One hundred years ago this month (June 8th, to be precise), a group of schoolmasters from south of the river met at Parkside to form the Hunslet Schools’ Rugby Union – its original name meaning a union of schools playing rugby, rather than signifying any affiliation to the Rugby Football Union. The purpose of the union was “… encouraging the playing of Rugby Football amongst the schoolboys of Hunslet.”
The first chairman was Thomas Vernon Harrison who, coincidentally, had been the first chairman of the Leeds association in 1903. Mr Harrison was most definitely a Hunslet man, however: he was headmaster at Christ Church School (Meadow Lane) and later at Hunslet Lane School; he was also involved with the Hunslet Club at Parkside.Other officials included Councillor WH “Billy” Gilston (president), Joe Lewthwaite and Albert Goldthorpe (vice-presidents) and George Cripps (secretary and renowned coach at Hunslet Carr). All these gentlemen would have trophies named after them.The Harrison Shield (league) and the Gilston Cup (knock-out competition) were introduced in the first season. The Cripps Cup and Lewthwaite Cup (used for various different competitions from the start) were introduced in 1923 and 1924 respectively. There was, however, some disagreement around the Goldthorpe Cup, first played for in 1903: the Leeds Union said it should be theirs, as it had been presented to their association; the Hunslet Union said it should be theirs, as it had been presented by the Hunslet Club. The matter was finally resolved, when the cup became the property of the Hunslet Union in 1925.
When the Hunslet Schools’ Rugby Union was formed, Hunslet Carr School had already begun their five-year unbeaten run. It would be 1926 before a different name was engraved on a senior Hunslet Schools’ trophy. Jack Lane were champions in 1926-27, followed by Hunslet National and Bewerley Street, before Hunslet Carr were back in ‘top spot’ in 1928-29.
By 1927 George Cripps had moved on from Hunslet Carr to become headmaster at Headingley Council School. Writing in the Yorkshire Evening Post, Mr Cripps reflected that the establishment of the Hunslet SRU “… marked the beginning of a wonderful wave of enthusiasm for the handling game which was long overdue and the play of the Hunslet boys in general, and Hunslet Carr in particular, was probably such as had not been surpassed … since the inception of the game.” In fact, the period leading up to the Second World War was certainly a ‘golden era’ for Hunslet schools’ rugby. A number of schools fielded `A’ teams (second teams); some even fielded `B’ and `C’ teams. As well as the success of Hunslet Carr, three other schools from south of the river (Jack Lane, Hunslet National and Middleton) reached the Yorkshire Cup Final. The Hunslet City Boys meanwhile were winners of the Yorkshire Shield three times in the 1930s.
The 1950s and early-1960s saw another ‘golden era’ for schools’ rugby in Hunslet, with St Joseph’s, Middleton and Belle Isle all winning the Yorkshire Cup and the Hunslet City Boys winning the Yorkshire Shield eight times in 14 years. However, by the early 1970s, the demise of the manufacturing industry and the demolition of housing in the area contributed to a reduction in the number of pupils and schools south of the river. A decision was made to combine Hunslet and Leeds schools in league and cup competitions in 1973 – coincidentally the same year that Hunslet left Parkside.
In 1985 the Hunslet and Morley associations combined to form Hunslet & Morley Schools’ Rugby League. Eleven years later a decrease in the number of volunteers running the schools’ game in the City, in particular the representative sides, brought about a merger of the Leeds and the Hunslet & Morley associations, on 10th June 1996 – 75 years and two days after the Hunslet breakaway. Although there was a move to return the association to its original name of simply ‘Leeds’, the new association would be known as the Leeds & Hunslet Schools’ Rugby League, thus acknowledging the great history and legacy of the game south of the river.
Leeds & Hunslet Schools’ Rugby League