In 1859 the Victorian Era continued apace, with great strides being made in technology both nationally and locally, with the railway building reaching fever pitch and many bridges and municipal works being carried out. Charles Dickens published "A Tale of two Cities" and Big Ben was being built in London.
In Barnsley, the Clarence Cricket Club acquired land to form a new cricket ground in the Shawlands area of the town, off Shaw Lane. The part completed ground was opened on 14th June 1859, when the Clarence Club played and defeated the Holbeck Club. Little did they know that they would be forming the longest lasting sporting institution in town.
Just over 150 years ago there were three principal clubs in Barnsley.
There was the Clarence club, formed by a few members of the local aristocracy, with headquarters at Shaw Lane. Two clubs for the working man also flourished - the "Locke" club in the Beechfield area of town which played behind the Coach and Horses pub on Sheffield Rd, and the "Barebones" club, in the Park Rd district.
When the Barebones club disbanded the players threw in their lot with the Locke club and played at Beechfield for a while, before amalgamating with the Clarence club in 1864 to form Barnsley Cricket Club.
In a bid to establish the new cricket club and increase the interest in town and in turn membership, 4 visits, by the All-England Cricket XI were arranged. This had the desired effect and large crowds flocked to the new ground to watch the cricket.
The All-England Eleven first visited the ground in 1860, followed by visits in 1861 and twice in 1862. It has been reported that the legendary W. Grace played in at least one of these fixtures.
On Monday May 27th 1862 the All- England XI arrived to play a three day match against a team described as "20 of Yorkshire". Emboldened, perhaps, by the success of this game, Barnsley Clarence Cricket Club organised another game on the 25, 26th and 27th August, with a much stronger Yorkshire side and, odds of 14 to the All England's 11, This game has been granted "important" status and reports suggest that the attendance was "numerous". This was to be Barnsley's last brush with top class cricket for more than a hundred years.
Entertainment on the ground included the band of Barnsley Rifle Corps, Dodworth Brass Band and the "Howard Family" hand bell ringers featuring a father and his eight sons. On each evening of the match a ball was held in Barnsley Corn Exchange, which many of the All England team attended.
According to a history of the club penned in 1910, the ground was, prior to 1870, "nothing more than a sloping meadow".In 1870 a portion of about 12 yards of the ground was levelled, and in 1878 this was extended to a width of 30 yards. Matches were played to the full width of the field despite the fact that "it caused great inconvenience to the fielder at long leg, for it was impossible to see the wicket, and he must guess whether the ball was coming in his direction". Despite the conditions, the All-England and Yorkshire sides prospered and the matches served their purpose, which was to gain impetus for the new club.
The Barnsley Cricket Club began to hold an annual "Grand Sports Day" every August Bank Holiday, starting in 1867, many events took place with large amounts of prize money being awarded. Admission prices varied from the more expensive places in the enclosure to the cheaper places at the bottom of the ground where it was stated that the view was "limited to one half of the track".
The ground was finally levelled in 1894, the club investing a large amount of money to bring the playing area to more or less the same size as it is today.