On 4th April 1853 a group of young men from the Kirkstall Educational Society, a literary club attached to St Stephen’s Church school, conceived the idea of starting a cricket club. After four seasons at Kirkstall Abbey fields, a move was made in 1857 to the club’s present ground, then part of the Kirkstall Grange Estate. Regrettably, its owner, William Beckett, declined the club’s offer of £10 to purchase the field, preferring instead to allow its use virtually rent free.
Ben Witham, better known as “Spank”, was the team’s star player. In 1856 he introduced the round-arm method of bowling, never before seen in the Leeds area. His destructive performances were described as sensational. Indications are that few matches took place in those early days. By 1870 there were sufficient clubs around to enable fixtures to be arranged on a weekly basis. The Yorkshire Cricketers’ Guide for 1878 describes Kirkstall as “One of the best clubs in this district; consists of 103 members with J. Wilkinson as professional, a good all- round man. In 19 matches played they have won 7, lost 5 and drawn 7.”
In March 1887 an agreement was reached with William Schofield whereby he was let “the eatage of grass in the Cricket Field, and to turn in his own working horses and cattle, with the exception of strange horses such as are calculated to get over the fence of the levelled part, or fat bullocks, and to keep the said grass well eaten off”. Mr Schofield paid £9 per annum for this privilege.
With the advent of competitive cricket, Kirkstall became a founder member of Leeds Second Class League in 1893. Four years later the club moved to the Yorkshire Central League, winning the Championship in 1922. They also won the Leeds Evening League in 1924, defeating a strong Leeds side by nine runs in the Championship Final at Holbeck. Having made only 114, Kirkstall appeared to have little prospect on the second night, but Harold Hargrave responded magnificently with 7 wickets for 22, and was carried from the field shoulder high by exuberant supporters. In 1925 Kirkstall joined the Yorkshire Council and after two unsuccessful applications eventually gained admission to the Leeds League for the 1929 season.
Success at senior level has been modest. The League Championship was won in 1966 and 1968, but of five Hepworth Cup Final appearances, the only victory came in 1943. Happily, a thriving junior section has served the club well, the under- 18 side winning the Shuttleworth Cup in 1973,1982 and 1990, and the under-15s being victorious in the Forbes Cup in 1989.
Two outstanding first class cricketers began their careers at Kirkstall. Bill Bowes arrived in 1927 as an 18 year old, and Jim Love was a prominent player for the Juniors in the late 1960s. At local level tribute must be paid to Keith Dickson for his achievement in scoring more than 20,000 runs for the club in all matches since 1965. Colin Handley brought Kirkstall much-needed success by winning the League Bowling Prize on five occasions and Dennis Pearse crowned a remarkable career with the award of the League Batting Prize at the age of 51. Mention must be made of three other distinguished servants. Both on and off the field William Rawnsley made an outstanding contribution from 1860 to the turn of the century. John Kaye spent 50 seasons with the club, playing his last game in 1948. And no record of Kirkstall would be complete without reference to John Holmes, treasurer for 33 years, whose loyalty and dedication continue to inspire and sustain those around him.
Kirkstall’s ground has been transformed in recent years. A new clubhouse was erected in 1980 and the later addition of dressing rooms and showers helped create one of the finest pavilions in the League. The provision last year of a new scoreboard and comfortable seating is evidence of the club’s commitment to growth and development. Kirkstall’s long and distinguished innings is set to continue.
In 1999, the Club`s last season in the Leeds League, the 1st XI finished as Champions of Division One and also reached the Final of the Hepworth Cup and in 2000, were Champions of Division C of the Airedale-Wharfedale Senior Cricket League.
In their last years in the Leeds League the Second XI won Division 2A in 1993 and Division 1A in 1996. They appeared in the final of the Wood Cup in 1992, 1998 and 1999, winning in 1999 for the first time when Pool were beaten by 45 runs. This success continued on joining the Airedale & Wharfedale League where they were promoted from Division C in 2001 and ended the 2002 season as champions of Division B.
2003 was the club’s 150th anniversary year and another new venture saw KECC with a Saturday 3rd XI in the Dales Council League, skippered by Dom Allen.
2006, under the captaincy of Andy Siddall, saw the 1st XI win the Division 1 championship for the first time. Further success followed as Chris Stevenson led the 2nd XI to win the Birtwhistle Cup and the 3rd XI, captained by Andy Banks, won their league in 2007.
2008 was a sensational season for KECC. In his first season as 1st XI skipper, Stuart Hudson won a remarkable double as the Waddilove Cup came to Queenswood Drive for the first time and the league was won for the second time in three seasons. The 2nd XI retained the Birtwhistle Cup, once again overcoming Otley, but finished runners up in the league, missing out to winners North Leeds, by a single point.