The game of cricket really came to light in the borough, or village, for such it was designated, in 1860. The area, known as Marsden in those days, contained some 5,000 souls who, alive and abounding in energy in commercialism, also turned their attention to sport. Although it is probable that the game of cricket was played locally prior to 1860, there are no authentic records of any organised clubs. In the early sixties there blossomed two clubs, one run under the name of Nelson-in-Marsden Cricket Club and the other the Phoenix Club. Membership subscription to the Phoenix Club was tuppence per week whilst that of the Nelson-in-Marsden Club was five shillings per season.
The original Nelson Cricket Club was born in late 1861 when the Phoenix Club joined forces with the Nelson-in-Marsden Club which occupied a meadow behind the Lord Nelson Hotel, then farmed by a Mr.John Lawson. The Phoenix Club had played on ground which, in 1969, became the town's bus terminus. So the Phoenix Club ceased to exist in 1861 and the two clubs became one and used the "Meadow" as their headquarters.
Reinforced by the "youngsters" from the Phoenix Club, the new club began to prosper and threw out challenges to all whom they thought they could get to wage in warfare. It is recorded that Mr.Manley Watson, one of the founder members of the Phoenix club, was once playing for the second eleven against Colne at Cottontree. He claimed that the Nelson team was at a great advantage in being able to open the bowling with two round-arm bowlers who quite bewildered the Colne batsmen. The first eleven could not boast of any such bowlers and, when they heard that the second eleven had two, the pair of them were drafted into a first eleven match to be played at Colne. Manley Watson was one of those round-arm bowlers and he said that, although many of his deliveries were far wide of the wickets, almost every ball which was "straight" claimed a wicket. Colne were dismissed for 50 and Watson and Bob Varley, who had been captain of the Second Eleven, hit off the runs.
In 1863, at a meeting held in the Chapel Street school-rooms, Mr. Thomas Holland was elected President; Mr. James Waddington, Vice-President; Mr. John Crabtree, Treasurer; Mr. James Bannister, Secretary whilst Dr. Ideson was elected Captain.
Owing to some disagreement about the field, the club had to play at the foot of "Starkie Wood" for a couple of seasons but returned to the Meadow ground when the differences with the owner of the land were resolved. Matches were played against Higham, Sabden, Worsthorne, Padiham, etc. but, owing to lack of funds, all those journeys had to be made on foot. The players had to carry their own cricket tackle and many of them also took their own eatables - refreshments rarely being provided by the home clubs - especially if Nelson happened to be victorious!
In 1873, Nelson Cricket Club moved its headquarters to a plot of land at the lower part of Every Street, then known as Stoney Road. It was at about this time that Captain Every Clayton began to take a keen interest in the cricket club. Up to this point in time the club had been unable to establish a permanent ground of their own and were confirmed Nomads, always in fear that the ground on which they played on any given day would be the next to be called upon for building purposes. Nelson, at this period, was fast casting off the shackles of village life and developing into a busy hive of industry.
Through the kindly offices of Captain Clayton in 1878, Nelson Cricket Club's hopes and ambition were consummated in the acquisition of Seedhill. It was indeed an auspicious day for Nelson when Captain Clayton took a liking for cricket, for had it not been for his assistance, interest and concession, the club would probably not have been as well "housed" as it is today.
The club was reformed into the club we now know and which celebrated it's Centenary Anniversary in 1978. Captain Clayton charged a nominal rent of £12-10s. and the new club soon began to show its relish for its new quarters. With a definite and settled home of their own, the club went from strength to strength. They even engaged their own professional - the first of a very long line of internationally famous cricketers. It was in 1879 that "Dick o' Dicks", alias Francis Crueze, came to Nelson after having played at the East Lancashire club with the Australian Aboriginal touring team.
It is interesting to note that bowlers always seemed to hold the upper hand in those early days and the club averages at the end of that 1879 season, the first at Seedhill, were as follows :-
The wages paid to the professional for that season amounted to £35-9s., members subscriptions brought in £89-13s. and the total gate receipts were £61-8s.-10d. The club made a profit of £2-18s.-4d.
The next year the committee engaged George Gregory Jones of Surrey as professional and the following season Jones was re-signed whilst Bill Harry Bower entered into the service of the club as groundsman at a salary of thirty shillings per week.
During the 1886 season the Notts Castle Club came to Nelson to play a friendly match and remained at the wicket all afternoon scoring 296 for 3. The young gentleman mainly responsible for the Nelson bowlers' misery was Arthur Paul. He was then only 22 years of age and 197 runs flowed from his bat. It was this match that brought Paul to the Lancashire County, for at the end of the game he was asked to accept a professional engagement. The Isle of Man giant became a loyal Nelsonian and, in due course, qualified for the County. Paul headed the Nelson batting averages in 1887, scoring 554 runs at an average of 30.14. Head of the bowling averages that season was James Riley, a professional from Nottinghamshire, who took 100 wickets at a cost of 8.98 runs each.
Joseph Hulme came to the Nelson club in 1890 from Derbyshire and, in the opinion of the club officials at the time, he was regarded as the best professional the club had ever engaged. Later events seemed to fulfil all their hopes. His previous performances included a 7 for 12 feat against the touring Australians and a 7 for 14 achievement against Lancashire.