Amazing Grace: The Man who was W.G.

A magisterial new biography reveals the real W.G. behind the record-breaking cricketer who was also the most recognisable public figure in Victorian Britain. It was the centenary of W.G.’s death on the 23 October 2015.

William Gilbert Grace (1848-1915) looms as large in the history of modern sport as Bach in the history of music or Michelangelo in the history of art. Physically massive, with a luxuriant black mane of a beard, Grace’s performances on the cricket field were second to none. When ‘W.G.’ became the first-ever batsman to score 100 first-class centuries, his nearest rival had only scored forty-three.

In this definitive biography, marking the centenary of W.G.’s death, Richard Tomlinson mines a trove of previously undiscovered archive material in England, Australia and North America and at last connects Grace’s astounding achievements on the field (he took 3000 wickets as well) with the private life he hid so well from the world.

Agnes, W.G.’s beloved wife, steps from the shadows of her ruined family background as the woman who rescued Grace from his own worst nature and shared his torment at the loss of their only daughter Bessie. We also meet the swarm of chancers who preyed on Grace, from the doomed gold speculator who first brought him to Melbourne to the sex-crazed cricket grandee who captured W.G. for England’s sporting aristocracy. And we join W.G. on his rounds as a lowly parish surgeon in the slums of Bristol. His patients – the paupers and tramps along the Stapleton Road – hailed their doctor each summer as he set forth from his surgery to vanquish his cricketing enemies.

Through it all, W.G. emerges as one of the last Victorian inventors, transforming the game he loved and showing the modern world how to play all sport – to the death, mercilessly, with beers all round. A century after W.G. was buried in a forlorn suburban graveyard, Amazing Grace gloriously unveils one of sport’s greatest untold stories.