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The birth of the Ashes and a grave in Brockley Cemetery

On 29 August 1882 Australia defeated England in a cricket match played at the Kennington Oval.There was a great deal of dismay felt by the English about this loss and a few days later a mock obituary notice written by Reginald Shirley Brooks appeared in the Sporting Times which read:

In Affectionate Remembrance of English Cricket which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882, Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. 


N.B.—The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.

It was the first time the term "the ashes" had been mentioned.

Located aside the main pathway close to the wall of remembrance in Brockley cemetery lies the saturnine headstone to the Dyne family.  Eight family members are recorded as buried in the family plot. The family had a well established presence in Deptford traversing various occupations and trades. But for the purposes of this post and its famous historical link to the game of cricket, I will focus on one family member called Edwin John Dyne who was born in Broughton, Kent in 1830 before the family moved to Deptford. Edwin first marriage was to Charlotte Ann Donovan in 1849 and the couple had seven children. Charlotte died in 1876 and is buried in the family plot. He remarried in 1887 to Jeanette Addiscott and two children were born of this relationship. Edwin held down a variety of professions during his working life, including that of a Confectioner, Ticket Examiner on the railways (his father Thomas was a Railway Policeman) and publican, which connection led to a masonic role in the Lodge of Industry. He died in 1898.

As noted, the more mundane details of Edwin's life are well documented. But what of his private passions? This brings us to the heart of the story surrounding his attendance at the August 1882 test match at the Oval between England and Australia. With the fifth and possibly deciding test match of the current Ashes series to be played at the Oval, a series that has been a torrid and eventful one. Let us to turn to that fateful day when Edwin attended the match with his friend, George Spendlove. 

The account of the day is well captured in a 2014 article which have I sourced and abridged from the Cricket Country website.

Ashes 1882: Death and W G Grace — the 10-minute mystery surrounding the match

August 29, 1882. England failed to get the 85 runs to win a spectacular thriller of a match and it resulted in the lore of The Ashes. However, was it only English cricket that had supposedly died that day? Did other deaths have some bearing on the result? Why were 10 minutes mysteriously added to the innings break?

The tale of the match is laced with immortal anecdotes, of tension, frenzy, drama and heated words. And even death — not just of English cricket. Like most legends, some of it is true, and some fables have hitched on as the story has snowballed along the corridors of time.

However, as the match went on, there were indeed incredible scenes of excruciating tension. The players suffered from nerves strained to the limits, tactics became eccentric from feverish malfunctions of the brain. Spectators underwent frenzied moments of hopes and trepidation, perched at the proverbial edges of their seats throughout the two hours and two minutes of the final innings. An Epsom bookmaker named Arthur Courcy chewed halfway through the handle of the umbrella of his brother-in-law.

The English players popped open champagne bottles, not as means of celebration but as tonic for nerves. Charles Studd, with two hundreds against the Australians that summer, was kept back till No 10 by captain Monkey Hornby. The skipper kept mumbling, “I want to keep you up my sleeve.” AA Thomson later wrote, “So Charlie went up the sleeve and, alas for England, stayed there.

Studd himself, the fall of each wicket driving him to hysterical anxiety, wrapped himself in a blanket and walked round the pavilion. He did not face a ball after going in at the fall of the eighth wicket. Perhaps it was this game that induced him to migrate to China as a missionary.

According to CI Thornton, “[Allan] Steel’s teeth were all in a chatter; and [Billy] Barnes’s teeth would have been chattering if he had not left them at home.”

In the pavilion, Ted Peate had to be cajoled into tottering out to bat at the fall of the ninth wicket. A generous dose of champagne played a major role in making sure that he finally walked out and did so in a rather wobbly way. The hands of the scorer shook so much that Peate was scribbled as ‘Geese’ in the official score book.

With Studd at the other end, Peate heaved the first ball from Boyle past square-leg and ran two, when he could have stopped with a single to give the better batsman the strike. The next ball was targeted with an almighty swing that missed by yards, and Peate flashed a manic grin. Writers like Kenneth Gregory have wondered down the years: Had he been given too much champagne? Or had it been too little?

“I left six men to get 30 odd runs and they couldn’t get them,” lamented Grace.

Death and the 10 minute mystery

There is also the quaintly horrific legend that a man died of heart attack during the last stages of the game, unable to withstand the tension. Tom Horan, who later wrote for The Australasian under the —pseudonym ‘Felix’ did his bit to embellish the story — handsomely adding to the chronicler’s time-honoured disdain for factual accuracy. Of course, while fielding at short leg to Spofforth, Horan was hardly in a position to form a proper idea of the happenings in the feverish stands, and one wonders how he documented rather graphic details of the excitement.

That morning, as the scheduled start of the match approached, nearly twenty thousand made for The Oval. Among them was George Spendlove, a 48-year-old resident of 191 Brook Street, Kennington. He waved goodbye to his wife Eliza, secured his sandwiches, collected friend Edwin John Dyne from 24 Pollock Road, and headed towards the ground.

They reached the stadium just as the groundsman and his staff were removing mud from the creases and filling the holes with sawdust.

As Boyle was bowled by Steel and the Australian innings ended at 3.25pm, Hornby, sensing his finest hour, was mentally preparing himself to go in first with Grace. And as the men trooped back to the pavilion, Spendlove told Dyne that he was not feeling too well. He stood up, tottered and fell to the ground, blood pouring from the mouth.

A shocked Dyne cried out, “Doctor” and the yell was taken up and relayed by many of the other spectators nearby. And soon a doctor did loom over the crowd. He was a giant, had a thick beard and his crown was topped by the MCC cap. Yes, the nearest doctor who responded was none other than WG Grace himself. He took one glance at the patient and instructed, “Carry him to the room above the pavilion.”

Missives went out to the Australian dressing room, “W G professionally engaged. Won’t be long.” And hence the gap between the innings was extended.

Not that it took too long. Spendlove had suffered from internal haemorrhage. Although other doctors came up to examine him as well, he had already died by the time he was taken to the room. It remains debatable whether the sight of a dying man being examined by Grace had any effect on the England team and their subsequent capitulation, but the myth of the heart-attack during England’s chase is definitely false.

So W G had scrubbed himself, removing the grime and dirt of the field. He had examined a patient with haemorrhage and had pronounced him dead. He had washed himself again before putting on his pads, and had walked out with his captain to commence the innings. All this was done in the course of 20 minutes. There seems to be little chance of Spofforth coming in and shouting at the doctor while all this was going on. With a General Practitioner thus engaged, it seems somewhat bizarre for him to be shouted at, whatever be his on-field activities.

The truth is documented in precise terms in George Spendlove’s inquest. It took place in the Crown Tavern, Church Street, Lambeth. Mrs. Eliza Spendlove identified her husband. Mr, Edwin John Dyne gave his evidence. Mr William Carter, the East Surrey Coroner, reached a verdict of ‘Natural causes’. Dr. W G Grace was referred to as ‘the well-known cricketer’. The time of death was placed at approximately half past three in the afternoon.

Author : Arunabha Sengupta -cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at Cricket Country.

W G Grace pictured in the late 1880s. One obituarist noted that his appearance ‘instantly commanded attention’ while his bat looked ‘a mere toy in the hands of a giant’

W G Grace pictured in the late 1880s. One obituarist noted that his appearance ‘instantly commanded attention’ while his bat looked ‘a mere toy in the hands of a giant’ © Herbert Rose Barraud

Though best remembered as a batsman, Grace was an all-rounder, and during his career of 43 years in first-class cricket he took nearly 3,000 wickets and scored over 50,000 runs. His achievements completely altered the standard of scoring, so that a century ceased to be a rare event, and a 50 became almost commonplace. Perhaps his most remarkable achievement came in 1895 when, at the age of 46, he scored 1,000 runs in the month of May.

Known to the public as ‘The Doctor’, ‘The Old Man’ or simply ‘W G’, he was instantly recognisable. As one obituarist noted, ‘His great towering figure, with his strong features and full black beard, instantly commanded attention.’ Due to his height, the bat ‘was generally held some distance off the pitch, looking a mere toy in the hands of a giant’.

Source : English Heritage.

Dyne Family headstone, Brockley cemetery. Source ' Find a Grave

A short distance from the Dyne headstone lies the family grave of Colin Blythe-The greatest cricketer to be killed in the First World War.

NB/ Can I extend my warm appreciation to my Foblc colleague, Phill Barnes-Warden for alerting me to this fascinating cricketing link and enabling this post to be featured on the Friends group website..