The earliest report of a cricket match involving Great Harwood appeared in the “Blackburn Standard” of 1849. A match is reported between the Great Harwood Cricket Club and the Blackburn Cricket Club, who had been formed in 1842. The comment on the match was that, although allowance ought to be made on the score that Harwood was a young club, yet a better display might have been expected considering they were under the tuition of “Spratley”, formerly of the Blackburn club. The report went on to say that “they (Great Harwood ) have much to learn, but with increased practice and Spratley’s supervision, they will no doubt occupy a better position in the return game”. It is likely then that Great Harwood were formed as a town club in or just before 1849 and it is likely that “Spratley ” was the first paid player.
The first known match played between Great Harwood and a fellow “Ribblesdale” side took place in 1855 when Great Harwood played a Low Moor team. Low Moor was the oldest organised side in Clitheroe thanks to the patronage of the Garnetts, who ran Low Moor Mill. In this match Great Harwood won a 2 innings a side game by 10 wickets, despite having to leave their best 2 players out to make the game competitive. The winning side got to keep the match ball – the usual trophy at that time for the victors. Cricket was played at the time on a pitch on Hesketh Street, the site of the current Job Centre.
In the early 1880’s, the club was facing its first crisis because the ground was required for building. The town was fast becoming a cotton manufacturing centre and a move had to be made. The club became established on the Cliffe ground in 1890 and joined the Ribblesdale League in 1893.
Ribblesdale League Champions 1900
In 1900 a team captained by Walter Kirkbright became League Champions and a field day was held to celebrate the success. This title success would begin a wait of 108 years before the club would experience any repeat league championship success. Walter Kirkbright died in 1949 and his ashes were scattered on the ground on a wet Saturday afternoon, May 27th 1950, before a match with Read. His 1900 Championship medal was, some years later, presented to the club by Mrs. Elsie Dunn.
Club Disbanded in 1914
Unfortunately in the early part of the century finance was a real problem, and in 1914 league cricket was discontinued by the club and it resigned from the Ribblesdale League. The Cliffe ground was lost and a field described by the great cricketer R.G. Barlow on a visit as “the ground nearest to paradise he had ever been on” was gone because of a lack of support. Assets realised a sum of £132 and this was banked for use by a future club.
It was not until 1928 after a 13 year lapse, that a British Legion cricket team was restarted at a new venue, Red Lane, at the opposite end of town to the Cliffe.
In 1932, this team became Great Harwood Amateur Cricket Club and in 1934 it became the town team again. The £132 which had been banked was paid over to the officials and this was spent on improving the Red Lane ground. But finances were tight. At one point, the club had two bats, a good one and a poor one, so when the team had to play away, the excuse was made that someone had put the poor old bat in the bag by mistake, making it easier to borrow a better bat from the home team.
In 1936, another financial crisis occurred with the club owing £40. It looked like the end but a town meeting was called and a new Secretary and Committee were appointed. This small band of workers saved the day and in 1939 the team became champions of the North East Lancashire League.
1940 saw the club admitted to the Ribblesdale Junior League and in 1941 Great Harwood were promoted to the Senior League when war meant that professionals were not allowed and the Junior League discontinued. Throughout the war years, the club made progress and handed over £250 to war charities as a result of matches played. In 1945 the club was allowed to remain in the Senior League. With professionals again allowed, E. Hacking from Rishton was the first. Efforts were made to buy the ground or secure a long lease, but in 1948 negotiations broke down and the club was given notice to quit as the landlord was selling the ground for development.
Return to The Cliffe
The choice of an alternative ground was very limited and it was decided to try to make a return to the original Cliffe ground, which was being used by a local farmer for grazing.
Eventually, the farmer agreed to sell the field and a town meeting was again called. It was decided to launch an appeal for £3000 to buy and partly equip the Cliffe ground. Manufacturing firms, tradespeople and a house to house collection raised the sum required in twelve months and the Cliffe was bought freehold in 1949. The wooden pavilion was transported by lorry from Red Lane and re-erected at the Cliffe and in 1950, a wooden tea room was built. In May 1951, the then President Mr Arthur Boardman, officially opened the ground.
The first professional on returning to the Cliffe was Eddie Thornton from Enfield and he was in a Select XI of amateurs and professionals who played against a touring Australian team in 1950 when it was estimated that between two and three thousand supporters spectators filled the ground.
During the ensuing years, major improvements have been carried out. A new brick built scorebox was erected and the playing area has been extended along the bottom side and also in the north east corner. A major event in the club’s history was the erection of a clubhouse combining the social and changing facilities in one building and the construction of a road around part of the perimeter of the ground. The clubhouse was officially opened in March 1974 by the Provost of Blackburn Diocese, the Rev. Lawrence Jackson. The clubhouse proved to be a success and in 1980 it was agreed that permission be sought to extend the facilities. This was granted and subsequently in 1981, the alterations to the existing clubhouse and kitchen were completed, being officially opened on the 28th November that year by the Mayor of Hyndburn, Mrs Jennie Jackson.
Keith Barker Benefit Games - Sir Garfield Sobers and The West Indies
On the playing side, everyone remembers the two benefit matches for professional Keith Barker in 1975, when the club was favoured by a visit from the great Gary Sobers, and the following year when the famous West Indies Test squad including Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd, Michael Holding etc. provided a wonderful exhibition on a lovely sunny July day.
Playing Honours, and the 2008 Ribblesdale League Title
The club finished runners up in 1975 and 1976 under David Edmundson, and throughout the 1990s and 2000s played some outstanding cricket, winning the Ramsbottom Cup in 1990, 1995 and 2001 and coming close to the elusive League Title, before finally going one better and ending the long wait in 2008, thanks in no small part to professional Syed Shahabuddin, who contributed 914 runs and a remarkable 98 wickets .
The introduction of Twenty20 Cricket presented a further opportunity for silverware, and suited the big hitting nature of several Great Harwood batsmen. The club won the Ribblesdale league T20 competition in its first two years 2005 and 2006, with further success in 2009 and 2012.
Junior League Success, and Junior Cricket
The club currently has three senior teams and a thriving junior section comprising five teams ranging from under 9 through to under 18.
The 2nd XI gained success in winning the Ribblesdale League Division 2 in 1972, 1991 and most recently in 2015, Division 1 in 1997 and 1999 and the Lawrenson Cup in 1972, 1985 and 1999. The 3rd XI have tasted success too, with Division 3 championships in 1983 and 1987.
The junior section has tasted much success through the years. The under 18’s won the championship in 1962, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1995 as well as the Brian Morris Cup in 1988, 1992 and 1998. The Under 16’s won the Birchall Cup in 1993 whilst the Under 15’s were champions in 1994, 1996 and 1999 and 2006 and the Under 13’s won the title in 1994. Our under 11’s were champions in 2015.
Recent years have seen significant work carried out at the club’s Cliffe ground, both on the field and off it. Funding from the ECB, Sport England and Biffaward enabled significant drainage and groundwork to take place, whilst further investment in the club’s popular clubhouse and function room has resulted in the club now possessing some of the finest facilities in the area.
In 2016 the club accepted an invitation to join the Lancashire Cricket League, meaning 2016 comprised the last in its long association with the Ribblesdale League. The club looks back with great fondness on its rich history, but is just as equally eagerly anticipating the coming years as it looks to establish itself in the most famous cricket league in the world.
Adapted from Bob Normington’s ” Brief History of the Great Harwood Cricket Club 1861-1956 and Alan West’s “One Hundred Years of the Ribblesdale Cricket League”.