Chelmsford Ladies Hockey Club have enjoyed a successful time over the past 100 years, both on and off the field. The founding year of 1898 came about when members of Chelmsford Grove Tennis Club formed a hockey club to extend their leisure to a winter sport. Permission was granted by Mr Herbert Marriage, tenant of Moulsham Lodge, for the use of a field behind the tennis courts in the grounds. An announcement was made in the local press, and ladies and gentlemen were invited to join.
Subscriptions were 2s. 6d. for tennis players and 5s. for non-players. The ladies’ team played midweek, and the men’s and mixed teams at the weekends - and Easter Saturday and Monday. Other grounds used for matches included Widford Lodge and Fingrith Hall - both also homes of Marriage families who had no fewer than twelve ladies playing for Chelmsford in the early 1900’s.
In 1900 the Club moved to the large Rectory grounds in New Street, already used by Chelmsford Tennis and Cricket Clubs and for the annual athletic and cycling meetings. This ground extended from the railway line to Rectory Lane. Although travel was often by horse brake, a match report suggests that trains were used for example when the away game against Saffron Walden was played at Bishop’s Stortford. Other opponents from 1900 to 1903 included Bocking, Braintree, Brentwood, Broomfield, Colchester, Maldon and Ipswich.
From a study of match reports in local papers, it would appear that members from many well-known families took park, such as Misses Bodkin, Buttenshaw, Fitch, Martin, Smith, Tregalis, and the three Misses Whitmore. In 1908 the Misses O. and M. Marriage played in the Essex ladies team.
Chelmsford continued to play on the Rectory ground until 1912, when it was sold. The Marconi factory was built on the ten acres of the land, Marconi and Bishops Roads were constructed, and the remainder sold in lots by Messrs. Taylor and Co. A newspaper reported that the cricket club had disbanded, and it is probable that the hockey club had to follow.
In 1911 the Old Girls’ Association of the Chelmsford County High School formed a hockey club, and were given permission to use the school pitch provided "heel-less shoes or galoshes were used". In 1914-15, the Old Girls’ team invited visitors to play for them. The club continued after the war, and was affiliated to Essex in 1920, the year in which Margaret Shanks was tested for the Essex team.
In 1922 the Old Girls’ were unable to use the school pitch owing to building works. It was then resolved to form a ladies club in the town which the Old Girls Club would form a nucleus. A field was used behind Widford Hall, the home of Bessie and Mattie Hodge who were instrumental in forming the club and liaising with the High School Old Girls.
Membership increased and in 1924 the club transferred to Crompton’s Athletic ground, Wood Street, with fixtures for two eleven’s. Captains and officials from 1924 to 1933 included Misses J. Shanks, M. Hodge, D. Britton, N. Shanks, B. Currie, B. Fleming, L. Bradridge, B. Hodge, M. Rowlatt, E. Sayers, N. Christy, R. Shead, E. Boulter, W. Jaggs, C. Currie and C. Cramphorn. Several played in Essex teams.
According to personal accounts, travel would be by bicycle (time was unimportant), pny and trap, motorcycle, car or train. Most often two large cars were used, and after the game players either went to the cinema or to someone’s house for the evening.
In the 1930’s the players travelled to Easter festivals at Bournemouth, Ramsgate and Southend. More cars were available, and would meet at the station before away games. Matches continued after the outbreak of World War Two, the last reported in the local press in October, 1940, when Chelmsford opened their season playing Brentwood.
After the war a former member, Vivienne Wiseman, re-formed the club, hiring a council pitch at Admiral’s Park for home matches. A small pavilion provided changing facilities but not much comfort. There were no tea facilites, the club members relying on local cafes. Travel to home matches was still by bicycle, but to go further afield the journey was made on the top of a double decker bus which provided ample opportunity to exchange the week’s news. One or two ran small cars, which were filled to capacity. With three passengers in the front, the middle one did all the gear changing.
The 1960’s saw a period of change and expansion. The club moved to Broomfield cricket ground in 1961, where the use of the pavilion for entertaining visitors made a welcome improvement, but an increase in membership led to the return to council pitches at Melbourne Park in 1966. Two teams began playing regularly with fixtures lists that gradually extended into the cricket season in both directions. Trials, tournaments and travel beckoned the keen and adventurous players.
In 1964 two members joined a touring club visiting Lahr, Germany, and since then others have continued the association and enjoyed tours of Berlin and Hamburg, Rhodesia and South Africa, South America and Jamaica. Members have travelled to festivals at Southend and Ramsgate, and the club visited a Rotterdam club at Easter 1967. Several members gained county honours and Pat Donaldson played for England at Wembley, in 1968. The club has received invitations to various tournaments, in and out of Essex, and reciprocated when organising the ladies’ hockey seven-a-side section of the Chelmsford Festival of Sport from 1969.
In 1971 Chelmsford Ladies renewed their association with Chelmsford (Men’s) Hockey and Cricket Clubs by combining to form the Chelmsford Sports Club and by building a joint clubhouse adjacent to council owned premises at Chelmer Park. Situated in the centre of the county, Chelmer Park has become the home of many Essex Ladies activities. The club is well represented on the County Committee, in the County teams and on the officially graded Umpires’ Register. Margaret Lintner, Pru Carter and Jean Pool, Lyn Bollington, Helen Bastian, Claire Liddell, have played for England.
The hockey activities of the 1960’s continued and developed in the 1970’s with the addition of a third XI to accommodate junior members. The indoor hockey has become increasingly important for training as well as for competitions. All-weather pitches, often floodlit, provided useful surfaces for games when grass was waterlogged. Chelmsford Borough Council and Chelmsford Hockey Clubs raised money in 1989 to build our own astro pitch at Chelmer Park. Tournaments and festivals increased and the Championship Era began.
The All-England Women’s Hockey Association organised a County Championship. In 1972, Essex won the East Anglian Counties’ title, and went on to win the All-England title. The Essex team included seven Chelmsford Ladies players. The championships became leagues in 1989, where Chelmsford remained for four seasons, before being relegated to Division 1, where they remained until promotion back to the Premier Division this year. The All-England Indoor Club Championships have seen Chelmsford in the top four in England since. Mixed hockey has played a part throughout the century, with Chelmsford winning the Colchester Exiles tournament for 6 years running.
As 1979 England outdoor champions, Chelmsford entered the European club competitions. In the preliminary round in Leningrad, they played champion clubs of Germany, France and Russia and qualified for the finals in Barcelona where they me the Welsh, Irish and Dutch winners. This section proved stronger than the other one comprising the Belgians, Scottish, Spanish and German winners. In spite of close matches, Chelmsford finished seventh.
The £4,000 fund-raising year which preceded the European club venture tested the resourcefulness of members and the generosity of friends and well-wishers. Former members responded, and many from the 1920’s to the 1970’s attended the Club Reunion Day. A club register has now been formed of 359 former members from 1900.
The Youth Section has boomed since the 1984 Olympics, and the World Cup in 1986. Both the Ladies and Men can boast the youth development throughout the past decade, with a number of players rising through the ranks. At the other end of the spectrum, the Vets have also represented the Club at the National level, reaching the Finals in 1994 before winning the national title in 1998 and retaining it in 1999. The 1990’s now sees five outdoor teams, four playing league hockey.
The last 100 years have seen many changes in the Ladies Hockey Club, and their success is due to the members and friends of the club who have supported and given time to the club. We’re sure that the next 100 years will be as enjoyable and rewarding as the last.Peggy Haddon Double