What happened to a number of successful rugby clubs that operated in the Leeds area prior to World War Two?
Most of these ‘lost’ clubs were formed in the ‘rugby boom’ of the 1920s. However, despite having decent playing records, none of the clubs appeared to have the infrastructure or support required to challenge Headingley and Roundhay the two clubs that could be regarded as Senior in the pre-war era. Roundhay, who were late on the scene compared with Headingley, obviously had the sort of backing, player pool and possibly more important a ground and that enabled them to make rapid progress. In the 1930s they were developing a ‘Senior ‘fixture list and were strong challengers, every season, in the Yorkshire Cup.
There were a number of clubs that were really flourishing in the 1920s and 1930s such as Cross Gates, The Bohemians, Leeds Rifles, Pudsey and the Hostel of the Resurrection. A number of works teams such as Lewis’s Ltd, Appleyard of Leeds and J and H.Maclaren’s Ltd were also playing regular fixtures. The works teams lasted for a few years in the 1930s and played most of their fixtures in mid-week.
Cross Gates were a vibrant organisation but seemed to struggle, for most of their existence, to find a ground that was close to Cross Gates which in those days was a village on the outskirts of Leeds rather than the suburb it is today. Cross Gates had three teams for many years and competed successfully with the other junior clubs in the area. Ironically it appears that towards the end of the 1930s just as Cross Gates managed to get a settled playing base they disappeared from the rugby scene in Leeds.
The Bohemians were another club that struggled to find a settled base they moved grounds a number of times and didn’t seem to reflect a geographical area of Leeds as their ground moved from North Leeds to West Leeds without any obvious loss of members. They continued to field three teams for most of the 1930s. The Bohemians were one of the more successful junior clubs they had a good playing record most seasons and often made progress in the Yorkshire Cup and Shield competitions.
Leeds Rifles, as their name suggests, were a military team and interestingly played their games on the Military Field at Roundhay, later to be named Soldiers Field. They were based at the Carlton Barracks in Leeds. Despite being a club obviously based on an army battalion they were an integral part of the rugby scene in Leeds with a fixture list that was mainly made up of club teams. Leeds Rifles disappeared from the scene in the late 1920s
The Pudsey club was located in the small town of the same name between Leeds and Bradford. Like two of the clubs I mention earlier they had problems finding a settled base. They moved grounds regularly in the 1920s and in the early 1930s. It may have been the constant movement and competition from Bramley Old Boys that caused their early demise. The club didn’t make it to the end of the 1930s
The Hostel of the Resurrection had connections to the Mirfield based College of the Resurrection. The Hostel housed students who were studying for theology degrees at Leeds University. The Hostel building was on Springfield Mount in Leeds and the club played their games at the Leeds University Sports Grounds at Weetwood. They didn’t have a very strong fixture list and of the clubs I have mentioned they were the least successful.
What actually caused the demise of the ‘lost’ clubs is, I suspect, a combination of factors. It may have been the lack of a permanent ground, changing work patterns or the success of local rivals that caused them to cease operating. However, because most of the clubs disappeared over eighty years ago finding the exact reason for their demise is going to be very difficult, if not impossible.