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Cambridge Sport: in Fenner's Hands

Cambridge Sport in Fenner's Hands is written by Nigel Fenner and structured as a walking tour across Cambridge, this first edition comprises 315 pages, 150 images, and 800 references  and was published on 1st May 2023.

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Book overview


“Fenner’s” is well known in Cambridge, even amongst those who know little about cricket, but being named after the University Cricket Ground is currently Frank Fenner’s only legacy.


His hands had quite a reputation though, being described a few years before he died as

“worthy of preservation in a glass case in the pavilion at Lord’s, like Galileo’s at Florence, as trophies of his suffering and glory. Broken, distorted, mutilated, half-nailless, they resemble the hoof of a rhinoceros, almost as much as a human hand.”


So how did a local tobacconist warrant such comparison with Galileo?


Frank lived at a time when England was at the beginning of a sporting revolution that went world-wide, with Cambridge University playing a significant role, not just limited to creating the modern-day laws of football.


Nigel Fenner, related to Frank Fenner and also a University football Blue who trained in Cambridge as a teacher, takes a walk across Cambridge to understand the relationship Town and Gown [ - the University] have had with sport over many centuries, up to the early twentieth century. Even Isaac Newton, Lord Byron, Charles Darwin, the Footlights Theatre Company get a mention, as do the first known attempts to run the Olympic games in England, and the courageous labours of women taking their first sporting steps.


The closeness of the Fens and playing host to the largest Fair in Europe over many centuries gave Cambridge Town a significant sporting advantage, but for the challenging relationship they had with the University, which explains in part the ‘suffering’ evident in Frank’s hands.

(A random selection of pages from Cambridge Sport: in Fenner's Hands are shown below. Please respect the copyright protecting the text and images - thank you).

Look inside
Cambridge Sport: in Fenner's Hands front cover
Cambridge Sport: in Fenner's Hands book back cover
Showing stitching on book with fanned pages

Book reviews (pre-publication):

Derek Pringle (former Cambridge University, Essex and England cricketer, today journalist and author of "Pushing the Boundaries - Cricket in the 80s")

Driven by its famous university Cambridge is an acknowledged leader in art and science, yet who knew its role as the crucible for so many of today’s sports and games? By turning his fascinating walking tour on the subject into a book, Nigel Fenner has written a step-by-step account (as you’d expect from a devout footslogger) of how this sporting prowess evolved and how much of it can be linked to his relative the Victorian cricketer, entrepreneur and Cambridge denizen, Frank Fenner. Rich with detail, ‘In Fenner’s Hands,’ like the weathered appendages themselves, points, ushers and guides us through modern sport’s birth and adolescence.


Mike Petty MBE (Cambridgeshire Researcher, Lecturer & Historian)

A well-written and well-illustrated addition to Cambridge’s history…..and a worthy tribute to Frank Fenner and Cambridge’s sporting legacy. 

Richard Lawrence (Reviews Editor - The Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians)


This account of Frank Fenner and his legacy in Cambridge is a most unusual book, which I very much enjoyed. Running through it, like a golden thread, is the character of Fenner, but this is more than a conventional biography, as it also embraces the history of the city and university of Cambridge, their impact on the sporting world, and in particular the man who played such a large part in the development of this sporting tradition.

Subsequent book reviews.

Helen: excellent, a fascinating read, not just for sports fans (Aug 2023)

In Fenner’s Hands” by Nigel Fenner is a work of impressive originality, full of interesting, sometimes surprising historical details. At the heart of the book is Frank Fenner, a relative of the author born in Cambridge in 1811. The focus on a character who is significant to the author as a descendant as well as for what Frank Fenner achieved gives the book palpable depth and soul.…..

Using the format of a walking tour guide is also excellent at leading the reader into the book…..Another aid to progress…is the use of bold chapter headings and headed paragraphs which highlight the content of each section and, of course, the many photographs and illustrations that make places, events and characters spring to life. Added to these design details is the strength and solidity of the book itself. It is a satisfying artefact in its own right. The spine is particularly pleasing, very secure, does not creak or crease and allows the book to lie flat from page to page.

The final chapters concentrate on Frank Fenner’s later life and a tantalising puzzle is revealed. Optional explanations are offered to solve the puzzle but the reader is left to draw their own conclusions. This stays in the mind long after the last page is turned - a magical effect.

There is not a whiff of “rhinoceros hoof” in the hand that held the pen to write this book. What is clearly revealed is a writer of talent and humanity who has treated the 21st century reader to the gift of a true tale that is stupendous in range, fascinating in detail and honest in heart.

Richard Hobson (Extracts from review published in The Cricketer vol 103 No 7 Sept 2023)


[The book] is an unconventional work and eye-catching for it [being] about characters much more than bricks and mortar.... Frank Fenner did more than found a cricket ground.....[He] was a "complex" man...... His zest for life was Pickwickian but, as with Dickens' man, matters sometimes went awry.....

Wray Vamplew  (Emeritus Professor of Sports History at the University of Stirling and Global Professorial Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. He was a General Editor for the six-volume Cultural History of Sport (2021), and his many books include  How the Game Was Played: Essays in Sports History (2016))

A brilliantly unconventional piece of history: a mini road trip that darts off into interesting byways but keeps progressing the main theme of marking the life and legacy of sports entrepreneur Frank Fenner.

Steve Jackson (Sports show host at BBC Radio Cambridgeshire


Utterly brilliant and absorbing piece of work.

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