Unusual Commissions: The Allahakbarries

by Jane Brown

Tucked away in the library at Lords is a rather well-thumbed score book kept by J M Barrie for his Allahakbarries (it translates as ‘God Help Us’) cricket team on their annual excursions into Surrey in the turn of the 19th century summers. Barrie fell in love with the countryside that was young Ned Lutyens’s earliest stamping ground; he rented a cottage at Shere at the time Ned was building a village shop and lodge for Reginald Bray, and it seems certain they first met here and formed a lifelong friendship. The Allahakbarries played one of their first matches against Shere Fire Brigade – the fire station still stands next door to Ned’s shop – and the firemen won ‘by about 60’ runs.

A few years’ later, both Barrie and Ned now married, Mary Barrie bought Black Lake Cottage at Tilford, with a cricket-pitch sized lawn, and where Peter Pan was born: the play opened at the Duke of York’s theatre in December 1904, the stage nursery based on Ned and Emily’s nursery in Bloomsbury Square – Mary Lutyens always remembered ‘it was through our night-nursery window that the Darling children flew’.

Cricket was the chief summer amusement in those days, a great leveller when the whole village was expected to support their team and local rivalries were fierce. Tilford Institute was an historic club, giving its name to the little pavilion Ned built for them beside the green; cricket at Tilford, where newcomer Gerard Streatfeild admired both the game and the pavilion led to Ned’s commission to build Fulbrook. But the Allahakbarries most regular opponent was the sometime MP for Guildford and Ned’s client for Tigbourne Court, Edgar Horne; Tigbourne Court, which with its brick-striped gables and striking chimneys, gracing the roadside south of Witley, was not an easy commission, so may we imagine Mr. Horne taking his frustrations out on the cricket rather than his architect?

On Saturday 21st July 1900 playing at Shackleford, Horne was bowled by Barrie (‘slow left arm who had to be watched’) for 6, and the Allahakbarries eventually won the match, as they did the following year, 83 runs to 68 in a Friday evening match, which abandoned for liquid refreshment without a second innings. Bad light stopped play?

One of their last matches was on a Sunday in 1903 at another of Ned’s haunts. Pasturewood just around the corner from Goddards, where the Mirrielees family and their neighbours being keen players won by 7 wickets. The Pasturewood pitch is still used by Belmont School.

The Allahkabarries fielded a remarkable collection of names: A E W ‘The Four Feathers’ Mason, literary lions’ offspring Will Meredith (a wicket keeper with composure) and Charles Tennyson and E V Lucas; J C Snaith who had had a county trial was their demon bowler, and on occasion a bat was held by the classicist Gilbert Murray and a certain Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle. What would seem possible in our computer-aided age, would be to match the lesser known names with those connected to Ned Lutyens’s houses, for it would be illuminating to find his mastercraftsmen or gardeners turning out for their village or ‘celebrity’ match. In the meantime we are left with the image of the harassed young architect, between clients or trains, finding an occasion to relax on a bench with his pipe, allowing himself to laugh at the antics of his cricketing friends.

Jane Brown

[n.b. some of the above is taken from my book Lutyens and the Edwardians, An English Architect and his Clients, Penguin 1997]