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The Early Years

Interest in cricket grew rapidly in the first decades of the 19th century. Fuelled by rising standards of living and improved means of communication, notably the development of the railways, it led to cricket clubs being formed in towns and villages, churches, chapels and workplaces, throughout Yorkshire, years before a county club came into existence.

  • Momentum accelerated in the 1840s.when the travelling All-England XI of professional cricketers took on local teams. Sheffield emerged as the leading cricket centre in the county with purpose-built cricket grounds at Darnall (1822 and 1824), Hyde Park (1826) and Bramall Lane (1855).

  • Darnall Cricket Ground, Sheffield, circa 1822

  • Representative Sheffield sides had contested matches against Nottingham from as early as 1771 and a self-styled Yorkshire side, consisting entirely of Sheffield cricketers, met Norfolk at Hyde Park in 1833. There were later occasional matches featuring a Yorkshire-styled side but club cricket continued to hold sway.

    Impressive numbers of matches were arranged, teams often travelling great distances to fulfil fixtures. It was in these matches that Yorkshire’s early cricketers, engaged as professionals by the more prestigious clubs, learned and honed their skills. These still included lob bowling, a reminder, as was widespread betting on matches, that cricket was not long out of its infancy.

    The move to start a Yorkshire county club was initiated in Sheffield in 1861 and the prime purpose was to improve the financial position of the Sheffield United club that operated the Bramall Lane ground.

    Michael Ellison had been the driving force behind the building of that ground just as he was the formation of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club, finally brought into being at a meeting in Sheffield on January 8, 1863.

    The first of Yorkshire’s four fixtures in 1863 was against Surrey at the Oval. There were only a handful of first-class counties at the time and no recognised county championship though it was the practice of the cricket Press at the end of the season to declare the champion county, not always a unanimous choice.

  • Bramall Lane, Sheffield

  • Yorkshire players were free-lance professionals, hired on a match-by-match basis by the committee. Out of their £5 match fee players were expected to make their own arrangements for travel and accommodation. There was no standard attire; the heavy beards and assorted headgear of the players in early team photographs give them an idiosyncratic, even piratical, appearance. The players owed no particular loyalty to the Club (in 1865 five leading players refused to play against teams from the south in a dispute over an umpiring decision in a match not involving Yorkshire) and the Club certainly felt no particular loyalty to them. A county club may have been formed in 1863 but for many years its teams remained a collection of individuals with little cohesive sense of purpose.

    Yorkshire’s captain for the first ten seasons was Roger Iddison, an all-rounder who had been a stalwart of the All-England XI. His colleagues in the early years included George Anderson, another All-England professional, a forceful batsman who had first played for a Yorkshire side in 1851 but made only 19 appearances for the official county side before retiring in 1869; white-haired John Thewlis who made his debut aged 35 and did not miss a match in Yorkshire’s first three seasons and posted the first century for an official Yorkshire side, and the experienced Joseph Rowbotham, another All-England stalwart, who played regularly for the county from 1863 until 1875.

    Early results were not impressive but in 1867 Yorkshire won all six of their county matches and were declared champions and they were again awarded the title in 1870 when five of their six matches were won.

  • Yorkshire’s first ever captain Roger Iddison (left) and George Anderson

  • They owed these successes very largely to the two fast bowlers, George Freeman and Tom Emmott. In a short and explosive career, effectively between 1867 and 1871, Freeman took 209 wickets for Yorkshire at 9.44. He took 51 wickets in 1867 and 50 in 1870. Tom Emmott, in a much longer career lasting from 1866 until 1888, took 1,216 wickets with his fast left-arm deliveries at 12.71and scored 6,315 runs. He was a character in every positive meaning of the word. He enjoyed his cricket to the full and followers of the game the world over enjoyed the way he played his cricket. No less an authority than WG Grace judged Freeman and Emmott the best fast bowlers in the country.

    The first steps towards a properly constituted county championship were taken in 1873 with the agreement of qualification rules for the players, putting an end to the practice of a player turning out for more than one county in the same season. But there was still no settled system for deciding which was the champion county. Roger Iddison (who had played for both Lancashire and Yorkshire in his time) was followed as captain by Joseph Rowbotham in the 1873 season and he in turn by Luke Greenwood in 1874, Rowbotham again in 1875, Ephraim Lockwood in 1876 and 1877 and Tom Emmott from 1878 until 1882, hardly a settled leadership.

    Other great players could be called upon in the ten years to 1883. Ephraim Lockwood, in a career of 16 years from 1868, scored 7,789 runs for the county with six centuries and a top score of 208. George Pinder was an outstanding wicketkeeper who accounted for 249 dismissals in 125 matches between 1867 and 1880.

    George Ulyett was another much-loved character of Yorkshire’s early days. Between 1873 and 1893 he scored 14,157 runs for Yorkshire with a highest score of 199 not out against Derbyshire at Bramall Lane in 1887 and he also took 457 wickets. Known as “Happy Jack” for his cheerful demeanour on and off the field, he was Yorkshire’s first international star, playing 25 times for England.

  • Prolific batsman George Ulyett (left) and demon bowler George Freeman

  • Louis Hall, the Batley stonewaller and strict teetotaller, first appeared for Yorkshire in 1873 and was Ulyett’s usual opening partner. He still holds the record for the most times a Yorkshire player has carried his bat through an innings.

    Billy Bates, a splendid all-rounder who played in 15 Test matches, made his debut in 1877 but had his career cut short by an injury to his eye while batting in the nets.

    Among the bowlers, fast bowler Allen Hill ably stepped into the shoes of George Freeman in 1871 and took 542 wickets in his 11 seasons while Ted Peate, the first in Yorkshire’s long line of outstanding slow left arm bowlers, took 794 wickets in a relatively short career beginning in 1879 (though Peate is best remembered for helping to give birth to the Ashes when he was last out, playing an injudicious stroke, in the Test match against the Australians at the Oval in 1882 when England were just seven runs short of victory).

  • Ted Peate (left) and Billy Bates

    For all the talents of these and other players, and the best efforts of the various captains, in no year after 1870 were Yorkshire the undisputed county champions. They too rarely performed effectively as a team. As JM Kilburn graphically put it, “the giants never linked arms”. It was to fall to the Hon Martin Bladen Hawke, from 1887 and hereafter Lord Hawke, to put right this long-running shortcoming.

    Hawke first played for Yorkshire in 1881 when still an undergraduate at Cambridge. He took over the captaincy in 1883 at the age of 22 years after he had “picked up a few wrinkles” playing under the captaincy of Tom Emmett. In 1883 Yorkshire had their best season since 1870 but it took some years, and some personnel changes, for the influence of the autocratic Lord Hawke fully to show itself in the team’s results.

    Despite his privileged background and autocratic manner, Lord Hawke empathised with the men in his charge. He determined to improve their position as professional cricketers. He regularised their conditions of engagement, including bonus money and benefits (part of the money raised to be invested by the club on the player’s behalf) and introduced winter pay. He inaugurated county caps and designed the famous White Rose county badge. By all accounts, Lord Hawke gained the respect and whole-hearted support of his men.

  • Yorkshire Greats – (left to right) Arthur Sellers, Ernest Smith, Lord Hawke, Hon. Frank Jackson.

  • In 1890 the county championship was finally properly established with an agreed system of scoring.

    Under Lord Hawke, Yorkshire won the championship in 1893, in 1896 and again in 1898. Photographs of the team, smart in blazers and caps, convey a commitment to Yorkshire’s cause perhaps lacking in earlier years. As the century turned, Yorkshire, with a team of real giants of the game, were poised to enter their own Golden Age, marked by three successive championships in 1900, 1901 and 1902.