|Full name||William Beldham[a]|
|Born||5 February 1766|
Wrecclesham, Surrey, England
|Died||20 February 1862 (aged 96)|
Tilford, Surrey, England
|Domestic team information|
|1790–1818||Marylebone Cricket Club|
Source: CricInfo, 13 March 2019
William "Silver Billy" Beldham[a] (5 February 1766 – 20 February 1862) was an English professional cricketer who played between the 1780s and 1810s. He is generally acknowledged as one of the greatest batsmen of the sport's underarm era. In 1997, he was selected by John Woodcock of The Times as one of his 100 Greatest Cricketers of All Time.
He was the fourth of six children (and third son) of George Beldham (1728–1811) and Ann Benfil (or Bonfil) (1728–1793), and his ancestry in the area can be traced back at least seven generations to Allen Beldham (born mid-16th century). Nothing is known of his schooling but, as he was able to sign his name on his first marriage certificate as opposed to making a witnessed mark, it is likely he had a basic grounding.
Beldham's recorded career spanned the 1782 to 1821 seasons and is one of the longest on record by a top-class player. He is credited by CricInfo and CricketArchive with 189 first-class cricket appearances from 1787 to 1821.
In his reminiscences to James Pycroft in 1836, Beldham said that, when he was eighteen years old in the 1784 season, he had played for Farnham against Hambledon and scored 43 runs. He was watched by George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea who was cricket's most influential patron at the time and, the following spring, Winchilsea visited Beldham at the farm where he worked and arranged with his employer for him to have time off in order to play cricket. Beldham was invited to play for Hampshire in June 1785 against All-England at White Conduit Fields, the start of his career in top-class cricket.
Although his last recorded first-class match was in 1821 (aged 55), there is strong anecdotal evidence that he continued to play - in his Oxford Memories, Pycroft stated "Beldham's was a green old age. Even when between sixty and seventy [1826–1836] he was barred in county matches".
Gentlemen v. Players
Beldham had the unusual record of playing for both the Gentlemen and the Players in the first two Gentlemen v Players matches in 1806. He and William Lambert played as given men[c] for the Gentlemen in the first match and Beldham returned to the Players team for the second match.
Style and technique
Although he was remembered primarily as a fine attacking batsman, Beldham was an all-rounder who took many wickets by operating as a change bowler. When he was interviewed by James Pycroft, Beldham claimed that he, William Fennex and Harry Walker had revolutionised batting by introducing the cut (Walker) and forward play (Beldham and Fennex). This is contradicted by John Nyren who says that the earlier Hambledon batsman Tom Sueter was noted for his cut shot and probably invented forward play, being the first player known to leave his crease and play the drive.
In The Cricketers of My Time, Nyren eulogised Beldham's batting prowess: "...(he was) safer than the Bank"; "...he would get at the balls and hit them away in gallant style. But when he could cut them at the point of his bat, he was in all his glory; and, upon my life, their speed was as the speed of thought"; "...one of the most beautiful sights that can be imagined, and which would have delighted an artist, was to see him make himself up to hit a ball. It was the beau ideal of grace, animation, and concentrated energy". Arthur Haygarth, writing in 1862, was of the opinion that Beldham was "an excellent judge of a short run, had a good knowledge of the game and was a very fine field". His bowling delivery was "high and well, pace moderate, yet bordering on the fast and getting up quick".
Beldham was described by Nyren, who knew him personally, as "a close-set, active man, standing about five feet eight inches and a half". He was called "Silver Billy" because of his light-coloured hair and fair complexion.
During a period of the game's history when betting and match-fixing was rife, Beldham was not immune to the lure of easy money. When interviewed by Pycroft in the late 1830s, he said: "You may hear that I sold matches. I will confess I once was sold myself by two men, one of whom would not bowl, and the other would not bat, his best, and lost ten pounds. The next match, at Nottingham, I joined in selling, and got my money back. But for this once, I could say I never was bought in my life ; and this was not for want of offers from C and other turfmen, though often I must have been accused. For where it was worth while to buy, no man could keep a character; because to be out without runs or to miss a catch was, by the disappointed betting-men, deemed proof as strong as Holy Writ".
Family and personal life
Beldham retired to Tilford, where he was initially the landlord for some years of a public house, The Barley Mow, and spent his last 41 years there. The census returns of 1841, 1851 and 1861 refer to him as, variously, a "bat maker" and an "old cricketer". In his seventies, he was interviewed by James Pycroft, author of The Cricket Field. One of the common misconceptions concerning Beldham is that he fathered anything up to thirty six children by two wives. While he did marry twice, he was in reality far less prolific: by his first wife Ann Smith (1765–1800) he had one daughter whilst with his second wife, another Ann (1779–1869) he had eight children between 1804 and 1819.
Beldham died in 1862 and is buried, althong with his second wife, in the local churchyard in unmarked graves which are thought to be in the north-west corner. Beldham's cottage still sits by the side of the pub, albeit with the later addition of an upper floor.
Beldham's sister Hannah (1786–1842) married another leading cricketer of the day, John Wells. As late as 1861, forty years after his last important game and while he was still living, a wall of The Cricketers pub in Wrecclesham still bore the legend "Rendezvous of those Famous Cricketers Beldham & Wells" (another version has the sign as "Good Beer as drunk by those Famous Men Beldham & Wells").
The July 1862 edition of London Society magazine reported that "Old Beldham died last winter (February) near Farnham, aged ninety-six. Not long before, the old man was invited to Lord's, and received with all honours in the pavilion: he was also advertised as expected at the Oval, to increase the attraction of a match between the old players and the young".
In 1997, in an article in The Times, former Wisden editor John Woodcock named Beldham in his 100 Greatest Cricketers of All Time. Simon Wilde rated him as the best batsman in the world for the period 1787 to 1805. He is the earliest cricketer for whom a photograph exists.
- In some sources, Bedlam's name has been given as "Beldam" or "Beldum".
- Statistics from the period in which Beldham played are generally incomplete, especially those related to bowling. The figures given are the known statistics. The figures given by CricInfo and CricketArchive vary slightly.
- Given men were players selected from other teams, including current opponents, to try and ensure that the teams were evenly matched for the purpose of gambling on the match result. The practice was common in the 18th century but declined as gambling was forced out of cricket in the 19th century.
- Ashley Mote (1997) The Glory Days of Cricket, Robson. p. 120. ISBN 1861051115
- The preceding information is sourced from Collyer, pp. 12–15, and also the Ancestry.co.uk & Familysearch.org websites
- "Billy Beldham – career summary". CricketArchive. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
- Underdown, p. 157.
- James Pycroft (1886) Oxford Memories. Vol. II, Richard Bentley & Sons. p. 126.
- "Gentlemen v Players 1806 (first match)". CricketArchive. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
- "Gentlemen v Players 1806 (second match)". CricketArchive. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
- "Gentlemen v Players 1819". CricketArchive. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
- "Gentlemen v Players 1820". CricketArchive. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
- "Gentlemen v Players 1821". CricketArchive. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
- Harry Altham (1962) A History of Cricket, Volume 1 (to 1914), George Allen & Unwin. p. 46.
- Nyren, p. 60.
- Nyren, pp. 90–91.
- Arthur Haygarth (1862) Scores & Biographies, Volume 1 (1744–1826), Lillywhite, p. 72.
- James Pycroft (1886) Oxford Memories. Vol. II, Richard Bentley & Sons. p. 125.
- James Pycroft (1854) The Cricket Field, Longman
- "Billy Beldham – profile". CricInfo. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
- Collyer, p. 17.
- "Welcome to Aldershot – Wrecclesham". VisitorUK.com. Archived from the original on 18 September 2012. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
- London Society magazine, July 1862 edition, p.240.
- "Woodcock's Hundred". CricInfo. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
- Simon Wilde (1998) Number One: The World's Best Batsmen and Bowlers, Gollancz. ISBN 978-0-575-06453-9. p. 26
- The Cricketer, Spring Annual 1962, p. 67.
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