Friday 17 July 2009

Colin Blythe, Deptford cricketer

One of England's best Edwardian bowlers was born at 78 Evelyn Street, Deptford on 30 May 1879. He was the eldest of thirteen children, and on leaving school followed in his father's footsteps by becoming an apprentice fitter at Woolwich Arsenal. However, his summers were soon occupied very differently: Colin 'Charlie' Blythe would be one of the finest county cricket players of his era before dying in the First World War.

Blythe was discovered by chance, when he went to watch a Kent match at Blackheath. The team's coach Captain McCanlis saw him bowling on the ground before the game, and spotted his potential. The area was, he later explained, not one where he usually went talent-spotting: 'Blythe lived at Deptford,a place one would hardly go in search of cricketers. The lads of this town have only the roughest parts of Blackheath on which to play their occasional cricket.'

He began his career well: playing his first match for Kent in 1899, he took a wicket with his first ball; in the following season, he took 114. Blythe also went on to take 100 wickets as an England player, and was Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1904. He was one of the leading left-arm slow bowlers of his time, and according to Wisden 'Blythe had all the good gifts that pertain to the first-rate slow bowler, and a certain imaginative quality that was peculiarly his own.'

His international cricket career was held back by his epilepsy and nervous temperament. He was not, then, obvious military material. Nonetheless, when the First World War broke out, Blythe enlisted first in the Kent Fortress Volunteers before serving in the King's Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry). On 8 November 1917, he was killed by random shell-fire on the railway near Passchendaele. He was one of over 200 county cricketers to enlist; 34 of them were killed in action. Last month, the England cricket team paid tribute to them and placed a stone cricket ball on Blyth's grave.

Image: Vanity Fair print of Colin Blythe.


Philip Wilkinson said...

Marvellous. I like the way this area throws up notable, but little known, characters. And the whole story - the bowling on Blackheath, the lucky encounter with the coach, the rapid rise to fame, and of course the sad end, all have the poignant period feel.

Andrew said...

One of many great stories on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Colin Blythe is remembered on the family grave in Brockley & Ladywell Cemetery. His headstone is just off the pathway adjacent to the Ivy Road side. He features as one of many notable deceased on frequent guided walks in the cemetery.. the next walk is set for Saturday 5 th March @ 14.30 pm -from the Brockley gate..

Mike Guilfoyle-Foblc