Yorkshire has Geoffrey Boycott, Lancashire has Freddie Flintoff. Derbyshire, however, has Charles Augustus Ollivierre, a contemporary of WG Grace who was not just a superb cricketer but a pioneer who helped to break down barriers of racial prejudice in the game.
The 2022 Men’s T20 World Cup is currently in full swing. England is doing as England always does. The customary roller coaster ride has seen the team lose to Ireland but beat New Zealand. Currently, they look well placed to get through to the knock out stages.
One third of the fifteen-man world cup squad is not white British. Despite the diversity of its players, English cricket has been knocked for six in recent years by revelations of institutional racism at the heart of the domestic game. The unveiling of a new Blue Plaque to Charles Augustus Ollivierre at Glossop Cricket Club in Derbyshire serves as a timely reminder that we can – and should – do better.
Ollivierre was from St Vincent, in the Caribbean. His family was cricket-mad. He and his two younger brothers all represented the West Indies in first class cricket.
In 1900, he was part of the first West Indies team to tour England. Ollivierre impressed observers and before the tour ended, he had agreed to play for Derbyshire. At that point, he embarked upon the two year process of qualifying for eligibility to play in the county championship.
Glossop and Derbyshire
Between 1900 and 1903, whilst waiting for qualification, Ollivierre played for Glossop. He was an entirely self-taught cricketer who had received no formal coaching. Despite this, he was a stylish and powerful batsman. The ball he hit out of the ground on North Street which sailed all the way to the Arundel Street railway bridge has become the stuff of Glossop cricketing legend.
In 1920, The Manchester Guardian’s cricket correspondent lamented that he never quite fulfilled his enormous potential, describing him as “…really intended by nature to wear the most precious laurels the greatest of games has to offer.”
In 1902, he became eligible to play in the county championship and he subsequently played for Derbyshire until 1907.
Ollivierre was the first black West Indian to play English county cricket. His presence opened the game up to other West Indian players, several of whom were approached by other counties.
There is no evidence that he experienced any difficulties from spectators (although at least one of his team mates objected to his presence). Historian Jack Williams suggests that despite the racism inherent in English cricket at the time, his presence may have “created goodwill towards non-whites among [Derbyshire’s] white supporters”.
On 8 October at Glossop Cricket Club, the Mayor of High Peak unveiled a Blue Plaque to Ollivierre in the presence of Randolph Benn (the cricketer’s great grandson) and members of Glossop Cricket Club and Glossop Heritage Trust.
It is a fitting celebration of, in the words of the Mayor, “a truly inspirational and extraordinary figure in our town’s rich history.”
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