The Cotswold Cricket Museum
The rain drops that didn’t soak us on their way down splashed up at our ankles. England’s Ashes defeat was a bruise on our recent memory, the ongoing ODI series a succession of painful pokes and jars. But my parents and I were minutes from an experience that chased away the staleness and ill-humour of the wettest, most unrewarding winter of following the England cricket team.
We stepped inside the museum entrance, stamping our damp feet, paid for three inexpensive tickets and were led upstairs, past pictures and figures, teasers for the images and objects of the main display. An hour and half later we left the Cotswold Cricket Museum, enthused by this unique collection of the sport’s history and made so welcome by the owner, director and curator, Andy Collier.
Following this visit in February, I got back in touch with the man behind the world’s only privately owned cricket museum, found in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire. Andy agreed to answer some questions about his life, his museum and his mission.
I started with a topical question:
DG: England’s ‘solar red’ shirts worn at the World T20 came in for a lot of comment and criticism. Would you welcome one into your collection?
AC: T20 cricket is not something that floats my boat! I have never been a great lover of coloured clothing so the ‘solar red’ shirt grates a bit. As for putting one in the museum, well, I’m trying to promote the history of our great game and I feel England’s performance in the T20 world cup should be forgotten! So, no, I won’t be putting a shirt in.
DG: Which was the first historical cricket item you collected and how did you come to own it?
AC: The first thing I collected was not necessarily historical, it was a cold cast porcelain statue of Don Bradman.
DG: When did you realise you were hooked on collecting cricket memorabilia?
AC: The realisation of being hooked on collecting and learning about the history of the great game came when I found a signed photo of Don Bradman when clearing a friend’s shed out. I had already collected about 12-15 other statues of great players by then.
DG: How and when did it develop from a passion to an occupation?
AC: The museum came about after we had an exhibition in my home town of Guildford. I had purchased a lovely photo of the 1911/12 MCC team to Australia which was formerly the property of Hampshire player Phil Mead who went on the tour. After I had cleaned the original frame and put a new mount on it and hung it on the wall, it looked fantastic. I thought to myself, I’m the only person going to see this! So that was when the light bulb moment came for the exhibition in Guildford.
The thing with collectors and collecting is that you are generally the only person who gets to enjoy what you have. I was always keen to let people see the collection.
DG: One of the most striking things for me about your museum is its informality – by which I mean I could hold bats used by Hobbs and Grace. How do you strike a balance between giving a hands-on experience and protecting the valuable exhibits?
AC: When visiting other museums it was always frustrating that things were behind glass, in cabinets etc. So it was always my idea to let the visitor get close up and personal with things. It’s been great to see the reaction of people when they hold W.G.’s bat, or I can let people try on Hobbs’s cap. It makes them feel part of the history and gives a different kind of museum experience.
DG: I coach at a club with a thriving junior section. I do notice, though, that most of the kids don’t seem to follow the county or even international game. Do you get many children visiting the museum?
AC: I am always trying to get the kids involved and try and tell them about the history of the great game. We are certainly getting more kids in now that the museum is getting more established.
That is one of the ideas of the quiz – it makes you read things on the wall, bats, pictures etc and takes you through some of the major parts of the development of the game. It is proving very popular with all ages and can actually end up with people staying all-day, then saying “what a good idea – a great quiz – it really encouraged us to look at all the things on display”.
DG: As a private owner of a cricket museum, you are unique. Are you in touch with the curators at other museums, such as the one at Lord’s and, if so, have they been supportive?
AC: When I first started the museum I contacted Lord’s and told them what I was doing. They actually offered me for display the Patrick Eagar photo exhibition which they still had, but it was just too much to fit in the space I have. Also the curators of the museums at Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and a few more have been in and loved it. So, all have been very encouraging.
DG: In the last 20 years, cricket has become heavily packaged and commercialised. Do you think in generations time there will be the same interest in 2014 T20 shirts that we have in artefacts from, say, the 1920s?
AC: Will new things be as collectable in the future? There’s a question! One problem with, say today’s autographs, is that it is impossible to read who they are without the name being printed by the side. So, I think they won’t be so collectable, plus the players sign so much there are plenty about. Shirts, etc need quite a lot of space, especially if they are framed so that limits their value. But the vintage pieces I think will always hold their value because of the rarity and significance to the past, plus, you can read the autographs.
But I suppose we will never really know! We are only custodians of all these lovely things so we can only hope that museums like the Cotswold Cricket Museum will inspire the younger generation to collect and keep the history alive.
DG: You have managed to acquire some personal effects – shirts, boots, blazers, and also letters. I was particularly interested in Sir Alec Bedser’s letter to the Lancs Chairman with suggestions on improving Jimmy Anderson’s bowling action. How have such private items come into your hands? How do you judge which to display?
AC: Most of the significant items have been purchased at specialised auctions which I have, on occasions, had to bid hard to purchase. But I find that if the item is interesting to me then it will probably be interesting to other people, especially if I can tell them the history to that item, which always adds to things. Many people who come to the museum have happy memories of watching the players that are featured in the museum such as Fred Trueman, Denis Compton or Ian Botham.
DG: I think the museum is a ‘must’ to visit for all cricket followers – the opportunity to hold a bat used by Jack Hobbs is worth the visit alone. Which one item in your collection would you say is the biggest draw?
AC: There are so many things in the museum that amaze people so to pick one item is difficult. But the letter from Alec Bedser to Jack Simmons, which is giving a young Jimmy Anderson a few tips to improve his action and foot position, is mentioned by most people.
My personal favourites are the letters written to the 19th century Kent cricketer, Alfred Mynn and his wife, by their daughters in 1840-44. The girls are between 10 – 14 years old and the hand writing is just immaculate, very different from today when we all send text messages and hardly ever write a letter! Perhaps a note in a Christmas card is our limit.
Cricket inspires activity beyond simply playing or watching the game. It sustains writers, photographers, artists and statisticians. Andy Collier might have invested more than anyone in his cricket-inspired occupation and we are fortunate to be able to share it. I really do recommend you pay a visit to the Cotswold Cricket Museum.
The museum’s official site: http://www.cotswoldcricketmuseum.co.uk/
Follow the museum or Andy Collier on twitter: @Cricket_Museum @CotswoldColly
Disclosure: I have received no payment for this piece and where I express an opinion, it is my own.