The Early Days
With organised league cricket still some twenty-five years away, Thornham’s early efforts were “friendly” matches, though none the less competitive for that. Few records remain of these matches, as the local newspaper of the time, the “Middleton Albion” charged the exorbitant sum of one shilling for each match report published! However, the first full game played by Thornham is reported. This was a home game against Hollin Lane, Middleton, played on Saturday 10 July 1869. It was a two-innings match, and all forty wickets fell in the afternoon. Thornham’s first innings posted a total of 39 all out, and after dismissing Hollin Lane Middleton for just 20, they carried a - for the time - commanding first innings lead of 19 into the second “knock”. A healthy 44 all out left Hollin Lane Middleton with 63 to chase, in what must have seemed on those pitches an insuperable task. Sure enough the visitors could only muster 38 all out, and Thornham emerged victorious by 25 runs. Despite their dominance, bowlers received little recognition in those days, and bowling analyses were never printed. However, R. Hilton took 13 wickets for Thornham in the game (9 of them “bowled”), which must have been achieved very cheaply. He also scored 18 runs, including a second innings “knock” of 12 - the highest individual score in the match - so must have been a strong contender for Thornham’s first “Man of the Match”! The lack of news reports means that the next match we know of is a fixture against Rhodes, very much the “premier” club in the district, on 15 May 1875, when the visitors to Thornham won by 18 runs.
Many games were now played in the name of Thornham Church Institute Cricket Club, and this side had the satisfaction of beating Royton 2nd XI at Thornham in 1876. A popular form of match throughout the North was for a strong side to challenge a team made up of 18 or 22 players. On 22 July 1876 the 10 Thornham XI took on the 22 of Stakehill Works and District. Thornham scored 74 batting first, and took the 21 Stakehill wickets for just 65. Middleton Cricket Club was formed on 7 March 1879, at a meeting at the Old Boar’s Head, and they played their first ever match at Thornham on 10 May that year. The newly-formed club emerged victorious by the narrow margin of just 4 runs. Middleton mustered 56 all out, and dismissed Thornham for 52, including the notable dismissal of: R. Wellsby “thrown out” Aspell….. 4 Presumably Aspell’s throw from the outfield hit the stumps. This topped a good day for Mr Aspell, who had top-scored for Middleton with a very impressive 20! He was to become Middleton’s leading batsman for many years and would eventually captain the side. Five weeks after this defeat, Thornham were to gain their revenge: playing for the first time at Middleton they defeated the home side by four runs, the scores being Middleton 26 to Thornham’s 30. The “Albion” reports that “the small scoring on both sides is accounted for by the fact that the bowling was much superior to the batting.” No mention of the wicket!
By the year 1882 Thornham proudly boasted a Junior XI and for the following five years they had a full fixture list against a variety of opposition. Their fixture against Pleasant View at Thornham on 6 May 1882 was the first by a junior side to be reported in the “Middleton Albion”, and in all probability they were the first junior team in the area. Like their seniors they started off with a two-innings game, with Thornham scoring 23 and 49 in their two innings, and Pleasant View replied with 13 and 28. This side was respected wherever it played, particularly for its bowling and fielding, and some of its members were to play a big part in the development of the Club over the next thirty years. In the 1882 junior team were surnames familiar throughout the history of Thornham. They included: J. Parker, W. Thornley, J. Hilton, R. Hilton, A. Hilton, J. Mills, R. Ogden, R. Thornley, H.J. Jones, J. Ogden and C. Barfoot. Even in these early days, threats loomed over Thornham’s survival. A 11 plan was produced to construct a branch canal from Slattocks, to pass in an ambitious series of locks right across to Royton. The proposed route would bisect the little ground, and consign the emerging club to a watery doom. However, it was the prevalence of the canals that was destined to fade, and the plan was shelved, before being forgotten forever.
Thornham’s growth continued at a rapid pace, and July 1882 saw the formation of the Junior 2nd XI. In a match played that month, they were able to enforce a follow-on, when Boarshaw Britannia could only muster 11 in reply to the home side’s first innings score of 60. Their second innings fared little better, and they were dismissed for just 13. A convincing victory! This year of 1882 was certainly a significant one in establishing the Club as a thriving institution. The Second XI was formed, so that, with the two junior sides, the Club now fielded four XIs - and all this on a playing area just 26 yards by 12! The Second XI, however, got off to a more faltering start, being bowled out on Thornham for 22 in reply to Rhodes Union’s 56. The half-yearly meeting had already become a feature of the Club. The Autumn Meeting would look back on the season and choose officials and a committee for the following season. The February Meeting would plan for the coming season, organise a groundsman, and in later years select a professional.
The year 1882 also saw the start of another feature which was to become a permanent fixture for many years to come: the Annual Entertainment in the “Old School” (now Smalley Memorial Hall) in Thornham Lane. The first, in October 1882 was arranged specifically to “raise sufficient funds to enable the members to procure a better field for next season’s cricket.” The school would be packed for an evening of “glees, trios, duets, songs, pianoforte solos, readings, recitations, and dialogues”. This was the season’s main money-raising effort. Inevitably, the fixture list had now become quite crowded, with 1st and 12 2nd XI games most weekends, and Junior fixtures to be fitted in as well. Evening matches had still not started. As the decade progressed, several teams visited Thornham for the first time, and Thornham also travelled fair distances to fulfil fixtures. Middleton and Rhodes were regular opponents (although difficulties with their ground caused Middleton to disband for a couple of years), but now came Urmston, Whitefield, and, in 1889, Oldham for the first time. When one considers the paucity of transport options, this represents a considerable achievement. This year also marked the appointment of the Club’s first professional, a useful all-rounder called E. Dyer. He had an excellent season in 1889, but it was the bowling of Henry Thomas Jones that really took the eye that year. For the first time bowling statistic were being recorded, and in the victory over Oldham on their first visit, Jones took 4 for 15, with Dyer taking 6 for 26, to dismiss Oldham for 55 in reply to Thornham’s 97. Jones went on to take 5 for 16 in the defeat of Whitefield, and 7 for 15 against Middleton. However, the record-breaking performance was saved for the end of the season. On 7 September 1889, Moss Lane visited Thornham, and professional Dyer did not even get a bowl, as opening bowlers Jones and J. Lees ripped through the opposition. Jones took 6 for 2 and Lees 4 for 1, as Moss Lane slumped to 6 all out - thanks to 3 extras! Jones took the first hat-trick ever for Thornham that day, and Thornham won by 88 runs.
The year 1890 saw a further improvement in performances, and so much interest was generated in Thornham’s ability that well over 500 spectators packed into the tiny ground in July for the Middleton match. Sadly they saw the home team convincingly trounced, scoring only 18 in reply to the visitors’ 81. However that did not deter over 1000 people turning up to see the return game, which ended in a draw. These are almost incredible crowds, especially given that the games were all friendlies. The individual performances of the season were recognised in the award of the batting prize to J. Fletcher, whose 236 runs came at an average of 18.2 and H.T. Jones who took an impressive 49 wickets at just 5.4. The season ended with a grand dinner given by Mr J. Cheetham in the Hopwood Arms. 13 The Hopwood Arms – at that time located in the building now occupied by the farm shop – was to be the regular meeting-place for the Club for many years, and it was at a meeting there in February 1891 that the season’s professional, G. R. Wolstencroft (formerly of Denton) was engaged. The “Middleton Guardian” reported that “He comes with good credentials”. Newspaper reports of the time are often revealing, and it seems that the 19th century umpire was as prone to constant criticism as his modern counterpart! With each club providing its own official, this was perhaps unsurprising. In reporting the drawn fixture against Middleton in 1891, the “Middleton Guardian” describes the Thornham reply, facing at total of 108 for 9 (declared) as follows: “ E. Dyer and J. Fletcher opened for Thornham. Both batsmen settling down at once began to score freely until a decision by the Middleton umpire put an end to the innings of Dyer by judging him l.b.w. to Smithies. R. Thornley, the next batsman, played careful cricket, while Fletcher, who was playing splendidly, did the scoring, the score being 27 before another decision by the same umpire got rid of the former by judging him stumped. The score then rose rapidly to 61 when another decision by the same umpire judged Fletcher l.b.w. to Thorpe, the outgoing batsman having batted magnificently for 36 without the semblance of a chance. Wolstencroft and J. Lees then played out time.” This season brought only two defeats for Thornham, both at the hands of the strong Rhodes team - and this emboldened the committee to agree improvements to the ground during the winter.
The extent of the work can be judged from the “Middleton Guardian” match report of the opening game of the following season - 23 April 1892. “The members of Thornham CC held their opening game on 14 Saturday, there having been extensive alterations on the ground during the winter, having laid a crease containing 3,600 square yards, and 1,750 square yards on the level, making a total of 5,350 square yards, the greater part of this work having been done by the members themselves, which has been a tedious and laborious task for many a winter, having actually filled up holes to the depth of 12 to 14 feet, and many yards wide. With a little more alteration during the next winter, they will have a ground second to none.” Fixtures for that season included Chadderton, Oldham, Salford, Castleton Moor, Healey, Rhodes, Middleton, South Longsight, Droylsden and Kearsley, and the season brought the first dispute at Thornham. Middleton played there on 13 August, and were dismissed for 74. Thornham had levelled scores when their eighth wicket fell, but as R. Thornley - the Thornham captain - walked out to bat, the game came to an abrupt end, with the Middleton captain taking his team off the field, despite being told by the umpires that 2½ minutes remained of play. Thornham claimed the game.
The first ever game against our other close neighbours Castleton Moor took place on 18 May 1892. The report of that match in the “Middleton Guardian” is typical of the exuberant style of cricket reporting of the time. “Aha, Happy Thornham. Didn’t they rub it into Castleton Moor. Listen. The game was played at Castleton and the homesters tried what they could do with the willow. They didn’t do very much owing to the nasty habit which the Thornhamite bowlers had of finding their way into the timberyard. No less than half a dozen good size ‘ducks’ were driven forth, one falling to the lot of each of the first three batsmen. The Moorites’ total only reached 30 all told. The visitors began none too rosily, but they passed their opponents’ figure and stopped short at 50, winning by 20.” 15 1893 was a notable season. Twenty-two matches were played, and only two were lost, and the improved playing surface meant the introduction of evening fixtures was possible. The professional, J.H. Shaw, of Rastrick, Yorkshire, had a great all-round season, with 319 runs and 80 wickets. His 69 against Castleton Moor in August is the first ever recorded fifty by a Thornham player. Some games were ruined as contests by late and unsporting declarations in these timed games. The report of the game against Healey illustrates this. Healey declared on 142, and Thornham’s reply is reported as follows: “Shaw (19 not out) and Nuttall (14 not out) scored at a good pace, only having 20 minutes’ batting before time, and they defied all the changes of bowling with perfect ease.” One wonders how many bowling changes were made in that 20 minute period, but it is clear that Healey had no intentions of losing! The 1893 season brought to an end the era of non-league cricket for Thornham, and from that year onwards the Club has been involved in the cut and thrust of competitive cricket, and the serious matter of the battle for points.