“AT noon today will be commenced at York an event which will figure prominently in the annals of York cricket. By the energy and enterprise of the management of the York Gentlemen’s Club, the representatives of the broad shire will be opposed to an eleven selected by the county of Kent, and the issue will be fought out on the Gentlemen’s Ground, Bootham Stray, on this and two succeeding days. The local committee has put forth every endeavour to make the important fixture an undoubted success, and it is to be hoped that the members and all lovers of cricket in the county will rally round the promoters and give them such encouragement as to warrant them in trying to bring about equally attractive engagements in future. Wickets will be pitched at 12 o’clock today, and on Tuesday and Wednesday operations will be commenced at 11.30am.”
So proclaimed the York Herald on Monday, June 9, 1890, the opening day of the inaugural first-class match to be played in the city.
It was the first official season of County Championship cricket, and Lord Hawke’s Yorkshire beat Frank Marchant’s Kent by eight wickets inside two days.
Sadly, the York Herald’s desire that it would prompt the promoters to undertake “equally attractive engagements in future” did not materialise.
Although the game was well attended, with 5,000 coming through the turnstiles to generate gate receipts of £190 (around £15,500 today), the next first-class match to be played in York will not begin until June 17 next summer – an interval of just over 129 years.
Newly-promoted Warwickshire will be the visitors to Clifton Park, where their captain, Jeetan Patel, played for York Cricket Club in 2003.
The match in 1890 took place at the now defunct Wigginton Road ground, now covered by York Hospital, and then home of The Yorkshire Gentlemen’s Cricket Club, which enjoyed a close relationship with Yorkshire CCC.
On the face of it, it is remarkable that Yorkshire have played only once in their capital city, especially considering that they have played first-class cricket throughout the “broad shire”, albeit nowhere other than at Headingley or Scarborough since 1996.
It ensures that the novelty value will be high when Warwickshire come calling, while there are plans for Yorkshire to play a one-day match at Clifton Park in 2020 and also in 2021, with next year’s Championship game made possible by the fact that Headingley is unavailable due to its World Cup fixtures.
Although the current promoters, so to speak, will hope for a similar result to the 1890 fixture and a Yorkshire win, they will not desire a repeat of the 1890 weather, which might not have satisfied the umpires’ light meters today.
According to the Yorkshire Post, the game started in “terribly dull weather, with rain threatening every minute”, and Kent’s first innings was soon in trouble, the visitors sliding to 19-3 after winning the toss.
To the casual observer, it might seem curious that Kent should choose to bat in such adverse conditions, instead of unleashing their bowlers in the unseasonable gloom.
But they had little choice as they would have been three fielders short otherwise, with Messrs Walter Hearne, Stanley Christopherson and Hugh Spottiswoode having failed to turn up in time for the start.
The Yorkshire Post noted: “W. Hearne arrived after the close of the innings, and Mr Christopherson, who by a blunder in telegraphing had not started on the journey, and Mr Spottiswoode, were not available until late in the evening.”
The Globe newspaper said that it was “bad county cricket form on the part of three members of the eleven not to turn up in time to play, and the Kent team were thus very heavily handicapped”.
And so, when Kent lost their seventh wicket with the score on 46, they were effectively all out and the innings ended. Bobby Peel, the left-arm spinner, took 4-21 and all-rounder George Ulyett 3-15.
The weather picked up before Yorkshire’s reply, although conditions still favoured the bowlers. “Hall and Ulyett were the defenders,” said the Yorkshire Post of the home side’s opening pair, “and they managed to hit pretty well, 38 notches being registered in half-an-hour.”
But 38-0 became 38-2, and eventually 114 all-out with just Ulyett (29) and Peel (24) making any sort of score. By stumps, Kent had reached 70-3 in their second innings, a lead of two runs.
Fair weather greeted the start of day two, although “the sun was obscured by drifting clouds”. There were around 3,000 spectators as “many ardent votaries of cricket took advantage of special trains laid on from surrounding districts”.
The match was attended by Prince Albert Victor, Queen Victoria’s grandson, who was a member of The Yorkshire Gentlemen’s Cricket Club. The prince had a colourful life before his premature death, aged 28, during the flu pandemic of 1892, a recurrence of the so-called ‘Russian flu’ that killed about one million people worldwide.
Three years before his death, the prince was implicated in the Cleveland Street Scandal, which involved a homosexual brothel in London, although there was no conclusive evidence that he attended or was gay.
Some authors even suggested that he was Jack the Ripper, but that claim has been widely dismissed amid suggestions that he could not have been in London at the time of the murders.
In more prosaic news, Kent lifted their second innings score to 167 all-out (Peel 5-27) to leave Yorkshire exactly 100 for victory. Lord Hawke saw them home with an unbeaten 28, despite the game being delayed when his Lordship broke his bat.
Victory preserved Yorkshire’s unbeaten start to the season and left them top of the Championship. However, as the York Herald reflected, “such is the glorious uncertainty of cricket that few would be bold enough even to hazard a guess as to what would have been the result if the hop county had been able to place the full complement of players in the field on Monday morning”.
Yorkshire did not retain their position at the head of the table, Surrey going on to take the title. Lancashire finished second, and Yorkshire and Kent equal third, with an identical record of played 14, won six, drawn five, lost three.
Wigginton Road was used for Yorkshire second team games until the late 1950s, while the ground also played host to many touring Australia and New Zealand national rugby league teams.
Its place in the annals of Yorkshire cricket is, therefore, assured, soon to be joined by Clifton Park.