Filed under: — Bill @ 8:28 pm
Samuel Waite was a grocer who lived in Woodhouse. He was also a keen cricketer who had played on Woodhouse Moor for thirty years. As a Conservative in a town that had been controlled by the Liberals since 1835, he didn’t agree with the council’s policy of gradually converting the Moor from common land into a People’s Park, a policy which included stopping people playing cricket.
The council’s problem with cricket was that it deterred non-cricketers from using the Moor. The council hadn’t purchased the Moor in 1857 at a cost of £3,200 and drained it, so it could be used by a small group of cricketers. It was meant to benefit everyone. The council was also concerned that it could be held liable if someone was injured as result of being hit by a cricket ball.
In 1862, the Council proposed the introduction of byelaws to restrict the playing of cricket to just two areas of the Moor. This followed the publication in the Leeds Mercury of a letter from a man who had been hit in the face by a cricket ball whilst walking across the Moor, and who said that the blame lay with the Town Council and magistrates for failing to act against the cricketers. The byelaws were duly approved by the council on the 11th February 1863 and came into effect on the 10th April 1863.
On the 17th June 1863, two men were fined one shilling each plus costs for playing cricket on a part of the Moor not designated for cricket. The police had warned them they were playing outside the designated areas but they had said they would play where they saw fit.
Then on the 15th August 1863, fourteen men were charged with playing cricket outside the designated areas. A week earlier, they had gone to the nearby police station and said, “We are going to play a match on the Moor. It will be out of the boundary, and we wish you to come along and take our names down.” A policeman went to the Moor with them and said, “Now lads, do you know you are playing out of the boundary?” They replied, “Yes, we know. We want it settling.” They were fined five shillings each by the magistrates and told that they would be allowed a further hearing to put their case that they had a right to play on the Moor through long established custom.
At this point, the editor of the Leeds Mercury explained to his readers what was at stake, “The question to be settled by the magistrates is whether some twenty or thirty people at Woodhouse who play cricket are to exercise virtual rights of ownership over the entire Moor, leaving to the Town Council and its 200,000 constituents to make the best they can of such portions as this select few choose to allot them by abstaining from pitching their stumps thereon.”
The magistrates sat again on the 22nd August 1863. Three witnesses were called, one of whom said he had played cricket on the Moor for thirty years prior to 1823; the second to having played regularly from 1800 to 1843; and the third to having played for the last twenty-five or thirty years without interruption up to the passing of the bye-laws (this third witness was Samuel Waite). It was contended that because the case involved a question of right, the Magistrates had no jurisdiction. The defendants lost their case and appealed to the courts of quarter sessions.
Their appeal was heard on the 27th October 1863 by a recorder at the Leeds Borough Sessions. He said that because the case hinged on whether the defendants had a right to play cricket on the Moor, the magistrates had no jurisdiction. The defendants’ convictions were therefore quashed. The date of this judgement, the 27th October 1863, is the date inscribed on the silver cup presented to Samuel Waite by his grateful cricketing friends.
But the cricketers’ victory was short lived. The byelaws had been designed to bring to an end the problems caused by cricketers. So the council had to do something to make the byelaws effective against them. In 1866, at the council’s request, Parliament passed the New Improvement Act. This extinguished all rights other than the council’s on Woodhouse Moor. Following this, the Mayor issued a warning to people not to contravene the byelaws.
As for Samuel Waite, undaunted, in 1871 he was back campaigning – this time against the council’s attempt to stop people grazing their cattle on the Moor. Then in 1881, he stood as the Conservative candidate for the North West ward in the local council elections, but lost to the Liberal, ‘Booty’ George Baker. On the 7th July 1887, Mr Waite died suddenly aged 68 at his home at 21 Mark Street in Woodhouse. His funeral and interment took place three days later at St Mark’s Church in Woodhouse.