As with the three Leeds grounds looked at in last week’s Memory Grounds, Wakefield hosted Yorkshire CCC on only a very few occasions. Paul Dyson looks at the story of the grounds in what was formerly the county town of the West Riding.
The first recording of cricket having been played in Wakefield was as early as in the 18th century – the Gentlemen of Wakefield playing against their counterparts of Pontefract on Heath Moor in 1784 and this venue continued to be the city’s main ‘ground’ until the middle of the next century.
Wakefield CC was officially formed in 1847 and ten years later acquired some land which it fenced off near Borough Market, the playing area becoming known as the Manor Ground, a local pub bearing the same name. To give the ground prestige the All-England XI played against 22 of Wakefield in the same year but their second visit to the city, in 1864, was to a different ground. Earlier that year Church Institution CC had opened a new ground on Ings Road and this is where the All-England XI returned.
By 1871 the two clubs had merged and decided to use Ings Road Ground but the arrangement lasted for only two years. In early May 1873 Wakefield played against Birkenshaw Britannia on College Grove and this is where the city’s top cricket matches were staged for the next 100+ years. The ground was officially opened in July of the same year when WG Grace appeared in the United South of England team. A red-brick pavilion with timbered veranda was erected, at a cost of £400, just prior to this game, and in the following season the All-England XI returned for their third and final match in Wakefield.
The year 1878 saw the ground’s only first-class match when Yorkshire played against Sussex. George Ulyett and Ephraim Lockwood each scored half-centuries before Willie Bates and Tom Emmett bowled Yorkshire to an innings victory. Although Wakefield hoped that this would be the first of several such occasions the ground was too small for such a match and the organisers lost about £70, despite a crowd of 1,800 on the second day.
Having originally leased the ground from a Mr Smirthwaite, Wakefield CC bought it at some point during the 1920s and in 1935 invited Wakefield RUFC to join them. This suggestion was taken up, even though the rugby playing area had to overlap the cricket outfield to a certain extent. After the Second World War bowls and squash were added to the site and hockey was played on the cricket ground in the winter. The cricket team, which had originally played in the Yorkshire Council, joined the prestigious Yorkshire League but found that it had over-reached itself and acquiring suitable players became a real problem. Rather than dropping down a league the decision was eventually taken to disband and the end of the 1989 season also saw the end of 117 years of cricket at College Grove Ground.