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THROWBACK THURSDAY: England v Australia 1953

— 29 January 2015

With Yorkshire CCC’s 150th anniversary still very fresh in the memory it is now time for the Club to turn its attention to a celebration of another 19th Century milestone. Sport was first played on the site now occupied in Headingley by Yorkshire and two rugby clubs in 1890 and so 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of that occasion.

  • It is even more significant that the debut sport on the complex was cricket and the first match took place on May 27th, 1890 between Leeds CC and Scarborough CC. The first first-class fixture – North v Australians – took place on the first three days in September of the same year but the first rugby (union) match was not until the 20th of the same month when Leeds beat Mannington by a try and a dropped goal to nil.

    Today’s main picture was taken at about the mid-point in Headingley’s sporting history, i.e. the early-1950s. What is immediately noticeable, in comparison with how the ground looks today, are the two trees which frame the scene. There was, originally, a long row of Cornish elm trees which stretched approximately between where the Carnegie pavilion and main scoreboard are now. The ones in the picture would have been two of the westernmost specimens. Sadly, in the early 1980s, disease set in and this gradually killed them all. There was also a much shorter row of poplar trees, in the area where the Dickie Bird clock now stands. This twin set of trees certainly gave the area some of the feel of a rural cricket ground.

    Central to the scene is the original pavilion. This was built in 1889, i.e. in the year prior to the ground’s opening. It remained in the same state until the 1950s when the front of the building was ‘entirely remodelled’ (S Draper) and the central clock tower, partly hidden by leaves on the photo, was added. Part of the pavilion was used as the players’ changing rooms continuously for 72 years until the end of the 1961 season.

    The main grandstand, also in the picture, does not date from the ground’s inauguration. There was such a building in place from 1890 which served the same function but this was destroyed by fire on March 25th, 1932. Leeds was playing Halifax in a rugby league game on Good Friday; fortunately there were no casualties. The present grandstand, i.e. as in the picture, was opened just 14 months later, Hedley Verity having taken his famous ten for ten against the backdrop of a building site.

    The exact date and occasion depicted in the photo are not known; however the presence of the Union Jack on the eastern end of the grandstand suggests that England is playing in a Test match. The size of the crowd indicates that the 1953 Test against Australia, when an estimated number of 153,000 covered every nook and cranny of the ground over the five days, could be the answer. The clock shows 1.15, i.e. a quarter of an hour before what was the lunch interval in that period. By co-incidence, this suggested year of 1953 is the mid-point in Headingley’s history.

    What is now the headquarters of Yorkshire CCC has certainly seen many changes in its 125 years and more are in the pipeline. May its distinguished and proud history continue for at least another 125 years.

    Paul Dyson sets the scene for 2015’s significant anniversary.

    Photo courtesy of Mick Pope at Adelphi Archive.