The All England Women’s Hockey Association (AEWHA) was formed in 1895 and was the ruling body for hockey in England for a number of years. The Association was against competitive hockey with most women’s hockey being played on weekday afternoons as friendly matches. It was assumed by many people that there was no ladies league hockey played until the 1980’s.
However, ladies did play league hockey and did compete for cups long before 1980. The North West of England led the way and in many of the North West industrial towns, ladies league hockey flourished. It is thought that the first league was the Lancashire and Cheshire Ladies Hockey League (Jo Halpin – The Hockey Museum website). This league began in 1910 and was formed by Fred Brown in Oldham. Other leagues followed. The Bolton Sunday School League was formed in 1915 and is still in existence today, although, now known as the ‘The Bolton Sports Federation Ladies Hockey League’. There were six teams in the first season of the league and the first winners were Fletcher Street Wesleyans.
The local newspaper, known as ‘The Buff,’ reported regularly on the league. In this first season it carried a player profile about Miss E. Hodson, the Fletcher Street Wesleyan inside left, in which the correspondent ‘Sticks’ noted “She considers that the formation of the Sunday School Ladies Hockey League was a splendid idea, and has filled a long felt want.”
The Stockport and District Hockey League was formed in 1921 after a letter was sent to the Stockport Advertiser and the Stockport Express in March 1921 by Mr S. Dearden who said ‘……I shall be glad to enter into correspondence with any persons who are sufficiently interested in the game with a view to the promoting a Ladies’ Hockey League in this district’. Enough interest was shown and a meeting was held on April 14th 1921 in the Wycliffe Congregational Schools. The league began on October 1st 1921 with thirteen teams all from within seven miles of the town centre. The first champions were Stockport Adult School, who won 22 of their 24 games. They were awarded the Championship Cup, which had been donated to the league by Councillor John Greenhalgh. They received the cup at the closing match of the season, where as champions they played a team chosen from the rest of the league.
(The two pictures are from ‘Stockport and District Hockey League – The Official Record of the League Seasons 1921-2, 1922-3. Complete with photographs, Reports and League Tables, Etc.’)
Information about ladies league hockey is difficult to find, however, local newspapers reported widely on the leagues. Margaret Roberts, a SpLeisH research associate, helped me find a number of references to league hockey in many of the local Northern newspapers. The ‘Lancashire Daily Post’ proved to be a valuable source of information and reported regularly on the Lancashire Central Women’s Hockey League. In its Monday July 11th 1932 edition it reported on the adjourned general meeting of the English Ladies Hockey League Association (E.L.H.L.A.), which was held in Milton Hall, Manchester on Saturday July 9th.
The article states ‘Mr C. Rogers was in the chair, representatives from the Manchester, Liverpool, Middleton, Stockport and Lancashire Central Leagues were present.
The Chairman said that this meeting was directly representative of 250 ladies Hockey Clubs in Lancashire and Cheshire.
The honorary secretary reported about 5000 players under its control’.
This confirms that ladies league hockey was being played and shows by 1932 there were a number of ladies leagues in existence and a number of players competing.
The article refers to the E.L.H.L.A. Not much is known about the E.L.H.L.A. but a report in the ‘Sports Special’ (“Green Un”), a Sheffield paper, dated Saturday October, 1932 notes that the association was formed at the end of the 1931 season and consisted of the following leagues Liverpool, Manchester Sunday School, Lancashire Central, Stockport and Middleton.
There were leagues in other areas in the North of England but it appears it was only Lancashire and Cheshire teams that became members of the E.L.H.L.A. Further research is required to find out more about the Association, the full role it played in ladies hockey and what their relationship with the A.E.W.H.A. was like.
A hint at their relationship could be seen in The ‘Lancashire Daily Post’ article of Monday July 11th 1932,
‘Miss Caley, the president in a short address urged that the Associations attitude towards alternative bodies working with a similar ultimate object in view, namely the better organisation of women’s hockey, should be of a friendly nature and that cooperation should be attempted whenever possible.’
Was this a reference to the A.E.W.H.A?
The E.L.H.L.A. played a number of ‘international matches’. An article dated Thursday February 23rd 1933 again in the ‘Lancashire Daily Post’ makes reference to what is thought to be their first international match, a match against Scotland. It states;
‘Following closely along the lines set by the Football Association the E.L.H.L.A. have the same main objects in view, the fostering of enthusiasm from sport by the organisation of competitive games in which no distinction, save that of excellence in the field can aid the player who is desirous of gaining the game’s highest honours.
The E.L.H.L.A. has so far met with little sympathy from the older body – the All England Ladies Hockey Association and although the challenge from the E.L.H.L.A. to meet a A.E.L.H.A. touring side organised by Mrs Marjorie Pollard, herself a prominent international hockey player was accepted the match was eventually called off on the grounds that travelling arrangements prohibited some members of the Northants county team from participating.
Mr John Lishman the hon. Sec of the Ass. then approached the Scottish leagues and an international has been arranged to be played in Glasgow on March 4th.
England won the game 2 – 1.
There were further internationals played by the E.L.H.L.A. and The Hockey Museum, based in Woking, has a number of newspaper cuttings, letters and the programme from an England verses Scotland game from 1939, which was kindly donated by Mr E. Knight, whose mother represented England in the match. The match was held at Cheadle Heath Sports’ Ground, Stockport on April 15th 1939 and England won the game 4 – 1. The previous Monday the English had defeated the Irish team 7 – 0 in Belfast and they were awarded the Mrs Arthur Moores trophy. Mrs Arthur Moores was the president of the E.L.H.L.A.
Penalty Bully the author of the ‘In the Women’s Hockey World’ articles in the Sports Special (“Green Un”) Newspaper referred in his March 4 1933 article to that first match against Scotland as a ‘mock international’. How are these international matches now seen? Are they regarded as ‘international matches’ by hockey historians? Many hockey historians were not aware of these games and so I suspect there may be some debate as to how these matches should be viewed and whether they should be classed as ‘internationals’.
In its edition of Wednesday March 22nd 1939 the ‘Lancashire Daily Post’ reported that there had been a meeting between the E.L.H.L.A and the All England Women’s Hockey Association.
‘Twelve leagues were represented, these being Hull, Manchester, Bury, North of England, Leigh, C.W.S (Manchester), Wigan, Sheffield, Stockport, Liverpool, Bolton and Lancashire Central. The Northumberland County Association were unable to attend.’
It would be interesting to find out what was discussed at this meeting. The article suggests by this time other Northern leagues had joined the E.L.H.L.A., although this needs to be confirmed. The position of the two Associations reminds one of the rugby league – rugby union situation.
The leagues played a number of inter league games and many Northern newspapers carried reports on the games.
The Sports Special (“Green Un”), dated Saturday December 23rd 1933, reports on an encounter between the Sheffield League and the Manchester and District League, their correspondent ‘Penalty Bully’ says;
If the hockey served up last Saturday in Sheffield by the Manchester and District league is a fair sample of the game as played by associations in the newly formed English Ladies’ Hockey League then I am not surprised that the body is not adding to its membership…….In last Saturdays game…the game was spoilt to a large extent by the wild hitting and tackling of the visiting team who it was obvious in many cases erred through ignorance of the correct methods. Neither were matters improved by the handful of supporters who urged and criticised the players in a manner which is thankfully foreign to the hockey touchline’.
Despite the tactics of the Manchester Ladies Sheffield won 2 – 0.
A number of the of the league teams were either church based teams or works based teams very similar to the football teams and other sports teams that were formed in the area in the early 20th century.
One of the cups which the league teams competed for was the English Cup. This appears to have been a Champions League type competition were the top teams in the leagues would compete against each other. Not much is known about the Cup and further research is required to discover more about its history. However, I have been able to gather some information from local newspapers.
The ‘Lancashire Daily Post’ dated October 1937 reported that, ‘The competition is played under the auspices of the English Ladies Hockey League Association to whom the cup was presented in 1934 by Frederick Johnson of Liverpool. Leyland Motors were the first winners beating Liverpool Olympic in the final as they did the following year. The present holders are Stockport’.
The Rochdale Observer in its edition dated Saturday November 4th 1939 reported on the first round of the Cup ‘This season the first round of the competition will be played in territories. The Bolton and Rochdale leagues will share one whilst the Lancashire Central League will constitute a complete territory. These leagues will comprise section one and games will be played by this afternoon. Section 2 will comprise territories drawn for the Leigh, Wigan, Stockport and Liverpool League and games will be played on December 2nd.
The history of ladies league hockey contains a number of gaps and the subject requires further research to gain a true picture of how it developed. I am looking forward to continuing with my research to try and fill some of these gaps.
I wish to thank Margaret Roberts for her help with obtaining various newspaper articles which have helped to shed light on ladies league hockey.
Article © Mark Evans – Volunteer at the Hockey Museum
Stockport and District Hockey League – The Official Record of the League Seasons 1921-2, 1922-3. Complete with photographs, Reports and League Tables, Etc.
Bolton Sports Federation Ladies Hockey Section Article – Phyllis Anderson
The Lancashire Daily Post
Sports Special (“Green Un”)
The Rochdale Observer
The Hockey Museum Website – www.hockeymuseum.net