Life in Elmbridge
Regarded as the greatest English fast bowler of his generation, Tom Richardson was born in a Gipsy caravan in Byfleet in August 1870. Soon afterwards his family moved to Mitcham. Richardson came to Elmbridge in 1895 when he moved to Angel Road in Thames Ditton. In the same year he joined Thames Ditton Cricket Club and became a vociferous member of the Committee.
Life beyond Elmbridge
Tom Richardson and his family lived in a slum cottage on the edge of Mitcham Common in a largely Gipsy community. It was on the Common that Richardson learned to play cricket. Local boys bowled at a shilling placed on the stumps and this incentive quickly improved the length and direction of his deliveries. Richardson's Romany descent was apparent in his looks, bohemian tastes and temperament. He was said to maintain his fitness and strength with, 'big breakfasts and plenty of stout'. Ironically, he was rejected by both the Police Force and the Army because of a heart abnormality. So, Richardson focussed on a cricketing career.
He joined Surrey County Cricket Club in 1890 and was given his first full season in 1893, having shown promise in 1892 by taking 29 wickets. Surrey's faith in Richardson was fully justified when he took a record of 174 wickets at an average cost of 15.70 runs in first-class cricket in 1893. In the same year his international career against Australia began. Richardson played in 14 test matches between 1893 and 1898 and took 88 wickets at 25.2. At the Old Trafford test match in 1896 he took a total of 13 wickets and almost won the game for England by bowling unchanged for three hours in the second innings. In 1897 Richardson was named Wisden Cricketer of the Year. His first class career ended in 1905 by which time he had taken 2105 wickets at a cost of 18.42 runs apiece and had taken 13 or more wickets in a match 19 times.
In 1912 after five years as the landlord of the Prince's Head pub in Richmond, Richardson travelled to France with friends for a holiday. On one of his customary long walks he collapsed and died aged 41 on 2nd July at St Jean d' Arvey. Despite many in the cricketing world believing that he had committed suicide, recent research shows that it is most likely his long term heart condition at last proved fatal. A subscription was raised by the 'Sporting Life' and his embalmed body was brought home and buried in Richmond and East Sheen Cemeteries. Richardson's funeral coincided with the Gentlemen vs. Players match at the Oval, and play was suspended in the afternoon in his memory.
The celebrated cricket writer Neville Cardus, who selected Richardson in 1963 as one of his 'Six Giants of the Wisden Century', once wrote: 'In his prime he presented as handsome a sight as ever seen on a cricket field. Dark black haired, black moustached and twinkling gipsy eyes. When he came to the wicket to release the ball he called to mind a great wave of the sea about to break.'
- Ralph Barker, 'Ten Great Bowlers', (Chatto & Windus, 1967).
- B. Green (ed.), 'Wisden Anthology 1900-1940', (Book Club Associates by arrangement with Macdonald & Co. Ltd., 1988).
- D. Harries, 'Men in White on Giggs Hill Green: Thames Ditton Cricket Club's 175th Anniversary', (2008).
- E.W. Swanton, 'Wisden World of Cricket' (Michael Joseph).