A gloomy topic of conversation in my household recently has been the disappointing Test results in Australia.
I recall the time, throughout the working day, men would be enquiring of what the test score was. It was our ‘national game’ but other sports, hobbies and interests have now supplanted it, and both interest in our national cricket team and the playing of amateur cricket is declining.
No doubt the removal of cricket from terrestrial television or “free-to-view” has had some impact, but there is no doubt in my mind that the disappearance of local cricket grounds, especially in inner cities has contributed, and South Leeds is no exception.
Various institutions fostered cricket teams with some providing cricket grounds. Firstly, there were stately homes when the owners thought it the thing to do to have a cricket ground on their estate. Most, but not all of these have survived and are let to local clubs but, obviously, we have no existing stately homes in South Leeds!
Secondly, both churches and chapels encouraged cricket teams, for the benefit of their congregations. I know of one called Whitehall Bethal Chapel which played on a ground on Whitehall Road. Both the Chapel and its ground have long since gone.
Then thirdly, firms and industries had their cricket teams and some provided the grounds. Notably in South Leeds was Leeds Co-operative Society which had a ground adjacent to its bakery at the end of Gelderd Road and had a very good team.
Yorkshire Copperworks and Bysons Engineering both at Stourton were well-known for their grounds. All those grounds have gone as the development value of the land was just too valuable to keep when the firms no longer existed.
Fourthly, local councils, including the former Leeds Corporation provided cricket grounds in public parks. However, this last was not altogether successful. Other park users resented not being able to use large sections of their park. There was always the problem of dogs doing their business on the ground and damage to the cricket square either intentionally or unintentionally.
One may imagine that even at amateur level if a cricket ball is bowled at around 70 miles per hour and it hits a divot or rut it would be very dangerous with the ball ricocheting off at unexpected angles hitting players.
Maintenance of a cricket square is very expensive and progressively, year on year, Councils have become strapped for cash and levels of maintenance have declined accordingly resulting in dissatisfied clubs moving elsewhere.
Cross Flatts Park had a cricket ground but it would be inconceivable today for both its upkeep and taking up too much park space, although there are practice facilities there. The big exception in Leeds are the Council-owned grounds at Soldiers Field in Roundhay and the Roundhay Arena which are in big demand.
Those grounds owned by local councils are mainly towards and beyond the Leeds boundary where local parish councils have their own cricket grounds and can raise additional money to provide recreational facilities.
In Hunslet we have a flourishing team called Central Leeds CC playing Sunday cricket. Its search for grounds led them firstly to East Keswick where the Club hired the Parish Council ground. Then for two seasons they had to travel to grounds out of Leeds before now playing at Old Leodians ground in Alwoodley.
For cricket clubs to own their own grounds was and still is unusual. But South Leeds had Holbeck CC which opened its own ground on Lowfields Road adjacent to the Elland Road stadium in 1901.
Before doing his National Service in the Army, my husband played for Holbeck. Yorkshire second team players, when not playing for County, also played for Holbeck. It was the premier club in the Leeds District winning championship after championship. It folded in 1961 because no one would take on admin responsibilities! The land was derelict for a long time until the M621 wiped it out entirely in 1974.
There was also Hunslet Rugby & Cricket Club which played on grounds at the former Parkside. Both grounds were sold for industrial development. Hunslet Rugby moved eventually to the John Charles Stadium but Hunslet Cricket Club disappeared.
I am happy to report though that South Leeds has just one outstanding example left of a cricket ground played on by Hunslet Nelson Cricket Club. The team originally played on a ground off Low Row in Hunslet and then moved in 1987 to its present ground situated on Gipsy Lane at the junction of the three wards of Beeston & Holbeck, Middleton Park and Hunslet & Riverside.
Much hard work by volunteers has made a cricket playing area to be proud of. Fundraising by the Club, including contributions from all local councillors in the past, has provided facilities of new changing rooms, separate changing rooms for juniors, and all-weather net practice strips.
Having married into a cricket family I find it sad that South Leeds has only one ground left out of, what I am told, were originally 30 teams playing on grounds in South Leeds!
I wish Hunslet Nelson every success in the cricket field and its engagement with our communities, keeping the flag flying for our national game.
This post was written by Cllr Elizabeth Nash
Photo: Hunslet Nelson Cricket Club in action at their Gipsy Lane ground, by Jeremy Morton
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