O'Keefe, Dennis (2013) Church Cricket and Community in Halifax and the Calder Valley 1860-c.1920. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis examines the emergence of church cricket clubs in Halifax and the Calder Valley between 1860 and 1920. It encompasses the years of mature factory-based industrial society following Chartism as well as the upheavals of the Great War and its immediate aftermath. Though a period of relative tranquillity, from 1873 the staple textile trades began to stagnate, bringing economic uncertainty only partially offset by industrial diversification and a brief post-war revival. From the mid-1880s this brought ndustrial unrest and the emergence of labour politics. Churches, having experienced growth, were also betraying signs of decline towards the end of the century. Their role in welfare and education was being eroded and denominational influence on party political allegiance was being replaced by that of social class. And yet, religious organisations became the area’s biggest single source of popular organised cricket during its crucial formative decades.

This study evaluates why, from such an unpromising situation around 1850, religious bodies became involved in cricket and what were the nature, extent and relevance of this. It addresses several key questions. What was the contribution of clergymen? Who were involved in the clubs and what did this mean for them? What was the significance of grounds and their development? How did the clubs finance themselves? What did their rules reveal? What part did they play in their local communities? Within these themes will be evaluated crucial factors such as social class, gender, religious denomination, identity, topography and demography as will important concepts such as cultural diffusion, muscular Christianity, social control and secularisation.

This thesis shows that church sponsorship provided the platform for mainly working-class agency in developing cricket clubs. This agency manifested itself in a mutualism and self-reliance similar to that of the highly popular and consciously independent organisations such as Friendly Societies and Co-operatives, which operated in the same arduous economic context. Nonetheless, at a time when workers were becoming increasingly assertive in the world of industry and politics, church cricket exhibited class co-operation and harmony. Moreover, greater genuine popular adherence to ecclesiastical organisations was found to exist than has often been allowed. Those cricket clubs that became established initially reinforced their churches’ identity, helping them to retain a profile in their localities, and so retard the advance of secularism. However, as those clubs’ cricketing potential grew, they became ever more a part of their wider communities. This situation was aided by their crucial fundraising entertainments, which often secured a place in their districts’ social calendar. Increasingly the clubs became an alternative attraction to the church in their communities and ultimately a small agent of secularism. It is, in summary, contended that church cricket in Halifax and the Calder Valley was more the product of industrial society, and the adaptation of ordinary men and women and their culture to that society, than it was of muscular Christianity or clerical influence.

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