A look back at the origins of Whitby Town's Turnbull Ground

The generosity of one man can often never be underestimated, especially when it came to building the footings for sport, in particular football, in and around Whitby.

By Paul Connolly
Friday, 19th March 2021, 10:56 am
The Turnbull Ground first hosted Whitby United after an amalgamation of the town’s two clubs - Whitby Town and Whitby Whitehall Swifts in 1926

The town itself had seen Whitby United form in 1926, after a number of false starts with other clubs looking to impose themselves as the town’s number one football club.

Streaneshalch Football Club formed in 1880, later taking up the names Whitby Church Temperance and Whitby Football Club.

They predominantly played friendlies - often with their Scarborian counterparts, and competed in the Scarborough & East Riding County Cup.

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At this time rugby football codes were more popular, however Whitby proved to be important in gaining a foothold for the code of association football especially in the North Riding of Yorkshire.

Whitby joined the Northern League for the first time in 1893 only to return to the Cleveland Amateur League two seasons later.

They returned to the Northern League in 1899 and won the Second Division the same season.

Again, the cost of travelling forced the club to leave the Northern League, meaning that friendlies were the order of the day, though the move put paid to Whitby’s stature.

After the First World War, there were two clubs operating in Whitby and competing in the Scarborough & District League - Whitby Whitehall Swifts and Whitby Town.

On March 6, 1926, the decision was taken to amalgamate the two clubs, forming Whitby United - the club we know today.

It would be a case of third time lucky too with the Northern League, thanks to the new club being admitted, and this time sticking to the task.

The opening of the Turnbull Football Ground had been two years in the making, coming three years after United’s first fixture.

Whitby had previously played at the site, sharing with the cricket club, though the pitch was crossways on to the current set up, with a goal at the Upgang Lane end.

This lasted for a season before they relocated to Stakesby Road for the 1927/28 and 1928/29 seasons, with the pitch roped off for important matches.

In this time, work got underway on the new Turnbull Ground, after Wilfred Oswald Turnbull bought the land, building an enclosed football ground and cricket ground. Though the process wasn’t a slow one.

Turnbull had bought the land to allow for the cricket club to keep on playing at their Upgang Lane side, though the purchase wouldn’t allow for football to be played there, with the surface as it currently was.

On his instruction, North-East building firm Messrs Kent and Brydon were brought in to level, drain and sow the field to allow for the winter game to be played on the site.

Turnbull’s generosity continued to ensure that the build could carry on.

He himself provided the expensive fencing around the ground to ensure the ground’s neighbours wouldn’t get annoyed by footballs being kicked into their homes and gardens on a regular basis, while also providing perimeter fencing around the ground.

The ground’s proprietor didn’t want to stop there, however, and ensured that facilities for the home and visiting teams were up to date, as well as providing bathrooms for players, and a changing room for referees.

There was also the installation of an ambulance hut for match days.

The Seasiders moved into the ground, becoming the tenants in 1929.

The ground was modest - a main stand overlooked the pitch for spectators, while there was a further covered enclosure running from the stand to the Upgang Lane corner flag - running across where the canteen, bar and dressing rooms are located to this day.

The ground itself, named after Turnbull, was opened officially on August 31, 1929, when Whitby United hosted a friendly with Stockton.

There was a great deal of excitement around the town, with a crowd estimated to be over 2,000 in the ground.

Turnbull had also presented the club with a silk flag bearing his family’s crest, which flew proudly over the ground.

And it’s safe to say, there was plenty more made of the afternoon.

The new stand, decorated with flags, filled up quickly. Guests took their seats, and the general public wanted to take advantage of the new facilities - more so when clouds gathered above the ground.

Lord Normanby was invited to take part in the opening ceremony on Upgang Lane, and was full of praise for the work carried out by Turnbull, thanking him for his gift to the town and people of Whitby, believing it would allow the youth of the town to be better placed to learn how to play football and cricket - the quintessential English games, and learn self-discipline, while exercising self-discipline, unselfishness and brotherhood.

It was Lord Normanby’s belief that the people of Whitby should prize the gift given to them, and the opportunity to keep football in the town.

And on the pitch, Whitby did the business in front of their bumper crowd, turning out to beat Stockton 3-0 amid the pomp and ceremony of the afternoon.

It was Turnbull himself who took the first kick of the game, completing his part in the opening ceremony, sending the ball back towards the Stockton goal to get the game underway.

Whitby pressed Stockton but were profligate in front of goal, missing several chances, before Murtha opened the scoring, to a great deal of applause, sending Whitby into half-time with a 1-0 lead.

After the break, Whitby turned on the style, with Freemantle doubling the lead after drawing Murray from his goal.

The Seasiders’ scoring was completed from the penalty spot later on, Maben firing home from 12 yards at the second attempt, after he was ordered to retake the spot-kick.

The Whitby Gazette ran the day as their front page story, building up the work done by Wilfred Oswald Turnbull to great levels, after his hard work to keep football in the town.

It’s a gift that, to this day, continues to be appreciated by both Whitby Town and Whitby Cricket Club, as well as the people of the town - and continues to carry his name proudly.