The WG Grace is a stylish, modern pub in Bristol, with every desirable feature and a favourite haunt of the students. However, when Arunabha Sengupta visited it because of the Champion’s name, he found little else linked to cricket.
Clifton Close or the Clifton College Close Ground, Bristol.
If any ground can be considered the home of WG Grace, this is the one.
In 1868, as a 20-year old, a strapping athletic youth sans the enormity of the girth and beard of his later days, Grace played here for the first time. 20 men of Clifton took on the immensely strong United England Eleven travelling team. And running in to bowl the fastish round-armers of his young days, the budding master captured 5 wickets. Elder brother EM, opening bowling alongside him, took 3. After that, however, the local side surrendered to the two rather fearsome and high-quality pace bowlers, George Tarrant and Tom Emmett, but Grace top-scored in both innings with knocks of 26 in each.
Down the years, he played here 77 times, 73 of them First-Class outings. He scored 14 First-Class centuries, starting with 160 not out against Surrey in 1873 and ending with 148 and 153 against Yorkshire in the same match in 1888. In between he also scored 113 against Somerset in 1879, but that match was not deemed First-Class.
Not that he was only occupied with making runs. In August, 1885, he walked in as play began against Middlesex, starting the Gloucestershire innings, and remained unbeaten on 163 at the end of the first day. That night he did not have a wink of sleep, his professional duties as the parish doctor keeping him up with a complicated case of childbirth. The following morning, he appeared on the ground, looking fresh as ever and roguishly joking: “It was fairly successful. The child died, and the mother died, but I saved the father.” He proceeded to carry his bat with 221 not out as Gloucestershire were bowled out for 348. Then he took off his pads, ran in to bowl, and captured 6 for 45 and 5 for 75 as Middlesex collapsed to an innings defeat.
Yes, WG loved playing at Clifton Close.
The ground hosted First-Class matches till 1932. In fact, the last time a match of that grade was contested here, the Indians, on their first ever Test tour, registered a 55-run win over the home county that featured Wally Hammond. As in most cases with India in those days, it was Amar Singh who worked the wonder, capturing 8 for 90 and 4 for 121 while scoring 63 in the second innings.
After that the First-Class matches moved to Ashley Down and eventually the County Ground, Bristol. There is still action at Clifton Close, but it is limited to college matches and Second XI encounters.
But, given the association between the ground and the great man, it is but appropriate that the stylish pub within a few minutes’ walk from the ground, belonging to the Wetherspoon chain, bears the name ‘The WG Grace’. And if a cricket-lover aware of the deeds of the Father of Modern Cricket ends up in Bristol, it is but natural for him to trot down to the establishment situated on Whiteladies Road in the Clifton suburb of Bristol.
However, such a cricket aficionado is certain to end up disappointed. Apart from the name, rather ostensibly displayed at the entrance, there are very few artefacts in the pub that are likely to kindle his fancies.
As for the standards of décor and service, there is hardly any scope of complaint. The glass ceiling is especially attractive, and the various modern and not so modern photographs of Bristol, and a charming collection of art work, make the interiors definitely worth a look. The selection of drinks is comprehensive and the food is good, without being either pricey or exotic. It is no wonder that the nearby university supplies a major proportion of the clientele in the form of students.
For the cricket lover, though, there is little of interest.
Of course, the menu card speaks of WG Grace and his association with Clifton Close in four short lines of introduction, explaining that he was ‘an all-time cricketing great’ and scored 14 First-Class hundreds at the ground. But even these four lines are not entirely dedicated to The Champion. There is also the bit about The Close being referred to in Sir Henry Newbolt’s Vitai Lampada, of the ‘Play up, play up, and play the game’ fame.
Skirting through the tables patronised the youngish customers, and sweeping the walls with one’s eyes, one has to walk right to the far corner of the pub to find a framed photograph of The Old Man. There he stands, holding a bat and posing for the shot in his striped MCC cap. The location of the photograph is such that only a few customers, sitting in the extreme end of the joint, are able to see it.
Newbolt’s poem hangs on another wall in that same corner.
There is another framed picture of the line from the same poem, “An hour to play and the last man in,” in an adjacent wall. Somehow there are two Newbolt frames associated with cricket and one of WG.
One looking for good ale or deliberating the age-old choice between burger and fish ’n’ chips, can do well to visit the pub and restore his tissues amidst muffled noise and interesting décor. For the ones on the lookout for something stronger, there are all sorts of gins, spirits, shots, cocktails, and plenty of options along the lines of rum and vodka. The wine cellar is also well stocked.
However, the ones who want to retrace the steps of WG are likely to end up disappointed.