By John Whelan
Brentford and Chiswick Local History Journal No 5 (1996)
Patsy Hendren, one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, was born in Chiswick. The son of an Irish couple, his special skill was, perhaps surprisingly, the very English game of cricket. Although his name might be unfamiliar to post-war cricketers, his achievements surpass those of the great heroes Compton, Hutton, and even W. G. Grace.
Hendren, one of six children born to Denis and Dinah Hendren (the family name in Ireland might have been O’Hanrahan) was born on 5 February 1889 at 5 Jessop’s Row, a terrace of small dwellings off Belmont Road near Turnham Green. The house and indeed the road have vanished and made way for modern buildings. Patsy was baptised on 10 March 1889 at Our Lady of Grace, the Roman Catholic church in Chiswick High Road, and given the name of Elias Henry by one of the assistant priests, Fr Sutcliff. ‘Patsy’ came later. The three brothers and two sisters (the third sister died young) went to St Mary’s RC school which was then in a Pugin-designed building in Acton Lane. Even there the boys showed their sporting skills in both cricket and football. Patsy played football with Chiswick St Mary’s and Chiswick St Nicholas’ Football Club. Tragedy hit the family before he was 15 with the death of both of Patsy’s parents. Somehow the family stayed together with elder brother Denis, four years Patsy’s senior, acting as head of the household. They were helped by a master at St Mary’s, Mr Glinnane, who encouraged Patsy during these formative years.
When Patsy was 12, Denis, who was then playing cricket for Turnham Green, persuaded the captain to give the five-stone youngster a place in the team, much to the irritation of the opponents, Norwood Green, who said it was making a farce of the game. They changed their minds when Patsy stopped a full-bodied drive and threw down the stumps with the batsman floundering mid-wicket.
Patsy left school at 15 and was apprenticed to a local engineering firm, a job he disliked. Denis was working at Lord’s selling scorecards and was keen that Patsy should join him. Patsy’s chance came when the great Middlesex bowler, J T Hearne, brought a team to Chiswick Park (the cricket pitch in the grounds of Chiswick House) for a charity match and, impressed by his bowling and quick fielding, ‘spotted’ Patsy. He became a Lord’s ground boy, a lowly-paid dogs-body of a job, but one which gave Patsy the opportunity to study the great cricketers and to be seen practising at the nets. He was on the first rung of the ladder.
At the same time Patsy was improving his soccer skills in the winter months. At the age of 18, Brentford Football Club included him in the reserve team for a season and would have retained him except for the fact that they had engaged too many players. He was transferred to Manchester City, then Coventry; he also played for Queen’s Park Rangers. However Brentford remembered his quality and he rejoined his old club in 1911, remaining with them until he retired in 1927. As a writer in the Chiswick Times put it: ‘One of the chief features of his play is the persistency with which he forces his way through the defence to finish with a terrific shot, and there are few men who can put more force behind a shot than the Chiswick lad.’
As a soccer player, Patsy would now be in the grey list of useful also-rans. But cricket was his great love and consummate skill. He continued to play for Turnham Green, where Caughts the butcher, which had premises next to the Chiswick Empire, offered a pound to any batsman who could knock a six into his shop. Whether Patsy or anyone else claimed the money is not recorded.
Playing for England
At Lord’s Patsy was being watched and coached and his emerging batting skills as a right-hander were being recognised. He made the grade through the colts to the first eleven when he was 18 as a ‘player’ like his brother Denis. In those days there was a vast difference between the lowly-paid ‘players’ and the rich but unpaid ‘gentlemen’ cricketers. The snobbery at Lord’s extended to the use of different gates – the ‘gentlemen’ used the superior pavilion gate to the field, while the ‘players’ used a side gate. Even the scorecard showed the division – gentlemen had their initials before the surname, ‘players’ after the name.
Patsy was listed as Hendren, E L, but because he looked and spoke ‘Irish’, his teammates called him Pat, his close friends, Murphy, and his partner, J T Hearne, ‘Spud’. But to the adoring crowd he was known as Patsy, a name he later used when signing autographs, and the name by which he was known all over the world where he was recognised as one of the most brilliant middle-order batsmen ever.
His strong strokeplay made him a regular in the top team and won him his first England cap. Official statistics speak for themselves: he scored most runs for Middlesex (40,302), almost twice as many as ‘glamour boy’ Denis Compton; he scored most hundreds (119), again almost double that of Compton. As a fieldsman (non-wicket keeper) he held most catches (562); his top score was 301 not out and he cracked more than 200 runs in an innings 22 times. He played for England 51 times. His early nervousness served him badly at first but he quickly found his stride and, despite his unorthodox stance, became both one of England’s greatest hookers and outstanding fielders. Only one cricketer in the whole history of the game, Sir Jack Hobbs, hit more centuries than Hendren’s 170. Only two, Hobbs and F E Wooley, exceeded his aggregate of runs (57,601 scored at an average of 50.80 per innings). In 1929/30 he scored 223 not out and 211 in successive games against Barbados in the second Test match against the West Indies (plus a century in the third) and 254 not out against British Guiana. Such was his reputation that West Indian streets and children were named after him.
Outstanding as his cricket prowess was, it was Hendren’s personality, especially his humour, that became stamped on cricket lovers worldwide. He would fool about on the field, especially if the game was dull; sometimes he would field a ball then look round as though he had missed it; he would aim a throw into one wicket only for the ball to arrive at the other.
Patsy was a faithful Catholic and in 1914 married a recent convert to his religion, Scottish nurse Minnie Martha Crichton Dykes at the Church of the Holy Ghost and St Stephen, Shepherds Bush. To their regret they had no children. In the 1920s Patsy and Minnie lived in Ealing but in the 1930s moved to a new house in Canons Park, Edgware. They later moved to Hove before returning to St John’s Wood in 1952. Minnie designed a revolutionary cap for Patsy; it had three peaks, one for his eyes and two padded peaks for his ears to protect him from fast bouncers – the first cricket helmet.
In his last game at Lord’s in 1937, aged 48, he knocked up 103 against Surrey and the 17,000 crowd stopped play for five minutes to sing For he’s a jolly good fellow. In the second innings he scored a duck but was applauded to and from the wicket by players and supporters from both sides.
After his retirement Patsy went on to coach, first at Harrow School and then at Sussex County Cricket Club. He later returned to Lord’s as official scorer and was elected a life member of the prestigious Marylebone Cricket Club (the MCC). The author remembers Patsy coming to Chiswick Park for charity matches with some of the Middlesex team, including Jack Robertson, another Chiswick boy and England opener. Patsy’s sense of fun and friendly personality ensured that it was a great day, whoever won. The wheel had turned full circle from the day when J T Hearne had spotted the young Hendren on the same ground.
Following a stroke, Patsy Hendren died in hospital at Tooting Bec in October 1962, aged 73. His brother Denis died the same month. Patsy’s requiem mass was held in St John’s church close by Lord’s.
John Whelan is a retired journalist and a member of the Middlesex County Cricket Club.