William John Edrich, Bill to his friends, was born in Lingwood, Norfolk in 1916. Bill came from a great sporting family, with three of his brothers going on to play first class cricket: Eric and Geoffrey for Lancashire and Brian for Kent and Glamorgan. Famously, the Edrich clan were able to raise a full cricket team of eleven, and, in 1938, a team of Edriches beat Norfolk in a one-day match.
Bill was nevertheless the most gifted cricketer in his family. He was also a fine footballer, playing for Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City before strained knee ligaments cut short his career. But it was as a cricketer that Bill excelled. Between 1934 and 1958 he played 571 first class matches, scoring 36,985 runs, with a personal best of 267 not out. For his country, Bill made 2,440 runs in 39 test matches. His 219 in Durban against South Africa in the famous 1939 “Timeless Test” was arguably finest hour in this period.
The War Years
As with so many sportsmen of his generation, the Second World War interrupted his playing career. Edrich enlisted in the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of the war, eventually attaining the rank of Squadron Leader. As a pilot for Bomber Command, Bill participated in the August 1941 daylight raid on the power-stations of Cologne, described by the Daily Telegraph as "the RAF's most audacious and dangerous low-level bombing raid". 12 of the 54 bombers were shot down on the mission. It was perhaps during this period that Bill developed his famous devil-may-care insouciance that made him such a legendary figure in English cricket. It is said that, in between raids, Bill and his comrades would unwind with impromptu cricket matches at Massingham Hall. Later, the demands of professional cricket must have seemed tame indeed to taking to the crease in between bomber raids over occupied Europe.
The ‘Middlesex Twins’
Bill survived the war and was awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross. He returned to cricket and enjoyed some of the finest years of his career, forming a famous partnership with his Middlesex “twin”, Denis Compton. Edrich and Compton were dominant in the post-war years, with 1947 proving to be the high-point of both men's careers. Edrich scored 3,539 runs in this year, only marginally bettered by Compton's 3,816. Edrich and Compton's 1947 aggregates remain the highest ever recorded in an English cricket season.
The one-time Squadron Leader was a brave, gutsy batsman, described as "almost indifferent to his own safety. No bowler is too fast to hook; no score too large to defy challenge". He was also a larger than life figure, his wartime exploits having instilled in him a belief that "life was for living, not existing. Now was the vital time and he was never unduly concerned about the morrow."
Bill Edrich died in 1985. His ashes were scattered at Lords, a rare honour, for a great servant of English cricket. A stand at Lords was also named in his memory, situated next to the Compton stand, named of course after his legendary batting partner.
We are proud to say that Bill Edrich lived at the manor house at Heacham Manor, which was once a local farm. Legend has it that Denis Compton actually bowled at Bill on the Heacham Manor lawn!
To visit the former home of one of England's finest cricketers, book a stay at Heacham Manor, a luxury Elizabethan hotel on the North Norfolk coast.