A celebrated lifetime in cricket for early Sheffield star player Luke Reaney

An 1820s illustration of Darnall Cricket Ground
An 1820s illustration of Darnall Cricket Ground

On June 28, 1892 they buried Luke Reaney, a table blade hafter. He left four daughters and an invalid wife living in the court where he had lived and worked for over 30 years.

His grave is in Wardsend Cemetery, where his 28-year-old only son was buried four years before, writes Joy Bullivant.

The papers said that they stopped the local cricket match during the funeral.

Reaney’s obituary in the paper said: “Luke Reaney was a great favourite with all who knew him, and the Yorkshire County Committee thought very highly of him not only as an admirable judge of the game, but for many good personal qualities, and his excellent character.”

So why did a lowly table blade hafter have an obituary in the paper? Luke was a player. In cricket there were Players and Gentlemen.

Gentlemen were amateurs and Players were the paid professionals. There weren’t many gentlemen in Sheffield who could afford to take time off work to play. Most of the players were working men like Luke.

Luke started out in a club called Broomhall. For a while it was the Reaney brothers John and Luke. It became pretty obvious that Luke was a much better cricketer.

In 1864 he hit the headlines playing for the Mac-Alister club as having best batting average for the season, and man of the match. He was called a promising player. He was 27 years old.

That’s when he really started picking up professional cricket work. Luke was a great all rounder and his bowling and his fielding saved many a match.

Sheffield was once the centre of cricket outside Lords in London. Cricket really took off in Sheffield when Mr Steer built the first purpose-build stadium on a piece of Darnall Common. Thousands came to matches which would last all week.

The great counties came to play Sheffield and wrote complimentary articles about the great ground at Darnall. Two local clubs also played there on a Wednesday and a Friday and became known as the Wednesday club and Friday club.

Steer brought in a trainer to improve the playing and Sheffield’s reputation for cricket was born. But after a few great years the Darnall cricket ground was gone and was made into a graveyard and the Wednesday club moved to play at the Sheffield Park ground.

Every works had a club and practically every pub and church. Due to demand for better facilities, in 1855 seven cricket clubs raised funds to build a stadium next to the sporting grounds of Sheaf House on Bramall Lane.

The clubs were Mackenzie, Broomhall, Collegiate, Milton, Wednesday, Caxton, and Shrewsbury, calling themselves Sheffield United.

Wednesday became Sheffield Wednesday and moved to Olive Grove to play football and later to Hillsborough.

In 1863 the Yorkshire County Cricket Club was founded as a funding idea to raise more income for the Bramall Lane Ground. In 1867 Yorkshire were declared champions and again in 1870.

In the early days of cricketing professionals were often only booked per match. The programme could be pretty haphazard too and the cricket season could have matches at any time of year.

Luke was paid about two guineas a match and no payments during the winter.

However, he started getting booked by clubs per season. In 1874 and 1875 he was booked as Otley’s first professional appointment and he contracted to serve the club from April 24 to September 11 for two guineas a week and whatever his benefit match was worth.

On every day, except Sunday, he was to be on the ground from 2pm to 4pm and 5pm till dusk, was responsible for the good order of the ground and club equipment, to be present at every Otley match, and signed that he would use his “best endeavours at all times during the said term to promote the success of the club”.

Over the years Luke is played as a professional in Kendall, St Helens in Lancashire and a wide variety of Sheffield clubs. Luke became one of the Sheffield XI and was based at Bramall Lane.

By 1883 the Yorkshire team was often described as “ten drunks and a parson”.

At the end of the 1882 season, they appointed Lord Hawke as captain who made several improvements in the team and in the pay and conditions of the players.

The Yorkshire County Committee gave Luke captaincy of the Yorkshire Colts junior team. In 1883 he was engaged as coach and instructor to instruct two likely hopeful young players from each of the local clubs.

The older players were past their peak and younger replacements were taking longer than expected to bring in high scores. Fielding was especially poor, something Luke was very good at.

From 1888 Luke was also umpiring games for Yorkshire and umpired two Yorkshire v Australia matches. In December 1891 there was a request for an extra guinea payment by the umpires but it was turned down.

In June 1892 Luke umpired several matches at Old Trafford in Manchester. His last match was a County Championship on June 23 which was Lancashire v Surrey. He came home feeling unwell due to an infection and died within four days.

Yorkshire improved during 1892, making a good start to the season by being undefeated until mid-June. The Yorkshire team began to improve from that year.

It is sad that the players Luke Reaney trained were not able to share their triumphs with him, and that his contribution to what became a great Yorkshire team is now forgotten.

* This blog post from the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery website, wardsendcemetery.wordpress.com, is reproduced with kind permission of the group and of the writer Joy Bullivant.