When famously asked which player would be first choice for any of his cricketing sides, W.G. Grace was said to have instantly replied: “Give me Arthur”.
This ‘Arthur’ the legendary Grace so hugely admired was Lenton-born Arthur Shrewsbury, who was the mainstay of Nottinghamshire’s batting line-up for over two decades and the first cricketer to ever score over 1,000 runs.
As well as an outstanding runs total, Shrewsbury is also remembered for achieving the unique feat of scoring three Test centuries, all of which were against the old enemy Australia – two of them were witnessed at Lords.
But despite his remarkable sporting achievements, Shrewsbury never found true happiness. He suffered from severe mental health problems and unable to cope, committed suicide at the age of 47. He ended his life using a revolver while staying at his sister’s house in Gedling.
‘The best wielder of the willow in the world’
Arthur Shrewsbury was born on April 11, 1856, to parents William and Mary-Ann, in Willoughby Street, New Lenton. He was one of six children.
The youngster’s interest in cricket seems to have stemmed from his grandfather Joseph Shrewsbury, who played for the Beeston team in the 1820s.
Young Shrewsbury’s own club career began with a spell at Meadow Imperial. He then went on to play for Nottingham Commercial Club before being noticed by county officials and was signed up for Notts.
The Lentonian eventually made his County Cricket debut for Notts in 1875, aged 19. He got off to a flying start, ending his debut season with Notts on 313 runs at 17.38, with a top score of 41; in a season of wet weather he finished fourth in the county’s batting averages.
By 1885 Shrewsbury topped the batting averages in England for the first time and remained there till 1892, and was on top every year apart from 1888, which he did not play, and 1889 when he missed half the season. Only W.G Grace and Wally Hammond achieved such prolonged dominance over the English First-Class scene across such a lengthy period.
It was while on international duty that Shrewsbury became the first cricketer to score 1,000 test runs. He achieved this during Australia’s tour of England in 1893 during the First Test at Lords. His scores of 66, 12 and 19 not out in the rest of the series helped England retain the Ashes that year. Shrewsbury was the leading run scorer in the series with 284 at 71.00.
Fear of illness
In 1874, Shrewsbury had a bad attack of rheumatic fever and it was serious enough to keep him away from cricket. Many of his biographers believe it was this sudden illness that triggered the hypochondria that became all consuming during his later years.
Letters sent out just a few years before his death provide evidence that Shrewsbury wasn’t convinced he was in the best of health. In one letter, dated 1900, he wrote: “I am pleased to say my health, as far as I know, is all right.”
Just weeks after sending this letter, Shrewsbury declined to play in a mid-April cricket match due to ‘fearing catching a cold or something worse’.
It was in 1902 that Shrewsbury’s mental health began to decline.
During the latter part of that year’s cricket season, Shrewsbury began to complain of pains in his kidneys. He had consulted various doctors and medical experts and later that year agreed to enter a nursing home in London for medical tests. Despite numerous test and examinations, no medic could find anything seriously wrong with him, but Shrewsbury remained convinced they were still missing something.
After leaving London, Shrewsbury returned to Nottingham in an exhausted mental state and decided to call time on his career. He moved into the house of his sister Amelia Love, who owned The Limes on Station Road in Gedling.
It was on May 12th in 1903 that Shrewsbury ventured into Nottingham and purchased a revolver. When he got home he discovered the bullets he purchased along with the gun were the wrong ones so returned to the shop on May 19th to rectify his earlier mistake.
It was on that evening, after having requested that his girlfriend, Gertrude Scott, make some cocoa for him, he retired to his room early. A few minutes later, Scott heard a rather strange noise coming from Arthur’s room upstairs. She asked what was it about. “Nothing,’ he replied. He had just shot himself in the left side of his chest. He was not sure if that was enough so drew the trigger once again, this time placing the pistol to his right temple. Death was instantaneous.
It was a tragic end for one of England’s finest batsmen.
All these details came out at the inquest held the following day. The coroner decided that Shrewsbury had taken his own life, his mind being quite unhinged by the belief that he had an incurable disease. He added, however, that ‘there was no evidence to show that he suffered from any major illness.
At the inquest, Gertrude Scott disclosed that on the afternoon before his death, Shrewsbury had said, “I shall be in the churchyard before many more days are up.”
On the morning of May 20, the news of the death reached the Notts team. There was a game on against Sussex at Hove, the scene of so many of Shrewsbury’s triumphs. As a mark of respect the match was abandoned.
Arthur Shrewsbury was buried on May 21 in the churchyard of All Hallows, Gedling, where he still lies to this day.
We started with a quote about Arthur Shrewsbury from W.G Grace and so we end with one.
Grace once famously remarked: “Arthur Shrewsbury must be acknowledged as the greatest professional batsman of his age. He has been a pillar of strength to his native county.”