Home made cricket bat in Calgary museum - another boring account of cricket research

 

Jon Harris
e-mail: hennessy.harris@sympatico.ca

 
  7/4/03

I visited the GlenBow Museum in Calgary, just before the New Year and located a displayed cricket bat. This bat is exhibited as CRICKET BAT c.1890, with text which reads "Belonged to William Parker, an old country Englishman; who carried on British traditions in Canada. The home-made-bat was used by the NWMP cricket team at Battleford, Sask. N.W.T."

In my opinion the exhibited item is not a 'home-made-bat' for the following reasons.

1). The bat handle is made of seven pieces. It is my contention that the three black stripes across the top of the handle are evidence of rubber being placed vertically through the length of the handle. The other four pieces of the handle would appear to be 'cane'. This is a very sophisticated construction for a home-made bat, using materials not indigenous to Canada. The purpose of such construction was to reduce the 'jarring' effect when striking the ball. I suggest that the 'springing' of the bat handle with thin strips of rubber, patented in the 1890's, together with the patent for 'grip improvement' is consistent with a professionally fabricated bat. Both Burma and Malaysia, in the Victorian era were under the control of the British Raj. It should be noted that an area of what was to become known as Burma, was the source of rubber. Part of Burma in the Victorian era was known as Arawak. Historical atlases show that the trade routes were well established, from "Borneo", "Burma" and "Malaysia", to Europe. Therefore, there is evidence of these materials being available in Europe, and by extension the United Kingdom. The trade in rubber particularly, and cane to a lesser degree, were significant to cricketers. The Oxford Dictionary shows a reference to the phrase 'Indian-Rubber' being first recorded in use by 1788, and by 1866 the phrases 'rubber tire', 'rubber plant', 'rubber tree', etcetera, were part of the lingua franca in England by 1866.

2). The bat on display shows evidence of a 'rubber' sleeve having been at some time on the handle. This is manifested with a band of grey/black marking at the shoulder of the bat, where the handle is spliced into the blade of the bat. This is a very sophisticated accoutrement for a home-made bat, using material not indigenous to Canada. These sleeves were regularly replaced as they degraded relatively quickly. This is particularly interesting, in the context of the patents listed below for the improved grip

3) From an examination of the top of the bat handle, it is clear that it is made up of components. The four fibrous pieces of the bat handle would appear to be 'cane'. I have been advised by an aboriculturist that "all the better bat manufacturers, at least as far as the UK is concerned, use cane imported from Malaysia for the handles. The most common type is Sarawak Cane which is sourced from the Sarawak region of Borneo. What is not clear is what actual species is used as there are several which are restricted to the Sarawak region.". This is particularly interesting, in the context of the patents listed below.

4). The shoe of the bat is shaped for a left handed batsman. It is my view that this level of sophistication would not have been introduced into a home-made bat. Right handed batsmen are dominant in cricket, just as right-handedness appears to predominate in other activities.

5). At the base of the bat there is a 1/8th - 3/16th inch drilled hole. The drilled hole in the base of the bat , 'the shoe', was, in my opinion, purpose made to facilitate oiling the bat with linseed. The oiling of the bat was usually undertaken during the off-season by standing the bat in a receptacle containing linseed oil. The location of the hole is centred on the thickest portion of the base of the bat, and is consistent with those I have seen in bats which were commercially mass produced.

6). The cricket bat on display appears to be made of white willow. Cricket bats are made of willow. Willow trees of some 75 varieties are found in North America. The cricket bat willow Salix alba Coerullea is a cultivar of the white willow salix alba. Salix alba is thought to have been located in Suffolk, England in the 1780's. The growing conditions for these trees are very different from those which would have been discovered in Battleford N.W.T. The Salix alba is not indigeneous to Canada, however it is has now naturalized in Eastern Canada. I have not been able to determine if there were any indigenous varieties of willow found in the Battleford area at the time the displayed cricket bat was apparently fabricated. However, I have been advised that willow in Saskatchewan does not grow to tree size.

7). The displayed bat has a cleft cut into the top of the blade to permit the insertion of the cane handle. This is a very sophisticated piece of fabrication. The cut is of an extreme precision, with no evidence on the back of the bat that hand cutting of the cleft was undertaken. It was not possible to examine the face of the bat. My observation of the "V" splicing precision cut into the willow is such that it suggests this was made by a mechanically driven saw, as would be found in mass production facilities in England of the era, as indicated by the dating of the bat.

8). My observation, through the cabinet, suggested to me that the 'whipping' of thread on the handle is of a fine grade multistrand waxed thread. This material was prevalent in the manufactured cricket bats of the era. I would readily admit that this material may have been available to the NWMP for the purposes of maintaining their equestrian tackle. However, in my opinion, this particular whipping is consistent with the quality of whipping on manufactured cricket bats. In a hand made bat it should be possible to discern vertical strands of thread beneath the bound thread, which would have been common to the manual application of whipping.

9) The handle on the exhibited bat is consistent with the following records of patent:

HIBBARD, (Henry). - (PATENT SPECIFICATION). IMPROVEMENTS IN CRICKET AND OTHER BATS. A.D. 1887, 14TH MAY. NO. 7051. London, 1887. 4to. 2pp. and 1 full-page diagram.

This patent was taken out to cover Hibbard's invention of the improved splicing of the canes of the bat. The canes of the bat are the component parts of the handle.

10) BRYAN, (Frank). - (PATENT SPECIFICATION). AN IMPROVEMENT IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF CRICKET BATS AND OTHER SIMILAR STRIKERS USED IN PLAYING GAMES WITH BALLS. A.D. 1896, 10TH JANUARY. NO. 661. London, 1896. 4to. 2pp. and 1 full-page diagram. Bound in boards.

This patent was taken out to cover Bryan's invention of the improved method of facing the bat with strips of cane, thus increasing its driving power and elasticity. (This practice was not widely undertaken and subsequently discontinued)

11). CURRIE, (William). - (PATENT SPECIFICATION). IMPROVED HAND-GRASP SUITABLE FOR GOLF CLUBS, TENNIS RACQUETS, CRICKET BATS, FISHING RODS, BASE-BALL BATS, OR OTHER INSTRUMENT WHERE A FIRM GRASP IS NECESSARY. A.D. 1890, 10TH JULY. NO. 10,701. This patent was taken out to cover Currie's invention of a certain application to be applied to handles to obtain a better grip, namely rubber

The adaptation of rubber and cane, for the benefit of cricketers, would be a natural extension the global market of the Victorian era. Leisure pursuits had become very popular by this time, not the least of which was cricket. In concluding, I suggest that a professionally manufactured cricket bat could have found its way to North Battleford. The archival records of cricket photographs have been explored. There is a photograph of the Battleford cricket team dated 1912 which has a depiction of a cricket bat very much like the bat in the museum display. The photograph of the Battleford cricket team is also part of the archives of the museum. The same bat perhaps? Would such a bat have survived more than two decades if it were 'home made'? Oh, well, more boring research.