J.H. MILLICAN NOT OUT
By John Hurst
A devotee’s memories of a halcyon age that is no more: Long Summers rich in blue skies and warm sunshine… pipe-puffing patriots clustered on the narrow wooden seats beneath the Wetheriggs Lane wall…putting up the tin numbers on the tiny scoreboard at Tynefield Park…the left-hander with the tapping toe, blacksmith’s forearms and scything bat.
That was Penrith cricket forty years ago. The squeaky old “telegraph” has given way to a massive scoreboard, its operatives hidden away in palatial quarters, almost big enough to hold a dance in; and the old men’s wall is only sparely populated despite the sad fact that Tynefield has lost her rural remoteness to a large housing estate and two schools of indifferent design.
But on third team match days you will still find Harold Millican, right toe tapping unfailingly as he prepares to strike another muscular blow, his zest undimmed after a personal innings stretching back into the thirties.
He will be remembered as the most commanding figure Tynefield has known. He has captained both club and county and as a match-winner, in his day and generation, he had no equals on the Penrith ground.
This story is, in part, the story of both Penrith cricket over the last forty years, and of the Cumberland County Club, even since its revival in 1948. In both those spheres John Harold Millican has played so big a role, both on and off the field, that his name is synonymous with both.
His first official club appearance was in a second team game in 1939, though long before that he had taken the eye when playing for Penrith Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. The school magazine described the teenage Millican as “a fine all-rounder who plays forceful cricket and does not believe in poking about”.
And of his bowling, another issue spoke of his “nip” and late swing in the air andforecast that he should develop into “a very god, fast-medium bowler”.
Season 1935 was a most significant one in his cricketing progress. In addition to being a leading member of the Grammar School under-14 team which won the Molyneux Shield, for an inter-school competition, he received a special award from John G. Molyneux, later to become Penrith President.
The Cumberland and Westmorland Herald recorded: “The proceedings concluded with the presentation of a Jubilee medal to Master H. Millican, of Penrith Grammar A team.
“He had been selected as showing to a marked degree the qualities of good sportsmanship, fair play and cricketing ability and those attributes which make a boy gentlemanly. Mr Molyneax, in handing the medal to Master Millican, asked him to remember in the future why he had won the medal and to retain the qualities he had displayed this season.”
How well Master Millican remembered….
All sports came naturally to him. At the school athletics meeting in 1939 he won the 100 yards, 220 yards and long jump, and his pace also enabled him to shine on the Rugby pitch – “Millican intercepted a pass, dummied and swerved and then beat the fullback in the race for the corner”.
After the war he was Penrith’s soccer centre forward for a short time and played more Rugby; tennis, and in later years, golf vied for his leisure hours; he even took up the game of bowls when his native village of Greystoke had a green.
Greystoke is a sporty village – last year’s National winner, Lucius, was trained at stables there! – and in the inter-war era the villagers played cricket in the grounds of Greystoke Castle, where the Howard family provided sumptuous hospitality. Tradition probably rubbed off on the youthful Millican, but there were other external influences, including a boyhood admiration of Don Bradman and, closer to home, the cricketing feats of a forebear.
A great-uncle, John Porthouse Bewley, captained Penrith from 1881 – 83 and built up a considerable local reputation as a big hitter. It used to be said that one of his lusty smites shattered the only remaining window of Penrith Castle (about half-a-mile from the cricket ground in those days). What is probably nearer to the truth is a story that Bewley was so heavy a man that he generally relied on the services of a runner.
Before joining Penrith, Millican spent 1938-39 with the village club at Stainton, playing on some of East Cumbria’s most attractive grounds, like those at Patterdale, Edenhall, Nunwick, Lowther, Staffield and Temple Sowerby. On Stainton’s own field, with only cattle to keep the outfield in check, 30 or 40 could be a winning total – which made a Millican knock of 86, against a team of Carlisle accountants, a noteworthy effort. The Herald comments: “The feature of the Stainton innings was the free scoring of J.H. Millican, the Penrith Grammar School pupil, who, as the averages show, is going to obtain more satisfaction from his cricket than many others are fortunate enough to do”.
He moved to Tynefield Park towards the end of 1939 but, though cricket was played there in 1940, he lost to the last war, spent in the R.A.F., what could well have been five of his most fruitful seasons.
When cricket returned to Penrith in 1946, half-day friendlies still provided the staple diet, with Appleby, Kirkby Stephen, Keswick, Denton Holme (Carlisle) and Dumfries among regular opponents. One such game, against old rivals Barnard Castle, saw Harold Millican set up a club record, which still stands, with a score of 140 not out in 1952. His opening partner, Horace Billing never tires of recalling that it was the only time he saw an overall total of 100 on the top rungs of the scoreboard, closely followed by Millican’s personal century going up immediately below.
Horace had not even got into double figures – and when the partnership closed at 122 his share was just 14.
There were many such Millican monopolies. Against the Carlisle second team, for instance, he once made 81 not out, with thirteen 4’s and a 6, towards a winning total of 96 for 2.
That happened during his “Golden era” – the fifties when his performances after the club’s entry into the Cumberland Senior League, constituted one long success story with scarcely the suspicion of a break. His bat swishing like a scimitar, he cut attacks to ribbons as his team, in eight seasons of overs-limited cricket, collected five championships and twice finished as runners-up.
He scored a grand total of 3,163 Senior League runs for an average of 35.14, as well as taking 257 wickets at an average of 8.7.
Five times in those eight glorious years, from 1951-58, the Penrith left-hander topped the League batting averages. In 1957 he scored 554 League runs, for an average of 46.1, and in all games he totalled 748; he is the club’s only amateur to exceed 700 in a season apart from the elegant Scottish player, D.C. Stevenson, in the twenties.
In Penrith’s long history, season 1958 must surely rate as the proudest in terms of achievement; it ended with three trophies on skipper Milican’s sideboard – those for the Senior League title, the Carlisle club’s medal competition (now dormant, alas) and the crowning glory of the Meageen Cup, Cumbria’s top knock-out trophy.
That first Meageen triumph was against all the odds, for Penrith’s opponents in the final, Workington, had Yorkshire Harry Halliday as professional and were running away with the North Lancashire League. Before a vast crowd on the West Cumbrians’ ground, an audacious, run-a-minute 57 by Milican put a shock win within Penrith’s reach. The sheer joi de vivre which marked this particular display of aggression has been attributed to a day spent with farmer-friends in the happy atmosphere of the Cumberland agricultural show. Certainly Harold set about the opposition without the least trace of big match nerves.
Halliday was snapped up behind the stumps in Peter Sarjeant’s opening over – and Penrith’s heroes marched on to a memorable victory. With this under their belts, they really arrived among the “big boys” of Cumbria cricket.
There were no honours in the first season in the North Lancashire League, which draws most of its membership from the Furness area, around Barrow, and from South and West Cumbria. The major happening was an unbroken partnership of 165, in 98 minutes, in the away fixture with Carlisle, which gave Millican and J.S.M. Burrow another club record.
The names of Millican and Burrow have been linked repeatedly over the last 25 years for big partnerships in contrasting styles. Mike Burrow, a fine all-rounder, first emerged at Denstone College where he caught the eye with his glorious driving and the brilliance of his pick-ups and bullet-like returns from the covers. In 1934 he was the first Denstonian to score a double century and after his arrival at Penrithhis sheet class demanded a place in the county side.
Millican’s more adventurous style combined a tendency to flash too much outside the off stump, but he survived to a remarkable degree. One of his favourite bats was a heavyish Sugg – “Just a touch and they were away,” he recalled later.
And to those tut-tutting at his escapes in the slips, he generally grinned and said “If you are going to flash, flash hard. They’ve got to hold on to the beggars”.
Sometimes, however, his good luck was undeniable, as in a match with Dumfries in 1954. My report in the Herald went into some detail: “Millican was clean bowled with only two runs to his name – but was brought back by the visiting captain. The circumstances were that as MacLachlan ran up to bowl he gave a cry of pain, having pulled a leg muscle. He managed to deliver the ball, but it was considerably slower than his previous deliveries and completely deceived the batsman. The Scots expressed the view that Millican had been deterred by the bowler’s cry and their captain sportingly insisted that the left-hander should continue his innings”
He had another “life” at slip soon after and went on to make 30.
Millican’s career effectively links past with present. He began playing when Penrith ground was a field among fields, long before the advent of league cricket, with a happy-go-lucky spirit generally surrounding the action. Spectators were occasionally called on to stand in when players did not turn up and, in one such emergency, Millican enlisted “Jackie” Lancaster, the most vociferous of the regular barrackers, from his perch behind the Wetheriggs wall. He rose to the occasion with a brilliant return to run out an opposing batsman.
Just after the last war Penrith’s only assets were a few pounds in the bank and a green wooden pavilion on the then rented field. Millican and other stalwarts, notably Frank Davidson, Arthur Hillman and Peter Sarjeant, formed the backbone of a committee which, at intervals over thirty years, has built a new clubhouse (with cricketers themselves in the role of labourers), financed a new scorebox which must rank among the best in the North, levelled a large part of the ground, and twice extended the clubhouse to accommodate a membership which has grown because of bar amenities and the full programme of entertainment.
Side by side with impressive financial growth, the Penrith club has twice shared the championship of the North Lancashire League, though an outright win has eluded them. Professionals have included two former Indian Test batsmen, Ramnath Kenny and Budhi Kunderan.
Millican, committee chairman for twelve years before becoming President in 1976, can point to other Penrith advances, including the advent of Minor Counties cricket at Tynefield Park, where Cumberland have generally had an annual match since 1958. It can be said without any fear of contradiction that the club’s reputation for hospitality has few equals.
ON THE COUNTY SCENE
J. H. Millican has been part of the Cumberland county cricket scene for thirty years, as player, captain and administrator.
The Cumberland and Westmorland County Cricket Club was revived in 1948, its fore-runner – founded in the 1880’s – having faded out between the wars. The twin counties, since united into Cumbria, present a widespread area, with obvious problems of administration. There are no really large centres of population to provide players, spectators and funds: and the climate, though not as vile as many imagine, is not exactly suited to an art which can only achieve full bloom in glorious sunshine.
Edward Burnett, a solicitor, who was then captain of the Carlisle club, made the first moves which led to revival and drew up the constitution. Another legal man, Geoffrey Harker, of Kirkby Stephen, stepped in as treasurer of a club still without funds, and Norman Wise, of Workington, undertook the onerous duties of honorary secretary – as, indeed, he still does. A fourth man of influence, Dick Ellwood, then of Kendal but formerly with Scotby and Carlisle, became the first captain.
The new club faced up bravely to the task of bringing better quality cricket to an area where it had obstinately refused to flourish. In the early years there were one-day matches with the West Indian tourists, in 1950 and 1957, and with the South Africans, in 1955.
The wicket of D.J. McGlew numbers among the most distinguished Millican has taken – but another of the South Africans, R.A. McLean, punished the Cumberland bowling spectacularly.
A report of his innings of 83 in 85 minutes, with six 6’s and seven 4’s said: “One mighty hit shattered the windscreen of the car of Mr. R. Griffiths, captain of Lowther Cricket Club, while another struck Mrs. Stanton, Greystoke (a former Penrith President), who, fortunately, was little the worse. After the match the South African sent her a bouquet.”
Millican, whose county career began with a Scottish tour in 1951, with wins over Aberdeenshire and North of Scotland Select, put his back – and his heart – into Cumberland cricket. He was a natural successor to the captaincy and is now the county committee chairman.
A landmark was entry into the Minor Counties competition in May, 1955, when Yorkshire II were played at Carlisle. For the record, the team were: Cumberland – R.S. Ellwood (capt.), N. Baxter, J.C. Johnstone, J. Dennis, J. Denver, N. Emery, A.J. Dickinson, W. Lawton, J.H. Millican, E. Walmsley, A. Clulow. Yorkshire – D.E.V. Padgett, J. Van Geloven, W.F. Oates, H.D. Bird, J.R. Burnet (capt.), B. Handley, G. Brook, J. Binks, E. Leadbetter, B. Jackson, F.W. Goddard.
It has been an uphill struggle for Cumberland in opposition to some of the most powerful Minor Counties teams, notably the second elevens of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Warwickshire. They have “soldiered on” tenaciously, seldom rising far from the foot of the table – but wondering, no doubt, just how they would fair in less distinguished company.
Though Millican had his half-centuries for Cumberland, he probably contributed more as a change-bowler and collect some famous “scalps” – Boycott, Bolus and Balderstone, Bond and Pilling, albeit at an emergent stage in their careers.
Cumberland’s current captain, Malcolm Beaty, has often “kept” to Millican, for both club and county, and gives this assessment of his bowling:
“When I first kept wicket to Harold he was already a very experienced cricketer and, as a bowler, he not only knew what to do but was so versatile that he could do it. He bowled equally well with the old or new ball at medium pace, or slow off-breaks, swinging the ball through the air or moving it off the wicket.”
“His skills included concealed variations of pace and flight, alternations in the height and angle of delivery and occasionally resorting (often with success) to a round-the-wicket attack. Also in his repertoire (though he may not have been aware of it) was the element of surprise as he would spin quickly round and deliver off his short run to an unprepared batsmen (sometimes catching the wicket-keeper unawares, too).”
“Harold had been a footballer in his younger days and this was evidence from the deft way he used the sole of his extra strong boot to trap balls driven straight back towards him by the batsmen. Another characteristic was a nervous twitch which was particularly pronounced when he succeeded in claiming yet another victim.”
“ ’J.H.’ is well remembered as a consistent partnership breaker and this was especially true of Minor Counties matches when illustrious batsmen frequently underestimated their wily opponent”.
“It is not surprising that Harold’s bowling was so successful, for it combined an accumulation of many years’ cricketing knowledge with his natural ability, providing a rare and effective alliance of experience, flair and skill.”
The cricketing world of J.H. Millican has turned full circle. As a Penrith third teamer, he is back on those picture-postcard grounds where he played foe Stainton over forty years ago, hitting the headlines less frequently now but still savouring the richness of the game and its social scene.
He can look back over a fascinating trail – from Edenhall to Edgbaston, from High Duty Alloys to Headingley, from Lowther to Old Trafford.
He has scored at least 14,000 runs, with seven centuries and about seventy half-centuries, taken some 1,250 wickets and won dozens of trophies for his wife, Marion, and daughters, Ann and Susan, to keep clean.
Harold Millican has a host of golden days to re-live but there has been more than that. He says: “I think the outstanding feature of my cricketing life is the fact that I have been given the opportunity to meet so many interesting people and make hundreds of friends at all levels of the game.”
Editor’s Note: Mr. Hurst wishes to clarify two points. When he refers to Harold Millican meeting farmer-friends at Cumberland show he does not mean that he is a farmer: Harold sells them insurance. The details of runs and wickets given are a combination of his successes in Penrith club and Minor County cricket. Harold has hit many runs and taken many wickets, also, in knock-out matches and benefit games. He has even played for the Diocese of Carlisle clergymen, being described in one report as ‘looking every bit an Archdeacon’. Alas, the records of such games have not been preserved.