Within the pavilion at Bradman Oval, in Bowral, New South Wales, Australia, a neat display of 132 neck ties in handsome timber and glass cases, boasting a kaleidoscope of colours, patterns and insignia, never fails to capture the attention of visiting players and cricket aficionados.
“These ties speak to them,” explains David Wells, curator at the Bradman Museum. “When they see the ties from cricket clubs and associations around the world, they see a piece of their own story on display at the Bradman museum.”
More specifically, what they see is a significant history of cricket tradition — ties from the five clubs that Don Bradman played in, Test nation ties, English county team ties and commemorative event ties that are part of a growing collection of more that 900 ties held by the Bradman Museum, all of which have been digitally recorded on databases for posterity.
Much of the collection was donated by four Bradman Trust patrons who are now deceased: Fred Bennett (1970s Australian team manager), Sir Roden Cutler (former New South Wales Governor and statesman), Bob Radford (former chief of the NSW Cricket Association) and Percy Samara-Wickrama (former head of ACT cricket). However, the spectacle of the display in the Bradman Pavilion that was created four years ago has attracted a steady trickle of further contributions.
“We receive about 15 to 20 new ties a year,” says Wells. “A gentleman visiting recently from India was most upset that the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club — the oldest surviving cricket club outside of England, having been established in 1792 — wasn’t represented in the wall of ties. Soon after he returned home, we received his club’s tie in the post.”
Neck ties became part of cricket’s steeped tradition after the Eton Ramblers cricket club in England commissioned their own tie in 1863 — a symbol of their fraternity, and the exclusivity of their club. This affectation followed the prevailing formal fashion trend that had gained hold since the English adapted and modified the French passion for silk cravats that swept King Louis XIV’s court in the 1660s. Due to the taste and influence of the English establishment, it became part of cricket clubs’ formal dress code.
Now, every quarter of the modern cricket world has identified itself with their own ties — from officials, national teams and district clubs to such tiny specialist groups as the Association of Cricket Statisticians and the Cricket Commentators Club. “Ties became the discrete way of establishing at a glance who and what you are within the cricket fraternity,” says Wells. “Many of them speak a quite subtle language. Their story is in the minute detail.”
Some of the most colourful and distinctive ties in the Bradman Museum collection celebrate the English county cricket club tradition of honouring longstanding players with commemorative ties, many featuring amusing insignia to reflect the player’s personality quirks.
Gordon Parsons, who played for Leicestershire County (known as The Foxes), has a small insignia on his tie of a fox lying on its back drinking a can of Fosters beer. Nick Cook, who represented England and a host of different counties through a long career, has his tie dotted with jockeys’ silks in the colours of cricket clubs he played for, highlighting his feverish passion for horse racing.
While ties are inherently conservative and modest in appearance, some within the collection are guilty of following fashion trends in colour and pattern design — often with quite awful results. A Zimbabwe national tie is particularly garish, with the 1999 Ashes sponsors tie and Superstar 1975 invitation team ties equally gaudy. “I look at some of these and wonder what were the designers thinking,” says Wells with a shake of his head.
By comparison, there are many humorous ties with tastefully understated inscriptions: Yes No Sorry has an insignia with flayed stumps to depict an unfortunate run out incident that inspired this charity cricket club’s name; a simple knot illustrated in the centre of a plain green tie commemorates the 1960 tied Test between Australia and the West Indies (green ties for Australians, maroon for the West Indians).
The vast scale of the Bradman Museum tie collection means that not everything can be displayed at once. “That’s actually good museum practice, having the capacity to alternate some of the displayed items,” says Wells — with the bulk of the ties being stored in a humidity controlled storage room. However, not even this can guarantee pristine preservation of all the garments.
“We’ve needed to send a few batches to dry cleaners over the years,” offers Wells with a grin. “Well, you know how cricketers’ lunches are. There’s the odd spot of gravy and splash of wine on quite a few of the ties, and that means there’s been the odd fungal outbreak.”
Wells hopes that plans to extend the Bradman Museum — the result of a $6.5 million Australian Federal grant announced in February 2009 to establish the International Cricket Hall of Fame within two new museum wings — will enable more of the tie collection to be displayed. Still, he stops short of boasting that this could be the largest cricket tie collection in the world. He feels that the Melbourne Cricket Club and Marylebone Cricket Club in London could have even larger collections of the estimated 3000 cricket ties believed to be in circulation.
As for the future of ties as symbols of cricket in a world that is abandoning many formal dress traditions, Wells believes they will endure as significant apparel.
“I know that ties aren’t worn as much these days, and that they’re not a part of all dress codes in different cricketing nations. Clive Lloyd, the former captain of the West Indies cricket team, doesn’t own a tie or wear them. But when I wear a tie in another city, it’s a very helpful way of identifying me to other people. To me, the tie represents a sense of belonging — it says that I’m a part of the big cricket family, and it gets recognized. It may well be very old fashioned, but the tie that you wear is still a very powerful statement.”
“Bradman Oval”, “Don Bradman”, “Bowral Cricket Tie” All photos courtesy of Bradman Foundation
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