Bradford had the honour of staging the first home match of Yorkshire CCC in 1863. Paul Dyson looks at the story of the ground involved in this historic match.
Although teams under the name of ‘Bradford’ had been playing since at least 1830, it was not until 1836 that the first Bradford CC was formed. Its early games were played on various areas of open land near the (then) town but used an area on Great Horton Road on which to practice. Three years after its formation, however, it acquired another plot on the nearby Horton Lane and was able to turn this into its first bespoke cricket ground, named ‘Horton Lane ground’ after which the game gained in popularity as the town grew.
As early as in 1840 the Club engaged two professionals and in the following year just one but he stayed for several seasons. John Hall, from Nottingham, coached the cricketers of Bradford CC so well that in 1847 they even defeated Sheffield, easily the outstanding Yorkshire club at the time. In the following summer the All-England XI came for the first time and played against 18 of Bradford and District. They or the United England Eleven continued to visit the town – sometimes both in the same season – until 1874, always playing against teams with a greater number of players than the 11 their own side would have.
This first main Bradford ground left much to be desired in terms of facilities, a ‘rickety old cow-shed’ serving as, amongst others, changing rooms and kitchen and so it was last used in 1851 before being sold as building land. Bradford CC moved further along Great Horton Road, to the next but one plot, in fact, and the new ground, named the ‘Great Horton Road ground’ was opened in July 1852 with the All-England XI, who found their visits to Bradford financially beneficial, coming in the succeeding September.
There was, by now, an increasing interest in cricket in Bradford and several clubs were formed during the 1850s. An attempt was made to persuade ‘Yorkshire’ to play there but all of the inter-county matches took place in Sheffield and most of the other ‘first-class’ matches were held in Leeds or York. However, with the formation of Yorkshire CCC in 1863, Bradford seized its chance and on 22nd June of the same year the county side, having played Surrey at The Oval in its first-ever official fixture, came to the West Riding town to play against Nottinghamshire in what would be the new Club’s maiden home game. Yorkshire’s captain, Roger Iddison, starred with the ball, taking seven for 30 and the hosts won by eight wickets.
There were five more such matches over the succeeding three seasons – these included two defeats to Cambridgeshire – but the ground was then omitted from Yorkshire’s fixtures until one solitary final Roses match – its first such game – in 1874. Nottinghamshire had refused to play there in 1867 despite them having won by an innings two years earlier although in the 1866 encounter play was possible only on the third day. As with the previous ground its facilities came under criticism, its pitch tended to produce low-scoring matches and was on the small side for first-class cricket.
After the loss of county cricket in 1867 Bradford CC set about improving its situation. A new pavilion, made from brick, was erected on the north-western side of the ground in about 1870 and three years later a temporary stand was demolished and a permanent one took its place. These improvements as well as representations to Yorkshire CCC not only resulted in Lancashire arriving in the following season but also the United South of England Eleven, including WG Grace, whom Yorkshire bowled out for 39 to win by 26 runs, this being after conceding a first-innings lead of 83.
The successful 1874 season was a false dawn, though; the area was needed for building so, in 1875, Bradford CC used what remaining grassland they could, while work progressed, and played all of its matches away from home. This arrangement was most unsatisfactory; the Club’s support-base disappeared and by 1877 the Club was basically non-existent, especially as the growth of other clubs had taken away players and spectators.
The land which the ground once occupied is to the south-east of Great Horton Road, specifically opposite the University of Bradford. The greater part of the ground is now covered by the Victorian houses on Pemberton Drive.
As has been seen in all of the centres covered in this series so far, it has always taken some time for each town or city to find its best site for permanent cricket and Bradford now comes into that category. The Great Horton Road ground, however, hosted Yorkshire’s first home game as an official club, six of its first 13 home matches and that record can never be taken away from the proud city.
Main source: Steven Draper Cricket Grounds of Yorkshire