Lowerhouse Cricket Club: 1862-1962: A history

Lowerhouse Cricket Club was formed in Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee Year of 1862. The provision of land for a permanent ground by the Dugdale Family (owners of the large cotton mill in Lowerhouse) seems to have acted as a catalyst which saw several local clubs merge to form the club we have today. These small teams had been based on the three villages of Habergham, Rosegrove and, of course, Lowerhouse itself.

The Dugdale Family would play an important part in the Club’s history and would have at least an honorary committee member right up to 1992,despite the family leaving for Gloucestershire in the 1920’s and the big mill’s demise in the 1930’s.

Lowerhouse’s first professional was Gibson Price in 1874 and his successor in 1876, Arthur Thornton, was our first pro’ to play First Class Cricket. Professionals in those days were all home grown and it would be 1923 before Australian J. A. Cuffe became the clubs first overseas professional. Most of those early pros were from the pit villages of the East Midlands. Henry Slater (1883–1884), George Porter (1885) and Silas Hardy (1894–1895) were all men of Derbyshire. Neighbouring county Nottinghamshire provided Ben Gregory (1898–1901), John Pennington (1906) and Henry Anthony (1907–1908).

Before the league system evolved fixtures were more random with clubs forming friendly ties with a variety of local clubs. Lowerhouse played a regular annual match against local rivals Burnley. The latter were generally a stronger team but Lowerhouse sometimes carried the day. One such occasion was in 1886 when Penny’s brilliant 8–17 skittled the Turf Moor side for 42, with Lowerhouse cruising to a commanding 8 wicket win. I wonder if there were any local banners declaring “Penny’s from Heaven!”

The next major step would be the formation of a league system. The Bolton League had pointed the way and in 1891 a meeting took place at the now demolished Commercial Hotel in Accrington. This formed a 14 club league with Lowerhouse amongst the founder members.

On to April 23rd 1892 and the ‘House entertained Bacup in their first ever league fixture. Up until 1899 there were 2 pro’s allowed and Madden and Priestly did duty for the ‘House that day. Unfortunately it wasn’t a dream start. Lowerhouse batted first and were 86 all out, succumbing to a 6 wicket loss. It would prove a tough year for the village side and they finished bottom with a total that would remain a record to this day, namely -14 points. The scoring system would soon be amended but in 1892 it was 1 point for a win, 0 points for a draw and -1 point for a loss. Lowerhouse had 3 wins to 17 losses, hence the ignominious -14 point total.

There was a modest improvement in 1893 and by 1894 the team had reached the dizzy heights of joint 7th. This wasn’t sustained though, and for 5 out of the next 6 seasons they were rock bottom again. In this era the pattern was for the two professionals to do the bulk of the bowling. Lowerhouse’s best amateur batsmen were John Holland, Richard Holden and George Green. The latter was the most dependable and he scored over 2000 runs for the club. This was a goodly number in an era of bowler domination. That fact can be seen with Ramsbottom amateur Billy Fenwick taking an incredible 137 wickets in 1900. A really good flavour of life at the Club in this era is contained in a ‘Manchester Times’ article written in 1900 a copy of which as been posted to the website by Anne Cochrane. It is particularly strong on the financial difficulties of a village team competing against bigger Clubs.

It was just after the Lancashire Leagues formation that one of the clubs greatest ever amateurs emerged in the guise of the local Hero Tommy Shutt. He had a difficult year in 1893 when he broke in as a teenager but by 1894 his potential started to be realised. He was a good enough player to play for Lancashire Seconds and be a league pro, at his home club Lowerhouse in 1899 and Rishton in 1911. Shutts’ long career saw him take 1000 wickets for the ‘House. This and his total of 76 wickets in 1910 remain Club records. By the time of his retirement in 1925 he had amassed 4687 runs with a highest score of 173. The latter is still a  club record, but his run aggregate fell just 24 short of Joseph Cook (1896-1916), House’s most prolific pre-war batsman.It would be Herbert Lawson in the 1940s that put clear daylight between Cooke and Shutt, when passing the 6000 run mark.

It was fitting that such a Lowerhouse “lifer “was the landlord of “The Cricketers” in Lowerhouse Lane.He remained in that business and was landlord at the the now defunct White Horse in Padiham when he died in 1952 aged 76.It is strange and disappointing that nothing at our modern day club commemorates such a great club servant as Thomas Shutt!

An interesting snippet to the era was the seemingly ordinary career of J.H. Hartley. He flitted between the first and second 11’s making 35 appearances for the senior team between 1898 and 1902. He managed just 171 runs. His skipper threw him the ball in a game in 1901 whereby he took  two wickets for one run in a solitary over. He was never invited to bowl another one, which seems extraordinary and a little harsh. It does mean with a bowling average of 0.5 per wicket Hartley has the best average of any Lowerhouse Bowler in history.

In the post Victorian era Lowerhouse showed hints of improvement and a mini-golden age began in 1906 when for the very first time the club won more games than they lost. They would repeat that feat for another five years, although their satisfaction might have been offset by Burnley’s hat trick of titles from 1906–1908. Lowerhouse’s’ “better” days would peak in 1910, when Shutts’ wickets meant that along with Burnley and Rishton they finished joint second to League Champions, Colne.

With Shutt away on professional duty, the teams fifth placed finish in 1911 was more than respectable. Arthur Spencer (4614 runs) and the clubs first Matthew Walker to play for them with 3791 runs were the cornerstones of a batting line up that served the club well. Other important players were the 2 Whittaker’s(Billy and Tommy), J.J.Elliott, A.Pate and the aforementioned Cook. All these players are listed in our Hall of Fame and formed a strong, settled team. Unfortunately those bats went to sleep in 1912, in what must have been one of the most disappointing years in the Club’s history. It had started on a high as Lowerhouse seemed to have produced a coup in signing their first ever Test player in Walter Lees. Lees was a Yorkshireman from Sowerby Bridge, who’d made his name like Jim Laker would at Surrey CCC. As a medium fast bowler he took over 1400 first class wickets and as a useful middle order batsmen scored over 7000 runs. He’d played all 5 tests of the MCCs tour of South Africa in 1906 and took an impressive 26 wickets leading him to be named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year. His benefit match versus his native Yorkshire attracted more spectators than any other County match in history and yet it all became an anti-climax as Lowerhouse’s highest batsmen in the leagues averages was TW Whittaker at 43rd.

The first match set the pattern when Lowerhouse entertained Bacup. On debut Lee’s 8–43 helped bowl the visitors out for 88. He went on to score 31* but ‘House were 10 runs short. Lowerhouse finished rock bottom and the only happy memory was the debut of Padiham man Helm Spencer, who would go on to play First Class cricket for Glamorgan and in later life serve the Club as player and coach.

Lowerhouse finished second to bottom in 1913 but were at the foot of the table again in the year of 1914 and the start of the Great War. The league limped on until 1916 by which season no professionals were engaged by any of the league clubs. The conduct of the war now so important and intense that the Lancashire League bowed to the inevitable and  stumps were drawn until 1919, when cricketing hostilities would break out again and a new-fangled competition was added — The Worsley Cup.

One day, that would become the Club’s first major trophy but it would be a long time in the future.

After the hiatus in Lancashire League cricket caused by the First World War, action resumed in the ‘land fit for heroes’ of 1919. These years were very eccomically challenging especially in the village of Lowerhouse with its dependence on the slumping cotton industry. The big mill was effectively nationalised in the 1920s to save it going out of business. This proved only a short term solution and it was razed to the ground in the 1930’s. With its loss the centrepiece of the village, for better or worse, would now be the cricket club. The cricket side had proved at least from 1906 to 1911 that it was not out of place in the Lancashire League.

Many Cricket Clubs inevitably lost men in the cruellest of all wars but Lowerhouse were still able to call upon most of their better players. All-rounders Shutt and Pollard returned, as did opening batsman Arthur Spencer and excellent bowler A.Green. One notable exception though was Billy Whittaker. He was a good enough player to make the Lowerhouse Hall of Fame as both a batsman and bowler. Whether he would have continued his long playing career post-war was questionable but would become impossible after he was reported as missing on March 24th 1918. His body was never recovered but he is commemorated on the giant Arras Memorial in France.A longer article on Billy’s career is available on the Club webste. Not only the League returned in 1919 after the end of the Great War, but a new competition was added, the Worsley Cup.

Lancashire League Legend Billy Cook was made professional in 1919 and this experienced fast bowler would stay for four seasons. He was one of four brothers from the Preston area who made their living through cricket. Billy’s son Billy Jr would be a good all round amateur for the house for a decade starting in 1925.

Like the more famous S.F. Barnes, Cook had given up County cricket for the more lucrative pickings in league circles. That notion would seem ludicrous today but it is only the post-Kerry Packer world that County cricketers are paid substantially better than league pros. It is said that Everton Weekes was paid more at Bacup in 1949 than England’s poster boy, Dennis Compton, was paid by Middlesex. Cook had been a great pro’ at Burnley for many years and in total took almost 2000 Lancashire League wickets of which 373 were for Lowerhouse, but  the team’s fifth place in 1920, was their only top half finish under Cook’s reign. In 1921 Cook’s remarkable 130 wicket haul is easily a Club record.

Lowerhouse’s next professional was their first born overseas, but J A Cuffe was domiciled in England. He’d played for New South Wales from 1902-1914 and was pro’ at Todmorden in 1919. He was over 40 years of age and probably past his peak. The Club was tenth in his first year of 1923 but bottom in the second and final year of 1924

Cliffe’s replacement was even older in that he celebrated his 44th birthday a week after debuting for Lowerhouse. He was the South African Claude Carter. He was the Club’s 2nd Test player having played 10 times for the Proteas. He was never on a winning side in those matches. Carter had a vast experience having taken 5- 17 for his home side Natal vs Transvaal when only 16 years of age! Unfortunately he missed a half of one of these two seasons with injury. His total of 121 wickets with his slow left-arm delivery was passable but he wasn’t any great shakes with the bat, and Lowerhouse were again parked at the foot of the table in 1926, Carters second and last season.

Having employed two overseas veterans, Lowerhouse changed tack in 1927 when their hunt for a pro’ took them all the way to Accrington. They made a sound choice in Fred Webster. Webster had failed to get a regular place in the Lancashire County side but there was little or no shame in that. Lancashire County Cricket Club was stacked with its’ greatest depth of talent in their history. From 1926 to 1928 they completed a hat-trick of wins in the County Championship, and even the great Eddie Paynter was almost 30 before nailing down a regular spot. Webster had an excellent three seasons with the ‘House taking 285 wickets and scoring 1670 runs for the Club. There was an immediate bounce back in league position peaking at fifth in 1929. Unfortunately Webster died prematurely, at just 34 years of age in Burnley in 1931.

Padiham born Helm Spencer was pro’ in 1930 and like Jim Milne the professional in 1934 and ’35, he also served the Club for a number of years in an amateur capacity. Lowerhouse’s’ 3rd and final overseas professional of the inter war years was West Indian Edwin St Hill who held the post from 1931-1933. Like Billy Cook before him and Dick Tyldesley later, St Hill was from a prolific cricketing family. He opened the bowling with Learie Constantine as the West Indies debuted in Test Cricket. That said, he wasn’t as fast as Nelson’s famous pro’ but just over medium pace. He took over 200 wickets for Lowerhouse and had 2 centuries in his 1400 runs. Its shows Webster’s ability that even though he couldn’t get a regular place at Lancashire, his figures show him out performing a Test cricketer. St Hills first year though saw Lowerhouse finish joint fourth.

Lowerhouse would manage fifth in 1936 when ex-England off spinner Dick Tyldesley took 94 wickets for the club. Another seasoned ex-County player Len Parkinson, took over in 1937 but the Club dropped to 9th, despite a decent 723 runs and 60 wickets from their paid man.

The two years leading up to the Second World War saw Lowerhouse employ Fred Root as professional. He was a Derbyshire born fast bowler who had played 3 Tests for England. By the time Lowerhouse got him he was a grizzled 48 year old veteran who was more wiley turn pacey. Root had had 5 years at Todmorden as pro’, where he averaged almost 100 wickets per season. He would be down to 140 over 2 seasons with the House but in his second year (1939), Lowerhouse would equal their best placed finish of fourth in the interwar period. If anybody thinks it is unusual to have a 48 year old pro’, then you could cite SF Barnes who pro’d at Rawtenstall when over 60!

Lowerhouse had generally improved as a League Club but still couldn’t match the best of the opposition. Constantine and Nelson had dominated the last decade. He was an excellent pro’ but the all round amateur strength of that Club should not be underestimated.

In 1919 the introduction of the Worsley Cup was another potential avenue to glory. Lowerhouse won their first tie when thrashing Enfield in the first round of 1922. In the second round they tied with Todmorden at Centre Vale. Both teams were 122 all out. Lowerhouse still had to travel for the replay (not like the football rules) but won by 7 wickets to reach the semi-final. Hal Pickthall who only had a couple of seasons with the Club, was the hero with 8–27. In the semi, Lowerhouse were set 103 to beat Nelson and reach their first Worsley Cup Final. Sadly it was not to be as they perished for 66.

Lowerhouse belied their poor league form in 1924 to reach the semis again. An exciting one wicket defeat of Rawtenstall was followed by a proud day for the Club as they humbled Burnley in the second round. Chasing 93 for victory, Burnley were sent home with their tales firmly between their legs as they were 44 all out. Canny veteran Tommy Shutt in his penultimate season, took 5–18. Lowerhouse found the semi-final hurdle too much of a barrier again. They were 106 all out versus Accrington, but they did made them fight all the way for their 3 wicket win.

Lowerhouse’s third semi-final berth came in 1927 when they defeated Nelson and Burnley. They only had to chase 85 against their Turf Moor rivals but at one stage were 28–5 before one of the Club’s trademark rallies showed who the best team in town were. Again there was no fairy tale ending as Lowerhouse lost at the Semi-final stage to Bacup. Chasing 118 to win the villagers had no player in double figures and were a paltry 34 all out.

That 1927 game was the last time Lowerhouse would reach the final four for many years. They couldn’t get past the second round at all in the 1930s despite first round pleasure in defeating Burnley in 1931 and 1935.

Some of Lowerhouse’s best amateurs to emerge in the inter war years were Arthur Burrows, Ernie Smith, George Bridge, Herbert Lawson and Joe Drabble. Lawson had 23 seasons with the Club before leaving for Padiham C.C. He scored a total of 6474 runs which would hold as a record until Brian Higgin passed it in the 1980’s. Joe Drabble had a marvellous season with the bat in 1937 and his 667 runs would last for 40 years as a single season record. Drabble was a big loss to the club when his job as a policeman led to him being transferred to the Derbyshire Constabulary. He spent the rest of his life in Chesterfield. It would be Stephen Gee in 1977 that finally took the record when he just pipped the 800 run mark.

In the years of the Second World War, cricket was lower key. The League employed no professionals and with many men away, former second eleven players and emerging youngsters got a greater chance. It might not be popular to denigrate this era to men of Church and Owsaltwistle though. Church had never won a league title by 1939 and after 1945 they have only managed one, in 1962. Yet they won the Lancashire League 4 times during the Second World War! Lowerhouse didn’t do particularly well in this period with only one top half finish.

With the re-introduction of professionals in the 1946 season, a semblance of normality returned to Lancashire League cricket. For some reason, though, the return of the Worsley Cup, which had not been played during the War, was delayed until 1947. Lowerhouse had reached the semi-finals 3 times in the 1920s but failed to reach past the second round in the 1930’s. The regional bias of the draw often saw them fall victim to nemesis Nelson. Lowerhouse had many times been a thorn in the side of local rivals Burnley and they were again in the first round of 1947. Lowerhouse made 183 vs Nelson in the second round but the strong Nelson amateur batting line-up gobbled up that score. Lowerhouse got a rare victory over Nelson in the Cup’s first round of 1949 with professional Martindale taking 6-34 but sadly Burnley got their revenge in the next round. Lowerhouse had their best Worsley Cup run in this period in 1952. After a bye, they saw off Church by three wickets. This was their first semi-final for 25 years but they fell victim to the all-round brilliance of Colne’s Australian professional Bill Alley. House lost by 8 wickets as Alley took 5-54 and scored 71 not out.

The Club then began what can only be described as a horrendous run in the Worsley Cup, not winning another tie for 13 years when they would go on to face East Lancs in the semi-final. You know the result!

Lowerhouse were bottom of the table in 1946 when minor counties player Alf Vickers was an underperforming pro’. He took only one 5 wicket haul and made a solitary 50.

Things could only get better and the signing of Manny Martindale from the Barbados fast bowling factory was a shrewd one. He was a Test level player who’d done good things with Burnley pre-war. He had four solid seasons at the West End taking 307 wickets and topping 2000 runs. His two sons Colin and Fred would be useful additions to Lowerhouse’s amateur strength in the late 1950s. Lowerhouse jumped to fifth in Martindale’s first year but the improvement wasn’t sustained and they returned to the bottom half from 1948 to 1950.

In 1951 Lowerhouse employed another West Indian by taking a chance on a young man called Roy Marshall. He would go on to score over 35000 first class runs with sixty eight centuries, mainly for Hampshire. Just as Walter Lees (our pro in 1912) had taken more first class wickets than any other Lowerhouse paid man, Marshall’s first class run total would be the highest. Marshall wasn’t an instant success and his 415 runs in 1951 was underwhelming. The Lowerhouse committee saw beyond the bare figures and their leap of faith in re-signing him for 1952 paid off. Lowerhouse would finish a healthy 6th that year as well as reaching the Worsley Cup semi-finals Marshall set a professional batting record for the Club with 969 runs in 1952.

In 1953 and 1954 Lowerhouse turned to Pakistani fast bowler Khan Mohammed to serve as professional. He took 54 wickets in 13 Tests for his country, but didn’t live up to his billing at Lowerhouse. The Club were thirteenth in 1953 and one worse the following season. A silver lining was Khan’s brother Maxie Mahmood came to live in the area and stayed to become as good an amateur batter as the Club had in this period.

Another Pakistani Khaled Qureshi was pro’ in 1955. He was a slow left arm bowler. He had a similar profile to Lowerhouse’s 1997 pro’ Corrie Jordaan but Khaled’s 100 wickets and 12 five wicket hauls was gained over a season and a bit. Khaled actually scored less runs than Corrie! Only managing 91 runs for the entire season. Lowerhouse had 8 wins and 8 losses in 1955, finishing mid table in seventh.

Lowerhouse’s best league performances in the 1950’s, were under the unheralded Bill Holt in 1956 and 1957. Holt never got past the second eleven at Lancashire but took 147 wickets in his 2 year stint at the ‘House. He wasn’t a great batsmen making just a solitary half century. Lowerhouse were sixth in 1957 and improved to fourth in the following season and finishing just nine points behind the Champions Todmorden. Lowerhouse were a solid rather than a spectacular team. They were no real stars but Ken Tranter, Maxie Mahmood, Rennie Holdsworth, Walter Monk and John Devon made up a sound batting line up. With Jack Salkeld’s bowling backing up the pro’ they were nobody’s pushovers. Another amateur to play in this era was Albert Cheesebrough.He was a product of Rosegrove School. A better footballer than a cricketer he would go on to appear for Leicester City in a FA Cup Final.

Lowerhouse slumped badly in 1958 when Indian Ranga Sohoni was a most disappointing signing. He appeared in for Tests for India but in his only year at Lowerhouse managed just 372 runs and 29 wickets. Lowerhouse plunged to the very bottom in 1959 when Bob Bartells of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was the pro’. Although an upgrade on Sohoni he didn’t hit top form and had injury issues.

Lowerhouse turned to Jim Minhas from Lahore for the 1960 and 1961 Seasons. Minhas had been paid man at Todmorden in 1957 when they finished top. That was a great achievement and no Todmorden professional since has managed that. In 1960 Minhas took a solid 77 wickets and scored 537 runs. Lowerhouse remained rooted in the bottom 2 in Minhas’s two seasons. He would later take a job in the town and play as an amateur until 1966. All those who knew him remember him affectionately as a cricketer and as a person. Lowerhouse’s old guard were gradually leaving the Club and although batsman Peter Sutcliffe and Gordon Jones, and bowler Ken Smith, were good players, the team lacked the depth to back Minhas up.

So to 1962 and it was 100th birthday for the Cricket Club. The club splashed out on the stylish Guyanese batsman Basil Butcher. Butcher would a play 44 Tests for West Indies scoring over 3000 runs with a highest score of 209 not out. It would prove a really entertaining, well remembered season for West End fans, as Butcher became the first Lowerhouse professional to break the 1000 runs mark, setting bar at 1055. In addition Maxie Mahmood’s 648 runs was just 19 short of Joe Drabble’s 1937 record for an amateur. Sadly in the era of timed matches where bowlers would generally be the match winners, Lowerhouse finished no higher than tenth in the league standings. Even Everton Weekes, for all his brilliant batting in his seven seasons at Bacup, only won one League title.

So it was a hundred up. What had the Club achieved? There were 4 Cup semi-finals in 1922, 1924, 1927 and 1952, but no breakthrough to a prestigious final. In the 68 seasons of league cricket, Lowerhouse had 19 top half finishes but only one podium place in 1910.

The Club had undoubtedly been held back in their early years by a smaller than average catchment area. As the town of Burnley spread out to catch up with the villages of Lowerhouse, Rosegrove and Habergham that couldn’t be an ongoing excuse. Somehow the Club had to find a way out of the rut of an almost self-perpetuating futility, as its legend as the Club who never won anything was only going to grow the longer that it went on. Thankfully as we know the “Cinderella” status has finally been erased, but in truth there wasn’t any signs in 1962, that it would be anytime soon.

Read the next chapter of the story – The beginning of the Second Century 1963-1982