Local historian Mike Popplewell continues his look at some of the lesser-known aspects of Spen Valley history...
JOHN APPLEYARD’S contribution to The Press Forum last week highlighted one omission from the Spen Valley Fame Trail – the lack of representatives from cricket in general and the failure to acknowledge Wilf Barber in particular.
Cricket in Yorkshire is as old as the game itself and there is scarcely a district in the county that doesn’t have a claim to fame.
Hutton and Sutcliffe from Pudsey, Trueman and Root from South Yorkshire, Holmes and Hirst and Rhodes from Huddersfield, for example.
Dewsbury and district may not be quite so well represented as other areas of the county, probably due to the predominance of its rugby league tradition, but from my distant cousin Alfred Firth in 1869 to current Yorkshire head coach Andrew Gale, there have always been players from the Spen Valley and surrounding areas who have progressed to county level.
Firth, from the Firth blanket manufacturing dynasty, lived at Beavor House in Heckmondwike and played only one game, as an amateur against Surrey at The Oval, but Cleckheaton-born Wilf Barber served Gomersal at club cricket level and went on to represent Yorkshire with distinction in 354 games between 1926 and 1946.
He also played in two Test matches for England in 1935 and later that year toured Australia and New Zealand without making the Test team.
His accumulation of 16,402 runs at first class level, and a top score of 255 against Surrey at Sheffield, marks Barber as a cricketer of the highest calibre and his achievements, as John Appleyard pointed out, have perhaps been forgotten with the passage of time.
Wilf was born on April 18, 1901, in Cleckheaton but was brought up in Gomersal and played for the local club as a boy.
At the age of 20 he made the top score for his side in the final of the historic Heavy Woollen Cup, at Dewsbury, when they lost to Wakefield by six wickets.
It was another five years before he broke into the Yorkshire side but he stayed there for 20 years and helped the Tykes to no fewer than eight County Championships, the last in 1946.
That final season saw the return of first class cricket after the war years and despite several players, like Wilf, now in their 40s, they finished top dogs again.
After the war, every employer had to re-engage pre-war employees by law, and both football and cricket saw teams full of players who you would expect to be past their best, but Wilf finished second in the county batting averages behind Len Hutton and accumulated over 1,000 Championship runs.
But, it was then time for a change in the county side and Wilf was one of several players to leave the first class game.
In 1947 he played as a professional in the Bradford League for Lidget Green and subsequently played for King Cross in Halifax. He also worked full time as a coach with the then North Riding Education Authority and, between 1961 and 1964, at Ashville College in Harrogate. In his later years he lived in Birkenshaw and was Mirfield’s first professional after they reformed in 1952. He died in hospital in Bradford after a short illness in September, 1968, aged 67.