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Well, as the 5th Test seemingly heads for a watery grave, what better time for a little history of The Ashes?

James Wallace from The Guardian enlightens:


Why cremation was a burning issue for the creators of the Ashes

Reginald Shirley Brooks’s wry dig at English cricket also backed a cause that was close to his late father’s heart

James Wallace

Wed 26 Jul 2023 12.28 BST


Why cremation was a burning issue for the creators of the Ashes | The Ashes | The Guardian


A mural outside the Kia Oval in remembrance of English Cricket which died at the Oval in 1882.

A mural outside the Kia Oval in remembrance of English Cricket which died at the Oval in 1882. Photograph: Paul Dennis/TGS Photo/Shutterstock


A few weeks ago I was walking down the Harleyford Road on the way to the Oval when I saw a man daubing the famous Ashes “obituary” on the outside of the ground. You likely know the one:

“In Affectionate Remembrance of English cricket, which died at The Oval on 29th August 1882 …”

This was no spontaneous piece of street art. A professional muralist was painting a perfect facsimile on the wall outside the Bedser Stand, just opposite Archbishop Tenison’s School. Next to it in bold lettering was written “THE KIA OVAL – BIRTHPLACE OF THE ASHES”.

I stopped and stared as the traffic whizzed by.

Looking at the increased size of the “obituary”, two things struck me. First, that there is something satisfying about its simple yet effective design. Rather than being off-putting, the different style and sizes of font draw the eye.

The second? That these 39 simple words started it all. Funny, really, when you think of the sheer volume of syntax used to describe the Ashes down the years. Take, oh I don’t know, a washed-out game in Manchester in a crucial Test, for example. When it comes to the game’s most-storied rivalry there are always words, lots of words. Enough to sink a battleship or bust a hover-cover. But 39 is all it took in the beginning.


The 1882 match at the Oval that led to the journalist Reginald Shirley Brooks scribing the satirical obituary are well known. For those at the back: England had Australia 110 for six in the second innings – a paltry lead of 72 runs – victory for the home side seemed almost a certainty. Sammy Jones, Australia’s No 8 batter, then left his crease to do a bit of gardening on the wicket. Who would do such a thing? WG Grace, not known for his fair play or humility, whipped off the bails. The umpire was apparently aghast but kowtowed to the bearded one, whispering: “If you claim it, sir, it is out.”


The “unsporting” act from Grace served only to rile Frederick “The Demon” Spofforth, Australia’s fastest bowler. Jonny Bairstow’s post-Lord’s handshake and death stare combination was quite something to behold but legend has it that 141 years earlier Spofforth was so incensed he went a few steps further, storming into the England dressing room between innings to angrily hiss: “This will lose you the match.”

Umbrella handles were chewed and pulmonary issues ensued as spectators inside the ground witnessed Spofforth take seven wickets and England slump from 52 for two to 77 all out and eight runs short. England had lost their first match on home soil to Australia, cue much hand-wringing in the press. Some things never change.


On 2 September 1882, a couple of days after the Oval defeat, Brooks’s 39-word obituary appeared on the front of The Sporting Times. Brooks was certainly poking fun at the situation but he was also using it to further a cause close to his heart. The clue is in that last line – the NB that became eponymous for cricket. “The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. 

Brooks was not so subtly promoting a hot and rather macabre topic of the time: the campaign for cremation.


Brooks’s father had also been a journalist and served as editor of the satirical Punch magazine. In the 1870s Shirley Brooks was an early and ardent campaigner for cremation, still illegal in Britain at the time. Brooks senior had read and been inspired by a paper entitled The Treatment of the Body After Death, written by the pre-eminent surgeon and polymath Sir Henry Thompson.

Together with a small number of signatories that included the novelist Anthony Trollope and artist John Everett Millais they produced a declaration in 1874 that they “disapprove of the present custom of burying the dead” and desired to “adopt the method usually known as cremation”, a process that they noted “rapidly resolved the body into its component elements”.

The Cremation Society of England was thereby founded. Too late, it turned out, for Brooks Sr who died only a few weeks later, on 23 February 1874, and was buried in the “fashionable” cemetery at Kensal Green. The Guardian noted at the time that several of Brooks’s “literary friends” were in attendance.


The campaign for cremation rumbled on over the next few years. In 1879 the body of a horse was cremated “completely and rapidly” at a new furnace in Woking. Benjamin Disraeli’s government clamped down on these “experiments”, forcing The Cremation Society’s hand to instead concentrate on winning over the public.

In 1882, shortly after the Australian cricket team docked on English shores, the issue was in the news once more when a Captain Hanham in Dorset contacted the society in order to help him fulfil the express wishes of his deceased wife and mother by cremating them in a facility he had built himself.


When Reginald Shirley Brooks wrote his satirical obituary in September the case was getting plenty of publicity. It’s fair to suggest that Brooks Jr seized the opportunity to have a wry dig at the state of English cricket while also furthering a cause close to his late father’s heart.

Captain Hanham cremated his wife and mother a month later, in October 1882, and went unprosecuted. A precedent was set and the following year cremation was made legal, “provided no nuisance is caused in the process to others”.

The first legal cremation occurred in 1885 and in shades of Steve Coogan’s monotone pool attendant in the The Day Today – The Cremation Society’s website notes that in “1886, 10 bodies were cremated”. The practice became more commonplace and widely accepted over the following years.


Something of a Victorian cad, Reginald Brooks was a heavy gambler, drinker and known in social circles for his philandering. He died in 1888 aged only 34 and is interred next to his father and sister Emily at Kensal Green.


You won’t find mention of either Shirley or Reginald Brooks in the official pamphlet at Kensal Green. I know because I visited this week. The guided tour of the 72-acre site (every first and third Sunday of the month) stops by the final resting places of Charles Babbage, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Harold Pinter but not the flat stone slab in plot 31 just off the south avenue. Covered as it was in soil and scrub, it looked like no one had stopped by in a while. The Brookses never wanted to be there in the first place.


The Cremation Society had to rail against “conservatism and custom” in order to make a difference. When the crowds file down Harleyford Road from Vauxhall station for the final Ashes Test on Thursday they’ll pass Brooks’s pithy 39-word obituary on the way to see Ben Stokes’s England Test side. Quite fitting really.


This is an extract from the Guardian’s weekly cricket email, The Spin. To subscribe, just visit this page and follow the instructions.



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Brilliant series, England the better side of the two over the 5 matches but Australia had the bowlers and England the batsmen so a draw is pretty fair.


Player of the series: Crawley


Simply because I didn't rate him before this series and whilst I still have doubts about him as an opener he scored consistently and at a good lick as well.


People will scoff at the way this England side are playing but they're making the sport a great watch. There's a wider question as to what that's doing for nations like WI, Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland etc but hopefully it does good in the long run..how it does I don't know.



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I wrote off both Broad and Anderson two seasons ago. Shows how much I know.



167 matches, 604 wickets at an average of 27.98, economy rate 2.97, strike rate 55.7.



183 matches, 690 wickets at an average of 26.42, economy rate 2.78, strike rate 56.8


Very similar averages and economy and strike rates but Anderson the better wicket taker.


It’s not right to make comparisons with other eras but I’ll do it nonetheless.



67 matches, 307 wickets at an average of 22.57, economy rate 2.61, strike rate 49.4

Average and rates better by clear margins. 

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49 minutes ago, Rousseau said:


Bairstow getting in is hilarious, he was decent in the last 2 but outside of that was average with the bat and awful with the gloves.


Surprised Cummins isn't in, won them the first Test and made key breakthroughs throughout. Even if his captaincy is unimpressive.

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