friends will wish him success.” Success, however, was limited. The game at Blackheath was followed by visits to Brighton and Lord’s and the eleven day trip saw him play in all three games and “contribute 42 runs and bowl without success” The 42 runs included what would turn out to be his highest score for the county, an innings of 36 against Sussex. So, with no County matches for the next three weeks it was back to club cricket, including an appearance for East Gloucestershire in a two-day match in Northleach, arranged to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
The County schedule started again with home matches at Moreton-in-Marsh against Surrey and at the Spa Ground at Gloucester against Yorkshire followed by visits to Old Trafford and Dewsbury where he is now being used principally as a wicket-keeper. He still struggles to score runs at this level, his eight innings yielding a mere 46 runs including a not out 24 in the game at Gloucester and he is left out of the eleven for the rest of the season.
His form in club cricket continues to produce runs; in one week between the games at Gloucester and Old Trafford he scores 143 for Stroud at Cheltenham and a not out 119 for Thornbury against Lansdown. Perhaps, after all, he is not really cut out for First-Class County cricket and so the 1888 season sees him return to Somerset.
The Somerset season was scheduled to start with a visit to Edgbaston on 21st May which meant that he had the opportunity for an early club game in which he scored 76 for Yatton against Bridgwater. Unfortunately, it was not to prove a good omen for him. Selected to play in the first five games as wicket-keeper, and not for his batting – he never got to the crease before seven wickets had fallen, his eight innings yielded a mere 20 runs. Left out of the Somerset team for their next match against an MCC eleven, he was invited to play for MCC against Warwickshire the following week and to open the batting without needing to keep wicket. His first innings duck was followed by a similar second innings performance.
He had always been a well-known and popular cricketer in the local area and this is clearly shown at the beginning of the 1889 season as evidenced by an early season note in the Stroud News. Playing for Thornbury at the beginning of May he had made scores of 69 against St. George and 68 not out against Lansdown within a week. The paper’s cricket correspondent reported the fact that his excellent batting form deserved a mention and that it was all the more satisfactory as “it was feared that the batsman’s health would prevent him doing much cricket for a time”
The more pragmatic Bristol Times and Mirror in noting the gratifying feature of Cole’s run scoring reminded its readers that he was someone who had “wandered first from the ranks of the Gloucestershire County Club into those of Somerset and then back again”
Whether it was his health or his lack of success outside of club cricket, the fact is that he played no County matches either for Gloucestershire or Somerset during 1889 confining himself to just local games. One of those appearances was for Cotham on the new Gloucestershire County Ground at Ashley Down. The ground had been acquired by the County Cricket Club in 1888 and was due to host its first first-class game there on the 1st July 1889 against Lancashire. The ground was already being used by a number of local Bristol Clubs, one of whom was the United Press. In their game there on the 22nd June they were soundly defeated by Cotham whose score of 248-5 included 117 by Cole, the first century recorded on the ground.
The start of the 1890 season saw Gloucestershire short of players and Cole was recalled to the side to keep wicket in three games in June. In the first, at Lord’s against Middlesex he scored 28 and four and in the Middlesex first innings took three caches and made a stumping – the Bristol Times and Mirror said that he had been “in fine form behind the stumps” A game against Kent in which his only innings produced a duck was followed by a game against Surrey at the County Ground with scores of three and eleven. It was his first and only appearance for the County in Bristol. It also turned out to be his final game for Gloucestershire and he returned to club cricket for the remainder of the season.
By now he has left the employment of Grant & Co – an announcement in the Bristol Times and Mirror in February 1889 states:
Whether he had other employment either locally or out of the area is uncertain, but he still manages to spend the summer playing local cricket after which there are no further sporting references to him, other than one appearance for Knowle in 1894.
There are reports of an F.L. Cole playing in a game in 1893 in Kent for Rochester against the Royal Engineers and one in 1895 at Widnes in Lancashire for the Liverpool YMCA and Gym against a team called White Rose.
It is almost certain that it is him in the 1895 game as in 1896 and 1897 he was appearing regularly for the Aigburth Club in Liverpool and in 1899 he plays few games for Moseley in the Birmingham League.
What is certain is that by 1901 he and Elizabeth were living in Handsworth, Staffordshire where he is described as a Directory Agent and in 1911, now calling himself Arthur F.L.H. Cole, a widower, aged 67 and a gas engineer, he is boarding in Ecclesall, Sheffield. Why he is now calling himself Arthur, possibly after his younger brother, is anybody’s guess. The 1939 Register has him boarding in Upper Hanover Street in Sheffield with his date of birth recorded as 4 October 1842 and his death, on 1st July 1941 has him reported as aged 98.
Having left Bristol sometime around the turn of the century, he continued to maintain contact with the city and would often return around Christmas time to visit friends and relations, one of whom was Archie Powell, the well-known Bristol journalist, then the sports writer for the Western Daily Press and against whom he had played in the 1889 United Press v Cotham game.
One of Fred’s claims to fame was that he believed himself to have been instrumental in helping WG find the site for the ground at Ashley Down. In his later years and on one of those visits, at Christmas 1929 he told Archie how it came about.
“At the time the directors were looking for a ground, I was living with my parents at Halford House, Ashley Down and I told WG about the fine stretch of fields at the back of the Orphan House and arranged to conduct him over the site.
“We met one Sunday morning, climbed a wall and a few minutes later were met by Farmer Haines and his dog! However, matters were satisfactorily explained and WG was shown over the fields and was favourably impressed.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Powell finishes his article with the comment “Mr. Cole looks fit enough to take the first over. Yet he is in his 80th year.” This latter reference clearly points to an 1852 date of birth, as does another report three years later where Powell comments that having passed his 80th birthday, he was looking in excellent health and still a young man in spirit. Twelve months later he was reported as having “had an important appointment at Sheffield for many years and is still in harness.”
Evidently still a man of vigour and enthusiasm he is back in the city in June 1935 and “now in his 83rd year, still in excellent health”
There was no Christmas visit that year. In a letter to Powell in November 1936 written in California but posted from Canada, Cole explains why.
“I did not see you last Christmas as I had an affair with a motor-bike and lost. Result, five weeks in the Sheffield hospital. It was thought I should not walk again without crutches, but they were all wrong for I am able to get about quite all right.”
He went on to say that he had been getting about the world seeing some of his “ain folk”, would soon be back in Sheffield and seeing Powell and other friends in Bristol at Christmas. The visit took place and proved to be his final trip back to the city. In a letter to Powell in January 1938, congratulating him on 50 years of journalism he explained that he had been “unable to come to Bristol this Christmas as I feel the burden of my years and my sight has failed me very much.”
The next we hear of him in Bristol is on the 5th July 1941 when his death in Sheffield at the age of 98 is announced. Suddenly, he has added ten years to his age.
The Methodist Victoria Hall in Sheffield was known in the 1930s for putting on shows and entertainments and on Saturday 27th November they hosted a show called “Bachelors Gay”. The first part of the show was entitled “In Town Tonight” after the popular BBC radio programme of the time where local personalities would be interviewed and talk about their lives.
Among the local personalities on view were Sergeant Welch, Sheffield’s only surviving V.C., Mr. H Tomkins, at 6 foot 9 inches in height, believed to be Sheffield’s tallest man, Irwin Goodwin, the Sheffield Yo-Yo Champion, Bernard, the boy accordionist, Paul Graham, “The Man with the X-Ray Eyes” and none other than Mr. Frederick L. Cole. What was Cole’s claim to fame? Was it that he had worked for the Sheffield Gas Company for forty years, was it that he had played cricket as a teenager with the Champion cricketer, W.G. Grace?
No. It was that he claimed to be the oldest and only survivor in England of the American Civil War.
Historians reading this will know that the American Civil War lasted from 1861 to early 1865, so for him to have taken part he would have been eight years old at the start and only twelve years old when it ended. Whilst some remarkably young people did manage to enlist in that conflict, they are for the most part well known, and also American citizens, and it seems hardly likely that he would have travelled over to the States, aged anywhere between eight and a half and twelve and a half, to enlist.
We know for fact that he was in Bristol on the 7th April 1861 and 2nd April 1871 the dates of the two censuses so it would seem highly improbable that he is telling the truth. Where and why did he conceive the notion? Everything you read about him points to him being a genial, affable sort of person. Perhaps he had read about the war and imagined himself taking part, perhaps he even knew that there were at least 13 Frederick Coles who had served in the Union army. Perhaps he created a new persona for himself – we have seen that he had previously been known by his brother’s name. Perhaps he had even met somebody who did take part in the War. In any event he would have realised that as a child he could have not taken part and, as the fiction grew, he needed to add ten years to his age to make it credible.
The simple fact is that we will never know the exact truth but what we do know is that in his nearly 89 (or maybe 99) years of existence he led a full and enjoyable life.
Just to add a further bit of mystery. Records show that, born in 1835 in Somerset and subsequently living in Bedminster, on the other side of the city was another Cole; this time just Frederick who, on July 8th 1854 married Emily Jane Sutton, another Bristolian in Utica, New York State.
My thanks to Barry Phillips for tracing details of Fred’s time-line through census returns and to Michael Hammerson for his detailed knowledge of the soldiers in the American Civil War.