By Charles Randall
Ashes visitors in London have the chance to visit a revamped MCC museum at Lord's this summer, an attraction that never fails to delight. The latest themes are taken from the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, including the world's first bowling machine and, as ever, the original Ashes urn.
Another place of interest for cricket visitors is the free exhibition of cricket memorabilia and pictures arranged jointly by Nick Potter and Boundary Books in the Jonathan Potter gallery at 52A George Street near Marylebone High Street, a short bus ride from Lord's. There are some fascinating items, and everything is for sale.
The Catapulta on view at the Lord's museum is the only known example of the bowling contraption invented in 1837 by Nicholas Wanostrocht, the artist and musician known as Felix. It combined the leverage of a Roman war machine with snooker-style impact to launch the ball on demand. Future generations at the museum will no doubt have the pleasure of seeing the first Hawk-Eye machine.
The now-fragile Ashes urn was a personal gift to England captain the Hon Ivo Bligh during the tour to Australia in 1882/83, and it is always a replica that is used for photo shoots.
The MCC exhibition celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Almanack, thanks to sponsorship from JP Morgan, exploring fascinating stories drawn from its pages. The MCC’s historic full set of Wisdens are on view, in addition to singular books such as the 1939 edition kept by E.W. Swanton while a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II.
Alongside 10 historic tales sit six modern examples of the wide-ranging research in today’s MCC library and archive, including the costume research for the TV series Downton Abbey. Chronicling the history of the Almanack, the displays bring to light many of the hidden treasures in the MCC library and archive, which contains more than 20,000 volumes, the largest collection of cricket books in the public domain.
Potter reckons the star of the show is the magnificent oil painting titled A Youth at Cricket. "It is a fine, previously unrecorded portrait by Hugh Barron, signed and dated 1768," he said. "The artist was a pupil of Sir Joshua Reynolds and another cricket portrait group by him is in the Tate Gallery. Another imposing figure is the life-size marble-like bust of WG Grace, the game’s greatest icon, made in 1888. It is one of only three known examples - another sits in pride of place in MCC’s Lord’s museum."
Among a long list of items on view is Bodyline ephemera, an autograph album from 1904, rare letters from Don Bradman, WG Grace and even the Earl of Winchilsea.
While the Potter exhibition is free, the public do have to pay to look round Lord's outside match days, but demand remains undimmed. The MCC reported that in June alone an average of 364 visitors a day were taking guided tours around the ground, facilities, media centre and museum.
The MCC disclosed that since January the number of tourists had risen sharply compared to 2012, with 10,296 walking through the Grace Gates to be shown behind the scenes. Those unable to visit Lord’s to see the Ashes urn first hand, a new video has been released on Lord’s TV, recounting the history of the Ashes in 101 seconds.
The Lord’s tour offers good value at £15 and £9 concessions, and the viewing numbers back this up. Tours run during the week outside Test match days at 11am, 12 noon and 2pm. On Saturdays the times are 10am, 11am, 12 noon, 1pm and 2pm, and Sundays 10am, 11am, 12 noon and 2pm.