History of TV Harrison Sports Ground
1857 -2022

Purchased by the people of Leeds public subscription organised by the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1928

It was designated as a multi-sports field for under privileged children to play on and take part in various sports in a safe and secure environment and a perpetual covenant was created to protect its use. 

The ground became so popular with all kinds of sporting clubs that it soon became known as the Wortley Wembley. Many local schools made TV Harrison their preferred sports area of choice.   

The land was originally owned privately by the Ingham family

Read About the Long & Illustrious History of The TVH Sports Ground

The Wortley Oldfield Lane Cricket Club was established there in 1857 with regular matches on the site; the Wortley Football Club was established in 1879 and playing matches on the sportsground thereafter, (recorded in “Wortley-de-Leeds - History of an ancient township”, William Benn, 1926)

Post first world war the land was rented by Leeds Elementary Schools Athletic Association (LESAA) for its sports activities but in 1928 the ground was to be sold by its owners “to wind up a trust” apparently with the intention to build on it.

Leeds School Teachers Initiative 

A number of Leeds schoolteachers involved in the LESAA, led by Tom Vernon Harrison, Head of Christchurch Primary School in Hunslet, decided to commit themselves to buying the land in order to safeguard it for Leeds Schoolchildren. They entered into a contract for the purchase price of £1800 (£114,000 today) and launched a public appeal. In June 1928 the Yorkshire Evening Post took up the campaign and ran it from the newspaper, making an initial donation of £50 (£3000 today.) Remarkably, by the end of October - in just over four months - £2216 (£140,000 today) had been raised and so the land was bought, with the surplus going to all the ancillary costs.

On Saturday, 27 October 1928 a great ceremony was held at the Oldfield Lane ground with a band and a rugby league match. The Lord Mayor of Leeds formally handed over to the Chairman of the LESAA the deeds of the Oldfield Lane Athletic Ground which, he said, “has been bought by public subscription to be preserved in perpetuity as a recreation ground for the schoolchildren of Leeds.” At the time it was stated that had it not been bought, “it would by now probably be in the hands of the builders.”

The TVH Provenance

Its provenance could hardly be clearer. Bought by public subscription to save it from private building development and now the City Council has been trying to use it for housing development. Ironically, 1928 was the year the Labour first gained control of Leeds City Council - the same party that has been seeking to take it for development, just as private developers tried in 1928 and precisely to prevent such development the site was bought by public subscription.

After its sale the three teachers who were the initial purchasers wished to safeguard for the future and they therefore vested it in the LESAA. Because the LESAA was not an incorporated body the three went further and transferred the legal title to the National Westminster Bank under a covenant dated 23 September 1929, making it the Custodian Trustee with strict restrictions on any eventual sale. The purchasers firmly believed that this was the best and safest way of ensuring its use as a sports ground “in perpetuity”. The LESAA remained the Managing Trustee.

Approximately a quarter of the site is owned by the Council having acquired it in 1903. Soon after the main part of site was purchased by public subscription, the Council leased its portion to the LESAA on a 99 year lease. This is clear evidence of the City Council’s commitment to the land being used as a sports ground.

Sadly Tom Vernon Harrison died on 17 April 1929 and did not live to see the fruits of his great initiative. In honour of his leading role in safeguarding the site the LESAA decided to name it the TV Harrison Sports Ground.

TVH Current Custodians

The successor body to the LESAA is the Leeds Schools Sports Association (LSSA) and to the Westminster Bank, the National Westminster Bank. At first the Natwest Bank’s legal department took the view that if the LSSA instructs them to sell they will do so and believes that it is up to the LSSA to judge whether it is breaching the covenants and it is not the responsibility of the bank to check. The Campaign Group disagreed with this interpretation and further representations forced the Bank to admit that it had a duty to check whether a “breach of trust” had taken place. If
necessary, the Campaign Group will go to court to challenge the bank.

From 1928 the LESAA and later the LSSA ran regular sports days at the ground and it was the headquarters of the Leeds City Boys football team. It had a pavilion with changing facilities. The football team was the prestigious body for local school players and it nurtured a number of famous Leeds United players, including Paul Madeley, Noel Whelan, Brian Deane, Rod Johnson, Paul Reaney, Micah Richards and Alan Smith.

When I came on to the City Council in 1968 it was part of my ward and I well recall the many events held on the sports ground. However, the pavilion later became the target for vandalism and eventually had to be demolished and by 2002 the LSSA decided to abandon the ground and, through its neglect, it became unfit for organised sport, although efforts were made by local sports clubs, including Wortley Football Club and Bramley Buffaloes Rugby Club, to take on the
ground for matches but it is alleged that the LSSA would not give permission. The Campaign Group does not believe that the community should allow the vandals to succeed in this way and that the provision of good facilities with the active involvement of the local community and appropriately staffed and secured will prevent vandalism.


Leeds City Council Involvement 

By 2006 the City Council was reporting its wish to acquire the whole site for development. The Council's paper dated 23 January 2006, indicates that the LSSA was prepared to surrender its lease on the portion leased from the Council and that it is seeking to “give up” its own sports fields instead using existing school facilities

All through the period of use the land was zoned for “N6 Green Space”, specifically for sports use, but in 2013 the City Council began the process to change the Site Allocation Plan to zone it for housing. As this progressed and the proposed change became known in the Wortley area the Community Campaign Group was formed to fight for the retention of the site as the T V Harrison Sports Ground. 

The Campaign Group has a diverse group of supporters and includes the local Muslim and Sikh communities. It soon became clear that there is strong local feeling about retaining the sports ground and the Group has widespread support. In addition to its campaigning activities the Group has brought the football pitch alongside Oldfield Lane back into use and has maintained it for organised matches between local teams, and for training. (The aerial photograph on the back page of the planning application clearly shows the football pitch well laid out and maintained.) 

These are popular with local residents as spectators and we raise around £1,000 each match mainly through refreshments and raffles. There are now three local football clubs who wish to base themselves at the ground permanently. Despite detailed legal objections put to the City Council, and the overwhelming objections of the local community, the change of use under the SAP was approved. The SAP is not set in stone and since its adoption many green field sites have been restored to their open space designation.


The Campaign Group Involvement

The Campaign Group applied to have the site designated as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). The Council rejected that but we were able to show that the Council had not complied with all the legal conditions required for a rejection. The Council was forced to accept this and had to withdraw the rejection and it refunded all our legal costs. We made a new application which was again rejected and we had once more to take successful legal action.

The LSSA is a registered charity but for a number of years it failed to file accounts with the Charity Commission and in 2011 it was removed from the Commission’s list of charities. It re-registered in December 2017. It has only three Trustees, two whom live outside Leeds. It appears to file only the minimum of information required and a formal request from the Campaign Group’s lawyer for a list of its members and minutes for the past two years has received no response. We need this information to see whether we can recruit new members and to canvass support for retaining the T V Harrison Sports Ground. 

Under the conditions set out in the 1928 transfer to the Westminster Bank (see above) in order to sell the land, the LSSA has to secure a threequarters majority of members at a special meeting called for this purpose. As far we can ascertain this has not taken place but we need the information from the LSSA in order to see whether a meeting is planned and to take legitimate action.

The LSSA stands to receive a significant sum from the sale of the land – the valuation entered on the Land Registry is £2 million. The Campaign Group believes that it is immoral for a charity to profit in this way from its own neglect.


The Charity Commission Regulation

Under conditions imposed by the Charity Commission the LSSA has to replace the Oldfield Lane sports ground by a local replacement “of equal or better value”. The alternative site proposed by the City Council is at Thorpe Park out beyond the ring road at the east of the city. The area in question is in Austhorpe and is currently a waterlogged bog. Unlike the well-drained grass pitch at the T V Harrison Sports Ground the Council intends only to provide artificial 4G pitches. By its location and its actual provision, in no sense can this site be described as a local site of equal or better value.

The Local Community

Despite all the Campaign Group’s representations and its setting out in detail the restrictive covenants on the land, the City Council went ahead with an Outline Planning Application, dated 22 December 2020. We compiled a summary of the case against and circulated this to local residents, with an accompanying letter setting out the process for objecting to the application, By the date of the Council’s Plans Panel meeting there had been some 390 objections, including from Sport England and the Leeds Civic Trust, and only three submissions in favour. This is similar to the Pre-Planning Consultation in November 2020 when only two residents approved the plans. It is also a similar result to a consultation 2018 when the only responses in favour of the Council’s plans were LSSA trustees. Nevertheless, despite all the objections, the Plans Panel approved the proposed housing development by five votes to three, with two abstentions. Some Councillors asked for information as to cost but no figures were given.

Even if the City Council were able to find a legal loophole that enabled them to purchase the land we believe that the moral case against it setting aside all the history is overwhelming. How can the public authority in all conscience ignore the facts: that the land was bought by public subscription deliberately and specifically to prevent development of the site and to retain it in perpetuity for the schoolchildren of Leeds

It is inconceivable that Tom Vernon Harrison and his colleagues, having gone through all the struggle to buy the land, would not have made its future legally watertight. Why should the City Council even want to find some legal way of taking the land? It is an immoral breach of trust and a theft from the citizens of Leeds, and of Wortley in particular, trying to use of the power of the City Council. Quite apart from this the Campaign Group did not believe that the Council has a case in law and it went to the courts for judicial review. Our lawyers initiated this process and we won the first round with the Council being forced to admit that particular legal provisions have not been adhered to. They again had to pay our legal costs. We are continued with our case on further grounds.


Leeds City Council Intransigence

The City Council then brought its proposal back to circumvent the legal obstacles which only passed on the casting vote of the chair. Once again Sport England has made its opposition clear in even more trenchant terms than before, supported by the Football Foundation. We again gave notice of going to Judicial Review of the decision and for a fourth time we were successful. The Council has not appealed and there is no planning permission currently in force.

Meanwhile the City Council’s refusal to list the ground as an Asset of Community Value was also challenged by us at Judicial Review in the High Court. The judge found in our favour on each of the four counts submitted. The Council did not appeal this decision and, on 11 April 2022, it accepted that the sports ground was an Asset of Community Value and duly listed it.


Leeds United FC Come On Board

The great news in July 2022 was that Leeds United FC wished to buy the ground and make use of it for community and junior use.


The TVH Future Business Plan

The Business Plan of the Campaign Group sets out its intention to set up a consortium of organisations capable of raising the considerable sum necessary to bring the T V Harrison Sports Ground back into full use for outdoor and indoor sports. Clearly the consortium would now include Leeds United as well as  LSSA, the Leeds City Council, relevant sports organisations locally and nationally, voluntary organisations and interested local corporate bodies. 

Currently Wortley lacks any sort of district centre and we believe that a vibrant sports ground with a substantial pavilion available for a multiplicity of uses could go a long way towards providing such a centre. We cannot make progress with this plan until the current threat is removed.

I can, of course, provide any further information required, including the local press extracts of the campaign of 1928.

Mr Michael Meadowcroft  - Chair, TV Harrison Campaign Group

The Wortley Wembley

So Popular Was The TVH Ground it became known as the Wortley Wembley

The TV Harrison Ground on Oldfield Lane, Wortley, Leeds is not just about elite boys football. Over the decades many sporting teams, both boys and girls from all sectors of the community, have graced this hallowed turf in various sports.  Indeed many Leeds United and England greats such as Paul Madeley, David Batty, Brian Dean Noel Whelan and many others began their careers on TV Harrison sports ground.

Almost A Century of Sport

Purchased by the people of Leeds and the Yorkshire Evening Post via public subscription in 1928

For over 80 years the TH Harrison Sports Ground was used for all kinds of sports regularly. Football, Cricket, Athletics, Rugby, Netball and various others. It was a prestigious ground with secure entry and floodlights.

Regrettably in the early 2000’s it was fenced off by Leeds City Council and its trustees, Leeds School Sports Association (LSSA) for no reason. Given the state of other local park playing fields many teams approached the LSSA with a view reinstating TVH Ground, but each one was rejected without proper explanation. We were then told it had been designated as a site for development (SAP)