GEORGE CHARLES VASSILA

1857-1915
Professional cricketer and umpire

Gloucestershire CCC team 1880
Gloucestershire CCC team 1880 (explanation below*).
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Introduction

George Vassila was a professional cricketer in the age of 'Gentlemen' and 'Players', so he was a 'Player'. I have read that the 'Gentlemen', upper crust chaps or men from the professions, were generally batsmen, since this did not expend as much energy as bowling, and that the 'Players', normally from the working classes, were usually bowlers. By 1890, which is reckoned to be the start of the county championship competition proper, there were just eight teams, which tells you how difficult it would have been for an individual to break into the elite. In his book 'More than a Game' (Harper Collins 2007) John Major tells us that in the 1870s Surrey, one of the richer clubs, paid their professionals 5 per game, plus 1 bonus if they won; the average county professional would earn about 80 over the season (approximately 7,600 in today's money), from which he had to pay his own travel and accommodation costs. George was not ultimately good enough to reach this level, but he does seem to have been a very competent journeyman professional. He lived in Epsom from at least 1901 until his death in 1915.

Background and Career

*You will have wondered immediately why I began with a photo of the 1880 Gloucestershire county cricket team and the answer is (apart from the fact that I don't have one of Mr Vassila to show you) that he played just one match in county cricket, which was for Middlesex against Gloucestershire from 12-14 August 1880 at Clifton College Close Ground, Clifton, Bristol. This ground was immortalised in the Henry Newbolt poem Vitai Lampada (Torch of Life), which begins, 'There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight - ten to make and the match to win ...'

As you will have realised, the gentleman in the centre of the front row is amazing Grace (WG) - officially a 'Gentleman' but he is known to have made money out of the game -, who scored 13 centuries at the Close, although the most incredible cricketing feat there was in 1899 when 13 year old AEJ Collins scored 628 not out over four afternoon sessions (the rules were different back then). In the photo WG's brothers, E M (Edward Mills) and Fred are in the back row - third right (with the beard) and third left (hooped cap) respectively. Fred died of pneumonia just over a month after the 1880 match.

George Vassila was born in Kew, Surrey on 21 August 1857. His father, Alessandro (born c.1800 Parga, Greece and known as Alexander), was a gentleman's valet there for many years and had come to England from Greece at some point in the 1830s; he was certainly in Kew, living on the Green, by 1841, with his wife Sarah (born c. 1812 Strand on the Green, Chiswick, nee Milross) - they were married on 25 May 1840 at St Anne's Church, Kew, also on the Green and well worth looking up for its appearance, location and fascinating history. Alexander became a British subject in 1857.

The other children of Alexander and Sarah (all born in Kew) were as shown below.

Name Information
Frances Catherine Born 1841, hotel keeper/milliner, unmarried, died 1919 Islington district.
Alexander Born 1843, publican/cellarman, married Helen Love, probably died 1901.
Mary Elizabeth Born c.1845, hotel keeper/milliner, unmarried, died 1917 Islington district.
William Robert Born c.1847. Briefly landlord of the King's Head Hotel, Epsom c.1904/5 and petitioned against for bankruptcy in 1905. Married Flora (died 1887), 1892 Esther Burford (died 1898), 1899 Mary Furze Smith (nee Terry - she was divorced - died 1902) and 1904 Louisa Mary Ann Sandwell (nee Woolverton, widow). Died 7 June 1906, then living in Canonbury.
John Born 1848, barman/labourer/publican, married Elizabeth (who probably died 1900). Died 1928 Hammersmith district.
Charles Born 1852, various occupations, married Lucy Blunt. Died 1937 Edmonton district.
Sarah Jane Born 1855, married James William Todd. Died 1939, lived Bishopstone, Bucks.

Note: There are numerous press reports of a Vassila who played club cricket in Buckinghamshire for many years and another who was a champion pigeon shooter. I think that the latter must have been William Robert, as occasionally the pigeon reports gave an initial of W, but the Buckinghamshire cricketer was probably George.

The family eventually moved from Kew to the Goldhawk Road, Hammersmith; Alexander died in 1883, having become a licensed victualler at some point, and Sarah in 1895.

George was a right-arm fast bowler. I have no real idea what constituted 'fast' in those days, since there was no technology to tell us the mph. The ball was somewhat bigger then, if that helps at all. However, if we look at the archive section of the Surrey CCC website, we find that a Surrey fast bowler of around this period, one Emmanuel Blamires, averaged 20.2 runs per wicket and struck every 56.7 balls. Test bowler Billy Barnes of Nottinghamshire, who was rated fast-medium, had an average roughly around the mid-teens in Tests, so the best must have been pretty aggressive and quick.

Billy Barnes
Billy Barnes, photographed by E Hawkins, from the book 'Famous Cricketers' 1896.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Having had trials for Surrey and some games with Surrey Colts, in 1879 George was playing for Middlesex Colts: in a two-day match against their Surrey counterparts in May 1879 he took two wickets, two catches and scored 4 runs in the first innings.

We shall move on to his one and only first-class match for Middlesex, mentioned at the beginning. His performance was fairly mediocre, but any newcomer would have been overshadowed, since the frontline Middlesex bowler, William B Clarke (round arm, right-arm medium, conceded only a miserly 1.84 runs per over in his whole first-class career), took 9 wickets in the match. George bowled 33 overs in total, comprising 17 maidens; he took no wickets but his economy rate was impressive, as he conceded only 37 runs. He scored no runs either and Middlesex lost by 5 wickets. In the county's next match the Middlesex bowlers, without George, cleaned up and beat Yorkshire comprehensively, so I imagine that the club was satisfied with its existing personnel.

Cricket on Clifton College Close Ground 1866.
Cricket on Clifton College Close Ground 1866.
Image source: History of the Clifton College via Wikimedia Commons.

As I said, performances suggest that his true level of competence was as a journeyman club cricketer. In 1881 he turned out quite successfully for the very short-lived Orleans Club (Twickenham), where he was the only professional. He does not seem to have played much in 1882 if the newspapers are anything to go by, but in March 1883 he was engaged by the Cambridge University Club. I cannot find that he actually played for them (but he did umpire at their ground, Fenner's, in three first-class matches between 1881 and 1889) and I think he spent a lot of his cricketing time with Richmond Town (Surrey), which played on Richmond Green at that time. The Grantham Journal of 15 September 1883 reported as follows:
In a match at Feltham on Saturday, between Feltham and Richmond Town, an extraordinary bowling performance was witnessed. GC Vassila, one of the Richmond bowlers, took eight wickets for nine runs, clean bowling seven wickets in eight balls - four in succession. Vassila has bowled in thirteen matches for Richmond TCC and has secured seventy-two wickets for 225 runs, counting one innings only to each match, and has on three separate occasions done the hat trick. On Monday, August 6th, he clean bowled three wickets in three balls; on Tuesday, August 14th, he clean bowled four wickets in four balls, and on Saturday, September 1st, he clean bowled four wickets for four balls. His average is 3.9 runs per wicket for the season.
In 1884, still with Richmond Town, he turned out in a match against Surrey Colts and had a fantastic day, taking 7 for 42; one of his victims was a young man called G. Lohmann, who was still a month shy of his 19th birthday. George Lohmann played for Surrey from 1884 until 1896 and appeared in 18 Tests for England between 1886 and 1896, (we played only against Australia and South Africa in those days, so there were not many matches), taking a total of 112 Test wickets for 1205 runs at an average of 10.75. He was rated by many as the finest bowler anywhere during that period.

George Lohmann of Surrey and England.
George Lohmann of Surrey and England.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Newspaper reports of George's subsequent games are sparse (he did turn out for MCC and Ground, the Northern Ireland Cricket Club and Redhill and in 1889 there was another report that he had been retained as a bowler for Cambridge University Club). In 1894 we can find him playing for Suffolk Borderers.

Family

Minnie Sarah Wyatt was born on 14 December 1860 in St Pancras, daughter of London printer Frederick Wyatt and his wife Jane; she married George on 30 April 1884 at St Mary's Church, Islington.

There were three children, being Minnie Louise (born 11 October 1891 Clerkenwell, died 1967 Sutton district, unmarried), Francis Geoffrey (born 1898 Garboldisham, Norfolk, died 1915 Epsom, buried in Epsom Cemetery, grave A469, June 1915) and Elsie Alice Mary (born 16 August 1903 Epsom, died 1992 Surrey Mid-eastern, unmarried).

In Epsom

It looks as if the family arrived in Epsom between 1898 and 1901 and in the 1901 census they were living at 3 Ormonde Terrace (this could have been the place that was 2 Ormonde Buildings by 1911), very close to the East Street railway bridge in Station Road (later Upper High Street). I believe that the family lived above the shop called Inghams in this picture (or very adjacent to it).

Ingham's Chemist
Ingham's Chemist (right, with the large sun blind)
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

George was still a professional cricketer in 1901, although at various times he had been described as a traveller and he obviously must have had another occupation to help the family income, especially as the cricket season ran for only six months of the year. Unlike today's professional cricketers, the old-timers carried on playing until an advanced age in sporting terms - WG Grace, for example, played his last Test at 50 and, although declining in abilities, did not actually hang up his bat until he was 66.

The newspaper clipping below may give us a clue as to how George supplemented his income.

Local Newspaper Cutting 02 Sept 1911
Local Newspaper Cutting 02 Sept 1911
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

In the 1911 census the family occupied three rooms at The Baileys in Waterloo Road: this building was let out as apartments by a Mrs Jane Jefferies at that point and was very near to the junction with 66 High Street.

When the middle child, Francis Geoffrey, died in the summer of 1915, aged just 16, his address was given as The Worple, Worple Road which was a temperance hotel at that point, so presumably the family had rooms there. (A submission to a public consultation held by the local council concerning the Worple Road Conservation Area says that Flint House was once a temperance hotel with a flat roof and stone balustrade before the pitched roof was added). On 27 November of that same year George himself died at the hotel and was buried with Francis. Electoral Registers show that his widow was still at 'The Worple Hotel' until 1923; in 1924 she was in Sutton and in the 1930s she lived with her two unmarried daughters in Marylebone. Her final address was back in Epsom at 7a South Street; she died in April 1944 and was buried with George and Francis.

Note: If you are researching this family, the surname is often recorded as Vassilas.

Researched and written by Linda Jackson © 2014