Charles Thornton

Charles Thornton's last ball

Charles Thornton's last ball

East Finchley Cemetery in East End Road is only a hundred yards or so from the Middlesex County Cricket Club's premises across the North Circular. In his day, one of the cemetery's residents, Charles Thornton, would have thought nothing of hitting a ball between the two.

Thornton, a vicar's son, was born near Hereford in 1850. In 1861 he went to Eton, where his sporting triumphs included three years in the first XI (one of them as captain) and winning the double racquets and at putting the weight in 1868 and at throwing the cricket ball in 1867.

At Trinity College, Cambridge, he was in the university XI four times, captaining it in 1872 when it beat Oxford by an innings.

From 1867 he played for Kent, and occasionally in the mid-1870s for Middlesex.

Greatest hits

Six feet tall, he was one of the all-time great hitters. In 1871 he hit a ball for 152 yards at Canterbury and for over 168 yards in practice at Hove. He hit the ball over the pavilion at both Lord's and the Oval, and he once hit every delivery in an over (then four balls) out of the ground.

He once visited the cricket ground at Oakham School and, nobody knowing him, was asked to play as a substitute. He scored 188 in two hours, and hit the ball out of the ground thirteen times.

At Scarborough, where he was largely responsible for starting the annual Scarborough Cricket Week, and was later made a freeman of the borough, he once drove a ball over a four-storeyed house (into Trafalgar Square – a nearby street).

World tour

Though he was a member of the MCC and the Orleans club for fifty years, cricket was not his only means of indulging his love of adventure: he was also a keen motorist and traveller, touring all through Japan, Siberia and Russia, and writing a book called East and West and Home Again about a trip around the world. He was nearly trapped in Berlin when the First World War broke out.

He earned his living in the timber trade for thirty-five years, retiring in 1912, and was also a director of the Royal Brewery, Brentford. He died suddenly in London in December 1929.


Benny Green (ed.), The Wisden Book of Obituaries (London: Queen Anne Press, 1986)

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