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Friarmere flying the flag with pride in its 150th Year

— 24 April 2014

Congratulations to Friarmere CC of Saddleworth which officially celebrates its Sesquicentennial anniversary in 2014. The club is believed to have been formed in 1863, the same year as Yorkshire CCC, but there is no documentary evidence and the club is dating its 150th anniversary from the year of its first match the following summer.

Friarmere’s ground is situated adjacent moorland in a quiet part of the Tame valley off the road between Denshaw and Delph. You would not glimpse it when driving by and it is only accessible by narrow lanes but a marvellous view is available from the Ripponden-Oldham road virtually on the traditional Yorkshire-Lancashire boundary, from where the ground can be seen set half way up the valley side above twelve cottages known as West View and below St. Thomas’s church.

Friarmere joined the Saddleworth League when it was formed in 1899 but spent a number of seasons in the Huddersfield League either side of the Great War when the club’s wealthy president, John Lewis Byrom, funded the club. Byrom, who owned the local Slack Cote woollen mill, had a two storey pavilion with a balcony constructed and successfully lured cricketers from the Huddersfield district and beyond to work in his factory and play in his sides. This recruitment policy naturally created some resentment which was must have been heightened by the club’s subsequent success as they won a remarkable eighteen championships and cups during Byrom’s time.

Byrom, who played three times for Yorkshire as an amateur in 1875 – including fielding out to two WG Grace centuries – became influential in Yorkshire cricket circles and is said to have recommended both George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes to the county committee. Byrom also donated the trophy for the Huddersfield League championship, the Byrom Shield, with the Friarmere pavilion and St.Thomas’ church engraved on it. It is still presented today.

  • Furthermore, the Friarmere ground was said to have been developed by Byrom with the aim of it becoming a Yorkshire outground or a base for the county seconds. However, its relatively remote position both in Saddleworth and certainly on the fringes of the West Riding meant that such an ambition – if it existed – was scarcely likely to have been fulfilled and no Yorkshire side has ever played there. Byrom also had the twelve cottages built and it is said they were for the team and 12th man or perhaps the scorer, a lovely story which has never been verified. His grave at St.Thomas’ is in the corner of the churchyard nearest the cricket ground so Byrom can surely be said to be looking over the club. Following his death in 1931, the club felt it necessary to return to the Saddleworth League where they have played ever since.

    Lees Whitehead, who made appearances for Yorkshire between 1889 and 1904 – and whom Lord Hawke considered a reliable and enthusiastic 12th man -, was born in the Friarmere area whilst another local cricketer Albert Rhodes, who played regularly for the club either side of the Great War, made occasional appearances for Lancashire in the twenties. During the inter-war years the Friarmere side was very strong in batting featuring Harry Morris, who had played with Crompton just over the Lancashire border but was originally a native of Herefordshire, and two leading Huddersfield district players Arthur Milnes from Leymoor and John Meal from Golcar, the latter having opened the innings with Percy Holmes at his former club.

    The current Friarmere scorer, John Morris, is a grandson of Harry Morris and actually lives on West View, in fact in the same house where he has lived all his life so perhaps John is fulfilling Byrom’s wish! John played in junior sides for the club but quickly realised he preferred scoring, first filling in for the 3rd team in 1954 and never laying down his pen since so that he celebrates 60 years of continuous scoring for Friarmere in 2014!

    John took over as first team scorer in 1963 and has missed just one match for them since then – and that when he scored for the Saddleworth League representative side on June 9th 1968. Since 15th June that year John has scored 1340 consecutive games for Friarmere first team and believes he has a total of over 2000 matches for the club, this despite never owning a car!

  • John, who is in his late sixties, has been a Friarmere committee member for 53 years and has held the roles of president, chairman, treasurer, secretary and barman whilst he is also currently assistant groundsman! Recently, John’s truly outstanding service was rewarded by the Saddleworth League committee who invited him to become a Life Member. John’s late father, Harry junior, was also a Life Member of the league, making them the first father and son to be so honoured.

    Friarmere, like all the six Saddleworth district clubs, have been members of the Lancashire Cricket Board for over two decades, a consequence of the 1974 Local Government Act which placed the district against its will in the Oldham and Greater Manchester authorities rather than with Kirklees and West Yorkshire. John’s remarkable service to Friarmere has properly been recognised by the Lancashire CB though he is a ‘dyed in the wool’ Yorkshireman and can point out the ‘proper’ Yorkshire-Lancashire boundary which can be seen in the distance from the ground beyond and above the cottages on the far side of the valley.

    The Morris family and Friarmere CC have been closely intertwined for nearly a century for Harry first played for the club just after the Great War whilst two of his sons, Eddie and Harry junior (John’s father), both played in the post-war years. J.L. Byrom employed Harry senior as his gardener when he played with Friarmere whilst he was also given time off to play for Cheshire over three seasons.

    Eddie was a left handed batsman and John believes he was offered terms by both Lancashire and Warwickshire. He decided on the latter as Eddie Paynter was an established left hander with Lancashire at the time and ‘our’ Eddie reckoned that greater opportunities might be offered at Edgbaston. However, Warwickshire had to withdraw their offer because of the outbreak of war. Harry junior had a long and successful career in local club cricket.

    John naturally has many interesting recollections over his Friarmere career, notably scoring in mist at Moorside CC when neither he nor his fellow scorer could see the square, and the fieldsmen including his brother had to shout out what had happened after each ball. John has occasionally been called onto the field of play to field over the years when Friarmere played a man short and reckons to have taken 5 catches. Sometimes he was told to bat if the opposition professional needed a fifth wicket for ’talent’ money! His happiest memory of batting was when he helped add ninety for the final wicket with one of his boyhood heroes Douglas Rhodes, John making an unbeaten 4.

    Friarmere have an illustrious list of honours, having won as many as nine Saddleworth league titles before the Great War and three Huddersfield plus three Saddleworth league championships between the wars. They also won three Sykes Cups during their time in the Huddersfield League in the twenties, the finals being watched by up to 5000 spectators at Fartown. In the post war years Friarmere have won two further Saddleworth titles making them the joint record holder with Delph and Dobcross, but the last came over forty years ago in 1970.

    In 1971 Friarmere won their one and only Tanner Cup (the Saddleworth knock-out competition) and John recalls that they beat Flowery Field at home in the final on a baking hot day in front of a crowd of 2000. J.L. Byrom had stipulated that no alcohol should be served or consumed on the ground and the club had to apply for a one day license to sell beer. A pop van was otherwise a regular visitor to the ground on match days and the only vendor of drinks for decades until the club successfully overturned Byrom’s ruling in 1972.

    An extension was built on the ground floor of Byrom’s original two storey pavilion in 1994 changing its appearance but the original first floor balcony remains – which was Byrom’s domain with guests having to be invited up to share his company – as does a roller John believes dates from his times. John also has a horseshoe which is said to have belonged to another of Friarmere’s stalwarts, Felix, who was said to be able to circuit the outfield himself in the inter-war years. Felix was chosen as he was flat-footed and would cause little damage to the turf.

    Much work has been done laying down a drainage system with John himself digging out a trench round the ground which also serves as the boundary. Luckless fieldsmen unaware of the system have been known to stumble into the trench! Despite all this work many matches can be lost in wet summers. Situated by the moors – and the ground began to revert to moorland during World War 2 when the club ceased playing for the duration – the site is also prone to windy conditions but much work was done by John’s mother Doris in planting dozens of saplings which tree line the ground on two sides and provide some shelter.

    The club was suddenly thrown into crisis in 1980 when the New Tame Valley Estate – essentially Byrom’s former house, mill and the cricket ground – were put up for sale. The club approached Byrom’s descendents who agreed to sell the cricket ground separately to them but only if it could find £12 000 in seven weeks! Friarmere members and the communities of Delph and Denshaw rallied round splendidly and – with the help of a grant from the Sports Council – the cash was successfully raise, a great achievement.

    The ground floor extension in 1994 included a bar and the following year a group of players and friends actually undertook a tour of Barbados. The club appeared to be thriving, a number of individuals being key to this revival including Jeff Hoggarth who lead the building work whilst also providing technical ‘know how’ for improving the ground’s drainage system.

  • Gary Kershaw and Craig Ramadhin have also given splendid service to the club, Gary providing financial advice and Craig maintaining the square whilst both of them have run junior sides for many years. Craig Ramadhin, who was also a long standing player at the club, is son of the legendary Sonny Ramadhin who played in the Saddleworth League towards the end of his career and lives locally in Delph. Sonny, now in his mid eighties, is actually the club president and still watches matches.

    Ironically, since these developments at the ground, more difficulties have been encountered in retaining and attracting players. Friarmere are competing for cricketers with five other Saddleworth clubs and with modern life offering so many alternative leisure activities less people are playing cricket whilst West View’s relatively remote position places the club at a disadvantage. Recruitment has become so difficult that in both 2012 and 2013 John was actually unsure if the club could raise teams and continue. It is a marked difference to Byrom’s days when Friarmere attracted cricketers from far and wide.

    Friarmere ran an Under 17 junior side last season which won their cup but the young players also have affiliations to other clubs and they may not continue with Friarmere whilst in the long term the club lacks funds and some of its facilities need a facelift. Fortunately for the immediate future at least, groups of cricketers from Oldham have come over the hill to fill both first and second teams and thankfully Friarmere’s name has not been added to the list of ‘lost‘ cricket clubs. Indeed the 2nd team reached the final of their knock-out cup in 2013. Nevertheless, John Morris and Craig Ramadhin are very mindful that as Friarmere CC enters its 150th season of activity, its future remains uncertain.

    Pictures kindly supplied by the Oldham Evening Chronicle

  • Friarmere cricket ground, set high on the valley side, encompassing the 12 cottages below.

    By Michael Pulford