In 1879 most of the cricket press (though not Wisden) expressed the view that Lancashire and Notts were joint champions. Two seasons later there was no argument that Lancashire were the undisputed champion county, and in 1882 Lancashire retained the title sharing it once again with Notts.

Lancashire’s great strength was with some of the players were who were beginning to make their mark around this time. The amateur A.G.Steel who was considered second only to W.G. Grace as the country’s finest all-rounder in a career which lasted 19 seasons.

Also, the professional from Sutton-in-Ashfield Johnny Briggs, who was one of the best loved of all Lancashire players. Briggs is the only player to score 10,000 runs and take 1,000 wickets for Lancashire. They were supported by the excellent Dick Pilling “The prince of wicket-keepers”.

Interest in the county cricket club was high and in 1878 Lancashire played Gloucestershire when over 28,000 watched the match over the three days. In 1878 the Australians played at Old Trafford with “The Demon” Spofforth, who took 9-53 against Lancashire.

 Top photo: an early photo from the first major match played at Old Trafford between two ‘England XI’s’ in 1860

>> The Growth of Lancashire cricket: 1884-1914

 

In 1902 a historic step was taken at Old Trafford with the amateurs and professionals walking out on the field side by side. Before they used to walk to the wicket through different gates. A newspaper report observed “As the players went to the wicket there was an outbreak of cheering – the citadel of conservatism had at last been stormed!”. In the same year Victor Trumper scored a century before lunch in the Old Trafford Test Match for Australia as England lost by 3 runs after requiring seven to win with two wickets remaining, Fred Tate coming in and hitting a four - and then being bowled.

Sydney Barnes had his most successful season in 1903 taking 131 wickets at 17 each before announcing his premature retirement from county cricket to play in the leagues.

Lancashire continued to be amongst the elite in the County Championship and 1904 saw them champions again being undefeated. Wisden described the season as “the brightest in the history of Lancashire cricket”. They were led by Archie MacLaren, with J.T Tyldesley scoring 2,237 runs backed up by a number of stylish amateurs. James Hallows did the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets, but of uncertain health he was to die only six years later.

There was memorable season in 1910 which saw some very exciting matches and the county finished fourth; they would have been second but for a new scoring system which they themselves proposed!

In 1906 Lancashire enjoyed a formidable bowling attack with Walter Brearley, Harry Dean, Willis Cuttell, Bill Huddleston and Alex Kermode but could only finish fourth.

A tremendous future was predicted for a young Ralph Whitehead who on his debut in 1908 scored 131 and was also no-balled for throwing!

The wickets at Old Trafford were said to be fast and dangerous and had to be improved. Fred Reynolds extraordinary career came to an end when he retired as Ground Manager after more than 48 years with the club. Lancashire were runners-up to Kent in 1909, Brearley, Huddleston and Dean all bowling well. Problems with finance were beginning to appear but strangely there was no suggestion to review members subscriptions or gate charges which had not changed since 1864.

There was memorable season in 1910 which saw some very exciting matches and the county finished fourth; they would have been second but for a new scoring system which they themselves proposed! Against Notts at Old Trafford Lancashire scored 403 in the fourth innings in only 5 1/4 hours to win the match. Lancashire broke this record by one run later in the season against Hampshire.

There were to be no more titles before the First World War and by 1913 the club had sunk to eighth position while off the field there was concern at the club’s financial state. The attraction of other sports and entertainments were blamed on a decline in gates. In 1914 things got worse with the captain A.H.Hornby criticising the committee and on the field Lancashire finishing in their lowest position of 11th. Towards the end of the season, when war had been declared the pavilion was put at the service of the Red Cross and during the course of the war over 1,800 patients were treated there.

Top photo: The new pavilion at Old Trafford, built in 1895.

> Lancashire’s Golden Era: 1919-25

Wins over Sussex, Somerset and Warwickshire made it three wins out of their first four matches before Yorkshire arrived at Liverpool’s Aigburth ground, which was the county’s home for six out of the eight home matches. Southport and Blackpool hosted the other two.

Lancashire held the whip-hand for the first three days, although were held up by some impressive Yorkshire resistance and a brief spell of rain. It all added up to the hosts requiring 121 off the final 15 overs of the match, which they dramatically achieved with just four balls to spare when Maharoof hit the winning runs. It was a truly epic Roses contest.

When the pair squared up again at Headingley later in the season, they had a lot to live up to after their Merseyside classic. But they didn’t disappoint, with Lancashire again having the better of things. However, a magnificent hundred from White Rose all-rounder Rich Pyrah gave his side hope of recovering from a first innings score of 45-8 to win the match. They were set a target of 283, which they fell 23 runs short of during another tension filled fourth day.

Twin defeats against Durham prior to the Headingley win hampered Lancashire’s chances, as did defeats against Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire, inside five sessions, later in the campaign.

But, with Warwickshire now the team to beat at the top, Lancashire still had enough in the tank to famously see off Hampshire at Liverpool and Somerset at Taunton in the final two weeks of the season.

Again, both matches were classics. It took a majestic haul of 9-51 from Simon Kerrigan during the final two sessions of the match to down Hampshire – the final wicket was taken with just four minutes of play left – before the epitome of a team effort did for Somerset as Warwickshire stumbled against Hampshire at the Rose Bowl.

Celebrations lasted not hours or days, but months, with the Lancashire squad heading down to Buckingham Palace in mid-October to meet the Duke of Edinburgh to receive their medals.

In one-day cricket, the county performed superbly towards the back end of the 40-over campaign, while it took English cricket’s first ever Super Over Eliminator to dump them out of the Friends Life t20, with Leicestershire the victors. Steven Croft stood in excellently as skipper for Chapple, who missed the majority of matches due to injury or the need to rest.

Still, Lancashire would have settled for the outcome of their glorious summer had you offered it them at the start of April. It really was the perfect ending to what was an eventful few seasons in the life of Lancashire County Cricket Club.

>> Relegation and Promotion: 2012-2014

Graham Hardcastle (c) Lancashire CCC Ltd
Photo: Champions at last! (c) Colorsport