1923: John Cuffe
The universally applauded appearance of Stan Heaton on Sky Sports recently prompted an interesting enquiry from Pat Rodgers a teacher from New South Wales. Pat is writing a book about John Alexander Cuffe, who was professional at Lowerhouse for seasons 1923 and 1924, and he asked for anything we could tell him about Cuffe’s time at Lowerhouse. The answer was not much from our own archive, but courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive, we now know a lot more about the Aussie who played for us nearly a century ago.
John Alexander Cuffe 1881 – 1931.
John Alexander Cuffe was born in Sydney in 1881 and the extensive biography printed in the Burnley News in October 1922, on the announcement of his signing for Lowerhouse, tells how he developed into a first class young cricketer, representing New South Wales, until in 1903, aged around 22, he asked Victor Trumper, one of Australia’s best known cricketers of the day, to recommend him to several English Counties. He left a wife and baby behind, and set sail for England, to qualify to play for Worcestershire.
His record at Worcestershire was impressive both with the ball and with the bat. Good performances in the seconds while he qualified saw him make his first class debut in 1905 and he played for Worcestershire until the county game stopped for WW1.
He had some brilliant performances, in 1907 he took 9 for 38 against Yorkshire. In both 1906 and 07 he scored more than a thousand runs, and in 1911 did the double of over a thousand runs and over a hundred wickets. The next three seasons were not as successful and then came the war. At some point Cuffe either enlisted or was conscripted into the army, only being demobbed in early 1919. Worcestershire declined to field a team for the first post war season, due to a lack of players, and Cuffe, like many of his generation of county players, who had lost 5 years towards the end of their careers, at the age of 38, turned to the professional opportunities offered in the Lancashire Leagues and signed for Todmorden. The local press said of him:
“He is a slow to medium pace left arm bowler with an easy delivery. His bowling is very tricky and requires very close watching by the batsmen. As a batsman he hits out lustily.”
He had a good season for Todmorden taking 84 league wickets and averaged around 20 with the bat. He then went to play for Darcy Lever in the Bolton and District League and then Little Lever, which became his home.
At about the same time as he signed for Lowerhouse towards the end of 1922, he married Annie Louisa Muscutt, nee Green, who was now free as her husband had divorced her on the grounds of adultery with John Cuffe, with whom she was living in Little Lever. Quite what his domestic situation had been between leaving a family in Australia and starting the relationship with Annie Louisa, probably around 1914, is unclear.
He stayed at Lowerhouse for two seasons, and from the outset it had been emphasised that he had been engaged as a coach as well as a player. Although Lowerhouse firsts were not doing well, the club felt they had some good youngsters coming through. At the AGM in December 1922, the Chairman said they had “engaged a professional who would […] be of great assistance to the young players. Mr. Cuffe had assured him that it would not be his fault if things did not go well, and it was up to the rising players to put in the necessary practice and make themselves fit.”
(Burnley News 16 Dec 1922 p. 2)
Lowerhouse first team finished third from bottom, but Cuffe had a decent season, scoring 491 league runs (the fourth best by any pro that season) and taking 81 wickets – two highlights being a brilliant, season’s best of 78 n.o. against Burnley, to give Lowerhouse victory in an exciting finish, and 9 for 49 against Nelson, with 7 clean bowled. At that point, Lowerhouse signed him for another season, due not only to his own performances “but his influence has been felt even more among the juniors, to whom he has given valuable coaching.” (As always full stats. can be found on the Lancashire League website).
Lowerhouse won the Junior League in 1923 for the first time in 23 years, and Cuffe was present when the medals were handed out, and was given due credit: “Mr. Cuffe’s services had been a great asset and they were expecting still greater developments from his tuition.”
However season 1924, was a struggle, for both Cuffe and Lowerhouse, the weather was poor, gates were poor, and Lowerhouse’s amateur batting was poor, and they finished bottom. Cuffe scored 197 runs and took 48 wickets, with his bowling said to have fallen off in the second half of the season. The seconds were still giving hope for the future though, coming third in their league. In dire straits financially, the club issued a rallying call for help to prevent them folding, and one of the economies they said they had to make was a cheaper pro, and they let Cuffe go. Lowerhouse were probably the last club he played for as a pro. From 1925 to 1927 he was a County Umpire, nominated by Worcestershire.
He may also have carried on coaching, for in 1931, still living in Little Lever, he was appointed cricket coach at the famous Repton Public School. On Monday the 3rd of May, he took up his new post, taking lodgings for the term at the Boot Inn, Repton. The next day he went out, saying he was going to the cinema in Burton, and disappeared. A man had been seen throwing himself into the River Trent at Burton that day, and 10 days later, Cuffe’s body was recovered. He was 51. The inquest reported suicide whilst of unsound mind. The many newspaper reports of his death include a reference to his having been severely gassed in the war.
His biographer, Pat Rodgers promises to let us know when his book comes out!