Between 1851 and 1875, Bradford Cricket Club (formed 1836) played on a ground in the neighbourhood of Claremont on what is now Pemberton Drive. The Great Horton Road ground, sometimes known as Easby Road, also hosted eight Yorkshire CCC matches. However when this venue was lost to housing in 1875, the Bradford club went into a state of limbo.
At the end of the 1870s, a group of gentlemen including J. Harper Mitchell, W.H. Shepherd and John Hardaker decided to resurrect the old Bradford club. With some council help, they acquired the use of a ground on Park Avenue, where work began on facilities in 1879. And an agreement was reached between the cricket club and the rugby club at Apperley Bridge to form the Bradford Cricket, Athletic and Football Club.
Park Avenue’s eight acres were officially opened with a cricket match on 20th July 1880. The first rugby match on 25th September 1880 against Bradford Rangers was played on a section of the cricket field. On the opposite side of Park Avenue, Horton Park station on the Bradford Exchange – Queensbury – Halifax/Keighley line was opened by the Great Northern on November 1st 1880.
At the time of the opening, the splendid cricket pavilion, designed by Messrs Andrews and Peppers, was still under construction on the southern side of the cricket ground. But progress was sufficient for county cricket to return to the town in 1881,
On the northern side of the ground stood an impressive two-sided stand which provided covered viewing for both rugby and cricket spectators. The stand also incorporated rugby changing rooms.
The original main stand at Park Avenue
In order to secure the future of the rugby and cricket sections at Park Avenue, the members voted on 17th December 1891 to form the Incorporated Bradford Cricket, Athletic and Football club which entitled it to hold lands. This met the wishes of the owner Mr Francis Sharp Powell, M.P. who was willing to transfer the field to the club on a 999-year lease at nominal ground rent as long as he could be assured that the field would be used for those three sports. However there are conflicting reports vis-ą-vis the early ownership of the ground. Some sources suggest that the trustees had paid Mr Powell between £2,000 and £4,000 for the freehold in 1879. Powell Avenue separates the ground from Horton Park is presumably named after the former owner.
When the association game was introduced to Park Avenue in 1895, facilities for spectators would have borne little resemblance to those of later years. The terraces were probably little more than earth banks, perhaps strengthened by railway sleepers. Interestingly the terrace under the later main stand was never concreted.
The banks behind the two goals were still uncovered in the 1890’s and were only a few rows deep. Indeed the Canterbury Avenue end remained open to the elements until the ground closed in 1973. It is not known when the covered “Low stand” was built on the Park Avenue side of the ground, but a photograph in Trevor Delaney’s “Grounds of Rugby League” shows the structure in situ around 1900.
The purchase and development of the ground had put a strain on finances on the club and fiscal matters did not improve following the change to Northern Union (and association) in 1895. By 1896, the club was £10,300 in debt, a huge amount by the standards of the day.
But while association floundered, the rugby section enjoyed a few years of success, winning the Challenge Cup in 1906, which eased the financial burden. However fortunes suddenly plummeted the following season and the club abandoned rugby in favour of association a year later.
A large scale redevelopment of the ground occurred at a cost of around £10,000, to the designs of the eminent football ground designer Archibald Leitch. A new enlarged 360 feet long steel pavilion was erected between the football ground and cricket pitch. This included sixteen tiers and provided 4,000 seats on the football side plus a handful on the cricket side. This was a trademark Leitch double decker stand, the first ground to feature it, with his typical balcony detailing. There were three gables on each side, two at the ends and one in the centre with a clock on the cricket side and huge golden BFC letters on the football side. The two end gables featured the shield from the Bradford coat of arms. The roof was covered in Welsh slate.
Large uncovered concrete terraces were built behind the two goals, the Horton Park end eventually getting a roof after the Second World War. A small building at the corner of the ground housed dressing rooms, baths, a referee's room, refreshment facilities and a committee room. This was nicknamed the “Doll’s house” by outsiders, but this name was not in common use by Bradford supporters.
The total capacity of the ground once complete was 37,000. In recognition of the grounds’ new status, it staged an England International against Ireland in February 1909.
Archibald Leitch was a staunch Rangers fan who had demanded no fee when designing their new Ibrox stadium in 1899. So he must have had very mixed feelings when Bradford’s most successful manager, Tom Maley, persuaded the club to adopt the green and white hoops of his former club Celtic in 1911. Tom was actually born in Portsmouth.
Park Avenue remained largely unaltered for the next seventy years. A social club was built on part of the Canterbury Avenue terrace in the early 1970’s, but the club was forced to sell the ground in 1973 and ground-share with Bradford City at Valley Parade.
The ground the fell into disrepair and Archibald Leitch’s stands and dressing rooms were finally demolished in 1980. But amateur football did return to the derelict ground later in the decade after the pitch had been cleared of debris and vegetation and made playable again. Indeed Bradford Park Avenue (1975) FC returned to play one nostalgic season in the Bradford Sunday league before an indoor cricket centre was built on one third of the pitch in 1988.
Wibsey Park Chapel CC still play Halifax League cricket at Park Avenue but their future is very uncertain due to persistent vandalism. And parts of the football ground still remain including sections of the outside and perimeter walls where the locations of the old turnstiles can be discerned in the brickwork. Visit it while you can.