With the City of York hosting first-class cricket for the first time for 129 years Paul Dyson looks back on that only previous occasion and the ground on which it took place. The drawing of George Ulyett, sketched in 1898, the year of his death at a young age, comes courtesy of Mick Pope.

June 9, 10, 1890 at Wigginton Road, York: Kent 46 (R Peel 4-21) & 167 (R Peel 5-27); Yorkshire 114 (F Martin 6-48, W Wright 4-56) & 100-2. Yorkshire won by eight wickets.

The first ground in York to host a county side was at Toft Green situated on the north side of the city now submerged by railway lines close to the Leeman Road area. It was the ground of York CC which was formed in 1784, this making it, by far, the oldest club in the whole of the north of England. It initially played on the Knavesmire (outside of which now runs the racecourse) but in 1834 moved to Toft Green and this is where XVIII of Yorkshire played against the All England XI in 1847. Seven years later XXII Gentlemen of Yorkshire also played against the All England XI and the touring elevens continued to play there until 1868. In 1870 a railway company purchased the ground for its expansion and York CC returned to the Knavesmire.

Meanwhile the Yorkshire Gentlemen’s CC had been formed and it laid out a ground off Wigginton Road, on land owned by a hospital authority, ready for the 1864 season. It was used by the Club until 1931 when they moved out to Escrick Park, a few miles south of the City. York CC, who had been occupying a ground at Bootham Crescent, just to the north of Bootham Bar, then became tenants until 1966, when the owners wanted the area for their own use, and it moved to create a new ground at Clifton Park which now hosts first-class cricket for the first time. The old Wigginton Road ground duly became subsumed by part of York District Hospital.

The match against Kent in 1890 lasted a mere two days and was played in gloomy conditions. The highest innings was 39 and bowlers dominated almost throughout. It got off to a bad start when three Kent players arrived so late that the visitors’ 46 for seven had to be recorded as an all-out total, the three players all being recorded as being ‘absent hurt’. (Kent had won the toss and had had no alternative but to bat.) The left-arm spin of Bobby Peel was responsible for four of the wickets, the others being taken by the fast round-arm bowling of George Ulyett. The pair were the only bowlers used; only two batsmen reached double figures but the total was boosted by ten extras (all byes). Yorkshire passed Kent’s total with three wickets down; Ulyett, opening the batting as usual, made the top score of 29 but the hosts managed to scrape together a lead of 68. Kent also used only two bowlers who were both of the left-arm pace variety. Fred Martin took six for 48 and Walter Wright four for 56. The difficulties the batsmen were under is best illustrated by the fact that Yorkshire took up 67 (five-ball) overs in making their 114. Kent made a much better fist of things at the second attempt and had reached 70 for three by close of play. George Hearne had made 22 but his brother Alec, with whom he had opened the batting, was standing firm on 31 not out.

On the second day Kent lost two more wickets before passing the century-mark, one of these being A Hearne for 39 – the highest innings of the whole match. Hugh Spottiswoode later made 37 as the lower order put up some resistance, Yorkshire using six bowlers before claiming the tenth wicket to give themselves exactly 100 to win. Prince Albert was present on this second day but neither the cricket nor the weather were suitable for such a distinguished royal visitor. Yorkshire duly reached their target with little trouble, losing only two wickets – both to Wright – and that was the end of first-class cricket in the historic city until 2019. Some second eleven games were staged from the 1920s to the 1950s but it is only in this year that York is able to really be a suitable centre of attention for good quality cricket.

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