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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Alfred Crofton French
  • Born 21 March 1845 Dublin
  • Died 4 March 1907 Dyffryn, Denbighshire
  • Educated
  • Occupation Army Officer
  • Debut 4 September 1863 v I Zingari at Vice Regal Ground, Phoenix Park, Dublin
  • Cap Number 70
  • Style Right hand bat; slow right arm bowler (round arm)
  • Teams Phoenix, Carlow, Na Shuler, Vice Regal XI, Knickerbockers, United Ireland XI

Alfred French came from a well known Anglo-Irish family, his father William being, at one time, High Sherriff of Dublin. Alfred was a good batsman, generally, but not invariably, in the upper order and a useful slow round arm bowler. Nevertheless, though he was often in demand for big matches during his playing career in Ireland, he hardly ever achieved his best form in these games. Thus in May 1863, for example, travelling north to play for the United Ireland XI against NICC at Ormeau, he found himself going in first but being dismissed for a single in each innings by the hosts' professional Tom Heighes. Later in the summer he was in the Phoenix side which entertained the visiting Old Cheltonians on their Irish tour, but again failed, falling once more for 1.

However that summer did see one memorable innings from his bat in the North v South match. It is difficult to discover the qualifications for selection for either side in this fixture, they certainly do not appear to have been geographical. Alfred was in the North XI which was stronger in batting than their opponents who, however included three formidable bowlers in George Barry, Arthur Samuels and Ireland's most perplexing "one cap wonder" WS Hunt. The South were bowled out for 141 to which the North replied with 192. They owed much to a fine innings from Alfred who, going in first, carried his bat for a resolute 61, his highest innings of which a score has been seen, despite the formidable attack arrayed against him. Eventually, the North won by 6 wickets, Alfred contributing 14 in the second innings, thus helping to assure victory, though a few early wickets were lost to Samuels.

As he produced few other innings of note that season, it was probably the knock just described that saw him in the Irish side against I Zingari at the Vice Regal Ground in early September. This was, in many ways, an unsatisfactory game. The start was delayed by rain and then, IZ in their second innings, having already established an advantage through the bowling of Henry Awkwright, made no attempt to get Ireland in again to try to force a victory. No declarations were permitted then but batsmen often got themselves out in order to force their opponents to bat again. This did not happen on this occasion.

Thus Alfred was limited to one innings, in which he scarcely covered himself with glory. Opening the batting with Barry, he was missed at slip before he had scored, managed five singles and was then stumped by William Clayton off Awkwright. Clayton, an Oxford Blue, once dismissed four batsmen in successive balls in a minor match at Sheffield. The first was stumped, the next two caught, and the last run out. He became ADC to the Viceroy of India but was killed playing polo at Delhi in 1876.

Alfred was not much seen in Irish cricket after that summer, being commissioned as an Ensign in the 43rd (Monmouthshire) Regiment of Foot in October of 1864. His military career was rather unspectacular being divided between Shrewsbury and The Curragh. He rose, by purchase it would appear, to hold the rank of captain, before leaving the Army towards the end of the 1870s. He did play some cricket during his military days, for example representing The Rest of the Army against The Royal Artillery in 1866 and also playing some matches for the Knickerbockers XI, including one v MCC at Lord's. However he met with little success in these encounters.

Alfred had married Alice Cuppage of Mount Edward, Co Antrim, while still a serving officer. When he resigned his commission, though he still used the title of Captain, they set up house at The Grove in the village of Weddington near Nuneaton in Warwickshire. The Grove was an ancient building which, according to local legend had enough secret passages and supernatural activity to keep both Enid Blyton and JK Rowling happy for many volumes. Notwithstanding these, Alfred and Alice established a large household there. As far as I have been able to trace they had no children, but the 1901 census reveals an establishment which had ten resident servants. Alfred's sister, also accompanied by a servant, was visiting at the time.

As shown above Alfred died in North Wales in 1907, leaving, incidentally, 8603 in his will. Though worth far more in those days, that was not exactly a princely sum. Perhaps The Grove needed a lot of upkeep. It long survived the French family, being first a hotel and then a public house, being used as the latter into this century when it was finally scheduled for demolition to make way for a new housing estate. A recent photograph shows it standing forlornly surrounded by barbed wire without, unsurprisingly, a blue plaque to indicate that it was once the residence of a somewhat undistinguished international cricketer.

NB: In the past Alfred has been wrongly identified, by this writer among others, as Arthur C French. Arthur who was born in 1843 and died in a bathing accident in 1876, was Alfred's elder brother. However there is no doubt that Alfred was the cricketer.