The name of Mordecai Sherwin, a local and internationally-known sportsman of his era was known to me from doing a little research and reading on the golden age of cricket in the nineteenth century and the county of Nottinghamshire’s part in it. I recently came across his name once more as being a former mine host of The Grove Hotel at Daybrook, Nottingham, approximately a mile down the road from my own home just a few minutes north in Redhill. The Grove is sadly no longer. Never a public house that I visited and now earmarked for demolition, it did however have an interesting cave system underneath the bars and a significant slice of history surrounding it. On reading that Nottinghamshire-born Mordecai was at one time the landlord of The Grove, I decided to take a little look at his story.
The man himself not only played professional cricket for Nottinghamshire and England but also appeared in goal for Notts County Football Club before retiring to become a cricket umpire and publican. In the mid-1880s, Mordecai was in his pomp and feted as arguably the leading wicket-keeper in the land and more than useful batsman. This was all achieved despite possessing a less than sylph-like 17 stone frame coupled with a reasonably modest height of 5ft 9ins for his bulk!
In the age of distinction between professionals and gentlemen (amateurs generally from the upper classes) in cricket, with few working-class professionals being bestowed the honour of leading their county, Mordecai was apparently the very last professional captain until many years later in the mid-1930s.
The famous Nottinghamshire back-stop was also well-known as something of a joker on the pitch it is said. Wisden, in choosing it’s wicket keeper of the year for 1891 said of him thus:
‘Always in the best of spirits, and never discouraged, however much the game may be going against his side, Sherwin is one of the cheeriest and pluckiest of cricketers.’
The almanac also added:
‘In point of style behind the wicket he is more demonstrative than his Lancashire rival, but, though the applause and laughter of the spectators may occasionally cause him to go a little too far, he has certainly never done anything to really lay him open to censure.’
Mordecai is further described as being of ‘great bulk’ but nevertheless ‘wonderfully quick on his feet’ and capable of acts of extreme brilliance behind the stumps.
Giving further colour to Wisden’s review, Mordecai is also immortalised by E.V. Lucas, humourist, essayist, playwright, biographer and publisher in his ‘Cricket All His Life’ book, as follows:
‘Moredecai Sherwin, the famous wicket-keeper in the great period, and as leader of the side in 1887 and 1888 the last of Nottinghamshire’s professional captains, was a very notable man … When interviewed … by Captain Holden at Trent Bridge as a potential wicket-keeper, he had been asked if he was afraid. “Nowt fears me,” he replied. He followed by keeping wicket for Nottinghamshire for eighteen years with a remarkable record. Mordecai (and I think Sherwin must have been the only cricketer with that name) was a rotund man of mirthful character and a leading member of the Nottingham Glee Club, which used to meet at the Black Boy to sing and be hearty together.’
The theme of Mordecai as entertainer persists with tales of him offering renditions of Oh Dem Golden Slippers and performing various somersaults and jigs to the amusement of others at social events!
As has been stated, the Nottinghamshire man was also a hit between the posts with Notts County Football club in the late 1970s and early 1880s. From an age when it was customary to attempt to bundle the custodian into the net along with the ball, Wikipedia informs us of a memorable incident. Young and sturdily built Joseph Lofthouse (an apt name for this particular event) of Blackburn Rovers decided to have something of a run at Mordecai but unhappily for him rebounded harmlessly off the Notts goalie with Mordecai stating nonchalantly: ‘Young man, you’ll hurt yourself if you do that again’. Not to be deterred, Lofthouse attempted another physical charge on the last line of defence with Sherwin, belying his size, dancing deftly to one side and watching the young Blackburn forward crash painfully into the goalpost.
The Grove Hotel, (right) Daybrook, Nottinghamshire, C. 1900
Finally, an interesting link has also been suggested between Mordecai Sherwin and no less than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A strong theory exists that Sherwin, along with fellow Nottinghamshire team-mate Frank (T. E.) Shacklock was the inspiration behind the Edinburgh writer’s classic Sherlock Holmes character with the legend ‘caught Sherwin, bowled Shacklock’ appearing with monotonous regularity on Notts’ scorecards in the 1890s. The two surnames being amalgamated to form the name of super-sleuth, Sherlock.
Mordecai Sherwin was most definitely a sportsman characteristic of a different age. An unusual sporting hero by today’s standards and criteria but nonetheless a high achiever and a success in two professional disciplines in a great era of professional sports.