On Sunday 26th April 1905 Lily Parr was born in Union Street which is only a 10 minute walk to the Town Hall in St Helens. Three months earlier on Sunday 8 January 1905 Elizabeth Ann Ashcroft (known to everyone as Lizzy) was born on Broad Oak Road in Parr. Parr is one of the four boroughs of St Helens.
The photograph above pictures the two friends mucking around at Whittingham County Mental Hospital (CMH) in 1933 with some of their best mates. One photograph can tell a lot. This one certainly does. I love this photo because it shows the often talked about ‘strong independent women’ larking about and having the time of their lives. The role of Whittingham County Mental Hospital in the 1930s renaissance of sport for working class women cannot be underestimated. This is my short tribute to those multi-talented amateur sports women and the role the County Mental Hospital had in supporting their careers.
Lily Parr – Amateur Cricketer Par Excellence
Preston Women’s Cricket League
By 1939 the Preston Women’s Cricket League was in its 6th and final Year. This particular game shows amateur cricketer Lily Parr and several Dick Kerr Lady footballers taking on the mighty Leyland Motors. Leyland Motors only joined the league in 1937 and came third in their first year. After that, I think that they were pretty much unbeatable. The match report talks about their two County players, Captain E Boyce and E Preston. E Preston scored 68 not out which is a huge score in this type of cricket. Edna Clayton (Dick Kerr Lady footballer) was a very good cricketer and she took 3 wickets for 37. The highest scorer for the rest of the league was Lily Parr with 22 runs.
1938: Lily Parr – Leading Amateur Cricket Bat
Lily Parr in the Batting Averages
Despite the mighty Leyland Motors winning the league in 1938 Lily Parr comes third in the batting averages. Annie Lynch and Edna Clayton top the averages. Interestingly, we see fellow Dick Kerr Ladies legend and youngster Joan Whalley turning out for Preston Ladies as quite a decent bowler. In an early game in May we see Whittingham as the 1937 champions taking on the rest of the league at the County Mental Hospital. In the drawn game Lily Parr scores 40, Annie Lynch 14 and Edith Hutton took 4 for 26.
1937: Lily Parr A Champion Amateur Cricketer
Lily Parr in Batting Averages
The photograph above shows the Alderman Mrs Pimblett, president of the Preston Women’s Cricket League presenting the League Winning Ewart Bradshaw Shield to Edna Clayton of Whittingham CMH team. Mrs Pimblett did an awful lot in her tenure to promote the role of women in sport. Ewart Bradshaw is a name even I remember from my cricketing days as a junior for Whittingham – a well known name in Preston cricketing circles. Whilst E Boyce of Leyland Motors won the Batting Average, the runner up was Lily Parr. The best bowling average was Annie Lynch of the CMH team. Edith Hutton, another Dick Kerr Ladies football legend was runner up in the bowling averages for Preston Ladies.
1935: Women’s Amateur Cricket and Football
1935: Women’s Cricket as a Crowd Pulling Spectacle?
Alfred Frankland was a pioneer in so many ways. The more research I do on women’s football history the more in awe I am of what he achieved and how he did it. The FA Ban of December 5th 1921 put paid to so many women’s football teams (figures of 150 abound which I find personally to be not unreasonable) and yet the Dick Kerr Ladies lasted until 1965. Whilst there have been a great many talented sportswomen who represented the DKL there was only one Alfred Frankland. He was to my mind a combination of PT Barnum, Colonel Parker, Brian Epstein and Alistair Campbell. He was a spin doctor before the term was invented. He was an organisational genius, an innovator and a true pioneer of women’s sport. Here we see him picking up on the emergence of women’s cricket and trying to promote it. The DKL team scored a quick 54 for declared and the Marks and Spencers team could only manage 24 all out. The Dick Kerr Ladies defeated a French representative side (no Belgians!) by 5 goals to 3. They tried to organise another cricket/ football match at a later game in the French tour at Breck Park, Liverpool but no suitable opposition could be found.
Football – In 1935 after three years as Vice-Captain under Lily Parr for the Dick Kerr Ladies FC my granny Lizzy Ashcroft had taken over the Captaincy from her great friend. As well as this cricket game, I have found one other cricket game in which my granny played. This was on 31st July during a game between the CMH and Preston when one ‘E Ashcroft had to retire hurt with a facial injury’. In 1935 Lizzy and my grandad were romancing before marriage and I doubt that a cricket ball in the face was an incentive to romance!
1934: Preston Women’s Amateur Cricket League
1934: Preston Innovates Again
These are the final statistics for the first season of the Preston Women’s Cricket League. Ensign Lamps and Preston Steam Laundry were large, munificent, patriarchal employers in Preston Town Centre. They already had thriving men’s sports teams and were keen to support their new women’s teams. The league is very much based on the iconic Moor Park in Preston which is opposite Deepdale. The ‘park cricket’ on Moor Park on Summer evenings has always been a feature of Preston life. It is interesting to note that the star player was V Stopford of PSL who topped the bowling averages and came third in the batting averages. The following year when the CMH joined the league it is interesting to note that V Stopford of the CMH topped the batting averages. I have recently heard on good authority that you only got a job at Whittingham CMH if you were a good sports person or could play an instrument. This would seem to back up this contention.
The ‘auld’ enemy Fulwood & Broughton joined the following year. They are intending to start a girl’s cricket team next year and I wish them good luck. Their pioneering women’s team played 14 games in 1935 winning 6 of them and coming 5th out of 8 teams with the CMH coming 4th. Bragging rights to Whittingham…
The energetic Mr A H Maudsley, Secretary of men’s league made strenuous efforts in 1933 to start a league. He secured the former Preston Grammar School Pitch on Moor Park and saw to it that it was repaired and improved for women’s cricket. (Preston Grammar School occupied a site adjacent to Moor Park and it is the school my father attended as a young man.) As well as spotting Preston women ‘netting’ and practising with male players he invited letters from interested women. An early applicant was future Dick Kerr Lady May Helme of Garstang. How many years before Garstang again had a talented woman cricketer, hockey player and footballer? The league appears to have folded due to WW2. It shone briefly, but ever so brightly…
1925: Lily Parr and Lizzy Ashcroft – Cultured Ladies?
Tea at the Houses of Parliament
The above photo is taken from the first of two ‘World Champions’ postcards. This is the team that took part in the incredibly important tour to London, Belfast, Scotland, etc in 1925 with the remarkable Femina Sport team including Carmen Pomies and Madeleine Bracquemond. There are several clips available on British Pathe and the British Film Institute. During the day both teams were received by the Lord Mayor of London at Mansion House. They were also entertained to tea at the House of Commons as the guest of Liverpool Fairfield MP Major Sir Benn Jack Brunel Cohen KBE. Major Cohen was a relentless supporter of disabled people after losing both his legs at Third Battle of Ypres and was one of the founders of the British Legion. An incredible man. I think that the phenomenal work and huge amount of money raised by the women footballers led to this invitation.
This was just one of a huge number of Mayoral Receptions, tours and special events which the women attended. Although most of these women were from humble origins and had a ready command of the ‘anglo-Saxon’ they could put on a ‘posh frock’ and they knew how to behave in polite society. I have an original scroll from the CMH thanking my granny for working at the CMH from 1926 to 1936. It is known that Lily Parr worked there for many, many years. They both held down difficult and demanding jobs and were respected for their work.
Lily Parr – Amateur Hockey Player 1935-1940
1937-1938: Lily Parr – Division II Hockey Champion
The incredible photo from above is noteworthy for a number of reasons. There are several Dick Kerr Lady football legends in the above photo. Lily Parr is stood on the right and 3rd from right seated is Margaret Thornborough. I think that the photo is one of the 1937-1938 Division II winning side. The photo is certainly taken in front the CMH Cricket Pavilion where I have spent many an hour after an all-too brief visit to the middle. Whittingham CMH joined for the 1935-1936 season and promptly won Division III. They couldn’t dislodge the powerful Balshaw’s GSOG (Grammar School Old Girls) second eleven for the title in their first season in Division II but in their second season in Division II they then won the Division by a record 17 wins and 1 draw out of 18 games. Brook Mill of Penwortham managed to take a point off them with a 5-5 draw. Annie Lynch was their Captain for this season.
Lily Parr – “From Amateur Football to Amateur Hockey”
Lily Parr – A Career Break from Football?
I don’t want to read too much into one headline. Still, it appears to be quite significant that the Lancashire Evening Post is making the above statement in September 1937. In my footballing research I have found extensive evidence that granny Lizzy Ashcroft was vice-Captain of the football team in 1932, 1933 and 1934 under the substantive Captain Lily Parr. However, when my granny took over the Captaincy in 1935 I have been unable to find any references to Lily playing in 1935 or in 1936. Perhaps there is some evidence that I am missing but it would appear to triangulate with the above headline.
1936-1937: Lily Parr – Key Amateur Hockey Player for CMH
Lily Parr – Dedicated Amateur Hockey Player
The above picture shows three key teams from Division II. The third row is St Cuthberts, middle row Preston Second Eleven and the front row is Whittingham CMH. The players are listed as (left to right): Lily Parr, A Culshaw, D Welch, J Hardacre, V Coulton, Edna Clayton, B Lindsay, M Berry, Margaret Thornborough, V Stopford and M Thomas. Missing is Annie Lynch who had league trials together with Margaret Thornborough. Margaret was perhaps the best hockey player and did actually go on to represent the league. There are many references to Lily Parr scoring over the 5 seasons she played hockey. She appears to have been as deadly with the hockey stick as she was with her left foot.
1939: Amateur Hockey Footballers
1939: Amateur Footballing, Hockey and Cricket Legends
Here we see the local newspaper in February 1939 celebrating Preston’s multi-talented sportswomen. May Helme as we have seen was Garstang’s finest. Annie Lynch was a top sports person. Margaret Thornborough was a great friend of my granny Lizzy Ashcroft. As well as being a Dick Kerr Ladies football legend with a very lengthy career which included management duties she was probably the most talented hockey player. Here we see more evidence of the role of Whittingham County Mental Hospital in supporting women’s sport.
Lancashire Central Women’s Hockey League
Balshaw’s Grammar School – Leyland
The League started life in the Winter of 1930 as the Leyland & District Ladies Hockey League. The leading light of this gathering was Balshaw’s Grammar School. Balshaws is a non-selective state school. The school is something of an institution in Leyland and the locals are very proud of it. The school excelled in sport as well as academia and the GSOGs (Grammar School Old Girls) wanted to continue their hockey when they finished school. The formative teams were: Leyland + Birmingham Rubber Co (Leyland), British Goodrich Rubber Co Ltd (Leyland), Leyland Wesleyans, Leyland Motors, Balshaws GSOGs (Leyland) and Old Chorleans. Winckley Square OGs (Preston) did join as well that season. By the next season the name had changed to the Lancashire Central Women’s Hockey League as they now had 10 teams including: Blackburn, Penwortham (Preston), Hesketh Bank (nr Preston) and Upholland (nr Wigan) GSOGs. It is interesting to note that the league is initially dominated by the Grammar Schools and Industry Teams who would have had access to facilities, kit and training.
Whittingham CMH joined in the 1935-1936 season which was the sixth season of the league. In the top division Balshaws won 3 of the first four seasons. Leyland Motors won the next two seasons and then Dick Kerrs won the next 6 seasons. Remember, the team that I refer to as the ‘Dick Kerr Ladies FC’ were technically the ‘Preston Ladies FC’. The Dick Kerr Ladies Hockey team was a separate entity from the still massive town employer and they administered a few drubbings on the CMH towards the end of the 1930s. That must have hurt… The league continued throughout the war, albeit in a diminished fashion. The league is still going today which is a phenomenal achievement. I think that the people of Leyland should be very proud of their pioneering of women’s hockey.
1934: Multi-Talented Amateur Sporting Legends
Talented, Elegant and Sophisticated
Approximately 3 years ago I found three suitcases of my granny’s memorabilia which had been lost for 35 years. When I opened the first suitcase over 200 photos fell out. This is one of those photos, as is the one at the beginning of this article with Lily Parr, Margaret Thornborough and Andree Gaukler. This is one of my favourites. At the time I would not have been able to identify my granny because at the time the entire family only had one photo of her and we remembered her as an old lady. This photo is one of a whole series taken at the Empire Services Club in Preston with the legendary visiting Belgian team. I must admit that I am not an expert on women’s fashion but I believe these to be quite funky outfits. My personal opinion is that the remarkable Carmen Pomies is the most important woman footballer in history. She was the ‘glue’ that kept the Dick Kerr Ladies going through the 1930s. She was also one of the most talented sports women in history, resistance hero, linguist, etc. Margaret Thornborough was one of the most important multi-talented sports women in English history. I still find it amazing that the girl from Parr granny Lizzy Ashcroft was friends and played football with legendary multi-talented athletes such as Margaret, Carmen and Lily.
1918: Jennie Harris Amateur Football Superstar
1918-1919: Lancaster Ladies defeat DKL 3 Times
The evidence which I have seen would indicate that Jennie Harris probably deserves to be classified as the first women’s football superstar, certainly in the North West. The Lancashire Evening Post tended to act as a mouthpiece for the DKL and so it is highly significant that mid-way through the 1918-1919 season they are describing her as ‘the best little girl footballer seen in these parts.’ Given that this was the third defeat that they administered on the Dick Kerr Ladies I think it would be fair to say that she must have been Alfred Frankland’s number one recruitment target. An earlier report a week before by the same journalist states: “I am told the Lancaster Side have a clipping little centre forward’. In a game the previous season played on Saturday 5th January at Quay Meadow, Lancaster the National Projectile Factory Lancaster defeated the Vulcan Works Southport by 14 goals to nil in a ‘munitionettes’ game. Jennie Harris scored 10 of the goals.
1920-1921: St Helens Ladies FC
St Helens Ladies FC Postcard
The image which appeared above in the Runcorn Weekly News was the same image used for the only known St Helens Ladies FC Postcard. St Helens thrashed Horrockses by 8 goals to nil at Widnes. The game was played at Lowerhouse Lane which was a rugby league ground. Horrockses was the other important Preston women’s football team of the time. Horrockses was an iconic name in Preston cotton manufacturing and part of the mill is still in existence today and is in use as a Travelodge. I cannot see Lily in this image (it would be far too late for her) and it is just a little too early for my granny who made her debut for St Helens on 20 April. Lily Parr appears to have been recruited so promptly as a young girl by Alfred Frankland that she played very few high profile games for St Helens.
1920-1921: Lily Parr Amateur Left Fullback Footballer
A Famous Game – Lily Parr Amateur Left Back
I am not trying to write the history of the Dick Kerr Ladies in this article. If you want to read about the Dick Kerr Ladies then Gail Newsham’s book: “In A League of Their Own” is the masterpiece and Gail is the authority on the Dick Kerr Ladies. However, I did want to illustrate and highlight the point that Lily Parr had a substantial start to her career as a left back. Although the Liverpool Echo never seems to scan well I think it can be made out from this clipping that Lily was obviously playing at left back with Alice Kell.
Although it appears that Lily was signed for the 1919-1920 season I can find no evidence of her playing for the DKL in the rest of that season. This would mean that she didn’t play in the first international tour when the French team came over in May 1920 and played at Deepdale, Stockport, Man City and Stamford Bridge. She appears to have started playing for the DKL in the 1920-1921 season as evidenced by the above article.
1918-1919: Lily Parr Not Yet a DKL Football Star..
Alice Kell, Jennie Harris, Florrie Redford – Superstars
This fantastic image really speaks for itself. It is the one Gail has chosen for the front cover of her book. I love the implied emancipation in their stance. To me it says we are doing what we love and so what… Jennie Harris and Florrie Redford are forwards and as in men’s football forwards tend to get all the glory. The other thing that I love about this image is that Alice Kell is featured. The articulate and graceful Captain of the Dick Kerr Ladies was a defender I think in the mould of Beckenbauer. My granny Lizzy Ashcroft was a defender as well and in Gail’s book is described as the ‘best defender since Alice Kell’. I take that as some compliment for granny.
1920-1921: Lily Parr Amateur Football Superstar
Amateur Footballer Lily Scores All 5 Goals Against the French
I would like to make it quite clear that I am not trying to diminish the achievements of the legendary women’s footballer Lily Parr. I found this wonderful clipping which shows Lily being shouldered off by her teammates towards the end of the 1920-1921 season. This was the first of 4 games in a Femina Sport tour of England played at Longton Park Fete in Stoke. The DKL won by 5 goals to 1 with Lily scoring all 5 goals and getting her picture in a National newspaper. Femina won the other 3 games of the tour. They beat Huddersfield Atalanta 1-0 in Huddersfield, Stoke Ladies 3-1 in Stoke and Plymouth Intl Ladies 1-0 in Plymouth. I think that it would be fair to say that by this point in 1921 Lily Parr was an amateur football superstar.
1938: Whittingham CMH Nurses FC?
7 Whittingham CMH Nurses in DKL Football Team at Full Strength
This remarkable article from 1938 illustrates just how important the County Mental Hospital was to the survival of the Dick Kerr Ladies after the hiatus of the 1926 disassociation with the Dick, Kerr’s Ltd Factory. (Despite all the changes/takeovers/etc with English Electric Preston folk still to this day refer to the iconic building on Strand Road as Dick Kerrs and so do I.) This article also notes that by this point they had had their 110th Civic Reception. Some tremendous amateur hockey players and amateur cricket players in the amateur football line-up…
1931: Lizzy Ashcroft and Lily Parr at Blackpool
Filmed by Pathe at the Iconic South Shore Baths
This is a small clip from the remarkable picture in granny Lizzy Ashcroft’s collection. On the full picture you can see the Mayor of Blackpool, the Pathe Cameraman with Camera, a Serviceman and some of the other players. This staged event was at the iconic South Shore Baths which surely was one of Blackpool’s most beautiful buildings and such a shame that it was pulled down. It was inaugurated at the famous 1923 Blackpool Carnival where Lucy Morton (Swimmer) opened the baths. The Dick Kerr Ladies also had a float in the Carnival (see Gail’s book). Blackpool had two Dick Kerr Lady stalwarts in Lily Buxton and Hilda Parkinson. This event was Alfred Frankland aka PT Barnum in full publicity mode. The clip can be seen on the Pathe website and is entitled: “The Champions 1931”. Blackpool woman Lucy Buxton narrates in a ‘reet proper’ Lancashire accent. My granny is the tall one wearing the white shoes and Lily Parr can be seen sneaking off for a cigarette. In the notes on the clip I state that she is off for a ‘woodbine’. There is little evidence for the brand she smoked and this is me ‘over-egging’ a description. I have tried to find out what brand my granny smoked but to no avail. Blackpool that day suffered from tremendous rain so they did well to get anything filmed.
1939: Lily Parr Amateur Left Back Footballer
England Left Back Lily Parr Scores Penalty
This article evidences the fact that as early as 1939 Lily Parr was performing a fantastic role for the team as full back. She was 34 years of age at this point. When play resumed in 1946 Lily would have been 41 years old. Gail states that Lily retired in 1951 when she was 46 years old. As well as being a defender she also occasionally went in goal if short and I guess like a lot of older players became a sort of utility player. One thing that I think we can safely say was that she wasn’t scampering down the left wing many times after the war. If we regard her career as a footballer from 1920 to 1951 we would say that she played for 32 years. If we regard her playing from 1939 to retirement as a full back we have 13 years. If we add 1 year from the start of her career we get the following estimate. For 14 out of her 32 playing years Lily Parr was a top class left back. For 18 of her 32 playing years Lily Parr was a top class left wing. This is a little bit of ‘fag packet’ calculation and I am putting this out there as rough hypothesis to be robustly challenged.
Sister Alice McGrath – CMH 50 Years Service
Whittingham County Mental Hospital
This is my granny’s lifelong ‘soulmate’ – Alice McGrath. Alice was a key part of my granny’s life before she met and married my grandad. She helped to bring up the boys and when my grandad died in 1949 of pneumonia she effectively became another mother to my father and my uncle. They spent a great part of their growing up at Whittingham. I have only recently found Alice’s grave plot at Hill Chapel, near Goosnargh. I had to dig around to unearth the beautiful inscription which is thanks for 50 years of service from the staff and patients of Whittingham County Mental Hospital. I have no idea what the status of their relationship was and I couldn’t care less. I am just pleased that they found comfort and support in their great and lifelong friendship. I think that one has to understand that there were many, many working class women sharing homes and lives back in the inter-war years. There was a shortage of accommodation, times were hard and a lot of men had suffered or disappeared because of the war. I have yet to meet a single person who knew the area or these women who feels that using the term ‘openly gay’ would describe the situation. Personally, I think that this term is a modern construct with allsorts of modern baggage and does little to describe life for those women at the time. I must emphasise that I am so pleased and proud that they had this relationship. I refuse to question the status of their relationship as it is none of my business. I think that that would be prurient and disrespectful. These were shy women who were brought up to be very private in outlook and especially so about their private lives. I wish that people would have the same approach to my granny’s great friend Lily Parr whom I am certain would like to be remembered for being the tremendous athlete, loyal friend and caring nurse that she was.
My good friend Derek Blease has almost single-handedly kept the Whittingham Cricket Pitch going. Despite being in his late 70s he can still be seen most Summer days mowing the pitch, repairing or doing whatever. He has been doing this for over 40 years and his daughter Tracey has joined him in helping to administer. Tony Ingham is another iconic Whittingham Cricket figure and it was lovely to meet up with him recently and learn that his sister was finally given her County Cap by Lancashire. Most of all, my good friend Malcolm Rae OBE has been of great help.
My thanks to Mark Evans of the National Hockey Museum for his help and advice. Similarly, to Dr Naomi Breen of Balshaw’s Grammar School, Leyland.
Gail Newsham is the Dick Kerr Lady. Please read her magnificent life-work “In A League of Their Own”. Without Gail’s pioneering and selfless work we as a family and we as a nation would have lost this story. I think that it is high time that Gail received some sort of national honour for her work. I would also recommend any work by: Professor Alethea Melling, Professor Jean Williams and Patrick Brennan. For football on the Continent I would recommend the work of Helge Faller.
Writing about women’s football from 100 years ago is full of pitfalls. It is doubtful whether I have got everything correct even in this article. I have tried and I will be happy to correct anything that I have got wrong. All mistakes are my own. Please accept this article as a tribute to my father who passed away this summer with severe alzheimers. A ‘gentle man’ and a gentleman. As I said at the beginning this article was written mainly as a short tribute to Lily Parr and the role of Whittingham County Mental Hospital in the 1930s renaissance of working class women’s sport.
Lily Parr – Rest in Peace and Rest in Respect
Granny Lizzy Ashcroft was one of the most influential and important pre-WW2 amateur women footballers. She made her debut at the age of 16 for St Helens Ladies at St Andrews, Birmingham in April 1921 in front of a crowd of 30,000. After the English FA ban she joined the Dick Kerr Ladies in 1923 where she played until her retirement in 1935. She was Vice-Captain under her great friend Lily Parr from 1932-1934 and in 1935 took over the Captaincy from her great mate Lily and led the DKL on only their second ever continental tour. I am custodian of the Lizzy Ashcroft Collection which is one of the foremost collections of pre-WW2 women’s football memorabilia in private hands.
Article © of Steve Bolton