UP TO THE TON
Once again war took its toll, and there were those who did not return. The ground had been kept in first class condition, during the war and the Club had a good fixture list for the 1945-46 Season, winning 19 matches out of the 28 played. By 1946 demobilisation was well on the way, and an 'A' team was started again, and also a limited fixture list for a 'B' team.
During the next five years, five Skipton Players represented Yorkshire in the County Championship. Skipton made their sixth appearance in the final of the Yorkshire Challenge Cup, when they met Harrogate at Otley in April, 1949. Harrogate won the match 20 points to 6, and Skipton became first holders of the silver football trophy which they returned to the Yorkshire R.F.U. the year before. The Skipton team were well supported, 14 coach loads of supporters, and a well patronised excursion train making the journey to Otley. Red rosettes were being sold at Skipton railway station by local boy scouts in aid of the local Bob a Job fund, evidence of the "Cup tie fever" which existed in the town. The team were welcomed back by the Chairman of Skipton U.D.C. and entertained to dinner at the Devonshire Hotel. The following season the Club reached the semi final of the Cup, being beaten in the replay by Halifax.
The Club still did not have its own Clubhouse, though by now many of the leading Clubs in Yorkshire had. There was talk of building one soon after the war, but building materials were still strictly rationed in blitz torn Britain. Finally plans were drawn up and planning permission obtained for a single storey building alongside the pitch near the grandstand. Plans were for a bar, modest refreshment facilities and toilets. After much frustration, and letters to the local M.P. Mr. Burnaby Drayson, permission to obtain the necessary materials was obtained, due in no small part to the efforts of Richard Middleton, the Secretary. Work was commenced in 1952, the foundations being dug out by the members themselves- "good training for the next season". The structure was in pre- fabricated sections, and was completed by the beginning of the Season. It was officially opened on 13 September of
that year by the President Hubert Aspinall. Improvements were made over the years that followed and the building continued in use for the next 20 years, providing that friendly sing song, after match atmosphere, which is universal throughout the rugby world.
Home fixtures had been played at Sandylands right from 1878. Part of the land was owned by L.M.S. Railways, and this incorporated a soccer and cricket pitch used by the L.M.S. Sports Club. The Skipton Cricket Club used a piece of land adjacent to the rugby field, the remainder of the land being rented by the then West Riding County Council and used as soccer and rugby pitches by various schools in the town.
In 1955 the rugby and cricket clubs were each given the opportunity to purchase their respective grounds from the Castle Estate at a price in the region of £1,000 each. Unfortunately, neither Club had sufficient funds to buy, and each made a number of unsuccessful approaches to local organisations in attempts to raise loans. Finally an approach was made to the Coulthurst Trust, a philanthropic body with funds available for various activities, set up by the late John William Coulthurst and his widow.
This request for a loan was also unsuccessful, however, the Trust bought the land used by both Clubs, and set up a Trust of eight members four from each club, to administer it. A Trust Deed was drawn up, which stated that the property was to be held in trust,"for the purposes of rugby, cricket and other kindred sports". The four rugby trustees were:- Robert Boothman, Edgar Leach, Richard Middleton, and Stanley Peffer, the latter two being Secretary and Treasurer of the Club. The West Riding County Council continued to use the remainder of the land, paying rent to the Castle Estate, but two years later the Coulthurst Trust bought this land, and placed it under the control of the eight trustees, the W.R.C.C. becoming tenants of the Coulthurst Trust. This land was eventually sold to the Council in 1970, in order to raise funds for further developments at Sandylands.
During the early 1950s the Club had a particularly outstanding Colts XV ably run by Henry Towler. Regretably the Club never derived any lasting benefit from this, as the team consisted largely of grammar school pupils, most of whom left the district on leaving school. The ties with the school in this period were very close indeed, regular matches being played between the Club and the school, and in 1953, the Club fielded eight grammar school boys in a Yorkshire Cup match against Harrogate, however lack of experience in rugby at this level was evident, and Skipton were heavily defeated.
In the early 60's there were plans for extending the Clubhouse on to the side of the stand, and to finance this a Development Fund was started, initiated by the Chairman C. L. Clarkson, and financed from bingo sessions run by the Club twice a week at the Co-op Hall in the Town.
Plans were drawn up by Roger Brown, one of the players, and an architect by profession. The fund never reached the required level for lean times were fast approaching, and the cash was used for normal running expenses.
As most readers will know, rugby is a sport best learned at an early age, and over the years the Skipton Club has benefitted from a steady stream of young men who had learned their rugby whilst at Ermysted's Grammar School, where the game is something akin to a religion. Rugby was played at other schools in the area, but the main flow has always been from the grammar school. Prior to World War II the majority of ex-pupils took jobs in the town on leaving school, and it was natural that they should continue to play rugby at the local rugby club. This situation remained for a few years after the War, but towards the end of the 1950's,an increasing number of young men went on to University and eventually to take jobs in the larger industrial towns.
Consequently many of the better players were only available to play for the Club during holidays, whilst the services of many were lost to the Club completely. This situation had a cumulative effect on the Club over the next ten years and gradually the playing performance began to deteriorate. As this became more apparent, many of the better fixtures were, lost whilst others against whom the Club had fielded an 'A' team now became first team games. This was the start of a vicious circle, the spectators who had once thronged the stand on Saturdays drifted away. No doubt a five day week, and a motor car, which were now almost universal, hastened this along, a weekend at the seaside being preferable to a mediocre rugby match. The changing accommodation under the stand, once some of the finest in Yorkshire, was now somewhat primitive when compared to facilities enjoyed by many clubs.
This was the position the Club was in during the mid 60's, The grandstand was in need of renovation, and the Clubhouse, whilst close to the field, and having ail the necessary facilities, was often cold, and no match for more modern premises which were available to other clubs. There was, however still a handful of dedicated men, dedicated to the sport of rugby football, and above all to keeping the Skipton Club in existence, for at one point this very fact was in dispute. For these men, George Bailey, the President, Henry Towler, Chairman, William J. Preston, Jim Tosney and Albert Mayman, the Club's knowledgeable "groundsman", the next four years were full of problems, but they set the Club along the right path, and, let no man doubt it, but for them this Centenary would never have been celebrated, for the Club would have slid quietly into oblivion. The first difficulty was how to attract and keep players, this quite often meant Friday evening and Saturday mornings knocking on doors in an eftort to get together teams. The 'B' team had to go and very nearly the 'A' team at one point, but somehow the Club soldiered on.
There was no real shortage of the raw material, in that young men who had previously played soccer turned to the Club, but there was a desperate shortage of young men who knew the game, having played at school, for many of these were looking elsewhere. The Club owes a debt of gratitude to those who did not. The road was a hard one, but the struggle along it was not in vain.
An initial approach was made to the Coulthurst Trust during the mid 60's for improving the changing accommodation, and plans were prepared for extensions to the back of the stand where further modern changing rooms were to be built. The Clubhouse was to be extended and joined on to the stand to provide extra changing rooms for the ladies hockey team, offices and store rooms. This looked grand, but there were objections on behalf of the cricket club that this would be too far removed from their ground, at this time only a small cricket pavilion was in use by them. The point was accepted, and further plans were drawn up for a clubhouse at the corner of both fields, but finance was the problem and the matter got no further at this stage.
The problem seemed insoluble, and more plans were prepared for an extension to be built on to the back of the stand, incorporating squash courts. An application was made for
a grant from the Yorkshire and Humberside Sports Council, who agreed, providing that a sports hall for all types of indoor sports was incorporated. The plans for the present Sandylands complex were drawn up, and in 1970, building commenced.
The Sandylands Sports Centre was officially opened in November 1972, by Alderman Atha, Chairman of the Sports Council. It comprises two squash courts and a sports hall large enough for indoor five a side football and tennis and all other indoor sports. There are spacious changing rooms on the ground floor at the side of the stand, with showers, (baths were considered unhygienic). Above these is the large rugby clubhouse, with bar and kitchen facilities. Unfortunately, the central exit tunnel on to the field was victim to the planners, despite pleas by the rugby club trustees to retain it as an exit from the changing rooms on to the field.
During the two years that building was going on, the Club began to recover gradually. The ex soccer players were learning new skills and it seemed that Phoenix was rising from the ashes. Tragedy struck on 31st December, 1971 when two promising players, Robert Skelton and Nicholas Procter were killed in a motor accident, in which two other players were injured, one seriously. Both were well respected by members of the Club, and a commemorative plaque was erected in the Clubhouse. To perpetuate their memory, the Robert Skelton - Nicholas Procter Memorial Trophy is presented annually to the most outstanding player under 25, its first holder being David Birch.
A Colts team has been re started, and once again, a fair proportion of its members are grammar school students. The team has had two encouraging seasons, due largely to the untiring efforts of Michael Coates and William Shires who have spared no effort in arranging fixtures, coaching and selecting teams. A trophy presented in 1973 by Nora and Leslie Oldfield of the Cross Keys Hotel, Skipton is awarded annually to the most outstanding Colts player, its first holder being Brian Moorhouse.
The on field performance of the Club has continued to improve and there is a substantial pool of players, many of whom are permanently settled in the area. The lost spectators are now beginning to appear back on the grandstand, and some of the lost fixtures have been regained due to our indomitable fixtures secretary Henry Towler. Though the playing performance is still far below that of the late 40's and early 50's there are high hopes that the Club will achieve, and it is hoped surpass it, in the not too distance future.
Our Clubhouse is the equal of many, and the envy of most, and since its completion, the Social life has improved tremendously. Four members deserve special mention in this connection. Phillip Oldfield, David Whittaker and Richard Day, all players, and Eddie Pearson, all of whom have spared no effort in organising Disco Dances both in the Clubhouse and at the Town Hall to help raise Club funds. Each summer Richard Day organises on behalf of the Club a local Five a Side Football tournament at Sandylands.
The Club has recently embarked on a training programme for Bantam Rugby, catering for boys in two age groups, 9-11 years, and 12- 15 years, ably run by A. H. Norton, W. J. Preston, and B. Jackson. During the 1973-74 Season, four fixtures were played, and a full fortnightly fixture list is planned for the forthcoming season. It is hoped that this scheme will interest youngsters in the game at the earliest possible age, and provide a pool of players for the Colts XV's of the future.
Three teams turn out regularly every Saturday during the Season, plus a Colts XV and a Bantams side on various Sundays. The Club now has two pitches at Sandylands, and has a reciprocal arrangement with the Grammar School should a further pitch be needed. The Annual Grammar School Founders Day match is played on the main pitch, as is the occasional Charity Match on Sunday afternoons. The Club now has a fine Clubhouse, and changing rooms second to none in Yorkshire.
Over the first 100 years, the Club has had its proud moments, and its not so proud ones too, but the common factor throughout that period, is that along with other sporting organisations in the town, it has provided healthy, competitive physical recreation, for the countless thousands who enjoy it. May it build firmly on the foundations of its first Ton of Rugby, and continue to do so.