Born February 12, 1875 at Swinton, Lancashire into the family of William and Mary, the child was named Crowther. The eldest brother Fred died in infancy and it was not long before the blacksmith father also passed away, leaving the mother to bring up the children on her own. From the very sketchy details of the early days of the family, it is known that Mary had relocated to Huddersfield with the children following the demise of William.
Writing for the Birmingham Mail, Brian Halford stated that the young Crowther played cricket in his Huddersfield days for Armitage Bridge and impressed several experienced cricketers with his inborn skills. Johnny Briggs and Schofeld Haigh were two early spotters of the lad’s batting talents and both predicted a bright future for the boy as a cricketer. The young Crowther chose to throw in his lot with Warwickshire.
His name first appears in a recorded scorecard representing Warwickshire Club and Ground in a game against Kenilworth in 1897. Aged about 22 years, Charlesworth scored only 8 runs but picked up 5 for 17 to help dismiss them for only 28 and bring victory to his team by 99 runs. Between this game and his First-Class debut the following year, he can be seen several Second-Class matches for various teams related to Warwickshire.
Warwickshire was to play Surrey at The Oval in 1898 and they decided that it was time to test the mettle of the promising youngster. Charlesworth’s First-Class debut proved to be a stern lesson for him, bringing home to him the fact that First-Class cricket was a step up in the hierarchy of cricket, and different in character from anything he had played before.
Surrey made merry, the first wicket falling at 265 with Bobby Abel scoring 135 and Bill Brockwell 152. They eventually piled up 609. It was a new experience for Charlesworth to be fielding through 196.4 five-ball overs. He was tried out for 7 overs, but he failed to take any wickets.
Thoroughly chastened, Warwickshire folded up for 138. Charlesworth became the middle man of a hat-trick by the master, Tom Richardson (7 for 55), being preceded by wicketkeeper Dick Lilley and followed by Frederick Dickens. The inevitable happened and Warwickshire followed on. The second-innings effort was even worse, 114, with Charlesworth remaining not out on 9. Richardson surpassed his first-innings figures with 8 for 28, this analysis of 15 for 83 being his 3rd instance of 15 wickets in a First-Class match. Warwickshire were overwhelmed by an innings and 357 runs, as comprehensive a defeat as can be imagined.
Right-hand bat and right-arm fast-medium bowler Charlesworth had a long First-Class career as a professional cricketer. Between 1898 and 1921 he played 372 matches (all of them for Warwickshire), scoring 14,289 runs at an average of 23.61. He hit 15 centuries and 69 fifties, and held 194 catches. He also captured 295 wickets at 30.09, and took 5 wickets in an innings 7 times and 10 wickets in a match once.
As always, mere figures do not portray the true measure of the man who went on to become a cult figure for the Warwickshire team in his time. In his long association with them as a professional cricketer, he scored 1,000 runs in a season five times — 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, and 1921. Between 1905 and 1919, Charlesworth (209 matches) became the second Warwickshire batsman after Willie Quaife (231 between 1895 and 1907) to play over 200 consecutive games for Warwickshire. Given that the County Championship had been formally launched only in 1890, these are remarkable figures for these two pillars of Warwickshire.
It took him 59 matches to score his maiden First-Class century (106 against Hampshire in 1902), but it was a special one: it happened to be the only century of the game, and he had the satisfaction of outscoring the entire Hampshire team (76) in the first innings. Cricket being a great leveller, Charlesworth was soon brought down to earth with a series of four consecutive ducks.
Charlesworth’s best bowling figures also came in 1901 when he captured 6 for 45 against Derbyshire. He added 3 more wickets in the second innings.
His highest score came at the Miners Welfare Ground, a colliery ground in Blackwell, Derbyshire, in 1910. Warwickshire declared on 504 for 7 declared, built around a humongous effort of 216 by Charlesworth in 220 minutes, with 30 fours and 6 sixes. The contemporary press had reported the events as follows: “Didn’t those miners enjoy the fun. The boundary is only a few yards from the street and Charlesworth sent the ball frequently dropping on the slates of the houses and shops. Some residents might have objected to such liberties but the residents of Blackwell showed their feelings by handing over many, many sixpences to the collection on the batsman’s behalf.”
In an article published in 2012, David Mutton had this to say about the overall performance of Warwickshire in 1910: “Even by their own mediocre standards, Warwickshire endured a poor season in 1910. They finished fourteenth and the captain, Harold Goodwin, only played in half the matches, leading to a season where the county had five different skippers [Harold Goodwin, Joseph Phillips, Charles Cowan, Frank Foster, and William Burns].”
The story of the travails of the Warwickshire team in 1910 and of their resurgence and triumph in 1911 has already been told in fine detail in these pages. Perhaps a brief recapitulation of the major personal deeds of some of the Warwickshire team members may be in order here:
- 1911 proved to be a good year for Warwickshire, with the return of their 22-year old young and inexperienced captain Foster, one of only two amateurs in the team, his scintillating performances with both bat and ball at crucial junctures and his success at motivating his men into playing an attractive and enterprising brand of cricket throughout the season. Foster scored 1,614 runs and picked up 141 wickets in the season.
- Charlesworth had a moderately good season, scoring 4 centuries and 6 fifties. He scored 1,376 runs at 38.22.
- The team found another batting pillar in the left handed Sep Kinneir, whose performances with the bat at the top were crucial to the ultimate triumph of the team. Kinneir scored 1,629 runs at an average of 49.36.
- Quaife was as solid and efficient in the middle-order as ever, with 1,161 at 35.18.
- The young wicketkeeper ‘Tiger’ Smith blended very neatly into the skipper’s scheme of things for the season, scoring 827 runs at 24.32 in an era when wicketkeepers were not expected to get big scores.
- Apart from the skipper, there was Frank Field, another formidable prong in the attack for Warwickshire. He matched the skipper wicket for wicket, capturing 146 scalps.
At the end of the season, Warwickshire carried off the Championship title for the first time in their history, breaking in, as it were, into the privileged domain of the ‘Big Six’ of the times — Kent, Surrey, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Middlesex, and Nottinghamshire, and upsetting an apple cart or two. It was a collective effort that had upset many set calculations, and it would be another 40 years before they would claim the title again.
Sadly, the season proved to be the end of the road for their experienced and ageing wicketkeeper Lilley, who found it increasingly difficult to keep to the bowling of Foster, and who could not reconcile himself with the idea of playing under one so young. He grew resentful and cantankerous,and was replaced in the squad by the young and energetic Smith.
After the euphoria of their first ever Championship title in 1911, life went on as usual for Warwickshire in the following seasons. Passing lightly on to 1913, we find Charlesworth scoring 100 and 101* against Surrey. Charlesworth’s only other double-century came in the match against Yorkshire in June, with the backdrop of disturbing political news filtering in from the Continent and the possibility of hostilities in the offing.
By now a senior player, Charlesworth mentored many youngsters of the Warwickshire team like Smith, Percy Jeeves, and John Parsons. Parsons recalled how, as a youngster, he had once borrowed a bat from Charlesworth for a second-team game at Worcester and, much to his chagrin, had returned it badly damaged. He had begun to apologise when Charlesworth had interrupted. “How many did thee get, lad?” “Two hundred,” Parsons had replied at which Charlesworth had got up, pulled out another bat and handed it over. “See if tha’ can do it agen wi’ this ‘un,” he had said.
When cricket resumed in England in 1919 after World War I, Charlesworth, at 44, was a tried and trusted member of the team, very popular with the fans and with the team management. The Australian Imperial Forces paid a visit to the Mother Country under Herbie Collins at the conclusion of the War and played a number of First-Class matches.
With the experiment of two-day First-Class matches being tried out in England, the Australian team played a game against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. One of the umpires for the game was Sydney Santall, a valuable member of the bowling force for Warwickshire before the War.
The Australians put Warwickshire in. The home team, under George Stephens, had many new faces after The War. One of them was ‘Mick’ Waddy, who had played for New South Wales from 1902-03 to 1910-11. The home team scored 215, Waddy top-scoring with 73. The two pre-War stalwarts, Charlesworth and Quaife scored 7 and 8 respectively. Collins took 5 for 73 with his left-arm spin. The first day’s play ended with the Australians on 144 for 3 with Collins on 80.
Heavy skies and rain greeted the players on the second morning. Prospects of any play appeared to be remote. Convinced that there would be no further play in the day, Charlesworth, as fond of a jar as the next man, made his way to Cannon Hill Park to wet his tonsils. As often happens of these occasions, one jar led to another, and, as time went by, Charlesworth was fairly and squarely “under the influence”, to use a Medico-Legal term.
The fickle English weather cleared up, however, and play resumed at about five minutes to two o’clock in the afternoon. Warwickshire took the field without Charlesworth. The Australians took their overnight score of 144 for 3 to 311, Collins completing an authoritative 110. It was not long before Len Bates and Parsons were striding in to launch the home second innings.
Well, the only double-figure innings was played by Parsons (13) as the wickets fell at regular and frequent intervals to the bowling of the magnificently rhyming couple of William Stirling (5 for 26) and Charles Winning (4 for 38). Alas, when the ninth wicket had fallen, Charlesworth was still in no condition to go out and bat. He was registered in the scorecard as ‘absent hurt’ as the Australians won the game by an innings and 38 runs.
Such was the aura of the man, however, and such was his popularity with the crowds, that there followed a conspiracy to gloss over the embarrassment that the incident had created. Halford had this to say: “… he was soon forgiven. He was an easy man to forgive. A measure of the man was the explanation given for his absence. The Mail reported that ‘Charlesworth was unable to bat due to a strained thigh.’ It’s unclear whether the truth was kept within the club or the press agreed to save the player’s embarrassment. Either way a protective cordon was thrown around him.”
The Sports Argus had reported four days later that: ““Charlesworth, who has rendered yeoman service to Warwickshire, is suffering from a severe strain which has affected his right leg and thigh badly. It is necessary for him to take a rest cure and accordingly he has left Birmingham and gone home to the family circle at Huddersfield. He has been reluctantly compelled to realise that his strain is a severe one.”
Warwickshire awarded a benefit to Charlesworth in 1920, and the home fixture against Lancashire was earmarked for the event. Edgbaston was buzzing with eager anticipation and excitement when the game got under way. True to his iconic status in the team, Charlesworth top-scored in both innings with 92 and 65 that Lancashire won by an innings and 38 runs.
It was reported at the time that Charlesworth had become the first ever player from Warwickshire to earn in excess of £1,000 from his benefit match. The takings on the first day itself had been £ 459 14s 5d as loyal fans had thronged the ground to cheer their hero on.
The Birmingham Mail had reported: “Charlesworth has been a valiant servant of Warwickshire. His hearty hitting during the intervening years has won him wide popularity but more significant is the affection his heart’s sincerity has secured for him amongst players and spectators. Since the day when Schofield Haigh was a friend in his youth he has been welcomed as a true comrade wherever players have congregated.”
In an effort to fill the void left by his departure from First-Class cricket, he took up umpiring as a vocation, officiating in 42 matches in 1925 and 1926. He also had a brief coaching stint with the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.
In his later years, Charlesworth moved to Yorkshire and ended his last days staying in a Salvation Army Hostel in Halifax with a financial status close to penury. When the Warwickshire authorities came to know of this, they arranged to pay his £1 weekly expenses through one Frank Greenwood, a former Yorkshire captain and then a Major with the Salvation Army.
Charlesworth passed away on June 15, 1953 at Halifax Hostel, aged about 78. “He was quite a remarkable man,” Greenwood reflected. “A fool to himself maybe but he never did anyone any harm and very often offered a helping hand. The world would be an infinitely better place if more men were like him and had his philosophy.”