GCCC Heritage Trust has recently acquired two albums of photographs taken between 1903 and 1911 by Dick Bell, an old friend of W.G. Grace.
The albums contain a fascinating collection of photographs, the majority taken by Bell himself or with his camera, as noted at the front of each album. The first album covers the period from 1903 to 1905 and the second from 1908 to 1911. Whether there was another album covering 1906 and 1907 is open to conjecture but there is circumstantial evidence that at least one did exist.
Richard Moore Bell was born in Wigton, Cumberland on New Year’s Day 1874, the son of Joseph and Mary Bell and on 5 December 1877 he set sail with his parents and his younger brother Joseph aboard the SS Lusitania for a voyage to Melbourne, arriving there early in January 1878.
The family lived in Lilydale just outside of Melbourne and his early education was at Melbourne Grammar School. With his parents remaining in Australia he returned to England and The Leys School in Cambridge from 1889 to 1892, appearing in the school cricket XI in 1891 and 1892.
In 1891 and whilst still at school he joined the Sutton Cricket Club in Surrey, an association that would last for the rest of his life and it was at that club in 1900 that he first encountered Grace.
The Doctor had taken a team to play against Sutton who, batting first, were on 82-7 when lunch was taken at a local hostelry, The Cock Hotel, during which speeches were made and toasts given. During the interval W.G. was heard to remark that, on the day, Sutton did not appear to be strong enough for his side. There is no mention of the time at which lunch was taken, but play was resumed just before three o’clock! Following the resumption the Sutton total moved on to 129 when the ninth wicket fell. This brought Bell to the wicket who, along with his batting partner, the splendidly named Ventura Bromage took the score to 219 before Bromage became Grace’s eighth victim leaving Bell not out on 39, an innings that had contained eight 4’s The home team then bowled the visitors out for 127 to win the match by 92 runs, W.G. having been dismissed for just 15 runs caught by George Hadfield off the bowling of Bell’s younger brother Joe. Dick, himself took 2-4 and Bromage 3-18 as the visitors collapsed from 124-5, losing their last five wickets for just three runs. In the custom of the day, London County batted a second time and when stumps were drawn had reached 113-3. W.G. had shown better form this time scoring 65, “hitting boundary after boundary in rapid succession before being stumped for 65, 52 of which were obtained by boundary hits”
Grace, in turn would bring his London County XI to Sutton most years until 1908 and would, himself, turn out twice for Sutton in 1912 against the touring Philadelphians
Bell had clearly impressed the Doctor and from the following year, he frequently appeared for London County both in first-class and minor matches, as well as for various elevens got up and captained by Grace including Grace’s first match back at Bristol in 1902 following his well-publicised falling out with Gloucestershire in 1899. Grace’s team played a game against one got up by C.L. Townsend to benefit the funds of the NSPCC. In a game that was limited to 45 overs a side, Townsend’s XI scored 251-5 in reply to Grace’s XI’s 250-7 to win by 5 wickets. For Grace’s XI, Bell, opening the batting scored 36 before being bowled by Gloucestershire’s Stanley Brown. In the Townsend’s XI innings, his off breaks accounted for the wicket of Gerald Beloe, son of the Gloucestershire Chairman, Mr. H.W. Beloe
He was also a member of the London County side that travelled to Ireland in 1903 where they played games in Dublin and Cork, photographs of which appear in the albums. Possibly the height of his cricket career was to tour with the MCC to Egypt in 1909. The cricket and the social side of the tour also feature in the albums.
In the whole of his cricketing career he was reckoned to have taken over 4,000 wickets and scored over 15,000 runs. The majority of his cricket, however, was for Sutton and at the Sutton club annual meeting in September 1932 he was presented with the ball with which he had taken his 2,000th wicket for the Club’s First XI earlier that month. He also appeared in various Country House matches and amongst other social events, there are photographs from the game between Ranjitsinhji’s XII and W.G. Grace’s XII at Shillinglee Park in 1908 including two with Grace wearing Ranji’s turban, an image that was captured by the artist Henry Scott Tuke in the well-known painting, done at the time. Not known as a cricketer, Tuke took part in the game as a member of Ranji’s team.
Both Grace and Bell shared a passion for golf and for beagling and photographs of them together playing golf, watching Worcester Park Beagles Cricket Team and at Beagling events appear in the albums.
Much of the research for this article has made use a number of scrapbooks compiled by the late G. Neville Weston, currently the property of Michael Down of Boundary Books to whom I am grateful for their loan. Some feature correspondence with Bell’s widow Marjorie and one contains a photograph which bears the annotation in Mrs Bell’s own handwriting “Crystal Palace W.G. Grace’s team v Worcester Park Beagles and where I first met R.M. Bell 1906.” In another there is a copy of a photograph of W.G. taken at Walton Heath Golf Club with two other gentlemen, C.P. Hobson and G.A. Riddell about which Weston has commented that in this particular album, this is “the only picture of W.G. interest”
Marjorie was the younger daughter of Patrick Crichton Kerr, a wealthy farmer and landowner in Cheam and she and Dick were married in 1911. There are photographs of Patrick and his two daughters, Dorothy and Marjorie, with the girls often on horseback.
Their honeymoon was spent in Scotland at the Fife Arms, Braemar and the second album closes with photographs of the hotel and the surrounding area.
The albums are much more than a record of Bell’s sporting life and achievements; they form a social history of the period with shots of family, friends, pets and animals as well as of trips and voyages abroad.
The emergence of the albums is interesting. They were put up for auction in 2022 by someone who had salvaged them from a shed, having been instructed to burn all the contents. However, in the auctioneers’ words, he “kept and enjoyed them for many years before finally deciding to move them on.”
I found it intriguing that they were sold at auction in Diss in Norfolk whereas Marjorie, who died in 1974 lived her final years in Brighton, having moved there from Surrey after the death of her husband. For a number of years and as mentioned above, she had been in regular contact with G Neville Weston, the W.G. Grace expert and collector, until her death in 1974 and at one time in the early 1960’s she had loaned him the albums and he had copies made of the photographs that featured Grace. Weston lived the majority of his life in Kidderminster where he died in 1984, but in his later life he had spent some time in Wymondham, also in Norfolk to where some of Marjorie’s letters were addressed.
There is no record or reason to believe that she had given or sold them to Weston on a permanent basis, (he would never have left them in a shed to be salvaged!) so why Norfolk?
The Bells had one child; a daughter Isla, born on the 14th July 1912, coincidentally the same day as the writer’s mother. In 1944 she had married Desmond Longe, an Army Major who had served with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the war and would be awarded the Military Cross in 1945 for “gallantry during active operations against the enemy.” The son of the Rev. John Charles Longe from an old established Norfolk family tracing their roots back to the sixteenth century, he would go on to become Chairman and President of Norwich Union Insurance Company and High Sheriff of Norfolk. It appears that their early married life was spent in Diss, although at the time of Desmond’s death in 1990 and Isla’s death in 1993 they were living in Bungay, Suffolk.
Desmond and Isla had two children, a son and a daughter. From the correspondence between Weston and Marjorie, and also between the writer and Isla’s daughter (also Isla) I would have thought it unlikely that anyone in the family would have disposed of the albums themselves and there is no evidence that either of the children knew of their existence.
So why a sale in Norfolk? Maybe we will never know.
As to the photographs themselves, there follows a small selection.
Annotated “Capt. L Broke Willoughby, R.M. Bell, Miss Grace. Crystal Palace June 1903” although probably taken at the London County v Worcester Park Beagles match on 23 May 1903 where W.G., Bell and the Captain all played for the Beagles. Not certain who the Miss Grace is. Can’t be Bessie, W. G.’s daughter – she died in 1899
Watching the 1903 match from the Pavilion, Also a note in Marjorie’s hand identifying her father, her sister and herself. She and her older sister are the two young girls sitting on the left of the front row and her father is on her left wearing the white hat
Beagles Batting – T.P. Hilder & Dr. W.G. Grace
Sutton v London County 1903. Dr. W.G. Grace keeping wickets
On the reverse in Marjorie’s hand. “Crystal Palace W.G. Grace’s team v Worcester Park Beagles and where I first met R.M. Bell 1906.”
London County v Ireland at Cork 1903
London County v Dublin University at Dublin 1903
London County Irish Tour 1903. On board going over
At Shillinglee Park 1908. A.D.C, Dr W.G. Grace C.E. de Trafford L.S. Wells. The A.D.C. is K.S. Harisinhji who played in the game for Ranji’s team. De Trafford and Wells played for Grace’s team
Dr. W.G. Grace’s XI v Prince Ranjitsinhji’s XI Shillinglee Park 1908
MCC Team to Egypt 1909 R.M. Bell on ground, far left
Port Said Cricket Ground Port Said v MCC. MCC played eight matches on the tour. This is one of the three in which Dick played
Bell the cricketer 1904
Bell the golfer 1905