It is a fact that Ashton-under-Lyne’s cricket Club was formed in 1857 and therefore this year of 2007 celebrates its 150th anniversary. However, it could be argued that the club is in actuality much older. In 1821 when the old Ashton Town was expanding from its original four streets or so, with a population of just 2,000, to one of over 9,000, cricket was a popular pastime for some residents. The expansion brought about by the Industrial Revolution saw Ashton Town moving out from the shadow of the Parish Church with new roads and housing being built and by 1851 the Town population had risen to 31,000. In the early 1820s the game of cricket was a most popular pastime with the working-classes with many taking the opportunity to play games amongst themselves. However, because of the long working hours they had very little leisure time in which to indulge in the sport. On the other hand their employers, the mill owners and other well-to-do people of the area having ample free time were perhaps more instrumental in the games progression.
Cricket was certainly being played throughout the area by the 1820s. Neighbouring Denton had its own cricket club which was founded in 1824. Of course where there was one team there must also have been others. In Ashton cricket had for sometime been played at a field at Moss Lane (by 1857 it was already referred to as the old cricket ground) and also a short distance away at Ashton Moss (.A reference is made in the Preston Sentinel of 1821 referring to a game played “on the marsh near Ashton”). There was certainly a team playing at Bank Top on Currier Lane, Ashton before moving to Plantation Farm in Dukinfield and it would appear that this team was the forerunner of the Ashton Cricket Club. Indeed this was confirmed in 1901 by David Cordingly in a published account of the Club in which he thanked Mr G.H. Kenworthy (first president) for an account of the “early history of the club before its establishment at Moss Lane” in 1857. In 1841 General Lord Hill, commander-in-chief of the British Army, had ordered that a cricket ground be made an adjunct of every military barracks - thus when the Ashton Barracks were erected in 1843 at a cost of £42,500 a cricket pitch was also included.
Ashton had become a municipal borough in 1847 seven years after the impressive Town Hall had been erected. The town had expanded in to one of the north’s most well designed townships with its rows of terraced houses, new shops and influx of other industries alongside cotton. Ashton of course also had its share of troubles especially with the Chartist years and the not too distant cotton famine which would result in mill workers and owners suffering hard times. By 1857 those cricketers who had played at Bank Top and Plantation Farm had a great sense of civic pride and with their move to Moss Lane had aspirations of becoming the town’s designated cricket club. The seventy to eighty club members would not have had long to wait before this was to happen. For as planned shortly after an inaugural match at the ground on May 2nd between a first and second eleven, the members were informed that they had indeed gained the status of being the official town cricket club.
The members of the Ashton Club would mostly have been drawn from the town’s wealthy and prominent families, the likes of Doctors, J.Ps, Mill owners and other well-to-do businessmen. These ‘Gentlemen’ were the backbone of the Ashton Club and whom accompanied by the ‘Ladies’ treated each game as a social event. In 1857 the Ashton Club’s first president was 22-years-old G. H. Kenworthy, whose family resided at Hurst Hall. Others associated with the club in its formative years included brothers Robert and George Lees and Edwin Whittaker, the latter being without doubt the club’s most influential supporter. Both Mr Whittaker’s capabilities as an all-round cricketer and his financial generosity contributed immensely to the early prosperity of the club. He was born in Ashton on December 4th 1834 and educated at Wesley College at Sheffield. Always a keen cricket player a right-hand batsman and a more than capable bowler. Not only was he a founder member of the Ashton Cricket Club he was also instrumental in the formation of the Lancashire County Cricket Club in 1864 and was eventually to become chairman of the club. As a player he took part in the initial first class match played by the county on July 20th – 22nd 1865 against Middlesex at Old Trafford making a score of 23 and 39. Mr Whittaker out of his own pocket was responsible for erecting the first fence enclosing the Old Trafford ground in 1859. Several offers of generosity were often bestowed upon the Ashton club which in those early days were gladly received.
Ashton’s Moss Lane ground in 1857 was conveniently located to the town yet still set in country surroundings in an area known as Moss Side.
On the corner of Portland Street and Blandford Street was the house and school belonging to Thomas Newell with the entrance to the cricket ground adjoining. The ground itself was bounded by Blandford Street on one side while the large market garden belonging to Samuel Potts lay on the Moss Lane side – Samuel Potts was also licensee of the nearby Oddfellows Arms public House. Located on another side of the ground was Robinson’s Lane and the well-known local landmark ‘Robinson’s Well’ – while the fourth side was fenced separating it from open land. Incidentally, each annual wakes many of the townsfolk would gather at the cricket ground to join in the games which were the culmination of the traditional ‘Well Dressing’ ceremony carried at ‘Robinson’s Well’. This ancient custom which dates back to pagan times is thought to have originated in the Peak District of Derbyshire where the custom is still performed today
Ashton’s first competitive match was on Saturday June 13th 1857 on the ground of local rivals Droylsden . The game was played in beautiful weather which brought out a fair sized crowd of both sexes. A tent had been erected; mainly it was said for the ladies from which refreshments were served. The Droylsden side were somewhat unnerved by the uniformed attire worn by their opponents which according to one onlooker affected their game. Ashton won the match with nine wickets to spare after sterling performances from Whittaker and Nash who between them hit the runs and bowled out the opposition to gain victory. Seven days later the very first competitive match took place at the Moss Lane ground when the Ashton Club entertained Dukinfield Royal Victoria. Both sides entered the field of play watched by a large crowd including many females. Because of the number of ladies in attendance the Ashton Club Committee decided after the match, that they would for future home games erect a tent allowing the ladies to take refreshments. They had witnessed how successful this had been when playing at Droylsden the previous week. The club had erected a pavilion at the Moss Lane ground but this was solely for the players and male members and deemed unsuitable for ladies to be admitted. As for the game itself Ashton came out on top with once again two players standing out from the rest. On the bowling front Holman and Alkin between them destroyed Dukinfield taking in two innings a total of 11 and 4 wickets respectively. Holman also ended the day scoring the most runs notching up twenty; H. Stanley had an impressive total of fifteen with E. Hobson following up with twelve runs.
The bowling in games at this period of time was not as we know it today for each ball bowled had to be delivered under-arm. There were bowlers who favoured a round-arm action which had for sometime caused an amount of controversy within the game. However, in 1816 the MCC had allowed round-arm to be utilised. It was not until 1864 that over-arm bowling was allowed a move which was to change the game once again.
Another interesting point is that the creases at the Moss Lane round like all others, were not painted with whitewash – this did not happen until 1865 – instead they were cut into the ground to form a small ditch one inch in both depth and width. Ashton’s ground itself while being rather small had nonetheless an excellent smooth playing surface which lying on a deep bed of sand allowed the wicket to dry out quickly even after the heaviest of rainfalls.
Once settled at Moss Lane the club soon established itself as an excellent centre of cricket though interestingly almost sixty years were to pass before they were to experience any league cricket. Throughout the 1860s Cricket Associations flourished everywhere and at local levels these well run bodies organised the playing of matches between clubs usually within a few miles of each other - Though occasionally the club itself would arrange their own matches and quite often played home and away with opponents from far afield.
The organisation to which the Ashton club was linked was the Manchester Cricket Association who arranged many of their matches. One has to pay tribute to the club’s early committees and presidents for without their efforts the club would not have progressed. Mr G. H. Kenworthy, Robert and George Lees, Edwin Whittaker, A. B. Rowley, Oldham Hulme, S.H. Swire and Edward Hobson are just a few who fought to establish the club in its infancy. Many of these men not only helped to run the club but also turned out to play and during their times were no mean players – with some also representing the county side.
The Ashton Cricket Club has always had a close alliance with the county club particularly in the early days of both clubs existence. It was on January 12th 1864 at a meeting held at the Queen’s Hotel, Manchester that the Lancashire Cricket Club was formed. This important meeting was attended by many with Ashton connections, including brothers A. B. Rowley and E. Rowley along with Messrs Whittaker, Hobson, and Swire.
Although an Ashtonian Samuel Henry Swire, son of Ashton JP of the same name, played his first recorded game for Sale against his home town club in 1857. Later he joined Ashton where most of his club cricket was played. He was also a member of the Manchester Club and appointed their secretary in 1862. With the formation of the Lancashire County Club he, along with A. B. Rowley, was elected as the club’s first joint secretary. Mr Swire took part in the County’s first ever match in 1864 and the following year at Old Trafford he was a member of the Lancashire side in their initial first class match against Middlesex. In November 1888 he was presented with a large silver tray at a dinner held in his honour at Manchester’s Queen’s Hotel. The tray engraved with a view of the pavilion at Old Trafford is now on display at the Lancashire County Cricket Club museum. In business Samuel Swire was a colliery proprietor, cotton mill owner and also a director of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company and of J. Bayley & Sons Ltd. He continued as secretary at Lancashire until his death in 1905. A. B. Rowley was later to become president of the county club and Mr Whittaker was also to hold high office.
In their attempts to maintain a high interest in cricket and in the club itself the Ashton committee invited the ‘All England XI’ to play them at their Moss Lane ground in the summer of 1863. The Nottinghamshire player William Clarke had formed the ‘All England XI’ in 1846 to play matches against teams all over the country and to stimulate interest in the game. Clarke and his Eleven would for a liberal sum, usually guaranteed gate money, play anywhere and against teams who were often allowed to play 14 to 22 players. After Clarke died in 1856 the ‘All England XI’ was taken over by George Parr the then Nottinghamshire captain. In many towns an ‘All England’ match would be the topic of conversation months before the event took place. This was also the case in Ashton and prior to the game the club was optimistic of making the event a success.
With all arrangement carried out the game took place over three days, 6th - 8th August 1863. However, doubts may have started to creep in when the overnight rain continued into the first morning’s play – but happily prior to the wickets being pitched the rain ceased. The uncertain weather had an effect on the attendance for the opening day with a noticeable absence of the town’s ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’. An admission price of 6d had also restricted the number of working class folk from attending. Ashton like most Lancashire towns was at this time in the midst of the Cotton Famine brought about by the American Civil War. Consequently, many townsfolk were working on short time or had been laid off. It is known that around 9,600 people in Ashton were living on the rates. Obviously the working classes who had managed to attend the match must have made many sacrifices in order to save their admission money. However, a good many also took advantage of the surrounding trees which were climbed to give a precarious view point of the match. While others stood on large stones straining to look over the wooden picket fencing surrounding the ground.
Although the morning’s rain had ceased by eleven o’clock the game did not commence until just after mid-day. Ashton who was being allowed to play 22 players batted first with the Reverend J. Galbraith and P. Allen taking to the crease to face the bowling of Willsher and Jackson. By 2.00pm rain brought the day’s proceedings to a close with Ashton having 80 with the loss of four wickets, these being Galbraith 23, Allen 4, G. H. Grimshaw 28, W. Cryer 0 with J.B. Rayner and E.B. Rowley still standing with 9 and 16 runs respectively. Much brighter weather on Friday brought out the crowds and an appearance by the Stalybridge Brass Band who played at varying intervals and added to the atmosphere. The refreshment tents did brisk business especially with the ‘Ladies’ of whom there were many present. Rayner and Rowley resumed play but Rayner soon fell to the bowling of Willsher without adding to his total. As the play progressed Ashton reached a total of 132 with Bowers remaining not out.
The ‘All England’ reply was 139 giving them a lead of just seven runs. A confident Ashton in their second innings added a further 108 runs leaving ‘All England’ a target of 102 to win the game. Despite some excellent bowling from Slinn who took five wickets the visitors reached their objective.
The three day event proved to be everything the club had hoped it would be - with of course the exception of the rain affected first day – and the crowds which turned out bore witness to some outstanding cricket.
The success of this game prompted Ashton to arrange another visit from the ‘All England XI’ during the following summer. In fact over the next four years a further three encounters between the sides would take place. When visiting Moss Lane in the summer of 1864 the ‘All England XI’ was being labelled ‘The Australian Team’, due to the success they had gained while touring the then colony. Most of the visitors who took to the field against Ashton had played in front of thousands over in Australia and had returned home unbeaten in all games. Here in Ashton and throughout the country people were eager to see the victorious ‘Eleven’ in action and high attendances was almost guaranteed wherever the ‘Eleven’ played that summer. The added interest in the ‘All England XI’, along with the then beautifully fine weather, saw the Moss Lane Ground full with all in attendance anticipating some excellent cricket. They were not to be disappointed as both teams excelled, with the Ashton club in particular putting in a strong performance. The bowling of A. B. Rowley especially took the eye with his stunning performance being mainly responsible for a well-earned but surprising win for the Ashton club. Although taking five wickets in the first innings it was in the second that he inflicted even further damage by taking nine more wickets, the last six all being for a duck. Although playing against odds, this loss for the touring ‘Eleven’ was a totally unprecedented occurrence especially coming after their greatest of successes in Australia. As a result of this match George Parr for the ‘All England XI’ announced that for any future visits to Ashton - who on this occasion had again fielded twenty-two - would only be allowed to play eighteen. The performances of Alexander Butler Rowley had helped Ashton to establish themselves in these early days. He was a left handed bowler and a hard hitting right handed batsman who really loved the game. He and his brother Edmund who also put in many a sterling performance for Ashton were leading lights in the formation of the Lancashire County Club. Alongside Samuel Swire A.B. Rowley played in the county’s initial first class match against Middlesex. Besides representing Lancashire and the Manchester Club Rowley also made three appearances for Cheshire making two fifties in his 149 runs and taking four wickets. Edmund Rowley also represented the county (1865-80) and captained them from 1866-79. Alexander Rowley was a member of Manchester solicitors ‘Rowley & Sons’ and also a mill owner, he was JP
and Deputy Lieutenant for the county of Lancashire and also Honorary Colonel of the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. In 1886 he unsuccessfully stood as a Liberal candidate in the Parliamentary Election for Ashton-under-Lyne.
The Ashton club basking in their success both on and off the field were soon to see a dramatic change. Poor attendance figures for the next visit of the ‘All England XI’ in 1865 cost the club money and in order to recoup some of this loss arrangements were made for the Ashton Club Ground to be used to stage a county match against Yorkshire and Cambridge. Permission from both county sides was sought as well as from officials at Old Trafford, where the game was actually scheduled to be played. With all in agreement it was announced that the two counties would play their game over the three days of 14th -16th September at Ashton. With the local club being thankful to all concerned they were also hopeful that the staging of such a prestigious match would be more than enough to cover the losses encountered from the previous month’s ‘All England XI’ let down. Both sides produced excellent cricket with the match finally finishing in a draw. The one big disappointing factor - and for the Ashton club a vital one - was the pitifully poor attendance. A deeply concerned committee soon realised that this game instead of recouping money had actually cost them even more and they were now very deeply in debt.
During 1866 the club bravely continued to play their games in the hope they could overcome their financial problems. Little headway being made the committee made a bold decision to again invite the ‘All England XI’ back to Moss Lane for the summer of 1867.
However, once again this brought about yet more losses – so much so that it would be years before the club was once again on a firm financial footing. For some time therefore the club’s existence was due largely to the loans that were made to them from the wealthier members of the club.
Finances did improve somewhat in 1873 thanks in the main to another local cricket club the ‘Ashton Union’. The ‘Union’ had initially been formed in 1861 as part of St. Peter’s Church with many of its players coming from the congregation or from the associated schools. For ten years the ‘St. Peter’s’ team flourished so much so that it was now more cosmopolitan in its make up attracting members from outside of the church. As a consequence of this, in 1872 after a further influx of new players, including D. Cordingly, J. B. Rayner and J. E. Cryer from the Ashton Club a change came about. As ties with the church had now diminished the club took on a new identity that of the ‘Ashton Union’. Their games were played at Ashton’s Moss Lane ground and through the 1873 season talk of a merger became common. Shortly after the season had reached its end, this talk became a reality as both teams joined together. This amalgamation proved to be a lifeline for the Ashton Cricket Club, as by the end of the 1874 season they were able to repay all outstanding loans. Though now debt free unfortunately, there was still no financial reserve on which to build for the future.
Later in 1874 as the club was looking forward with confidence they were to receive the devastating news that they would soon have to vacate the Moss Lane ground. By this time the old town of Ashton was spreading ever outward and with the expanding population both new housing and work places were being built. The Ashton cricket ground and the surrounding open spaces proved to be a prime site for development. The spread of building work in the vicinity was vast and part of the club ground site was itself earmarked for the building of Holy Trinity Church. Consequently the summer of 1874 would bring an end to their seventeen years at their Moss Lane Ground.
THE EARLY YEARS 1857 - 1874
ASHTON under LYNE CRICKET CLUB 1ST XI 1860 TO 1865:
Standing Left to Right: Cruikshanks; J.Bowers (Pro); GH Grimshaw; SH Swire; O Hulme; E Whittaker; Wm Cryer; Rev Galbraith
Front: JB Reyner; J Cryer; E Hobson