1901: J.S. Heap ‘A Forgotten Lowerhouse Star Emerges’
By Paul Hargreaves
If I said to you that the best ever Lowerhouse cricketer with the surname ‘Heap’ isn’t Ben, you’d probably question my sanity.
If I said Tommy Shutt might not be the best cricketer to be born in Lowerhouse village, you’d probably say I was crazy. So then I might have to put a strong defence for another player to keep the people in white coats from my door.
Just seven years after Shutt was born, James Sutcliffe Heap was born on August 12th, 1882 in Lowerhouse. Heap was just a teenager when he rapidly progressed through Sunday School and Second Eleven levels to emerge into Lowerhouse’s First Eleven in June, 1901. He was just 18 years of age. Heap was a slow left arm bowler, who also batted left-handed. At Centre Vale that day he showed immediately he wasn’t out of his depth taking 2-36 and scoring 16 batting at ten. Bowling was his strength but later in the season he made 70 at home to Bacup. From just 65 overs on the season, he’d taken 16 wickets at under 12. Lowerhouse didn’t seem to know how to handle their potential young star in 1902 and he was definitely under-bowled . He took 27 wickets at 11 but got less than 100 overs of work. Professional Poole and excellent amateur, Pate, getting the bulk of the overs. It’s clear by the winter of ’02 that the Lancashire County authorities had become aware of Heap’s potential.
He was to start the 1903 season at his home club but only two games in he was called up by Old Trafford , never to play at Liverpool Rd. again. Heap signed off for ‘House at Alexandra Meadows, where his brilliant 5-21 led to a clear cut victory, bringing up his 50th and last career wicket at Lowerhouse. Heap made his County debut later in ’03 and the Lowerhouse Annual Report makes interesting reading that year. Secretary J.R. Wilkinson is clearly torn between pride in the local lad’s achievement and a sense of loss to the Lowerhouse club.
Despite suffering bouts of lumbago, James Heap had a long and excellent career with Lancashire. Contemporaries described him as having ‘a beautiful natural bowling action’. He played 212 first class games taking 412 wickets at less than 23. He, also, contributed stoutly with the bat. Number 8 was his usual position and he passed the fifty mark 28 times in making 5,146 first class runs. Heap had many highlights with the ball. His best figures were 9-43 at Northampton in 1910. He took 8-28 versus Middlesex at Liverpool in 1913 and 8-80 at his Old Trafford headquarters against Surrey in 1919. His best ever match figures were 14-93 in the above Northants game of 1910 and 14-81 versus Gloscester at Bristol in 1919. Maybe, though, his proudest boast was to take 11 victims in both of the respective Roses matches of 1909. A marvellous accomplishment! James was top of the Lancashire bowling averages in both 1909 and 1917.
By a distance Heap’s best batting performance was against Hants. at Bournemouth in 1914. He made 132 , his only century. James Heap’s county career ended in 1921 and his long service was rewarded by a benefit of £1,804. A princely sum in those days. We calculated that Tommy Shutt’s 1898 Perth benefit of £61 was worth approx. £7,000 in 2022. Even given a gap of 23 years for some inflation; Heap’s benefit must have set him up grandly.
Unlike Lowerhouse contemporary Tommy Shutt and Padiham man, Helm Spencer, Heap never returned to Lowerhouse from his professional engagements elsewhere and sadly that might go some way to explaining his later neglect at Lowerhouse and in the town of Burnley as a whole. This seems rather sad because with the obvious exception of James Anderson; there aren’t many better cricketers to emerge from our town. After his retirement from Lancashire, Heap became a coach at Lancing College, a public school near Worthing in West Sussex. He later took on a similar role at Shrewsbury School.
James Sutcliffe Heap died in the Bolton area in January of 1951 aged 68. Interestingly his great contemporary Tommy Shutt passed on almost exactly a year later. They would surely have known each other well but fate meant they sadly never played in the same Lowerhouse team.