PENDLE has honoured its greatest ever sports legend - West Indian cricketer Learie Constantine - by placing a blue plaque outside his old house.
In his last week as Mayor of Pendle, Coun. Tony Beckett was determined to create a memorial to Constantine, who went on to become a knight and then a lord.
He lived in Meredith Street, Nelson, for 20 years and was incredibly popular and respected at Nelson Cricket Club when he served as its professional, destroying much racism.
At the official unveiling of the plaque, the Mayor was joined by Pendle Council chief executive Mr Stephen Barnes - himself a cricketer- and the chairman of Nelson Cricket Club, Mr Milton Lord. The audience included many cricket fans who saw Constantine as a hero.
Opening the event, Coun. Beckett said: “I’m sure its going to be a wonderful experience!”
And he added: “People have been talking for years about putting a plaque on this house but never got on with it.”
He said he was adamant to make sure it happened while he was mayor.
Mr Barnes said: “It’s a really important occasion.” He went on to say that Lancashire has had great connection with the West Indies, and he himself had played cricket with another legend - Clive Lloyd.
And he gave a fascinating history of Learie Constantine.
He was born in Trinidad in 1901, son of a solicitor. He made his first tour of England in 1928 - the year he became a test player for the “Windies” - and in 1929 joined Nelson CC as professional. In 1930, he had his first win again England. His last test was in 1939, and over the years he made 17,500 runs and took 439 wickets.
Mr Barnes said: “He was a legend - a real legend ... a very competent cricket legend. He continued playing for Nelson until 1937 and lived here in this house until 1949.”
He also became a journalist and BBC presenter. Mr Barnes added: “A black face at that time was quite a difficult thing - he got racial abuse.”
Constantine and his wife Norma stayed in Nelson until 1949. He then studied law and was called to the Bar in 1954. He returned to Trinidad and then came to London as his island’s high commissioner. He later became a baron and included Nelson in his title. He also became rector of the University of St Andrew’s.
Mr Barnes said: “He was a real role model. He died at the young age of 69 of bronchitis in London.”
Milton Lord pointed out that one member of the audience, Mrs Edna Hartley, was widow of former Nelson CC chairman Ken Hartley. “Ken knew the ins and outs of Constantine,” he said. “On Tuesday, BBC’s One Show is coming to our Seedhill Cricket Ground to interview me and Edna.” It is not known when it will be on the programme yet.
Mr Lord added: “As a black man in Lancashire he was very much a first. Constantine was probably at the time the highest paid sportsman in the country! At Nelson he was on the equivalent of thousands of pounds a week.”
And he concluded: “It’s a great legacy for us.”
As he performed the unveiling, the Mayor said: “It gives me great pleasure to unveil this plaque to a great man and a great sportsman.”