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JOHN 'LITTLE WONDER' WISDEN - BIOGRAPHY


Portrait of Wisden c.1850 by William Bromley III

Thanks to Stephen Baldwin for sending us in this biography of Wisden:

John Wisden was born on 5th. September, 1826; one of the seven children of William and Mary Wisden.  The family home was at 26 Crown Street (later renumbered 32) and its site is now part of Littlewoods Store.  William was a successful carpenter, at one stage owning both numbers 25 and 26 Crown Street.  John was first offered a place at Middle Street School in the summer of 1834 but did not take up the place.  He become a pupil in November, 1837, together with his younger brother Edwin, at the time of the expansion of the school.  His elder brother William, six years his senior, established a sports outfitters business in Duke Street, which has only recently closed.  Their sister Johanna was to inherit John’s business.

On his 12th. birthday John appeared for “Eleven Youths of Brighton” in a team that would now be called Brighton Schools under 14 XI.  On summer evenings he would go to the Montpelier cricket ground and earn six pen’orth of coppers for acting as a fielder.  On 3rd. July, 1845 he began his first game for Sussex against Kent.  The match was played on Tom Box’s ground at the beginning of the Lewes Road.  He took 6 for 46 in Kent’s first innings and 3 for 59 in the second.  His victims included two of the finest batsmen of the day, Felix and Mynn.  When the All England Eleven touring side was formed in 1846 he was invited to join them and was paid between £4 and £6 per week.

He began his business activities in the winter of 1848/49 when, with George Parr, he leased a field on the edge of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire and had it levelled to be used as a cricket field.  In 1850 he began selling cricket equipment to the players at Leamington Spa and so began John Wisden and company.  The company were initially equipment suppliers, but in 1863 became involved in publishing when John launched his  Wisden’s Cricketers Almanck.  At that time it was just one of several such publications, but it is now the oldest continuously (even through two world wars!) published sports handbook.  The Almanack is now probably more famous than the man himself.  John Wisden & Co are still trading today, though no longer making equipment.  Their interest lies in publishing, The Almanack, a monthly cricket magazine and the major cricket website.  The book is often referred to as “The Cricketers’ Bible”.


Secretary to the United All England Eleven 1864

In 1850 John Wisden was the finest cricketing all-rounder in England (and thus the world).  Andrew Flintoff might be described as a modern John Wisden for his cricketing skills.  However, the two men could not be more physically dissimilar.  At the height of his cricketing powers, John stood only 5 feet 4 inches tall (1.62 m) and weighed only 7 stones (45 kg).  He was given the nickname of “The Little Wonder”.  A horse of that name had won the 1840 Derby horse race at odds of 50-1.  On 5th. July he performed a feat that has never been equalled in first class cricket.  Playing at Lord’s for The North versus The South, he dismissed all ten South batsmen in their second innings all clean bowled.  Amongst his victims were his Sussex friends and colleagues James Dean, Tom Box and John Lillywhite.  Wisden was playing for the North because he was based at Leamington Spa.  Ten days earlier he had scored a century (probably “worth”  300 runs today) playing for Sussex versus Kent when Box and Lillywhite were his team mates.

In 1852 John Wisden lead a breakaway from the All England Eleven, objecting to the dictatorial and high handed attitude of the manager William Clarke.  John formed the United England Eleven with the assistance of  James Dean, who came from Duncton (near Petworth).  When Clarke died a few years later George Parr took over his eleven and now the Leamington partners were managing all of professional touring cricket in England.  Wisden was mindful of the financial insecurity of many of his fellow professionals.  Wisden established a benevolent fund (which still runs today) to help those on hard times.  He arranged with Parr that each Whitsuntide their two elevens should play in what became one of the principal fixtures of the season.  Proceeds from the match went to the benevolent fund.  Parr and Wisden also organised the first ever overseas cricket tour, to United States and Canada, in the autumn of 1859.

John missed all of the 1860 season due to an injury sustained playing racquets.  He returned in to play in 1861 but managed only eight first class matches – half his usual number and then only nine more in the next two seasons.  At the end of the 1863 season he retired from the game and concentrated on his business interests now well established in London.  In 1849 he had been engaged to be married to Annie Parr, sister of his partner George.  Sadly Annie died before they could be married and John died a bachelor.  John was always eager to assist those less fortunate than himself.  He purchased the Cricketers’ public house at Duncton and installed his friend and colleague James Dean as manager, so that Dean would have a home and an income when he could no longer play cricket.  Wisden left Dean the inn in his will, but unfortunately Dean died (of an asthma attack) before Wisden.

John Wisden died of cancer at his London home on 5th. April, 1884.  He was 57 years old.  His brother William lead the mourners at the funeral at Brompton Cemetry.  John Wisden was universally liked and respected by all who new him.  It is difficult to find a single negative comment about him.

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