The great 'Monkey' Hornby
A cricketing legend remembered at Acton

One of the most curious graves in Cheshire can be found in Acton churchyard, near Nantwich. It is that of Albert Nielson Hornby who, at the end of the 19th century was the first man to captain England teams at both cricket and rugby football. He was also the England captain in the “Greatest Test match ever” from which the legendary Ashes series began.

“Monkey” Hornby, as he was known because of his small stature, was a true Corinthian. He was born in Blackburn on February 10th, 1847, the sixth son of William Henry Hornby who was MP for Blackburn from 1857 to 1869.

In 1861 records show that the Hornby family were living at Shewbridge Hall, Nantwich. Young Albert was educated at Harrow and when he was seventeen he represented the school at cricket and in 1867 he was chosen to play for Lancashire County.

A fine athlete, excellent at boxing and an outstanding horseman, he won nine caps for England at rugby. But it was to cricket that he was always dedicated and as captain of Lancashire he is recognised as one of the all-time greats.

In “Red Roses Crest the Caps”, author Eric Midwinter best sums him up with the following:
“A.N.Hornby brought a rattling blade, adept keenness in the field, and a martinet oversight to the captaincy; he added a fourth and final quarter to his escutcheon. He proved to be a well-informed and cunning leader, not only capable of building and moulding his colleagues into a superior outfit, but of assiduously sapping at the weak linkages of his opponents.”

Hornby played for England with all the legendary cricketers of the day, including W.G.Grace who considered himself fortunate to be amongst his friends and said of him “that he was equally in his element at cricket and football, with the gun and in the saddle.”

In 1881 he led Lancashire to the County Championship and the following year as captain of England he opened the batting with Grace against Australia in an encounter dubbed “The greatest Test match ever”.

The result was a sound thrashing for England and the following week an obituary notice appeared in the Sporting Times, “In affectionate Remembrance of English cricket which died at The Oval on 29th August 1882.” to which a note had been added, “the body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia”.

The following year an England team sailed to Australia to recover the “Ashes” and England won the series. It was in Melbourne that some ladies burnt a bail used in the final game and gave the ashes to the England captain, Ivo Bligh, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Hornby played his last match at Leicester in 1899, but his interest in the game lasted throughout his life. He was became president of Lancashire and captain and president of Nantwich Cricket Club. On many occasions he brought the Lancashire team to play in Cheshire.

Hornby also played soccer for Nantwich. He was by profession a schoolteache and was married to Ada Sarah Ingram, the daughter of Herbert Ingram who founded “The Illustrated London News”. The couple lived at Bridge House, Church Minshull and, later, at Parkfield, in Wellington Road, Nantwich.

Hornby died, aged seventy-eight, on December 17th, 1925. His grave at Acton is carved in marble, with wicket, bat and ball.