Heritage Club of the week - Kirkstall Educational CC
On 4th April 1853 a group of young men from the Kirkstall Educational Society, a literary club attached to St Stephen’s Church school, conceived the idea of starting a cricket club. After four seasons at Kirkstall Abbey fields, a move was made in 1857 to the club’s present ground, then part of the Kirkstall Grange Estate. Regrettably, its owner, William Beckett, declined the club’s offer of £10 to purchase the field, preferring instead to allow its use virtually rent free.
Ben Witham, better known as “Spank”, was the team’s star player. In 1856 he introduced the round-arm method of bowling, never before seen in the Leeds area. His destructive performances were described as sensational. Indications are that few matches took place in those early days. By 1870 there were sufficient clubs around to enable fixtures to be arranged on a weekly basis. The Yorkshire Cricketers’ Guide for 1878 describes Kirkstall as “One of the best clubs in this district; consists of 103 members with J. Wilkinson as professional, a good all- round man. In 19 matches played they have won 7, lost 5 and drawn 7.”
In March 1887 an agreement was reached with William Schofield whereby he was let “the eatage of grass in the Cricket Field, and to turn in his own working horses and cattle, with the exception of strange horses such as are calculated to get over the fence of the levelled part, or fat bullocks, and to keep the said grass well eaten off”. Mr Schofield paid £9 per annum for this privilege.
With the advent of competitive cricket, Kirkstall became a founder member of Leeds Second Class League in 1893. Four years later the club moved to the Yorkshire Central League, winning the Championship in 1922. They also won the Leeds Evening League in 1924, defeating a strong Leeds side by nine runs in the Championship Final at Holbeck. Having made only 114, Kirkstall appeared to have little prospect on the second night, but Harold Hargrave responded magnificently with 7 wickets for 22, and was carried from the field shoulder high by exuberant supporters. In 1925 Kirkstall joined the Yorkshire Council and after two unsuccessful applications eventually gained admission to the Leeds League for the 1929 season.
Our most famous ex-player is undoubtedly Bill Bowes, the former Yorkshire & England bowler. Bill wrote the following in his autobiography:
“In 1926 at the age of 18 I took the first step to becoming a real cricketer. It was almost accidental. Cycling one Easter Monday I saw some players at net-practice in a field near Becketts Park, Leeds and, irresistibly attracted, dismounted, began to watch and then fielded the ball on the boundary. One of the men shouted ‘Nah then young ‘un, does thi want to bowl?’ Flattered, I grinned and nodded. ‘Take thi coit off an’ come on.’
“I took off my ‘coit’ and bowled to a huge jovial batsman. He hit me clean out of the ground, and went on doing so just about as often as I bowled him out. I discovered later it was Harry Bulmer, a noted hitter of the Leeds League, who ‘hit ‘em for 6 playing defensive’, but evidently my performance impressed, for some of the men watching the practice came across and began asking question. Whom did I play for? What was my name? Eventually, would I like to play in a second team match? Again, I grinned my answer.
“On the following Thursday morning I received a postcard with the words ‘Kirkstall Educational Cricket Club’ stamped boldly across the top. Rarely have I seen such efficiency in the running of a cricket club. It put the methods of our little Sunday school to shgame, for here the secretary made a personal call at the homes of the players. Not only those who had been selected, but, for fear they should turn up and be disappointed, on those who had not, and to the latter the reasons for their non-inclusion had to be tactfully, if not always quite truthfully, explained. My imposing-looking card informed me that I had been selected to play for the K.E.C.C. second team against the Leeds City Gas Works; wickets pitched 2.30.”
Until recently success at senior level has been modest. The league championship was won in 1966 and 1968 but of the five Hepworth Cup Final appearances the only victory came in 1943. Happily a thriving junior section has served the club well, the under 18 side winning the Shuttleworth Cup in 1973, 1982 and 1990, and the under 15s being victorious in the Forbes Cup in 1989.
The 1990s saw considerable success and much credit for this must go to the two captains through that period, Kevin Mulligan and Dave Hodgson. Dave indeed is still the linchpin of the club, having been Club President since 2005 and Groundsman since the early 2000s. Indeed he is now one of the most highly respected groundsmen in the county, if not the country.
In 1999, the club’s last season in the Leeds League, the First XI finished as champions of Division 1, also reaching the final of the Hepworth Cup.
In their last years in the Leeds League the Second XI won Division 2A in 1993 and Division 1A in 1996. They appeared in the final of the Wood Cup in 1992, 1998 and 1999, winning in 1999 for the first time when Pool were beaten by 45 runs.
In 2000 the club left the Leeds League for the Airedale & Wharfedale Senior Cricket League, joining the newly formed Division C as the league expanded with 12 new clubs. The First XI went on to win Division C at the first attempt, and then gained promotion from Division B to the top tier in 2003. Thereby followed a rich vein of success for the club – the Second XI also joining their top tier in 2003 when both teams won their respective Div B championships.
Under the guidance of Andy Siddall the First XI went on to win the Divison A title in 2006, followed by the league and cup double two years later with Stuart Hudson as captain. The Second XI won the Birtwhistle Cup in 2007 and 20008 and the Sunday 3rd XI won their league in 2007.
All good teams go through transitional periods, and so happened to KECC in the last decade. The First XI were relegated in 2016 and narrowly missed outy on promotion to Div A in 2019. Hope were high for the 2020 season, until the sport took a new direction that none of us could have envisaged!
However, at the time of writing (June 2020) we are all keeping our fingers crossed that some cricket will be able to be played later this season once the Covid-19 situation has eased.