Chapter Seven……….Durham County Challenge Cup (1888-1890) Cup of forbidden whine

Cricket had lost much of its Georgian lustiness.   The press wrote of “decadence” and “the languishing condition of the game”.   Mallett’s solution was to introduce a knock-out cup competition.   There were competitions in the south of the county already so his idea was not original.   His vision was.   Now Durham CCC secretary, Mallett opened competition to all clubs in the county.   Twenty club representatives met in the ‘Three Tuns Hotel’, Durham on 28 November 1887.   All but one voice were in tune with his proposal.   Twenty-four names went into the hat for a zoned First Round draw of the Durham County Challenge Cup :

NORTH                                                                   SOUTH

Hetton Lyons  v  North Durham                                              Stockton Clarence  v  Darlington

South Shields  v  Whitburn                                      Sedgefield  v  Bishop Auckland

Consett  v  Philadelphia                                           Crook  v  Barnard Castle

Jarrow  v  Ryhope                                                    Coundon  v  Stockton

Byes :                 Durham City                                                 Byes : Norton

Hendon                                                                    Ushaw Moor

Medomsley                                                              Shildon St. John’s

Sunderland                                                              West Hartlepool

Competition was keen  – but not the way Mallett envisaged.   It was more cut-throat than the Whitechapel murders.   An Appeals Committee arbitrated all summer on wrangles and protests.   Clubs withdrew when ordered to replay drawn matches they looked likely to lose, others objected to the state of opponent’s pitch.   Philadelphia objected to the ground at Medomsley who refused to change unless granted £10 compensation.   The Committee inspected the field, listened to both clubs before ordering the match to go ahead.   Philadelphia won before 1,000 spectators.   Freak thunderstorms on the eve of Round Three caused widespread flooding.   Two ducks drowned at Fishburn!   Barnard Castle travelled to West Hartlepool’s Foggy Furze field to find the match off.   It sparked unceasing discontent.   Their hosts turned up an hour late for the replay.   Barnard Castle needed 37 to win at stumps.   West claimed victory but the visitors protested that matches had to be played to a finish and, as West were late, they had not played five hours cricket.   Another replay was ordered at ‘Barney’ on condition West got the ‘gate’ receipts.   When that was not completed the home side claimed victory as West were late again.   A further replay was ordered, raising doubts if the competition would be finished by Christmas.   Barnard Castle’s patience was stretched to the limit.   Seven of their 16 fixtures were cancelled owing to the chaos.   Twice players got leave of absence from work to catch the 9 am train; twice they waited for West to arrive.   Barnard Castle threatened to withdraw from the competition and West Hartlepool were disqualified.

After all that Barnard Castle lost the semi-final to Philadelphia (hereafter written frequently as Philly).   Stockton won the other semi-final but not before Durham City appealed against the state of the home wicket.   When Stockton defeated Coundon in Round One they were watched by next opponents, Shildon St. John’s, who saw F.J.Wright take 6 wickets with foot-high fast under-arm that “broke the width of the wicket”.   For the next three weeks they practised against under-arm.   When the Shildon men turned up for the cup-tie Wright was absent.   Instead they were bamboozled by Arthur Welch who bagged seven wickets with leg-breaks.   Three were stumped, four caught at point.   Welch, who knew about their spying mission, found it “amusing to watch their efforts to play another style of bowling they had not previously seen”.   The final on 22 September was not completed in a day.   Welch grabbed another seven to dismiss Philadelphia for 80.   “Terribly swift” W.H.Lee replied with 9 wickets for a lead of nine.   Philly were 62 for 4 at close.   Time yet for a bizarre end to the competition.   On a bitterly cold October day Philadelphia won by 24.   They were allowed to substitute a player who had batted in the first innings.   Stockton’s Dowson, perhaps hibernating for winter, failed to turn up.

Clubs adopted a self-centred attitude far removed from the notion of cricket as a refined, gentlemanly game.   If Mallett was frustrated the events are no surprise to those who knew Durham folk.   Hardship and dreadful pit disasters had bred a determination to fight for survival and an innate wariness against impending doom.   Confined to a coal-face stall a pitman and his ‘marra’ learned independence.   In essence cricket was little different to their daily hewing matches to ensure prices were held down.   They “competed with each other in pride, for price, through a culture which celebrated the marks of manliness and skill as one”.   Teesdale Mercury called the Committee “a parcel of old women” but they dealt fairly with all appeals.   Justice was seen to be done with honest openness, another hallmark of Durham men.   Mallett was satisfied on two counts.   Robustness of a kind was revived and necessary funds were raised for club and county.

Things ran more smoothly in 1889.   The Committee strictly enforced a rule that a player must live or work within a three-mile radius of his club.   Even Mewburn was not allowed to play for Seaham Harbour.   Powerful Norton gained four crushing victories before defeating West Hartlepool in the final.   Norton made history on their royal progress by scoring 549 in five-and-a quarter hours, the highest club total in Durham.   They began at 2.15 pm, reached 100 in seventy-five minutes.   Williams cut viciously until dismissed at 209.   J.F.Whitwell then opened out in masterful style and Norton moved from 200 to 400 in a hundred minutes.   Darlington bravely faced the onslaught, “taken altogether their fielding was very good”.   The outcome was anti-climax.   The men in green and gold conceded the match.   They were unable to continue the following Saturday because it was set aside for their professional’s benefit.


J.F.Whitwell           b  Pease……………………………            165

H.S.Crosby            c  Dixon, b  Raps………………               25

R.Williams             st  Dixon, b  Pease…………….             124

A.B.Crosby           c  sub, b  Spence……………….             113

W.F.Whitwell         c  Spence, b  Raps……………..               42

T.Laverick             b  Spence………………………….                4

A.R.Mackay           b  Spence………………………….                4

J.Rowntree             b  Raps ……………………………              28

T.Hill                                     not  out…………………………….                9

G.Newby               c  Smeddle, b  Raps……………                7

W.Laverick            b  Spence………………………….              12

extras……………………     16

TOTAL………………..                549

Sunderland were surprise absentees in 1890, conserving expense after laying out a fortune on Ashbrooke.   This time the cup was rich in romance and drama.   Norton were favourites.   “It will be a long time before any other club in Durham can hope to defeat them,” forecast the press.   Darlington did so ten days later.   ‘Giant killers’ West Stanley and Sherburn reached the semi-finals.   The latter faced Whitburn and prolific T.K.Dobson.   He got a ‘duck’.   Sherburn supporters cheered “loud enough to wake the seven sleepers.   You would have thought they had got rid of W.G.Grace for hats, caps and sticks were thrown into the air…though they should try to use milder terms for it is not pleasant to hear such hearty English that one can almost fancy the air turn dark.”   Success was momentary.   Whitburn met resurgent Stockton in the final at Norton.   It was another triumph for Welch who hit a hundred and had match figures of 43.5 – 14 – 75 – 12.   (Five-ball overs replaced four-ball in 1889 but the Challenge Cup introduced six-ball overs twelve years before they were adopted nationally.)   Again the match was not completed in a day.   Norton were at home the following Saturday so the final was concluded 30 miles away at Ashbrooke.   A bugler greeted the fall of each Whitburn wicket and trumpeted Stockton’s win by an innings.

Sixteen clubs competed in all three years.   Add Sunderland and we have a fairly accurate list of the leading clubs : Barnard Castle, Bishop Auckland, Consett, Crook, Darlington, Durham City, Hetton Lyons, Jarrow, North Durham, Norton, Philadelphia, South Shields, Stockton, Ushaw Moor, West Hartlepool and Whitburn.   Twelve would be involved in the next evolutionary development.

The Challenge Cup heightened public interest.   At the end of the 1890 season the Durham Committee judged it time to extend competition.   The Cup was given over to minor clubs.   A further proposal lay on the table : that a cricket league be formed of not more than six selected clubs in each division of the county (north and south) to play home and home matches, the winners of each division to play home and home matches for the championship of the county.

Chapter 8

Chapter 6

%d bloggers like this: