The Theatre of Cricket

The Ashes have begun, the pinnacle of English Test cricket and the excitement of watching play is almost as exciting as a day at the London Metropolitan Archives.  

How am I going to link cricket with a post about genealogy? Very tenuously but it started the other day when, as part of my research, I was looking through an old photograph album that   belonged to an aunt of Mr GinandGenealogy.  It was dated 1926 and contained lots of photos of Aunt Ethel and her classmates at Oaklea Girls School, in Buckhurst Hill, Essex.  Ethel greatly enjoyed sports especially tennis and also played in the School’s ladies cricket team but this is not the link for which you are eagerly awaiting.

In the book there are photos of the 1926 School sports day at which a Mr Aubrey Smith was giving out the prizes.  A little further research revealed that this was Sir Charles Aubrey Smith who was knighted in 1944, not for his prize giving skills but for his services to cricket and the theatre. More research showed him to have been a first class and  England Test cricketer with an amazing character and life story.

Aubrey Smith was born in 1863 and educated at Charterhouse, Cambridge where he played cricket and involved himself in amateur theatrical productions. After University Smith taught mathematics at a school in Haywards Heath and played cricket for Sussex where he later became Captain.  He was an all rounder, a hard hitting right hand batsman and right arm fast bowler and played 143 first class games taking 346 wickets. He also captained England to Test Match victory in Port Elizabeth in South Africa in 1889.

Aubrey Smith and a fellow cricketer M P Bowden stayed on in South Africa taking advantage of the boom in the price of gold and set up a brokerage company.  All was going financially well for Smith until the market bubble burst, his business partner fled the country in debt and Smith fell gravely ill with typhoid, pluerisy and pneumonia. His death was erroneously published in some British newspapers but he made a recovery and managed with the help of friends to settle his debts and return to England.  Sussex let him play with them for a while but let him go as the team performance fell.

Aubrey Smith had to find a means of income.  He could not join the London Stock Exchange due to his previous debts in South Africa so he joined various amateur theatrical clubs and very soon he was invited to join a professional theatre company by August B Tapping.  He appeared in several London plays that transferred to Broadway and he became a recognised actor in the United States. In 1915 he appeared in his first film “The Builder of Bridges”.  

He went on to appear in many further films and by the time he awarded the prizes to the girls at Oaklea School in 1926, he had already played roles in 14 films. He went on to appear in the “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1937) and “Hurricane”  a John Ford film later the same year.  He played several military or establishment characters including the Chief Constable in “Rebecca” (1940).  

Smith also took cricket to Hollywood and created the Hollywood Cricket Club where other actors, mainly British, could join the team for a match on a pitch of specially imported grass from England.

His last role was as Mr Lawrence in “Little Women” (1949) in the final year of his life.  He died in Beverley Hills in 1948 aged 85.

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