1888 – 1958

Summary from the first Craven League History 1888-1958 

By P P Illingworth

There are no records of the beginning of cricket in the villages of Craven.  Like the early history of the game in England, the story is shrouded in the mists of time.

Nobody knows the antiquity of the game.  The continuity of positive information dates back to the eighteenth century.  On February 25, 1974, a committee of noblemen and gentlemen met at the Star and Garter, in Pall Mall, London and formally drew up what are believed to have been the first written laws of the game.

The Marylebone Cricket Club, was the governing body of the game and was founded in 1787.

In those days runs scored were apparently recorded by means of notches made on the edge of a strip of wood.  Two stumps were used (third was added towards the end of the century) and there were no limit to the size of bats.  The early bats were curved at the end; they were designed for good, honest slogging.

County cricket emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century.  The Surry club was formed in 1845 and the Yorkshire club in 1863.

There is every reason to believe that village cricket is much older than County cricket.  The earliest matches were friendlies.  Organised competitive cricket was a later development.

Local cricket must inevitably have been local in the strict literal sense in the days of its infancy, for travelling presented insuperable difficulties.  In Craven, for instance the railway link with Bradford was not established until 1847.  The line into East Lancashire was opened the following year and that to Lancaster in 1849.

Until then all travel was by road, either by horse drawn vehicle or on foot and the roads were poor by present day standards.  Hence, villages were self contained communities to an extent we can hardly visualise today.

The Skipton Cricket Club can trace its history back to 1853.  In that year, too, the local Mechanics’ Institute had a team and one of its fixtures was against Skipton Old Club, which suggests that the game was played in the town before the present club came into being.

There was at Gargrave an Airebank club before the present club was constituted and it is believed that the summer game has been played there for over 100 years.  Cowling, despite its relative isolation in the days before motor transport, had a club round about 1870.  It used a ground near the Black Bull Hotel.  Cononley has had a club since before 1874.

Though documentary evidence is sparse, the indications are that cricket began to develop on organised lines in the locality to a considerable extent in the last 25 or 30 years of the nineteenth century.

The birth of competitive cricket can be dated back, with a fair degree of certainty to round about 1888, when the Craven Cricket Union was the controlling body.  There is a record of an annual meeting of the Union, whose activities covered the Keighley area as well as contiguous parts of Craven, in that year.  In 1890 the late Mr Walter Morrison, of Malham Tarn, one of Craven’s most eminent Victorians presented a challenge cup for competitions and in the final, played on August 30, Ingrow and Earby were concerned.  Ingrow made 58 and then dismissed Earby for 27.

A published drawing and description of this trophy has raised the query as to whether it is the present Cowling Cup.  There is a strong resemblance.  If so, it must be the oldest cricketing trophy in this part of Yorkshire.

The cup cricket was the life blood of the Craven Cricket Union in its formative years.  In 1895 it took a notable step forward by introducing league cricket.  There was inaugurated at that time a senior league and also two junior leagues, whose constitution was determined on a geographical basis, there being a Skipton section and a Keighley section.  Steeton were the first senior league champions, Carleton headed the Skipton junior section and Oxenhope the Keighley junior section.

In 1896 the constitution of the three sections was:

  • Senior – Earby, Cowling, Skipton Seconds, Kildwick Parish, Morton.
  • Junior (Skipton) – Carleton, Addingham, Eastburn, Skipton Midland, Earby North End, Skipton Church Institute.
  • Junior (Keighley) – West Lane P{rimatives, Bingley and Gilstead Primitives, Oxenhope YMCA, Oakworth Wesleyans, Haworth Westleyans, Keighley Congregational, Silsden Seconds.

Earby won the senior honours that year and Charleton, who headed the Skipton Junior section for the second successive year, triumphed over Oxenhope YMCA, leaders of the Keighley junior section, in a play-off for the junior league championship.

In 1897 Carleton moved up into the senior league, while Salterforth, in their first season in the junior league, led the table.  Cowling Albion and Marton were newcomers to the Skipton section that year.

In the following season Carleton, then a power in the land, were champions in the senior league, whilst Salterforth once again were supreme in the Skipton section of the Junior league.

The challenge cup competition was run parallel with the league, though not restricted to league clubs.  In 1897, for instance, Silsden became the holders, a feat they repeated in 1899, 1900 and 1901.  These three consecutive successes entitled them to retain the trophy, but it was returned and as an acknowledgment of this gesture the Silsden players were presented with gold medals.

It was about this time that the Skipton Church Institute, then playing in the delightfully situated ground in the showfield bordering Skipton Castle Woods, were enjoying a period of power, for in two consecutive years – 1899 and 1900 – they dominated the Northern section of the Junior league.

Here it should be interpreted that there was a league reshuffle in 1899, when the Junior league was split up into North, Midland and South sections.

In 1901 the Senior league was divided into two sections and the Junior section reverted to two sections.  Kildwick Parish, who had been senior champions in 1899 and 1900, completed  a ‘hat-trick’ by heading the Northern section the following year and in 1902 they made it four championships in a row, though on that occasion a play-off against Haworth Parish Church was necessary.

Early in the present century a number of clubs detached themselves from the parent body, the Craven Cricket Union, to form the Skipton Junior League, which can be described as the progenitor of the Craven and District League as we know it today.  The first mention of this new league occurred in 1903, when Mr J W Birdsall put up a trophy for competition.  Cononley were the first holders.

For the 1904 season there was a redisposition of forces.  The Cricket Union operated a North Craven League, comprising Carleton, Addingham, Gargrave, Kildwick Parish, Silsden, Steeton and Skipton Seconds.  Its Senior and Junior leagues were composed entirely of Keighley area clubs, for the Skipton Junior League had by then commanded the allegiance of Skipton Church Institute, Kildwick Albion, Sutton Church, Gargrave Seconds, Skipton Tuesday, Embsay, Cononley, Skipton Midland, Skipton Thirds, Bradley and Carleton Seconds.  Silsden won the North Craven League championship.  Skipton Church Institute were cock of the roost in the Skipton Junior League and had similar cause for crowing in 1905.

In 1907 Cononley Seconds were the first champions of a newly formed Airedale Junior League, which drew its membership from second elevens and also included Keighley Thirds.  It was the prototype of the present Second division of the Craven and District League.  Bradley had meantime emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the Skipton Junior League, taking championship honours in both 1907 and 908.

In 1909 the Skipton Junior League assumed a new name, that of the Skipton and District League and took on a new form, for a junior division was constituted.

At this stage a few comments on the pattern of play in the early years of league cricket between village clubs are not out of place.  Generally speaking runs were harder to come by half a century ago than is the case today.  In 1907, for instance, Bradley gained championship honours for the first time and one of their players, J H Mawson, headed the league batting list.  His average?  Only 14.58, with 175 as his aggregate.  Wickets were more favourable to the bowlers; S Potts (Skipton Midland), the leading bowler that year, had figures of 36 wickets for 3.05 each.  Nor was that exceptional.  For several seasons the top bowler got his wickets for under four runs apiece.  Not until 1910 did a batsman average over 20.

In the first two or three seasons of the Skipton Junior League there was a panel of neutral umpires, but on March 8, 1906, the rule was altered in favour of each side providing one umpire ‘unless one of them requires neutral officials’.  In 1911 there was a bid to reintroduce the system of neutral umpires, but nothing came of it.  Delegates felt that umpires would not be sufficiently interested in games in which their own clubs were not concerned.

Reverting to the 1909 reconstitution, the senior division comprised: Eastburn, Kelbrook Athletic, Bradley, Cononley, Earby Seconds, Embsay, Glusburn Institute, Skipton Thirds, Cowling and Kildwick Parish Seconds.  The junior division consisted of Kildwick Albion and the second elevens of Bradley, Cowling, Glusburn, Eastburn, Embsay and Cononley.  Carelton, Sutton Church, Skipton Church Institute, Settle Seconds and Kildwick Parish were linked with the North Craven League, while Carleton Seconds, Skipton Church Institute Seconds, kipton Wesleyan, Addingham Seconds and Steeton Seconds were in the Airedale Junior League.

Embsay were the first champions of the league under its new title.  A play-off against Cowling was necessary and, as bad light caused play to be suspended on Kildwick Parish ground, when Cowling had made 47for three in reply to Embsay’s 117, the match had to be completed the following Saturday,  Cowling then struggled to 105. F W G Hargreaves, the Embsay stalwart, to whose memory this short history is dedicated, was his side’s top scorer, with 34.

As an indication of the enthusiasm village cricket engendered 40 years ago, it might be mentioned that when the victorious Embsay team returned home they found the village bedecked with flags and bunting and the Skipton Mission Band was waiting to accord musical honours to Mr T N Phillip and his men.  Mr Hagreaves presided over a victory celebration which followed the banquet, which had been prepared for the players.  Nowadays we do not seem to be so demonstrative.

The three years 1910-11-12 saw Cowling riding on the crest of a wave of success, with a hat trick of senior league championships which won them the cup outright and a similar measure of success for their second eleven.  This Cowling side was so talented that the names are worth recording.  W Bradley, who in later years got runs galore for Skipton, was the batting star and he received excellent support from H Snowden, H Watson, J Banisster, J Bailey, F Redman, J Smith and H Dracup.  The bowlers were H and E Draycup, Bannister, H and N Snowden and J Smith.

Having won the cup outright, Cowling offered to return it to the league for a consideration.  It was valued at £6 6s and Cowling were prepared to put it into circulation again provided the league would donate £3 3s to their funds and exempt Cowling from the levy to pay this £3 3s.  The offer was declined and in 1913 a new trophy, the Wilberforce cup, was put up for competition.

By this time a bright new bowling star was shining on Bradley’s lofty ground, a stockily build, determined speed merchant named Maurice Gill.  In 1912 he had won the league bowling prize with a haul of 64 wickets for 3.84 runs apiece.  In 1913 he did even better, with figures of 81 wickets for 3.25 runs each, a feat which had much to do with Bradley’s achievement in becoming the first holders of the Wilberforce Cup.  Gill was destined to top the league averages on ten occasions, a remarkable record of consistency and in due course his bowling partnership with Charlie Pritchard became perhaps the most hostile in the annals of the league.  Pritchard twice topped the league averages and in 1937 he set up a record for a season’s ‘bag’ which still stands – 95 wickets for 5.71 runs each.

In 1914 Earby had their first team in the league and even Maurice Gill’s herculean bowling labours – he finished up with 93 wickets for Bradley – could not prevent the newcomers from annexing the title.  Earby had a notable batsman in W Binns, a worthy winner of the league batting prize, with an aggregate of 309 and an average of over 25.

The war clouds were gathering that summer and the storm broke before the season was over.  Many Craven lads left their flannels behind and donned khaki.  Some, alas, never returned to grace the cricket fields of Craven.

In 1915 the league carried on with one attenuated division, of which Glusurn Institute were champions, then for three seasons – 1916 to 1918 – the competition was in abeyance, though some of the clubs kept the flag of the game flying by playing a few friendlies.

Mr F W G Hargreaves presided over a meeting in February, 1919, at which the league was revived, with Earby, Eastburn, Skipton An XI, Glusburn Institute, Bradley,  Cowling, Salterforth, Embsay, Cononley, Carleton and Skipton Church Institute constituting the one division.  In that year and in 1920, Earby were champions.

In the latter year Earby Seconds matched their seniors’ performance by winning the revived second division, under the leadership of Albert Kay, who set the right sort of example by heading the batting and bowling averages of the division.

In 1920 one of the outstanding personalities of Craven cricket for many seasons, Carleton’s ‘Jackie’ Smith, who in 1908 had helped Skipton to carry off the championship of the Yorkshire Council, was the league’s outstanding batsman with 446 runs and an average of 40.5, both figures exceeding anything which had been achieved before, though they have been transcended since.  And Maurice Gill again asserted his supremacy in the bowling department.

It was in 1921 that the Skipton and District League changed its name to the Craven Cricket League, which in 1935 was again varied, the present style of Craven and District League being then adopted.  Maybe Lancashire had something to do with this.  In 1932 Braithwaite St Matthew’s had been admitted to membership and in 1934 J Nelson’s Sport Club, from Nelson, began their profitable association with Yorkshire cricket.  The league had therefore ceased to be exclusively a Craven League and this prompted the addition of the ‘and district’.

In 1922 the First Division was divided into two sections, Bradley securing the championship by defeating Kildwick Parish in a play-off.  To even matters up Kildwick Albion returned the compliment by accounting for Bradley Seconds in a Second Division decider.

In the play-off for the title the following year, Cowling skittled Thornton-in-Craven for 29, A Metcalfe taking seven wickets for 27.  Their second team were Second Division champions and for good measure, the first eleven triumphed in the Wynn Cup final.

Kildwick Parish achieved a cherished ambition by finishing on top in 1924, with Cowling Seconds again Second Division championship.

In 1925 Cowling offered to loan a cup to the League and this offer was gratefully accepted, making four cups available for competitions.  Cowling then won each division, which meant that their second team completed a ‘hat trick’ of championships.  Kildwick Parish retained the Roundell Cup as runners-up in the First Division, while Glusburn Seconds took the Cowling Cup as runners-up in the Second Division.

Cowling were first division champions again in 1926, with Eastburn runners-up, while Cononley Seconds and Kildwick Parish Seconds were respectively winners and runners-up of the Second Division,

In 1927 and 1928 Salterforth were at the peak of their power and won the championship, the batting of A Marsden and R Peel being an important contributory factor.  Thornton Seconds were similarly successful in the Second Division.

In 1929 Embsay had a look-in, being popular winners of the title, while Kildwick Albion gained Second Division supremacy.

Bradley, returning to the fold after a spell in the West Bradford League, made history by taking First Division honours in four consecutive seasons – 1930, 1931, 1932 and 1933.  Their record year was undoubtedly 1932, when they also won the Wynn Cu and took the Second Division title, thus gaining all the available trophies, which equalled Cowling’s performances of 1923.

This fine run was primarily due to the consistently good form of their veteran bowlers, Maurice Gill and Charlie Pritchard, who were loyally supported by the younger members of the team, particularly in the batting department.  In three years out of the four Gill won the league bowling prize.

Second Division champions in this period of Bradley dominance were: 1930, Kildwick Albion; 1931, Sutton Parish Seconds; 1933, Cononley Seconds.

In 1934 Bradley were toppled from their pedestal by Braithwaite St Matthew’s, a notable accomplishment for a side which had entered the competition only two years before, while Salterforth, now content to play in the Second Division, were leaders there.

A triple tie provided a complication at the end of the 1935 programme, Braithwaite, Bradley and Cononley being the teams concerned.  Bradley accounted for resigning champions Braithwaite, but the final play-off against Cononley had to be deferred until 1936.  It took place on May 18 and Cononley secured the verdict.  Kildwick Albion led the Second Division.

It was Cononley’s year in 1936 – First and Second Division trophies, plus the Wynn Cup.

In 1937 J Nelson’s Sports Club, admitted in 1934, hit the high spots for the first, but by no means the last time.  They were First and Second Division champions (the first team needed a play-off against Bradley) and held the Cowling Cup besides.

Harold Whalley’s bowling spearpointed Embsay’s path to a Cup and League ‘double’ in 1938, with J Nelson’s Seconds retaining the Second Division title.

Settle Seconds became champions for the first time in 1939, a year in which J Nelson’s Seconds completed a ‘hat trick’ of Second Division championships and rubbed it in by taking the Cowling Cup as well.

In the first season of World War II, Bradley and Kildwick Albion were at the top of the two divisions.  In 1941 there was only one division and it included Skipton An XI and Settle.  J Nelson’s were champions.

In 1942 the league was down to eight clubs.  Earby were notable newcomers and won the title.

The following year numbers were down to six, including for the first time an RAF side.  Skipton were successful.

In 1944 Settle got the better of Cononley in a play-off for the title.  In 1945 Skipton and Earby were out, Settle retaining the League Trophy.

In the first post-war season, in 1946 J Nelson’s, Sutton, Cononley, Gargrave, Glusburn Institute, Embsay, Cowling, Settle Seconds, Bradley, Earby Seconds and Skipton Church Institute were bunched together in one division, J Nelson’s and Sutton shared the title.  I was in this season that Edmund Kirk (Gargrave) had the record batting average of 78.

Two divisions were going again in 1947, with Gargrave and J Nelson’s Seconds the respective champions.

J Nelson’s had a league ‘double’ in 1948 and repeated the feat the following year.  The 1949 season was featurised by an astonishing batting feat on the part off Alex Hodgson, a gay cavalier of the cricket field who became the bowlers’ despair.  He set up a record which it will take a super batsman to equal, let alone smash, scoring 1080 runs – the first and probably the last 1000 in the leagues history.

By 1950 Gargrave had assembled a well-balanced side, which won the championships in five of the next six years.  The exception was 1951, when two sections were reintroduced and J Nelson’s took the trophy after a play-off with Eastburn, leaders of the other section.  By way of solace Gargrave Seconds were Second Division champions that year.

From 1952 onwards there have been trophies for the leaders of each section of both divisions and no play-offs.  During the four successive years Gargrave were on top of  ‘A’ Section.   B Section honours went to 1952, Bradley; 1953 J Nelson’s; 1954 Cononley and 1955 Embsay.

Second Division ‘A’ Section honours went successively to Thornton, Kildwick Albion and J Nelson’s Seconds (twice).

In 1956 J Nelson’s ‘cleared the deck’  – championships of both ‘A’ Sections, plus Wynn Cup and Cowling Cup.  Cowling headed both ‘B’ Sections.

In 1957 Sutton topped the ‘A’ Section, Thornton the ‘B’ Section and sectional leaderships in the Second Division were held by Gargrave and Cononley.

The 1958 season saw J Nelson’s back on top in the ‘A’ Section, Glusburn Institute, after a long interval, leaders of the ‘B’ Section with Second Division Trophies going to J Nelson’s Seconds and Gargrave Seconds.

When the decision that the Skipton and District League should become the Craven Cricket League was taken, on February 13 1921, Mr A V Mason, of Embsay was appointed president, Mr Fred Hargreaves was confirmed as chairman, while Mr E Walker and C R Brown, both of Cononley, were elected secretary and financial secretary respectively.

In 1927 Sir J Donald Horsfall, Bart, was elected president and in 1931 Mr George Smith took over as secretary and treasurer.

In 1933 the treasurership became a separate office, with Mr A E Ideson (Embsay) as the holder.

The year 1936 saw Mr Mark Nutter, of Embsay Kirk, installed as president and Mr W R Garbutt appointed treasurer, an office he still holds.

On December 4 1937, Mr Charlie Pritchard was elected chairman, with R H Hargreaves, the present president, as vice chairman.

During the Second World War the league continued to function, though on a much modified scale and for the last three years Mr Garbutt tackled the secretarial work as well as that of treasurer.

In 1946, when the war was over and things were gradually returning to normal, Mr H E Stevens (Embsay) relieved him of the secretaryship.  In the same year Mr R H Hargreaves succeeded Mr Nutter as president.

On November 30 1947, Mr J W Charlesworth, who for years had given yeoman service in the Glusburn Institute team, took over the reins as secretary and since then the only alteration in its officials has been due to the retirement from the chairmanship, after twenty years in that office, of Mr C H Pritchard.  At the Annual Dinner of the league, held on 6 December 1958, a presentation was made to Mr Pritchard and at the Annual General Meeting held prior to the dinner, Mr Pritchard was elected the league’s first Honorary Life Member, to mark his outstanding services to the league, both as a player and an official.

The officials for the 1959 season, all men having long connections with the league has players and administrators, are as follows: President, Mr R H Hargreaves; Chairman, Mr W Spencer; Vice Chairman, Mr R L Fryers; Hon Secretary, Mr J W Charlesworth; Hon Treasurer, Mr W R Garbutt.

The cup competitions have aroused considerable interest in Craven League circles over many years and provided some stirring tussles.

The Wynn Cup competition, for First Division clubs, originated in 1922 and the only break in the continuity was in the three seasons 1925 to 1927, when the trophy was used for league purposes.

The Cowling Cup, a similar competition for Second Division teams, was started in 1935.

By a coincidence teams from the Skipton Club were the first holders of both.  The 1922 Wynn Cup final was marked by the accumulation of a mammoth total of 270 by Skipton Second team, a score which proved beyond the limits of Salterforth’s powers.

In the first Cowling Cup final Skipton Third team accounted for Bradley Seconds, who made 93, by eight wickets.

In 1923 Cowling earned the Wynn Cup at the expense of Silsden.  The 1924 final, when Earby ‘A’ beat Embsay, was noteworthy for a fine bowling feat by J R Milne, who subsequently served the Lancashire League club, Lowerhouse, as professional.  The a boy in his ‘ teens, he caused consternation in the Embsay ranks by capturing seven wickets for 13 runs.

When the knock-out competition was revived in 1928, Cononley accounted for Sutton Parish in the final.  In 1929 Salterforth became the holders, but their first meeting with Glusburn Institute in the final ended in a thrilling tie  – 123 runs each.  In the replay they made no mistake, Glusburn being bundled out for a poultry 25, Duckworth and Widdop, with four wickets apiece for 3 and 6 runs respectively, annihilating the opposition.  Cononley held the trophy for a second time in 1930 and it was poetic justice that their final victims, Sutton Parish should go one better in their third final, in 1931.  Bradley, their opponents, reversed the result against Sutton in the 1932 final.

In 1933 it was Braithwaite’s year and once again the defeated finalists, Embsay, had consolation in the succeeding year.  In 1935 Eastburn had their name on the trophy for the first time.  Cononley had their third success in 1936, when they disposed of Cowling for 20  – the lowest ever total in a final.  Glusburn were successful in 1937.  Embsay prevailed in 1938 and then Glusburn Institute had the satisfaction of taking the cup home for two years in succession.  The second success was in the first year of the war.  Other war-times holders were Embsat, Skipton An XI, Cononley, Earby and Settle.

In the first four post-war years Gargrave were twice winners, sandwiched  between their successors being wins by Sutton Parish and Embsay.

In 1950 J Nelson’s Sport Club began their remarkable sequence of successes – seven wins in nine years, the exceptions being 1951 and 1953, when Embsay and Gargrave respectively took the honours.  In the later year J Nelson’s were runners up.  They have now defied Yorkshire clubs’ efforts to rest the trophy from them for five consecutive years.

Since 1935 their second team have carried off the Cowling Cup in six season’s out of fourteen.  Kildwick Albion have held the trophy on three occasions, Eastburn Seconds twice and single successes are credited to Skipton Thirds, Braithwaite, Embsay, Cowling and Gargrave, the present holders.

In recent years clubs have shown commendable enterprise in improving playing conditions and ground amenities.  Several have put up new pavilions and mechanisation as enabled grounds to be mown in their entirety.  No longer are outfields first cousins to meadows.

Clubs have been asked to pay more attention to practice wickets, so that the standard of match performance can be stepped up.  Much can still be done in this direction.

There is no substitute for enthusiasm or for practice and the further enhancement of the prestige of clubs and league depends in large measure on the response of the individual player.  To get the best out of this great game they must be prepared to put something into it.  It is not sufficient merely to turn up on match days.

The Craven and District League has a past of which it has no cause to be ashamed.  It can have a greater future, but new heights of achievement will not be scaled unless officials and players are prepared to make a real and a positive contribution by concentration, practice and solid work.  There is no easy road to the top.