Winds of change altered the shape of league cricket at the turn of the century. Shifting sands undermined Mallett’s pyramid system. West Hartlepool and Norton joined NYSD. Bishop Auckland, Tudhoe and Craghead were temporary tenants until Eppleton and Burnmoor took up permanent residence in 1898. Minor clubs formed into leagues with a Wednesday League for those who worked Saturdays.
A single-division Durham County Senior League proved unsatisfactory. Geographical and financial constraints prevented each club playing every other so the 1896 championship was decided on per-centage points gained. A flawed system. Some played more matches than others; some had more difficult programmes than others. Second from bottom North Durham played 18 matches, champions Whitburn just ten. It was a fine achievement by a village club that remained a force for the rest of the century. Whitburn were runners-up in 1897, when they changed colours from navy and amber to navy, and undefeated champions next year. Thomas Kell Dobson and his talented brothers learned to play in streets near the ground. “Morning, noon and night; in season and out of season; now with the back door as stumps, again with wickets chalked upon the wall”. A dashing stroke-maker, Dobson’s ability to fashion an innings set him apart from the rest. He topped the club averages in eleven consecutive seasons. His career was twice interrupted by serious illness. T.K. retired in 1912 but at the age of 56 scored a century on his only league appearance in 1920. Standing on a railway platform with his son a year later he threw himself into the path of an oncoming train.
Leg-spinner H.P.Child sensationally captured eight wickets for no runs in 14 deliveries in 1896. The Chester-le-Street pro did the ‘hat-trick’ with the first three balls of the innings, ended it with 4 in 4 balls. Bishop Auckland were all out for 11 in twenty balls. Child later joined South Moor. Not called upon to bowl in the first five matches of 1908, Henry Percy “took the pet” and refused to play. South Moor won North West Durham League (hereafter NWD) but did not award Child a medal. He took the club to court. NWD had introduced prize money for the winners as well as the championship flag. South Moor used their £7 in 1908 and 1910 to buy 14 medals in November 1910 but Child had ceased to be a member in July. Acerbic Mr Aynsley, defending, asked Child if he thought he was entitled to a 14th share of the flag, too? His Honour, a conciliatory Robb Wilton, droned : “Mr Child is giving me credit for having a great deal more power than I have. I have no power to distribute the medals. That rests with the committee of the club, and there is no evidence they have acted in bad faith or anything of that kind. They have some reason, I suppose, and it is not necessary for me to enquire what it is. It may be rather hard on you and, if I had the power, I might have given you a medal. However, I have not, and I cannot interfere.”
Bonfires illuminated the county for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. A crocodile of Tudhoe schoolchildren snaked past the ironworks to collect their Jubilee mugs. Ten weeks later there was further cause for celebration. Cricket was reported at Tudhoe in 1884. Fortunes rose after they unearthed Cuthbertson Snowdon from the pit. ‘Cud’ was six-feet-tall, quick and had a deadly ‘yorker’. His all-round deeds helped Tudhoe gain senior status after admission to the Junior League in 1893. Slow bowler Jack Gregory was engaged in 1897. Together they propelled Tudhoe to a shock Senior League championship win after being bottom the previous year. ‘Cud’ succeeded Gregory as pro then had wonderful seasons at Chester-le-Street and South Moor in his forties.
Philadelphia powered to the title in 1899 with slow bowler Jack Terry, ex-Nottinghamshire groundstaff, as pro. For party piece Terry could “hit a three-penny bit placed on a length and bowl two balls simultaneously, making them cross twice, once in the air and again off the wicket.” He was pro at numerous clubs and won a Mid-Durham Senior League medal at 60 with Etherley where a publican gave talent money when he did well. A strange old cove, Terry lived rough in the coke ovens at North Bitchburn.
Philadelphia’s success provoked questions about illegal payments to players. These were days when the national press were using the word ‘shamateurism’ in relation to expenses paid to amateurs like Grace and Stoddart. Minor clubs, too, were muttering darkly about their players being bribed or poached. The League held an enquiry; asked clubs to fill in a questionnaire giving details of players, their status and any monies received. All complied except Philly. An extension was granted. To no avail. Request became demand. Neither Philly nor its questionnaire turned up at the January meeting. In their absence the Committee ruled the 1899 championship null and void. Furthermore, Philadelphia were exempt from the League in 1900.
Stung by the slur, Philadelphia fought to clear their name. Tension rose in a summer heat-wave. Philly canvassed sufficient support for an extraordinary meeting. The Committee insisted they had acted properly; said the decision was final. Philly argued that six months had elapsed (five really) before the championship was declared void. The Committee said it was a question of whether they or Philadelphia ruled the League. Answer came swift. Philly’s motion was carried by 14 votes to 11 and the crown restored.
The League’s suspicions, though never proven, were probably well-founded. Circumstantial evidence appears convincing. Philadelphia spent the previous year busily raising money. Terry, Dick Clarke and Fred Simpson were the most successful of their championship side. Terry was retained in 1900 but Clarke and Simpson left the club. Clarke captured 529 wickets in six seasons at Raby Castle where he was pro either side of Philadelphia’s 1899 title season. Odd, too, that Simpson left Philly for the year of suspension but returned when they resumed league action in 1901. Speaking at Greenside’s 1902 dinner Tom Lambert made “some very pointed remarks” regarding the paid ‘amateur’. Clearly the problem was endemic.
While Philadelphia played friendly matches neighbours Burnmoor stole their glory. Burnmoor, formed in 1873, were promoted to the Junior League in 1894. Their field was only 40 yards square at the time, “several cricketers not knowing its geographical situation”. Under patronage of Mr Stobart of Biddick Hall the field was extended and a pavilion built for £235. Burnmoor engaged John Butler (qv) and were champions only three years after promotion to the Senior League. Butler apart, the side was made up of colliery men born and living in the parish. T.A.Bulmer topped the batting on debut and passed 1,000 in all in 1904. Bulmer was 40 years Durham CCC secretary, Wisden crediting him with “a longer period of service than any other secretary of a First or Second Class county.”
Durham County Senior League extended to an unwieldy nineteen clubs in 1901 : Burnhope, Burnmoor, Chester-le-Street, Consett, Craghead, Crook, Durham City, Eppleton Church, Hendon, Medomsley, North Durham, Philadelphia, Seaham Harbour, South Shields, Stanley, Sunderland, Tudhoe, Wearmouth and Whitburn. Each could choose their opponents for a minimum of ten matches. Naturally they chose those involving least travel. In effect the League was two geographical leagues in one. South Moor in the west and Philly in the east played two separate groups of clubs apart from a common fixture with Chester-le-Street. It was only a matter of time before two leagues evolved.
Philadelphia were convincing champions on re-admission in 1901. Pro Arthur Stoner (qv) was one of the few to consistently take wickets in a batsman’s summer. Twice as many hundreds were scored than in 1887 yet Consett struggled to reach double figures. They were all out for less than 30 in nine of 14 matches and were three years without a win after victory on 29 July 1899. Liabilities of £345 forced them dispense with their professional and Saturday pro Tom Lambert. Consett eventually beat Burnopfield on 24 May 1902 after been under siege for the duration of the Boer War.
PRO-FILE (No. 3)
(b. Ruddington, Nottinghamshire, 26 Sept 1874)
Professional at United Services, Portsmouth when 18. All-rounder for Notts colts, later groundsman at Stoke-on-Trent, had a miraculous effect on fortunes of Burnmoor (1896-1904). Extremely consistent, his 672 runs and 120 wkts (1896) helped Burnmoor reach Junior League play-offs. “Few clubs have entered upon a better engagement,” concluded the press.
Over 2,500 league runs (av 25); 4 hundreds. Almost 1,000 wkts in all matches.
Meanwhile an upstart neighbour created another championship sensation. South Moor formed in 1884. Their pavilion, a disused outhouse in the yard of Bleak House, was reputedly haunted. Their umpire was Geordie Nicholl whose oft-questioned decisions brought sublime reply : “My motto is let bygones be bygones. I never discuss the past.” In 1902 South Moor gained senior status and half of Burnmoor’s team, A.W.Gowland included. A fascinating title race with Philadelphia ended in a dead heat. Jack Freak took 6 for 43 against his old club in the play-off to gain a famous championship for South Moor. Six of the bottom eight clubs had no professional.
Durham County Senior League decided to form two geographical divisions for 1903 but the move was sabotaged by seven neighbouring clubs : Burnmoor, Hendon, Philadelphia, Seaham Harbour, Sunderland, Wearmouth and Whitburn. Their representatives aired dissatisfaction with the proposal on a train while returning from the League meeting. The gang of seven invited North Durham and South Shields to a meeting. They disapproved of the League’s plan but stopped short of proposing a new league “so that we might go to the league meeting with a clean hand”. Nothing emerged to alter their view so the breakaway group, plus Eppleton and Durham City, formed Durham Senior League (Eastern Division). Alf Grundy was chairman, W.R.Bell secretary. The constitution pointedly stated clubs could engage only one professional, that players had to reside or work within a 3-mile radius or have been members for at least a year. Knowing critical eyes were upon them the Committee were relieved the first season “passed off happily”. Sunderland won the first two Eastern Division (hereafter DSL) titles at the start of a decade of near-invincibility. Chester-le-Street remained loyal to the League and joined Burnhope, Burnopfield, Consett, Craghead, Medomsley, South Moor and West Stanley in a Western Division that lasted only two seasons. Chester-le-Street and South Moor were champions. Aggrieved by the split, western clubs harboured resentment for some long while.
PRO-FILE (No. 4)
Ex-Surrey slow bowler engaged by Philadelphia (1901-03) to restore credibility after their expulsion from Durham County Senior League in 1900. The “diligent, unpretentious cricketer” repaid that faith handsomely. Philly were champions in his debut season and twice runners-up. Released for economic reasons. South Shields had fair success during his engagement (1904-9). Having set a club record of 93 wkts (1907) Shields dispensed with his services after secret ballot held in June. Attacking bat remembered for heroic innings when Shields faced defeat on 119-9. He carried his bat for 134 to pass Philly’s 186 and was hoisted shoulder-high to pavilion – in sharp contrast to the insensitive manner of his dismissal from the club.
South Shields record : 2,016 runs (av 20) 469 wkts (av 11)
In an effort to emerge from the shadows of their county neighbours, Northumberland clubs formed Tyneside Senior League (hereafter TSL) in 1904. The word ‘Northumberland’ could not be incorporated as Chester-le-Street and North Durham were founder members. Northumberland clubs won every title before the war except for Chester-le-Street’s inaugural triumph. Pro ‘Midge’ Marsden and Jim Bewick, who next year took 10 for 35 against Boldon, formed an incisive attack. Fluent Jack Bewick, 50 years a member, hit 14 hundreds. The Middletons had given long service until Bill, better known as ‘Pep’, died in 1897 and Tom retired in 1901. Jim, the youngest, was in England during Chester-le-Street’s championship year – playing for the South African tourists. Jim served in the Boer War and was bought out of the army by Cape Town CC in order to become their professional. He settled in the shadows of Table Mountain, represented Western Province and played six Tests for South Africa
Durham clubs won the first nine NYSD titles, Darlington claiming the first in 1896. Next year Welch took all ten against North Ormesby to enable Stockton draw level with Middlesbrough and win the play-off. Darlington’s success owed much to ‘Midge’ Marsden and 22-year-old leg-spinning pro Jack Bucknell who later had a leg amputated after injury. Time devoured the heart of Darlington at the turn of the century. Marsden went to Chester-le-Street, George Turnbull ended three successful years as pro and Harry Thompson died after 49 years service. Lord Hawke was so impressed by Harry’s work as groundsman that he made him a Yorkshire life member. Willie Tolson lifted the gloom. His first five seasons as pro produced 2,369 runs and 384 wickets in all matches. Willie had another two seasons as pro in 1912-13, settled in the town, opened a sports outfitters and played as amateur until 1923. C.L.Townsend was in no doubt that Tolson was the main reason for Darlington’s 1904 success. Champions again in 1906, Willie almost achieved the ultimate feat with a century and 9 wickets against Thornaby. The 1913 side included Alf Common and ex-Leicestershire all-rounder Bob Turner, the first two footballers to be transferred for a four-figure fee. Darlington’s revival coincided with the appointment as president of devout churchman E.D.Walker, later Sir Edward. Through his business acumen Feethams was virtually secured and adorned with a graceful new pavilion.
PRO-FILE (No. 5)
(b. Horsforth, Yorkshire, 1868; d. West Hartlepool 27 May 1944)
Stout-hearted bowler who ensured consistent success for his employers. In 13 seasons at West Hartlepool (1901-6, 1913-14) and Bishop Auckland (1907-11) his club always finished in the top four. West Hartlepool won NYSD title in his first season and shared the title in 1902 when he set a club record of 117 wkts. Had a slinging, square-arm action, “the fastest bowler NYSD had seen”. West were champions when re-engaged in 1913. Resumed after the war then was groundsman at West Hartlepool and Greyfields. Stood in at last moment (age 60) in 1928 title season and took 8 for 32. The old war-horse was playing bowls when he died.
Record : 457 wkts at Bishop Auckland; 800-plus for West Hartlepool.
Stonewalling ‘Pusher’ Yiend helped successive pros Wadsworth and Bishop to nudge West Hartlepool to prominence. Progress accelerated with the engagement of 25-year-old labourer George Middlemiss in 1894. Middlemiss learned a groundsman’s skills at Hartlepool St Aidan’s and perfected them at West Hartlepool. West were all out for 34 on NYSD debut in 1899. Bob Stonehouse took 7 for 15 next match and they won the title without further reverse. Shipyard plater T.B.Robinson and Harry Salmon ended the season in style with an opening stand of 200. All-conquering West Hartlepool would have won four successive titles but for a share with Norton, champions on their NYSD debut in 1898. Salmon and Robinson were followed by A.B. and M.H.Horsley and polished, attacking left-hander Dr A.V.McGregor who was later to discover Beresford Horsley’s gassed body in an attic seven weeks after he was reported missing. Powerfully-built, fast bowler Thompson Smith (qv) gave the attack razor-sharp edge. Smith was so devastating that one club proposed NYSD should do away with pros. The strength and social standing of West and Norton was evident in their inconclusive play-off in 1902. Fifteen were county men.
Norton won a congested race in 1903 when further strengthened by 26-year-old Charles Lucas Townsend who joined Crosby’s chambers. Just four years earlier Townsend was arguably the world’s best left-hander when scoring 2,440 for Gloucestershire. He immediately demonstrated his class with 164 not out; confirmed it by topping the club’s batting 15 times. His 18 league hundreds contained many a huge six over the railway station. C.L. also topped the bowling four times with leg-breaks. Between times he made the odd double hundred for Gloucestershire. N.S.A.Harrison, who played alongside W.G. in Grace’s freelance side London County, made frequent hundreds. Other talented players included Rev Gerald Wreford-Brown and L.V.Lodge who played cricket for Hampshire and soccer for England.
Townsend came north with a southerner’s misgivings about the merits of league cricket. He expected to encounter “bickerings and squabbles…to be bound by unaccustomed rules which raise bad blood…and, worst of all, to be bawled at by a prejudiced mob!” Within three seasons he was “the most ardent supporter of properly managed league cricket” :
What makes this cricket the most perfect of its kind is the real genuine good fellowship that exists amongst us all for, keen as we get, great as is the rivalry between us, yet we do not fall out with one another…I can honestly say that I never heard a cross word used by one player to another during the three seasons in which I have known league cricket intimately, and only once have I heard a player hinting at unfair play…Indeed, the players here can be called sportsmen in the truest sense of the word
Townsend was convinced that north-east cricket flourished because of the league system rather than “the innate keenness of the native”.
Five hours is a very limited time to finish a match in on the really good wickets that generally obtain…To take a high place in the League table you must win matches…Thus it is that every match is played with an object. It is immaterial that one side is much stronger than the other on paper, the question every Saturday is : Can we win? If you do not finish you are equal on the day, and the strong side feels that it has lost a point, while the weaker side rejoice at having made one. Thus every match is of equal importance. There are no such things as slack games. 
Quite. The ‘native’ would not tolerate them. Townsend had one reservation :
There is a grievance, a serious grievance, that seems to attach itself to every game…The crowd have taken upon themselves to “barrack” the players, as if, having realised that they are essential to the well- being of a club, they mean to show that they will do what they like, and behave as they like…Such spectators may be sporting, but they are certainly not sportsmen!…On several occasions their behaviour has been disgraceful and quite ruined the game…Educate your crowd, and do away with the grievance, and Saturday league cricket is the best in the world for those who toil all the week.
C.L. believed the barracking stemmed from the behaviour of football crowds. Had he thought more deeply he might have realised a link with his observation that “the majority of players are workers in this great manufacturing district.” What has already been said about flannelled miners applies equally to iron spectators. Their partisan behaviour had shallow roots for they experienced little beyond furnace or factory to form fair-minded opinions.
 David Wilson : The History of Etherley Cricket Club (1850-1992)
 C. L. Townsend : A Word For League Cricket (in Fry’s Magazine, 1906)