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.