William Cornwell (d o b c1836; d o d 3. 7. 1891) played five times for Cambridge in 1864 and 1868. Here is a summary of his career which is interesting in that it illustrates that Cambridgeshire cricket in the 1860's was not all about high flying professionals or county gentlemen.
The Dart Club
Cornwell’s recorded debut appears to have been in 1853 for the Cambridge Dart Club. The Dart Club was one of a few small clubs trying to fill the gap left by the Town and County Club after its demise in 1848, but it seems to have only existed for two years. I have no idea why it had that title.
William was a wicket-keeper and at this stage of his career a middle-order batsman. He also bowled occasionally. In the report of a Dart Club match against Royston in 1854 his wicket-keeping was picked out for special commendation.
St John’s College Servants Club
By 1855 William had apparently become employed by St John’s College of the university as he was recorded as playing one match for the college’s servants cricket club. He would continue playing for that club until at least 1879 including matches against other servants teams, student teams and Cambridgeshire village teams. It is hard to tell how seriously the game was played at this level, but William’s batting soon stood out, with him often being the top scorer for his side.
From 1855 to 1862 his annual highest scores were: 12,26,39,54,47,58 not out, 46 and 66. Playing up to 5 matches a year, in this period he, at least, scored 675 runs, made 15 stumpings and took 13 catches. In his 3 known matches from 1862 he scored 197 runs, including scores of 66, 49, 32 not out and 26 not out. When he scored 47 against St Ives in 1859 the paper said:
"Cornwell as usual was the hero of the field, and regret was felt even by his opponents, when, after the beautiful play he had exhibited, he fell…"
Cambridge University and College Servants Club
In 1863 William played his first of at least 21 matches for a combined Cambridge University and College Servants side. In the second of two matches against a similar side from Oxford he made his highest score so far – 73. He was captain of the Cambridge side and was criticised in a letter to the Cambridge Chronicle for his handling of his bowlers in the two defeats by the Oxford servants. William was defended by a second letter and also wrote a letter in his own defence:
"Dear Sir, --In answer to "C.F.F.", in your last week’s paper, I feel that I am called upon to make a few remarks. You say the cricket match was managed badly by Cambridge not keeping Mason on bowling. I put him on first in both innings at Cambridge, and first at Oxford, also several times during the matches; but his bowling did not tell. Miller took the most wickets in the first innings at Cambridge, Stearn and Gray in the second. At Oxford, French and Stearn. The ground was very dead when the Oxford had 109 runs to make, so, of course, I put on under-hand bowling, which generally tells better than round-hand. I made a change in the bowling every 10 or 15 runs that was scored. If "C.F.F." has any better idea of managing cricket, I hope he will manage to have a better captain next year.
I remain, your obedient Servant,
These Cambridge v Oxford matches were played as the Cambridge University Servants and Boating Club and involved a rowing match and an after-match dinner as regular parts of the roughly biannual event. After his score of 73 his health was toasted at the dinner.
By 1864 the County Club which had promoted the Cambridgeshire side in the early sixties had gone into abeyance and matches were being got together any way they could be. In one sense William Cornwell’s selection in 1864 was a fortunate consequence of the side’s disorganisation. At the same time William must have developed quite a reputation by then and was certainly worth a punt. His being played at number 10 or 11, however did not allow him much scope to show off his batting skills. The one time he did get into double figures for his county, against Kent in 1868, despite scoring only 12, the newspaper said:
"he must receive at our hands great commendation for his steady effective batting."
Servants v Gentlemen
In the meantime William continued to play for the St John’s College University servants clubs. One match he often performed well in was the annual Servants v Gentlemen of St John’s College match. This, I imagine was a combination of a chance to get one over on your employers as well as an opportunity to relax the usually formal master-servant relationship. In 1858 William scored 54 against the Gents, in 1862 he made 49, in 1865 he made 67 and, most notably, in 1866 he scored 102 not out. Curiously this innings in a drawn match was not commented on in the press, but the accompanying report, in talking of the servants previous two matches in the season, said:
"These victories may chiefly be attributed to the batting, wicket-keeping, and general efficiency of Mr Cornwell, who in the two matches scored 84 and 68 runs."
He was presented with a cup at the post-match dinner.
The Cambridge cricket scene
From around this time William seems to have become more a part of the general Cambridge cricket scene. In 1864 he was selected for 22 of Cambridge v Hayward, Carpenter and Tarrant’s Eleven, a match which celebrated the three Cambridge professionals’ return from an England tour of Australia and New Zealand. Other similar appearances included:
1864 – for the Married against Single of Cambridge.
1867 – for 22 of Cambridge Town and County against a Cambridge Eleven.
1872 – for Cambridge Veterans v Youngsters.
1874 - for 22 of Cambridge Town and County v All England.
Cambridge Victoria Club
Throughout this period William continued to play for the servants clubs as well as, from 1869-71, playing 7 matches for the Cambridge Victoria Club, an established local club. By now he often opened the batting, as he did in 1869 for the Victoria Club against Orwell, scoring 49 runs.
I have found records of William playing until 1879. If he played after that I have not found any reports, although his description as a cricketer in the ‘81/91 censuses suggests he might have carried on at some level or other. In the 100 matches I have found record of at all levels he scored 2,243 runs in 163 innings at an average of 15.3 and took 63 stumpings and 69 catches.
William Cornwell, then, was a successful cricketer at local club level from at least 1853-79, being commended on his batting and wicket-keeping as well as on his "general efficiency". He may have been captain of the college servants sides for many years. His appearances for Cambridgeshire were a tribute to his skills and reputation. It is not surprising that he described himself as a cricketer in the 1881/91 censuses even if by then it was in his past.