5ft.8 inches tall and weighing almost eleven stone, he was strong and sturdily built.
A defensive right-handed batsman and a left-hand round-arm medium paced bowler. He was a brilliant field, usually at point. He was the epitome of the "Stonewaller" batsman.
He learnt his cricket in Bolton and he recalled that when he was only eleven, playing for St. George's school against All Saints, he carried his bat through an innings for 14 runs, a feat he repeated for another school two years later, making 33 runs on this occasion.
He left school at the age of fourteen intending to learn the trade of a compositor at a printing office, but the hours proved detremental to his cricket practice, so he became a moulder with Dobson and Barlow, at Bolton, where he stayed until 1865.
In that year his parents moved to Staveley, in Derbyshire, and Richard found employment as a moulder at the Staveley Iron Works. His father became the honorary secretary of the Staveley Works Cricket Club, and it was there that Richard played his cricket, progressing to the first eleven after an initial season in the seconds. He recalls that the Barlow family were often all involved at the club matches; he and his three brothers would be playing, his father scoring and his mother and four sisters watching. His brother, Jack, received an invitation to play for Derbyshire, but had received an injury to his knee-cap only the week before, which curtailed his play thereafter.
His first professional engagement was for Farsley, near Leeds, for 1871 and 1872, he was successful and moved on to Saltaire, near Bradford, from 1873 to 1877. He records that his pay as a club professional was 27/- per week in his first year with Farsley, rising to 30/- for his second year. For his first year at Saltaire he received 35/-, rising by stages to 50/- in his last year, 1877. The club committees gave him leave of absence whenever required for county matches. From 1878 onwards his engagements to play in big matches were such as to prevent him taking a club engagement - other than for the occasional one off match.
His introduction to the Lancashire Club took place in 1871, when he played in a match at Staveley against George Parr's All England Eleven. W.Hickton, who was at the time engaged on the county ground at Manchester, heard that he was born in Lancashire and suggested that he write to the Lancashire Committee. He obviously also put in a word, as Barlow was asked to come over to Manchester for a trial. A few days after his return home from the trial he received a letter asking him to play against Yorkshire at Sheffield on 17th to 19th July 1871.
He went in at the fall of the fifth wicket and finshed the day 18 not out, but with a broken little finger on his right hand. With his finger bound up he continued the following morning, taking his score to 28 not out - the shape of things to come. In Yorkshire's first innings he took one wicket for 8 runs and in the second innings three wickets for 36.
He played in two matches for Lancashire in 1871, three in 1872, five in 1873- when he first partnered A.N.Hornby to open the innings against Surrey at The Oval on 14th to 16th July.
In 1874 he played in three of Lancashire's six matches and in 1875 he played in eight of the county's nine games and his opening partnership with Hornby became established; a partnership that was to remain a regular feature of Lancashire innings until 1888. The contrast between the two batsmen could not have been more marked. Hornby, small, bustling and bossy, liked to score his runs at great speed and loved to take a short - some said suicidal - single. Barlow, solid as a rock, accumulating runs almost by accident during his long war of attrition with the opposing bowlers. It was said that during their partnerships Hornby scored 100 runs for every 10 scored by Barlow, and it is true that Barlow would frequently bat twice as long as Hornby for less than half the runs. But it was Barlow that stayed to be the backbone of many a Lancashire innings after Hornby had given it a flying start.
Over the years Lancastrians have thought of Hornby and Barlow striding to the wicket to start many a Lancashire innings. In fact they never did. Hornby would stride to the wicket from the pavilion and Barlow would join him from the professional's hut on the opposite side of the ground. Barlow carried his bat through a completed Lancashire innings on eleven occasions, Hornby once. Barlow scored two centuries for Lancashire, Hornby ten - and you can bet that Barlow spent far more time at the wicket! Barlow's batting average for the county was 20.38; Hornby's was 24.25 - but in fairness to Hornby the fact that he carried on playing for many years when he was past his best brought down an average that could have been higher. Barlow played in many of the great matches of his day, toured Australia on three occasions and played in seventeen matches now recognised as Test Maches. His bowling was medium-pace and accurate; always at the wickets, never willingly giving away runs that he had so carefully accumulated with his batting. However, when there was any help in the wicket, he could be most dangerous.
At the time of the 1881 Census he was living at 385 Stretford Road, Stretford, aged 30, with his wife Harriet, aged 29, bor at Ashover, Derbyshire, and daughter, Eliza A. aged 9, born at Barrow Hill, Derbyshire.
He was very keen on phsical fitness and a teetotaller and non-smoker. When Lancashire dispensed with his services at the end of 1891 there was some bitterness as he felt he still had a few years left in him. He was financially secure, having set up a business as a cricket outfitter at Manchester Victoria Station Approach in 1880 and he undertook coaching assignments with Derbyshire and Essex, as well as playing occasionally in the Leagues as a match professional. He retired to Blackpool, where his house in Raikes Parade contained his collection of cricket memorabilia, including the stained-glass window which now graces the long-room at Old Trafford and on which are portrayed Barlow, Hornby and Richard Pilling.
He umpired first-class matches for some years and in 1900 was instructed to apologise to Ranjitsinhji having accused him of lying. The previous year the Australians were dissatisfied with his umpiring in the Test Match at Nottingham and wrote to the MCC about him He had also been a good association football player and was at one time a referee, officiating in many F.A.Cup matches, including that in which Preston North End beat Hyde United 26 - 0.
He seemed to have made his peace with Old Trafford in 1909 when he was appointed resident ground-manager and coach, but the position only lasted the one season as Barlow wished to live in Blackpool. It was there that he played his last club cricket and acted as a coach at the Arnold School.
In 1882 he produced a book of cricket instruction and in 1908 his autobiography "Forty Seasons of First-Class Cricket," which ran to two editions and which was dedicated to "my old and highly esteemed friend and colleague, A.N.Hornby, Esq."
On his death his grave was headed by the stone which he had himself commissioned some years earlier. It depicts a bat, ball and broken wicket with the inscription "Bowled at Last." It still stands in Layton Cemetery, Blackpool. It contrasts with the gravestone of A.N.Hornby at Nantwich, which shows the wicket unbroken. A matter of perspective?
The Preston poet, Francis Thompson, recalls Hornby and Barlow in his poem "At Lord's" :
(Article: Copyright © 2004 Don Ambrose)
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