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BURNING THE BAILS: The story of the Ashes

BAILS cover
  • Author

    Krista Bell
  • Illustrator

    Ainsley Walters
  • Publisher

    One Day Hill
  • Distributor

    Scholastic Australia
  • ISBN

    9780987313997 HB and 9780987313980 pb
  • Price

    $ 24.95 HB and $19.95 pb


Several generations of Australian cricket fans have wondered why the Ashes, the supposed trophy for the Test Series between Australia and England, remain in London, having only visited Australia twice in over one hundred years, despite Australian victories.

BURNING THE BAILS recounts for the first time the true story behind the Ashes: that wooden bails were burnt by Janet Lady Clarke on Christmas Eve 1882 at her home, ‘Rupertswood’, in Sunbury, Victoria, after a social cricket match between some local lads and the visiting England team. Her son, Russell aged six, was witness to their burning.

BURNING THE BAILS is a fictionalised account of the story, told from the perspective of six-year-old Russell Clarke. The picture book story is supported by pages of historical facts gleaned from Clarke family documents, as well as rare, original family photographs, including one of Russell, his older brother Clive, stumps, bails and a cricket bat.




    REVIEW by Susan Whelan IN KIDS' BOOK REVIEW on-line magazine November 2013

    When the Australian cricket team defeated England by just seven runs at the Oval in London on 29 August 1882, a reporter for The Sporting Times published an obituary notice for English cricket. How did this tongue-in-cheek response to England’s loss lead to what we now know as The Ashes, the ongoing cricketing showdown between Australia and England?

    Burning the Bails: The Story of the Ashes is a fictionalised account of the events of 1882 linked to the creation of The Ashes legend. The story, told from the perspective of six-year-old Russell Clarke, explains how the English cricket captain came to be presented with an urn of ashes that remains a symbol of the cricketing rivalry between Australia and England to this day.

    A wonderful mixture of facts and historical fiction, Burning the Bails shares the story of The Ashes accompanied by paintings by Ainsley Walters and a few photographs from the time, including an image of the obituary notice that started it all.

    Author Krista Bell helps young readers relate to this historic tale by narrating the story from the perspective of Russell Clarke, the son of Lady Clarke who presented the English captain Ivo Bligh with an urn containing the ashes of burned cricket bails. The book also contains an information section about the Clarke family and their connection with the English cricket team and the events leading to the presentation of The Ashes for those children who are interested in the facts behind the story.

    Burning the Bails: The Story of the Ashes is the ideal picture book for young cricket fans, those interested in Australian history and anyone who enjoys an interesting story.
    REVIEW by Sally Murphy in Aussie Reviews on-line

    Burning the Bails: The Story of the Ashes, by Krista Bell & Ainsley Walters
    Posted by Sally Murphy on December 16, 2013 at 5:20 pm Picture Books

    When the ashes were ready, Russell put his hand in his pocket and pulled out one of his mother’s empty perfume bottles. It was porcelain and had two tiny handles.
    ‘How wonderful!’ laughed Miss Morphy. ‘It looks exactly like a miniature urn. Well done, Russell.’
    ‘This is perfect, darling,’ exclaimed his mother. ‘A real urn for our Rupertswood “Ashes”.’

    When the touring English cricket team visits his family home in Rupertswood, Russell Clarke is delighted. He loves cricket and longs to be part of the fun. So when his mother and her companion decide to burn the bails from a match and present it to the English captain, Russell joins in by finding the perfect vessel for the ashes.

    Burning the Bails is a fictionalised account of the true story behind the Ashes, the trophy for the cricket test series between Australia and England. While Russell’s involvement is imagined, the story is based on fact, and will give young cricket fans an insight into the origin and significance of the Ashes.

    With the story supported by photographs, pages of historical facts, and the illustrative work of Ainsley Walters, and with the Ashes series currently being played in Australia, this is a wonderful offering for young cricketers.

    INTERVIEW by Neridah McMullin, 28 November 2013

    Thanks for coming onto my blog today, Krista. Can you tell us, what was your inspiration for writing the picture book BURNING THE BAILS?

    Thanks for having me, Neridah. Well, all my life I wondered why, when Australia wins the ‘Ashes’ Test Cricket series, the trophy stays in England? Then just a few years ago I was talking with my friend of twenty five years, Louise Clarke Morris, and she explained that the so-called ‘Ashes’ urn was not and had never been the trophy for the cricket test. I was stunned.

    Get out, I am too.

    It turns out that you need to ask the right questions if you want to hear a good story. Even though I had known Louise for years and had been vaguely aware of her family’s connection with the urn of Ashes, I had never actually asked her to tell me the story of their history.

    Why? When? Where? Who had made the ashes and for whom? BURNING THE BAILS tells this story. Louise’s family story.



    It’s a beautiful front cover.

    How do you describe the genre of this book?

    This is an interesting question and difficult to answer. BURNING THE BAILS is a picture story book with wonderful illustrations that are painted in the naive style of Melbourne fine artist Ainsley Walters. They appeal to adults and children alike.

    The story is firmly based on fact but I have taken literary licence by telling the story from the viewpoint of Russell Clarke who was six years old on Christmas Eve 1882 when his mother, Janet Lady Clarke, burnt the bails from a social cricket match played at ‘Rupertswood’, the Clarke family’s Sunbury residence, between local lads and the England cricket team who were out here to play Test Cricket after Christmas just as they do today.

    Young Russell grew up to become Louise’s grandfather. His mother, Lady Clarke, was her great-grandmother! Bingo.

    After the ‘factionalised’ telling of the Ashes story in BURNING THE BAILS, there are seven pages detailing the actual history surrounding the making of the Ashes. ‘Rupertswood’ is often called the ‘birthplace of the Ashes’.

    Well, I truly never knew this, Krista. This is very cool history.

    REVIEW by Jenny Heslop, Thursday, 30 January 2014

    Burning the Bails – The Story of the Ashes by Krista Bell, illustrated by Ainsley Walters (One Day Hill)
    PB RRP $19.99
    ISBN 978-0-9873139-8-0
    Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

    Have you ever wondered about the story behind the Ashes trophy? This delightful picture book is a fictionalised account of the events leading up to the burning of the bails after a social game of cricket between the visiting England team and some of the local lads in Sunbury.

    Burning the Bails is told from the point of view of six year old Russell Clarke whose father was Sir William Clarke, president of the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1882 when these events took place. Having a young perspective makes this historic tale easily understandable and accessible to young children and older alike.

    There are many words to each page, but it is written wonderfully and in keeping with the era, and really nice to read: ‘Everyone was keen and that afternoon the oval resounded with much merriment.’

    The illustrations are beautiful. Each page is a painted scene, not always sticking to the illustration side of the page, but sometimes slipping over a little as if to take over the words. Some of these paintings would look as much at home hung in an exhibition. They fit beautifully with the historic tone of the story.

    In the back is a very informative run-down of all the facts which the author has drawn from to create this book. There are also photographs from the Clarke family’s collections reproduced in both the front and back.

    Books like this one are a great way for children to learn about historical events. The role of Russell Clarke, the narrator, would be the sort of thing most young boys dream of. Burning the Bails is for lovers of cricket, lovers of Australian History, and lovers of good picture books everywhere.
    REVIEW by Megan Daley, January 2014


    ‘Burning the Bails’ by Krista Bell is perfect for cricket fans.
    It recounts the true story behind the Ashes: that wooden bails were burnt by Janet Lady Clarke on Christmas Eve 1882 at her home, ‘Rupertswood’, in Sunbury, Victoria, after a social cricket match between some local lads and the visiting England team. Her son, Russell aged six, was witness to their burning and the story is told through his eyes. This illustrated text is a fictionalised account of the story and is perfect for cricket fans from five years to…well my nanna enjoyed it! The illustrations by Ainsley Walters are truly beautiful and a perfect match for the text. This book is having it’s official launch at the Melbourne Cricket Club on Jan 31 2014…which you can read more about on Krista Bell’s website.
  • READING TIME on-line March 2014
    Burning the Bails: The Story of the Ashes 0
    burning the bails

    BELL, Krista (text) Ainsley Walters (illus.) Burning the Bails: The Story of the Ashes One Day Hill, 2013 30pp $19.99 pbk ISBN 9780987313980 SCIS 1619902

    Cricket enthusiasts will embrace this production with enthusiasm. While it is in narrative form, it is mostly factual, and packed with information. The story is told through the eyes of Russell Clarke who when the book opens is on a deckchair ‘engrossed in his cricket book’ on board the Peshawur sailing home to Australia from England. Russell is a cricket fan, so is drawn to a Miss Morphy, also on board and a friend of his mother. Also on board are members of the England cricket team, captained by Ivo Bligh, a perfect gentleman. In the course of the voyage Mr Clarke invites the team to spend Christmas week at the Clarke’s country residence in Sunbury. So on Christmas Eve the All England cricket team play an Australian eleven. During the course of the match Miss Morphy and Mrs Clarke discuss a London newspaper article about the ‘Ashes of English cricket’, whereupon Mrs Clarke proposes burning the bails from the day’s match and giving them to Mr Bligh as a memento to his stay in Australia. The story goes on to detail how Russell proposes an urn for the ashes. That urn was to become the trophy for future Test series between England and Australia. This book fills out the tale through Russell’s eyes and the action is detailed in period style through the illustrations that capture the manners and protocol of the age; along with its Australian background. But because it was Russell who decided that the ashes needed an urn, and the story tells how that urn came about, this is a tale to both enlighten and enthrall young cricket fans.

    Moreover the last seven pages of the book are devoted to the historic facts about the birth of the Ashes; the people, both adults and children, who were involved with the England v Australia in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many young cricketers today would be ignorant of the human stories behind the history of the Ashes: for instance, that Mrs Anne Fletcher, the wife of the Secretary of the Paddington Cricket Club in NSW embroidered a purple velvet bag for the porcelain ‘urn’ of the Ashes that was presented to Mr Bligh by the Fletchers after the Sydney Test, that concluded on 30 January 1883. Stories such as this should inspire today’s young cricketers by an understanding of a gentleman’s sport that of late has been the subject of criticism and, at times, internecine strife. MS


If you would like Krista to visit your school, to give talks or do some workshops, please contact her via email for pricing and availability.

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