That is how Highbury was described in 1992, and few would have argued with the author’s summation of a wonderful cricket club.
In 1992 the Leeds and District Cricket League marked its centenary year. To celebrate a hundred years of competitively fought cricket matches, a short history of each club then playing in the league was published in a commemorative handbook. Sadly, since then fortunes have changed for both the Leeds League itself and for Highbury the club.
The last competitive match was played at Highbury’s ground on the edge of Meanwood Park on 11th September 2004, but only after 76 years of sometimes memorable, often absorbing cricket had been played on it.
Highbury Works Cricket Club was formed in 1928 by employees of Robert Jowitt and Sons Ltd. Highbury Works, formerly known as Meanwood Tannery, was a fellmongering mill, where the workers stripped the wool from sheep hides and prepared them for tanning. The mill was built in 1857 as a tannery by Samuel Smith. Incidentally, his son – also called Samuel – inherited his uncle’s brewing business in Tadcaster and renamed it Samuel Smith’s.
To begin with Highbury played in the Leeds Second-Class League, and won the Championship in 1929. Further success came in 1930 when the club won the Leeds Hospitals Cup. Wishing to play against better opposition Highbury joined the Yorkshire Central League and enjoyed significant success. They won the Championship five times between 1934 and 1945, and won the Rhodes Cup in 1943.
During these years three stalwarts of the club were Ken Burnett, John Willie Garvey and Jack Drake. Ken was instrumental in helping to form the club and later became the manager of Highbury Works. John is remembered as a hard working and efficient secretary, and Jack was the groundsman who helped make the Highbury pitch such a joy to play on. Jack was a former Yorkshire Colt and perhaps the club’s best bowler.
In 1946 Highbury joined the Leeds League, having first applied to do so in 1939. However, the club was only granted admission to the reserve section as a ‘shadow’ team to Leeds. According to the Leeds League, “concern was expressed at the irregular shape and rather small size of the ground.” However, the “excellence of the playing surface” was, apparently, “a decisive factor” in gaining admission to the League.
Under the captaincy of Ken Burnett, Highbury was undefeated in its first season in the Leeds League and won the championship. Full admission to the League was granted in 1947 and the club was able to field two sides. However, it took time to adjust to the higher standard of cricket at the senior level and Highbury didn’t win its first match until August. The club finished nineteenth.
Highbury won the Second XI knock-out competition the Wood Cup in 1949, with Harry Wilson’s 219 at J. and S. Rhodes setting a competition record. This was the first of three successful Wood Cup campaigns, the others being 1956 and 1957.
Highbury also won the Division B Championship in 1955, the year “exceptional batsman, successful captain and efficient umpire” Jim Moulton won the League batting prize. It was around this time that Jim became Highbury’s groundsman, tending the square for over forty years.
The club had to wait nearly thirty years to win another team trophy. In the meantime, David Horsey of Highbury set a Leeds League batting record when he scored 190 not out in a first team league match in 1965. The record stood for 25 years before being surpassed at Highbury by a visiting player.
From 1970-1974 Highbury played in Division 2. However, in 1974 they finished second and would have been promoted to the top flight but from 1975 to 1979 the Leeds League only had the one division. In 1975 Highbury finished eleventh out of twelve.
However, the mid-1970s heralded a change in fortunes. In 1976 the club reached the final of the first XI knock-out competition, the Hepworth Cup, thanks to a brilliant century from Rodney Langstaff in the semi-final against Carlton. Although they lost the final at Whitkirk to local Meanwood rivals Woodhouse, the team finished third in the Division 1 league in both 1978 and 1979. In 1980 the club went one better finishing second to Colton – the club’s highest ever position in the League. That year Jeff Horton led the overall league averages, taking 41 wickets at 6.95.
The 1970’s saw many of the club’s longest serving players and club supporters in action. Brothers Rod and Ian Langstaff were both exceptionally fine left-handed batsmen of contrasting styles. Rod topped the 1973 Leeds League batting averages, scoring 650 runs at 43.33, a feat Ian repeated in 1976, scoring 589 runs at 53.54. In addition to being awarded the Clifton Cup as leading batsman, Ian also won the White Cup for the highest individual score of 118.
1976 also saw Robin Harvey finish second in the league bowling averages, taking 35 wickets at 11.08 each. His twin brother David Harvey also regularly appears in the league overall batting averages, as do Warren Scholey and Brian Bolingbroke. In 1977, long-serving club Treasurer Malcolm Brine scored 132, the League’s highest individual score for the second XIs that year.
Of the other bowlers, Jeff Horton and Ian Coulson for the first team, and Denis Fletcher for the seconds deserve special mention, regularly making the league bowling averages despite having to toil against batsmen enjoying Highbury’s excellent batting surface. In 1979, one of the club’s greatest all-rounders Glen Cox finished in the top ten of both the league overall batting and bowling averages, averaging 31.12 with the bat and bowling a hefty 323 overs to take a thoroughly impressive 76 wickets at 10.28.
In 1977 the club installed a small bar in the pavilion in order to generate more revenue. This marked the start of a period of improvements being made to the club, eventually resulting in a bigger clubhouse and better changing facilities. However, in 1978 the club was shocked by the sudden death of Jack Briggs, the secretary of Highbury and a stalwart of sixteen years. Jack also served with distinction as Chairman of the Leeds Junior Cricket League and was a respected umpire, standing in the final of the Hepworth Cup in 1974. Jim Moulton and another long-time Highbury man, Geoff Waite, umpired the 1975 final.
During the 1980s, Highbury played eight seasons in the first division. The team was relegated at the end of 1982 but bounced straight back the following year. They were again relegated in 1985 but again only spent one year in the second division, finishing the 1986 season as champions, winning the Jackson Trophy. That year bowlers Robin Harvey, Jeff Horton, Simon Rosenthall and skipper Jimmy Moyles occupied the top four places in the League averages. Ian Rowlands and Rod Langstaff also shared the White Cup for highest individual score, both making 132 in separate matches.
In addition to the team enjoying prolonged spells in the first division, the 1980s saw some fine individual performances as well. In 1986 Highbury not only headed Division 2, but the main bowlers, Robin Harvey, Jeff Horton, Simon Rosenthall and skipper Jimmy Moyles occupied the top four places in the League averages. Relegated in 1990, a late run of victories enabled the first team to gain promotion the following year, thanks to Ian Rowlands’ 147 not out in the crucial final match at Farsley Celtic.
The last game to be played at the ground on 11th September 2004 was vs Pledwick. Pledwick 222 (D. Fisher 77, S. Craven 42; S. Lonsdale 7-56), *Highbury 223-8 (R. McGlashan 66, S. Lonsdale 64; D. Fisher 3-76).