How one Sutton cricketer took the first wicket at Headingley before being escorted to a lunatic asylum

The debate about who is Nottinghamshire's best ever cricketer could rage on and on.

Monday, 20th July 2020, 4:26 pm
Updated Monday, 20th July 2020, 4:40 pm
Author Colin Williamson with a copy of his book.

Who is Ashfield's best is probably a more cut and dried affair, with Bodyline Ashes man Harold Larwood taking the honours.

But one cricketer from the district who could legitimately give him a good run for his money is someone you may not have even heard of.

Johnny Briggs was born in Sutton in 1862 and went on to become the first bowler to take 100 test wickets.

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Now the fascinating story of the left arm spin bowler, who took the first ever wicket at Headingley, has been brought to life by author Colin Williamson.

Briggs played for Lancashire between 1879 and 1900 and to this day remains the second-highest wicket-taker in the county’s history.

And for Colin, who is a Lancashire fan, it was a tale which quickly captured his imagination.

“I was on holiday in Greece about 25 years ago and being a Lancashire supporter, I took a few lightweight books to read,” he said.

“I was reading a small account of Johnny’s career when a sentence in the article jumped out at me.

“It read ‘Johnny Briggs took the first ever wicket at Headingley. He took a further two before becoming ill, he had epilepsy and started foaming at the mouth.

“Briggs was taken ill and was taken directly from the pitch to a lunatic asylum.

“I could not believe that a first class sportsman could be taken from the field of play,whether it be Wembley,Twickenham, Wimbledon or Lords, and taken directly to a lunatic asylum.

“Discovering little was known about Johnny Briggs, I researched his career more fully, finding out amazing facts like he was the first cricketer to take 100 test wickets, taking 2,212 wickets (15.95) in his career.

“He is also the only Englishman to complete a test century and take a test hat-trick against Australia in Australia.”

Briggs first played as a sub pro at the age of 13 at Hornsea in Yorkshire and later played rugby league for Widnes.

On England’s first tour of South Africa Briggs played in all 19 matches, taking 290 wickets at the cost of 5.62 runs per wicket.

He went to take 100 wickets in a season on 12 occasions during a dazzling career.

“Briggs toured Australia six times, one with W.G.Grace and on the six week voyage to Australia Johnny and W.G used to perform in a variety evening on board the ship.

“I am passionate about the man Johnny Briggs, and his memory.

“He was a clown and a character who was loved from Manchester to Melbourne. Truly Johnny Briggs was “greatly unique and uniquely great.”

But sadly his wonderful career and life came to an end when he died in Cheadle Royal Lunatic Asylum diagnosed with cerebral palsy aged 39 years.

The Professor of Diddling - the life and times of Johnny Briggs (1862 - 1902) is available through Amazon here.