How a Yorkshire cricket club overcame fire, floods and tragedy to become the heart of a community once again

August 25, 2019 was one of the most memorable days in Yorkshire's cricketing history - but for one of its leading amateur clubs, it was their lowest point.

By Grace Newton
Thursday, 14th April 2022, 10:26 am
Updated Thursday, 14th April 2022, 10:28 am

Hours before Ben Stokes' career-defining innings at Headingley won England an Ashes Test, arsonists broke into Olicanian Cricket Club in Ilkley and burned the pavilion to the ground.

Three years on and as the curtain opens on a new season, the club's chairman has reflected on a £600,000 rebuilding project that has seen them overcome flood risk, the deaths of the long-serving chair and a major sponsor, Covid-interrupted fixtures and rising materials costs but come together like never before.

A local architect designed the plans for the new pavilion free of charge, the community crowdfunded to pay for construction work and the 1st XI even managed to win promotion to the first division of the Airedale and Wharfedale Senior League for the first time in their history - and all in time for their centenary year.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Olicanian committee members, trustees and supporters have come together to build the new pavilion

Read More

Read More
Cricket club devastated by fire will recover ashes to be turned into special mem...

The only thing missing is justice - nobody was ever arrested or charged in relation to the arson that destroyed a proud club founded in 1922 by the old boys of Ilkley Grammar School.

Picking through the charred remains of the clubhouse, committee members found two soot-stained bails that have become a metaphor for the renaissance and the club's own 'ashes' trophy, to be contested by a team and an overseas XI who will play for the 'Oli's Ashes'.

The old timber structure has been replaced by a larger modern building with a bar, commercial kitchen, lounge and new changing rooms for women and officials. It's even been built on stilts, as the Environment Agency extended the River Wharfe's flood risk zone while the planning application was being processed. The glass frontage offers panoramic views of the Cow and Calf rocks.

Chairman Mick Christopher with the Oli's Ashes trophy, made from bails rescued from the fire

"The footprint is a lot bigger now, and the design is totally different - it's mostly steel with very little wood. It's far more modern and we have good lighting, Wifi, security and CCTV, some of which we didn't have before. We've been brought up to speed with the newer ECB regulations," said Mick Christopher, who took over the chairman's role when predecessor David House died of cancer in December 2021, before he could see his beloved club rise again."From the day of the fire, everyone was really downhearted and shocked to see what had happened. But we got together and decided on a course of action. We have a nucleus of people at the club who are connected to the building and property industries, great fundraisers and we are also indebted to the ECB for their guidance and support."

A full insurance pay-out funded much of the work, and around £25,000 was donated in a crowdfunding campaign to keep the club going for the three years when they had no revenue from the bar.

"Nobody knew what we were facing or how many hoops we would have to jump through. It was a daunting process, but hopefully we've put all that behind us now."

The bar, which the committtee hopes to hire out for functions, is named in honour of another lost Olicanian, generous long-term sponsor Tony Jefferies. The former Isle of Man TT winner, who ran a motorcycle dealership franchise, also passed away before the new pavilion was completed in the same month that David House died.

The lounge has panoramic views of Ilkley Moor

The pavilion itself will be dedicated to Mr House, as a brass plaque commissioned to mark his 20 years of service before the fire was never erected and has consequently survived.

Olicanians run three men's teams and a thriving junior section which has produced Yorkshire and England T20 professional Harry Brook as well as numerous other players who go on to represent the senior sides. Ironically, England Under 19s player George Hill, another Olicanian junior product, was 12th man at Headingley on the day of the fire, handing equipment to Stokes.

The season kicks off with a 1st XI match against Harden this weekend, and Mr Christopher is expecting a big turn-out from the people of Ilkley, who have supported the project from the start.

"There is a buzz about it, a lot of people want to come down for a drink and a look around. Ilkley has really supported us and I anticipate a big crowd for the first match. People have watched our progress and they'll want to see what we are all about. They'll love it."

The late chairman David House, right, and Mark Dexter in the remains of the old clubhouse in 2019