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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Henry Shelton
  • Born Q3 1854 Carlton, Nottinghamshire
  • Died Q2 1936 Nottinghamshire
  • Educated
  • Occupation Professional Cricketer and Head Groundsman.
  • Debut 9 July 1883 v Aldershot Division Aldershot
  • Cap Number 179
  • Style Hand unknown, slow right arm round arm
  • Teams Notts Castle CC, Phoenix

NB; This player has previously been shown as NA Shelton. However it is now certain that this is an error, no doubt originally committed on a 19th Century scorecard. WP Hone refers to him as H Shelton in the index of "Cricket in Ireland." As no NA Shelton was found in either Irish or English Census returns search was made for H Shelton. This proved that his name was Henry. He is described as a cricketer in the English Census for 1891 and a Professional Cricketer in the Irish Census for 1901. In 1911 he is a Head Cricket Groundsman. Other information appears below and confirms the identification.

Henry Shelton came to Ireland in his late teens as assistant professional at Phoenix to John Wheeler who was well known as a Nottinghamshire player and an itinerant professional. He retained a connection with Phoenix until 1908 but during this time Henry superseded him as senior professional.

As was common with a number of other professional coaches, Henry was a negligible batsman but a very accurate and tireless bowler. He was a fixture at the Phoenix nets, being described by Hone as follows, "He continued to bowl away at the nets with great energy well into the 1900s - I can see him now running up the Phoenix steps to get himself a quick stout between batsmen." Despite this frequent fortification with Sir Arthur's product, he was a very good coach. RM Gwynn, in the Introduction to Hone's book, ranks him alongside the legendary Dublin University coach, Jesse Richards, who was, however a much more abrasive personality. Of Henry, Gwynn says, "His gentler methods were for many a year beloved by Phoenix ." When one considers that, between them Richards and Henry produced batsmen of the calibre of David Trotter, Lucius Gwynn, Frank Browning and Dan Comyn to name but four, they must indeed have been "great."

Henry was not only a tirelessly accurate bowler, he was also a good one. On one occasion, though unfortunately no confirmatory scorecard has been found, he took 7-9 against a strong MCC side led by England wicket keeper and future Cabinet minister, Alfred Lyttleton. However WP Hone quoted from an account of the match which described the bowling feat and then commented, "So pleased wee the brothers Hone that they gave him 5 as a reward for his prowess." The brothers Hone might have been either WP's uncles or cousins. Very probably they were the former as Henry named two of his sons after two of them, the 1891 Census revealing that his second son was called Leland and the third Nathaniel. Leland and Nathaniel Hone were, of course, well known Phoenix and Ireland cricketers, Leland also playing in one Test Match against Australia.

Henry may have been a poor batsman, but used to recall, no doubt for yet another Guinness, a match between Phoenix and Birkenhead Park in 1878. He came in at 11 to join Leland Hone with the score on 130-9. Together they took the score to 303 before Hone was out for exactly 100. Henry was left alone in his glory on 9!

He was not a regular in the Phoenix ranks, being brought in to play against strong opposition. He seems to have been chosen for Ireland's 1883 tour of England because it was known in advance that there would be some availability problems with players for both matches. He did not play against MCC at Lord's in a match lost by 4 wickets but along with Army officer RM Marsh and the Kent professional - and future England and South African Test player Frank Hearne, came into the side against the Aldershot Division. This was a two day match which Ireland should have won but ran out of time. Together with Hearne, Henry proved too much for the Army who batted first and were bowled out for 218, Henry having the remarkable figures of 40-13-69-6. He was 0* at the end of Ireland's reply 308 all out and then he and Hearne took 6 further wickets before stumps were drawn, Henry finishing on 2-34. As a professional he was not asked again.

He was also a very good umpire and officiated not only in the match between Dublin University Past and Present and the 1905 Australians but also in at least three Irish games, those against South Africa in 1907 and Yorkshire in that and the following year. He also umpired a number of other Ireland matches, including those against I Zingari in 1877 and London County at The Mardyke in 1903, besides officiating in most of Dublin University's matches against first class opposition in the 1890s and early 1900s. He was also in charge of most of the three day games at Woodbrook and was often seen as an umpire on the Vice Regal Ground. Photographs of team groups and umpires reveal a short man, complete in cloth cap, suit and waistcoat, white coat over his arm, and a weather beaten complexion.

In 1906 he was employed by Stanley Cochrane to lay out the ground at Woodbrook. he had to leave his house in Castleknock - possibly provided by Phoenix - and move into Methodist run boarding house in Bray. Incidentally the 1901 Census shows that his wife and family were not with him there but two young women, described as "visitors" were. This biography is not a place for speculation about his private life!

However the excellence of the wickets and outfield at Woodbrook is a tribute to his skill and he remained as Head Groundsman until Cochrane, a man of whims, found another obsession after the 1912 season and closed the ground. Some of his professionals, for example wicket keeper Fred Stedman, were kept on at Woodbrook in other capacities, I have been unable to discover whether or not Henry Shelton was. Either way, he subsequently returned to his native Nottingham, where he died in 1936 aged eighty two.