The Nottinghamshire Scholar
Peter Wynne-Thomas studies an old newspaper and writes down the cricket scores in one of his notebooks.
The Trent Bridge librarian and archivist has been doing this sort of thing for something like 60 years. He only uses a computer to help him typeset the Nottinghamshire Yearbook, 90% of which he writes. You would imagine that this work, added to looking after the best cricket library outside Lord's, would be enough for even the most committed cricket devotee. Not a bit of it. Welcome to Wynnethomasland, a country where the labours of Hercules would be knocked off before breakfast.
But let us compose ourselves and consider the work Wynne-Thomas has done. He has written or edited over 100 books; bizarrely, he's not sure precisely how many, but the latest edition of the Encyclopedia of Cricket, written with Peter Arnold, comes out in the autumn. In the 1950s, when such research was in its relative infancy, he collected the scores of every Nottinghamshire match and worked out the averages of the players. Then he wondered: "Who the devil are all these people?" and went out to meet as many of them as he could or, if the man had died, his relations. The result is two books of essays on Nottinghamshire cricketers, the first of which is considered a landmark in the history of the game's literature and was the Cricket Society's Book of the Year. A copy now sells for in excess of £100.
In order to complete his researches, Wynne-Thomas regularly visited Somerset House when he was working as an architect in London, and when he returned to see his parents, he decided to carry out a blitz on Nottingham's newspapers.
"So I went through every Nottingham paper from the 1770s to 1914 and took notes." he said, as if it amounted to a morning or two's concentrated labour. "In addition to finding out about the players, I also wrote down all the local scores as well, so that when people come to me and ask when was there a match in village x or y, I can consult my notebooks and find out."
Yet even this is not the work which gives Wynne-Thomas most pleasure. He is happiest when using primary sources to research topics which no one has really studied before.
"Historians divide into two types," he explains. "There are those who have all the basic books and regurgitate the information they find there, but try to find a different angle on it all. I'm the exact opposite. I go to primary sources. The book I'm proudest of is the one I did on every cricket ground known to have existed in Nottinghamshire. My wife and I went to every village, attacked the oldest inhabitant and asked where the cricket ground was.
"The resulting manuscript is 463 pages long. We measured the ground, did a map and took 800 photographs. We went out on alternate Thursdays for three years to do the research for that one. The published book is written as a travelogue. There's a picture of me talking to a horse on the back."
In addition to these little jobs, Wynne-Thomas has compiled a card index to The Cricketer in all its various incarnations. "I did that while the wife was watching Eastenders," he said. "It took 20 years." Of course he has written the history of Nottinghamshire CCC, but he is the author of histories of Lancashire and Hampshire too. Well, one has to keep busy I suppose.
"I was an architect by profession and worked in the city for 15 years," he said, "but somehow, cricket took over everything. Nonetheless, when I worked for a firm off Grosvenor Square, their main specialist subject was abattoirs and I spent years designing and drawing them all over the country.
"My main claim to fame for Nottingham is that there used to be a disgusting glue factory next to the cattle market, and the stench used to invade Notts County FC, and also Trent Bridge if the wind was in the wrong direction. I was the one who did the drawings to move the stench to Stoke Bardolph, where it is now." Wynne-Thomas chuckled richly and I toyed with the idea of carrying out some primary research of my own and asking the residents of Stoke Bardolph for their views on the matter. I opted to leave them in their smelly peace.
And as yet we have scarcely touched on Wynne-Thomas's key role in the foundation of the Association of Cricket Statisticians or his work with the legendary Major Rowland Bowen on The Cricket Quarterly. We haven't discussed his debt to that doyen of cricket researchers, F. S. Ashley-Cooper, or his move back to Nottingham and the development of the Trent Bridge library, which now contains 15,000 items. Those topics, I realised at the end of my second long conversation with Peter, must be the stuff of other tales.
As I was about to shut the door of the library, I glanced back at Peter. He had returned to his newspaper and was noting down the scores.
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