Bradford Cricket Club: a Tory creation, 1836

By John Dewhirst

Despite Bradford Cricket Club having been the focus of academic research, I find it surprising that until the publication of Room at the Top nothing had ever been written to acknowledge the fact that the formation of the club in 1836 was a product of party politics. Indeed, the role of Tories in the promotion of Bradford sport has been virtually overlooked despite the senior sports clubs of the district having been firmly Conservative in their political sympathies and association. The following is an extract from Room at the Top and narrates the origins of the political connection in respect of the town’s cricket club.

Bfd CC

Bradford Cricket Club – politics by other means

Bradford CC was the product of a turbulent era when many people feared that Bradford would be a centre of revolution. Cricket was a traditional game and its attraction during the midst of social turbulence is hardly surprising. It provided a degree of solace and predictability at a time of great change and that is why I believe it proved so popular in Bradford in the mid nineteenth century. The narrative of tradition, stability and the participation of all classes complemented political ideals and made the sport appealing to those anxious to curtail radical change. Bradford CC was a political creation, deliberately intended to derive populist appeal and provide a united identity. Yet the club can hardly be described as a political entity other than acting as a flag bearer for the town.

The Conservative Party was active in securing working class support in northern towns through the formation of Conservative Operative Associations, one of which was formed in Leeds in November, 1835. A letter to the Bradford Observer of 21 April, 1836 (from a correspondent whose political sympathy was revealed by his pen name of ‘Republican‘) goaded Bradford Tories for their failure to establish a similar Operative Association in the town and it was not until 1837 that a Bradford Conservative Operative Association (BCOA) was launched. In the meantime, the efforts of Bradford Tories were focused elsewhere to encourage working class sympathies and Bradford Cricket Club was formed with this specific goal in mind.

The man behind the BCOA was James Wade, landlord of the New Inn who coincidentally was a founder member of Bradford CC in 1836. Wade is later known to have been a woolstapler and an active member of the Anglican Church, involved after 1843 with the Church Literary Institute in Bradford which had been formed by Revd Scoresby. The fact that the cricket club was formed in the White Lion Hotel – which was the headquarters of the Bradford Tories – gives further reason to highlight the context and timing of the club’s formation. In the circumstances of Bradford politics, it seems a remarkable coincidence that a club which appears to have previously existed on an informal, impromptu basis should all of a sudden be relaunched in the town instead of remaining at Apperley Bridge.

From his examination of the Bradford CC minute books Denis Maude refers in his book (Bradford Cricket Club: A centenary of Yorkshire County Cricket at Park Avenue, 1881-1981) to mention that membership fell away in 1838, seemingly due to poor weather. However, it might have also reflected a diminution of enthusiasm in the wake of election defeat of the Tory candidates. The minutes also revealed how tickets were sold in public houses and how pubs were thus integral to its functioning. Bradford was considered a citadel of religious dissent and any organisation with a strong disposition towards alcohol and gambling was hardly likely to favour the killjoy temperance instincts of Nonconformists. Besides, many of those with a Nonconformist background would have been less inclined towards self-indulgent leisure as an alternative to wealth creation. For such people the chapel would have offered comparable networking opportunities.

Although we can assume that members of Bradford CC would have been generally like-minded it would be wrong to say that they were entirely homogeneous or shared the same political affiliations. One individual connected with the club who was a founder member, John Flintiff stands out. In February, 1838 it was reported that he had held a supper in commemoration of the birthday of the republican Thomas Paine with 42 others of similar political opinion. Two months prior to that he had hosted the Bradford CC annual dinner. Flintiff was landlord of the Hope & Anchor Inn, later taking control of other pubs in the area prior to being declared bankrupt in 1843. It was recorded that in August, 1837 he had attended a fixture at Wakefield in particularly flamboyant dress.

Cricket represented a pre-industrial, historic sport – oft referred to as the ‘noble game’ – and it was claimed that it offered participation without regard to class or social status (albeit without upset to the established order). In many ways therefore the cricket club embodied the political sentiments of the Tory Radicals and a projection of what they stood for. As a representative of the town the club was likely to enjoy high profile status and by association, the Conservatives stood to benefit from reflected glory. In this way, patronage of the town’s cricket club would have been seen as a means of encouraging support.

Symbolically Bradford CC was ‘for the town and for the people’ and before long it was being referred to as a long established institution within Bradford – by 1851 it was described as the ‘Old Club’ which reveals the degree of prestige that it enjoyed. In many ways it thus represented and symbolised an antidote to the urban and industrial transformation of Bradford. For the next 150 years it became part of the identity of Bradford, commanding considerable goodwill albeit through being reformed on various occasions.

Judged from its membership the club also stood for the maintenance of social order and the protection of property. Prominent members included magistrates and the club was also closely associated with Bradford’s Yeomanry Cavalry which provided further respectability and status in the town.

Bradford CC and the Young England movement

After his defeat in 1837, John Hardy was finally re-elected as an MP in 1841 and represented Bradford until 1847. The defining political event was repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 by Robert Peel, Conservative Prime Minister in an act that split his party. Although certain members of the Conservative Party had supported the repeal of laws which had been designed to keep grain prices high since 1815, others had opposed abolition. The Whigs adopted equally emotive language referring to ‘the murdered victims of the corn monopolists at Peterloo.’ In the final event the Liberals derived the electoral benefit of support for free trade although the 1847 election in Bradford was again defined by religious disagreements. Between 1847 and 1880 Bradford became a predominantly Liberal town but other than for matters of religion and education, there remained a broad political consensus, encouraged by the fact that Bradford had a common cross-party interest in the prosperity of its worsted trade.

During the 1840s a more self-confident mood can be detected in Bradford which might be explained by revolution having been avoided. With the quelling of the Chartist riots in 1848 and the recovery in trade there was no further threat to civil order. The 1840s was the decade in which a Bradford identity started to be defined and the three most obvious ingredients were a commitment to free trade, the incorporation of the town in 1847 and the sheer economic success of Bradford businesses. I also believe that there was a fourth. If Bradford worked hard, so too it played hard and in my opinion Bradford CC was particularly influential in encouraging a local patriotism that was inherited by football in the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century. What distinguishes Bradford CC and later, Bradford FC after 1880 was the single-minded focus on bringing sporting glory to the town. Specifically, I believe that the ideals and self-image of the cricket club were shaped by exposure to the so-called Young England movement in 1844 that provided it with a quasi-romantic vision inspiring a sense of purpose.

The Conservative and Liberal parties both attempted to demonstrate their concern for the working class. Although the electoral franchise was restricted to (male) property owners, the prevailing attitude was that the ruling party had to demonstrate that it was acting in the broader interest of the nation which translated as a paternal attitude towards the working classes. The Tories derived local support from the campaigning of Richard Oastler  –  a man who described himself as ‘a Church-and-King Tory of the old school’ – who is credited with factory reform and curbing child labour, but what is remarkable is that Bradford CC was at the forefront of a unique political initiative by a faction of the Conservative Party to appeal to all classes.

The Young England movement was more of an ideal than a cohesive political faction but it incapsulated lofty, romantic ideals of a supposedly carefree society where class tensions had been absent in a mythical feudal past. It was admittedly a woolly escapist fantasy and Liberals dismissed the notions as an irrelevant snobbery. The significance however is that provided expression to the discomfort that many people felt about the impact of industrialisation and provided a vision that many could identify with at a superficial level.

Disraeli’s speech at the Oddfellows Hall in Bingley on 11 October, 1844 is considered to have been seminal in terms of the Young England movement and its objectives. He spoke of his recent visit to Manchester at which people had subscribed £21,000 to form parks for the people and praised William Busfeild Ferrand’s initiative of providing allotments for workers and the establishment of the Bingley Allotment Society the previous year. Disraeli praised the members of Bingley Cricket Club for their revival of ‘native sports’ and told them to be proud of taking a lead in that revival, ‘because you were foremost to set an example to your fellow countrymen.’ It was similarly claimed in another speech at the same banquet that the Bingley Cricket Club was ‘founded on a right principle – no-one was excluded because of his station or opinions.

Shortly after, on 21st October, 1844 the Bradford Cricket Club staged a ‘revival of old English sports’ at its ground that featured a number of races for which generous cash prizes were at stake. The event was reported to have had a good attendance and it seems likely that part of the attraction was gambling. Nonetheless, it allowed the cricket club to promote itself as a sponsor of recreation. Buoyed by the success of the initiative and the momentum created by the earlier gathering at the Oddfellows Hall, Bradford CC announced plans in the Bradford Observer of 24 October, 1844 for its inaugural grand ball:

‘At all times we have placed ourselves in the foremost ranks as advocates of amusements which render men cheerful and contented, enliven the existence of the laborious, and blend together for a while at least, the too frequently discordant elements of station, opinion and party. More particularly, perhaps, is it an incumbent duty, at the present time. To foster and encourage recreative amusements, when so many noble efforts are being made to establish societies, provide parks, &c. for the especial advantage of those who delight to participate in sports generally. Second to none in our good town, is the Bradford Cricket Club, as originators and patrons of all amusements. It numbers about 150 ‘good and true’ members, possesses an extensive influence, and is in a prosperous position. Out and indoor entertainments have alike their benefits and sweet recollections; but as outdoor enjoyments are incompatible at this season of the year, the members of the Bradford Club intend giving a series of Grand Balls annually, the first of which will take place during the second week in November, at the Exchange Buildings. Many influential patrons have been obtained, and extensive preparations are in progress.’

It gave Bradford the same missionary zeal that existed in the town for the making of money. As evidence of the club’s mission statement the following extract from the Bradford Observer of 28 November, 1844 confirms that the club existed for a noble purpose. It was not simply a cricket club:

‘It will be seen by reference to our advertising columns, that this body appears in a new though not inconsistent scene. The club was formed in 1836. Its numbers were then few, and mostly composed of young men just entering into the world; nearly all the original founders, however, still continue to be its chief supporters. Since its commencement, its members have invariably kept these objects in view – amusement to all classes, alike to those zealously performing in them, and the passive spectators; the creation of a spirit of emulation in other clubs, by selecting the best men in the neighbourhood to practice with and take part in matches; and lastly, the encouragement to young men generally to engage in the exhilarating exercise of cricket, in preference to a lax method of otherwise spending their leisure hours. By this system of management and incitement, the Bradford cricket club has thus witnessed springing up around them a large number of clubs, with bountiful patronage. The parent club may now be considered second to none in Yorkshire. The club numbers around 150 subscribers, including the elite of our gentry. It is gratifying to be able to trace the establishment, growth, and history of such a society which appears to have kept pace with the wants of the times, and when mills and manufacturers are making such rapid growth, participation in healthy amusements tend generally to improve the physical and moral condition of society.’

As an example of the ‘amusements’ hosted by Bradford CC, the Bradford Observer also reported on 24 October, 1844 that earlier in the week there had been a pedestrian event and hurdle race at the cricket ground attended by ‘an immense crowd of people of all sorts, with a pretty considerable sprinkling of the vagabond portion of young England.’ That final comment was a thinly veiled taunt at Benjamin Disraeli’s supporters. The Bradford Observer was happy to indulge in partisan politics within its editorial but other than the above I have seen no particularly barbed comments about the cricket club, most likely because the editor, Robert Byles knew that he would not have been on safe ground to do so. Whilst the Bradford Observer had no hesitation to indulge in partisan editorials there was never any criticism of the cricket club or its activities, a demonstration that it was a safe political investment for the Tories.

After the Plug Riots in the summer of 1842, peace had been restored to the town and in the months preceding the ball there had been a series of trials with those found guilty of rioting sent to Australia. On the basis of order having been reimposed, the event captured a mood that combined feelings of congratulation, thanksgiving and relief among elements of Bradford society that the political status quo had been upheld. Indeed, it represented a much different outlook to that in 1843 when apprehension about civil unrest had led to the formation of 2nd WYVC, a volunteer force.

Adverts in the Bradford Observer listed those attending the Bradford Cricket Club ball which was held at the Exchange Building on 6 December, 1844. The roll call included prominent Conservatives such as Lord John Manners, MP for Newark who, along with William Busfeild Ferrand, MP for Knaresborough (although resident in Bingley), was prominent in the Young England group. Like John Hardy, Ferrand had failed to gain election as an MP for Bradford in 1837 and was the target of invective by the Liberal supporting Bradford Observer who criticised his opposition of Corn Law reform. In December, 1842 Manners had published a pamphlet A Plea for National Holy-Days, encouraging the revival of ancient sports and relief from work.

Others included Joshua Pollard, a Justice of the Peace and councillor and Charles Lees, district judge and later a councillor in the town. Another solicitor was Joseph Morris, a churchwarden of Christ Church who was advertised to attend as a steward. Representatives of the textile businesses included Joseph Wade, in 1845 a woolstapler of Edmund Street in Little Horton and by 1849 a gentleman. Like Joseph Clayton (the son of a magistrate) who died in 1854 at the age of only 35, Wade had been a founder member of the cricket club. Representatives of the textile trade included Joshua Mann, a stuff merchant who lived at Mannville House adjacent to the Claremont ground and his brother John Mann who were both listed as patrons. Another steward was Jonathan Barraclough, the son of a stuff merchant who married in the (Anglican) parish church the year later. The sixth patron was Captain Thomas Horsfall of Mount St Johns, Thirsk a member of the 2nd WYYC.

The ball took place in an era of considerable tension, dominated by the Chartist demonstrations for political change, the background to which was an economic downturn and enforced wage cuts. The event itself was not an unqualified success and a letter to the Bradford Observer on 12 December, 1844 complained about a ‘lack of due observance of etiquette of the Ball room.’ This may explain why a second dress ball at the Exchange Rooms was arranged in February, 1845. There is no evidence of subsequent events organised by Bradford CC but an annual yeomanry ball became institutionalised with regular events held by the Bradford Troop in Bradford and full regimental balls in Halifax.

A noble cause

The extent to which Bradford CC subscribed to the sort of outlook espoused by Young England is confirmed by its adoption of the same language – as recorded in newspaper reports – that continued long after the movement’s collapse in 1846. The Bradford ball was significant in the history of Bradford CC but probably no less in the history of the Young England movement, coming so soon after headline visits to Manchester and Bingley. Admittedly Disraeli did not attend but the presence of Lord Manners suggests the political importance attached to the event. In his book Young England (1987), Richard Faber recounts how Manners had previously turned down invitations to attend other functions at Wakefield and Manchester but Manners must have regarded Bradford as worth the investment of his time. Maybe it was Ferrand who convinced him to do so.

To my knowledge the Young England leadership did not patronise other cricket clubs despite their endorsement of the game. The identification of Bradford CC with Young England shows that the club had a strong sense of purpose and defined values. Indeed, this is what was meant by the comment in Lillywhite’s Cricketers’ Companion in 1866 that the club’s committee was ‘very active’. Bradford CC consistently promoted itself as a ‘town club’ open to people of all classes in what was the spirit of the original Young England movement before 1846 – and later given expression as ‘One Nation’ Conservatism under Disraeli two decades later. The outlook of Bradford CC might be similarly described as that of ‘One Bradford’.

This was a romantic vision of an imaginary pre-industrial age, espousing the participation of all classes in a traditional English game, attaching value to recreation and the means for recreation through leisure time and dedicated grounds. In an era of urban and economic transformation it is understandable how it would have captured the imagination and been popular with the club’s traditional members – precisely because it was based on preservation of the status quo. Given the fear of rebellion it was also an aspirational vision for those with property. It thus prescribed a timeless form of recreation by attaching value to cricket as a means for mental invigoration and social improvement. Irrespective of political outlook I doubt very much that many cricket lovers would have contested this image of the game. Thereagain, one author, A N Wilson has suggested that Disraeli’s expression of the Young England vision in his novel, Sybil (published in 1845 and supposedly inspired by St. Ives, Bingley) was tinged with homo-eroticism, a subtlety that presumably bypassed the members of Bradford CC.

The Young England message was emotional and idealistic rather than intellectual and Bradford was well suited to embrace it. In his book Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford, published in 1889, the local historian William Scruton wrote ‘for a long time the social, intellectual and municipal wants of the town failed to keep pace with its increasing wealth and commercial importance.’ Bradford was a town with a reputation as a cultural backwater, dedicated solely to manufacturing and with it the population suffered a combination of pollution and poor sanitation. The emerging middle class of Bradford was acutely sensitive about this and its subsequent efforts to launch artistic, literary, philosophical societies was essentially an act of over-compensation.

Bradford appears to have craved approval from outside, a basis of insecurity about what other provincial centres had achieved in comparison. Leading members of the intelligentsia were feted and yet Bradfordians were inevitably disappointed at what they had to say about their town. On his visit to the Mechanics Institute in Bradford in March, 1859 John Ruskin touched local sensibilities with the rhetorical question ‘did they want nothing but more mills?’ Cricket in Bradford provided an industrial frontier town with tradition and an idealised past. Arguably it became another expression of Victorian Romanticism in the district, complementary to examples as diverse as gothic revival architecture and the fashion for Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Cricket offered a form of respectability and a noble cause. For Bradford Cricket Club this combined recreation with local patriotism and the interaction of people from different social backgrounds. Crucially all of this would have shaped the organisational culture of Bradford CC and influenced the sporting culture of Bradford. Combined with its role as the foremost sporting representative of the town you can understand how certain people would have been attracted to the club for the prestige that it conveyed. In particular, it would have had an appeal to the parvenu, nouveau riche of which there was plenty in Bradford. The same ingredients were also a recipe for arrogance and self-importance. Was it this mindset that led to antagonisms with Sheffield or for that matter Manningham CC? When Bradford FC was later accused of a sanctimonious or supercilious high and mighty attitude in the late 1880s, it was evidence that the DNA was inherited from Bradford CC.

Prior to the opening of the first park in Bradford at Peel Park in 1853, the cricket field at Great Horton Road was the only formal arena in the town and the club possessed a near monopoly for the staging of various events. The field provided a shared resource hosting games for other cricket clubs including Bradford Grammar School (any pecuniary arrangements for which being unclear). When the club had vacated its original ground at Claremont in 1851 the talk had been of developing a ‘People’s Park’, an illustration that the club saw itself as central to recreational provision in Bradford. Little wonder that Bradford CC would later be described as a public, rather than private body, implying that it existed for the wider good of the town.

However as with any sports club the vibrancy of its activities depended upon the contribution of its membership and the energy of its leadership. Without new members any club can become a clique and equally, other organisations can become more fashionable. This is not a unique historical phenomenon and I have seen something similar with local cycling clubs in the last thirty years.

The decline of Bradford CC in the late 1860s coincided with the emergence of other clubs as well as other athletic activities. Working men would have had the option of other clubs to play for such as Manningham CC or Bradford Albion CC with the attraction that they enjoyed financial stability and could offer the advantage of geographical convenience to new members.

Spectators likewise could watch cricket elsewhere in Bradford or seek different forms of entertainment. Peel Park had become extremely popular with Bradford people as a recreational venue, hosting events on a much bigger scale than at Great Horton Road. Furthermore, by the late 1860s high profile games were no longer staged at Great Horton Road.

Combined with the financial problems incurred after 1865 it was hardly surprising that Bradford CC lost much of its earlier momentum and sense of purpose. However it was the opportunity to develop Park Avenue that provided the kick-start to revive the club in 1880.

By John Dewhirst

From his book Room at the Top 

Other online articles about Bradford sport by the same author

John contributes to the Bradford City match day programme and his features are also published on his blog Wool City Rivals  


The menu above provides links to other features on the early history and origins of cricket in Bradford as well as the early development of Park Avenue which became the spiritual home of the sport in Bradford.

You will find articles about a broad range of sports on VINCIT with new features published every two to three weeks. We welcome contributions about the sporting history of Bradford and are happy to feature any sport or club provided it has a Bradford heritage.

Planned articles in the next few months include features on the impact of the railways on Bradford sport; the continued story of Keighley AFC; Bradford soccer clubs in the 1880s and 1890s; the origins of cricket in Bradford; the story of Shipley FC; the meltdown of Bradford PA in the 1960s; and the impact of social networks on the early development of Bradford sport.