Yorkshire played very little in Leeds before Headingley hosted its first county game in 1891. Three different grounds were tried at various times and Paul Dyson looks at their stories.
By as early as 1760, remarkably, there existed a Leeds cricket club and it was known to have played against Wakefield and Sheffield on Chapeltown Moor. Much later, in 1832, it is recorded that Sheffield played against 22 of Yorkshire but this was at a ground in Kirkstall. A greater sense of consistency came in 1837 when the enterprise of a Robert Cadman acquired some land on Woodhouse Moor; he had it levelled, enclosed it and named it the Victoria Ground, in honour of the Queen’s recent accession to the throne. It was here that most of the area’s important matches were staged over the next few decades. The All-England XI visited on several occasions between 1846 and 1872 and there were also two-day games between ‘Yorkshire’ and Sheffield. Although it was hoped that Leeds could compete with the ambitious projects taking place on behalf of cricket in Sheffield, the ground was sold in 1858 to Thomas Clapham and his idea was to turn the area into one which could attract more people to its events rather than those interested in sport. Menageries and pleasure gardens encroached on the original playing area and the last significant match took place in 1878, the area later being sold for building in the final decade of the century.
Yorkshire County Cricket Club was formed in 1863 and for its first five seasons it played mostly in Bradford and Sheffield. The latter city was where the Club came into being and so it was natural that its Bramall Lane ground should feature prominently on its fixture list. However the county side also played games at Middlesborough and Dewsbury in this period and soon paid its first visit to the Leeds area.
Holbeck was the venue for the ‘Roses’ match of 1868 but a poor Lancashire team were overwhelmed by an innings and 186 runs. The visitors were all out for 30 and 34; the hostile George Freeman had match figures of 12 for 23, including the hat-trick, and the game was over in two days.
Matches had taken place on Holbeck Moor, to the south of the town, at least as early as in the 1840s and by the end of the decade the village’s club had acquired an enclosed ground in the Beeston Hill area. It was visited by the All-England XI in 1858 but six years later the club had moved again – back to Holbeck Moor where a larger area had been leased on the western section of the Moor. It was officially opened with the visit of the United England XI in the latter part of the 1865 season.
It was 15 years before Yorkshire played another game at the New Recreation Ground, as it was named, and, again, the game featured another very low score by its visitors. Innings figures of eight for five by Ted Peate, the first of Yorkshire’s great slow left-arm bowlers, saw Surrey being dismissed for a paltry 31 and the home side gained another two-day innings victory.
Despite Holbeck’s wish to continue to host first-class cricket only one further such game took place – in 1886 – but by this time the local club was developing its interest in winter sports. It had already added rugby to its activities but the success of this meant that it was then finding itself short of space. The answer was found by moving just half-a-mile onto Elland Road and the rest, as may be guessed, is history. Rugby was taken over by soccer – firstly by Leeds City FC and then by Leeds United. The cricketing part of the land survived until the 1960s when the club was wound up and the playing area was built on. This was also the case with the original ground but its short county history lives on in the street names of Recreation Terrace and the like.
A village further to the south of Leeds was Hunslet. In keeping with similar venues at a similar time, cricket was played on a ‘moor’ – in this case Hunslet Moor – in the early part of the 1800s. This arrangement continued until 1847, or possibly earlier, by which time an enclosed ground in the area of Woodhouse Hill was acquired. The ground was on the west side of Middleton Road and in its north-west corner stood Cemetery Tavern. The M621 now divides Middleton Road and the address of where the ground was is now given as Belle Isle, its southern part now being separated from the main part of Hunslet. It was leased from a certain Mr Parnaby and his name lives on in Parnaby Road and three other streets with similar names – south of the motorway – as well as the Tavern which is now named Parnaby Tavern. These streets cover the area which formed the southern part of the ground. A more northerly part of the area – on the Hunslet side of the motorway – is still used for sport.
The All-England XI played there as soon as 1852 and visited on a further two occasions in the next eight years. However the high point of Hunslet’s cricket-staging activities came in the late 1860s. The successful promotion of a match between the United All-England XI and the Australian Aborigines – the first cricketing tourists from that part of the world – encouraged the Hunslet club (‘The Peep o Day CC’) to stage Yorkshire’s match against Cambridgeshire in 1869. The visitors had previously been included in the unofficial seasonal county rankings but the club was wound up in March of the same year and so the team visited not as true representatives of their county. It was their only game of the season but despite these factors the game was subsequently given first-class status. The match took on a similar pattern to those previously described: the visitors were dismissed for 40 and 46 and Yorkshire won by an innings in two days. Tom Emmett, a famed left-arm fast bowler, came away with astonishing match-figures of 16 for 38 – still the third-best in Yorkshire’s history.
Only one further significant match was played on the ground – a North v South game in 1872. The Australian Test team visited twice but to play only against Hunslet in non-first-class cricket. However its small playing area and its distance from the centre of the village – not to mention from Leeds itself – militated against its further use for important cricket. In 1883 rugby was added to the ground’s activities but the whole club moved to Parkside five years later. This ground was better known for Rugby League and the cricket section gradually faded out and the game was no longer played there after 1959. As with Holbeck, Hunslet gradually became part of ‘greater Leeds’, the formal take-over taking place in the 1920s.
The only other ground which Yorkshire visited in the Leeds area before Headingley became available was Horsforth Hall Park. The county played only one game there – in 1885 – and this meant that in the first 27 years of its existence the County Club played a mere five games – out of the 195 home matches on its fixture list – in the most populous town in the centre of the county.
Horsforth Hall was built in 1699 and the parkland surrounding it included a cricket ground from about 1850. Yorkshire’s one game there was a charity match and the county’s opponents were originally designated ‘Oxford and Cambridge Universities’ but the unavailability of certain players meant that the visitors were re-named MB Hawke’s XI; this team won the three-day match by three wickets. A certain Tasmanian, studying at Cambridge, named Claude Rock took eight for 36 in Yorkshire’s second innings.
Horsforth Hall Park CC was formed in 1885 and was a founder-member of the Airedale & Wharfedale League when it was re-constituted in 1936, having previously played in the Yorkshire Council. The Hall was demolished in 1907 and the park passed into public ownership. It is a very attractive ground and the Club is very active running five men’s teams and five junior age-group sides. It is good to know that as least one of these three venues still has cricket being played on it.