In 1926 the Women’s Cricket Association was formed by a group of women cricketers, in Colwall, in Herefordshire. The WCA was run by women for women, and players were predominantly educated, middle class women in the southern counties. There then followed an upsurge in organised women’s cricket in England in the 1930s.
When the Yorkshire Women’s Cricket Federation was formed, it was organised by the men’s clubs, and run by men. By the early 1930s, women’s cricket had become popular in Yorkshire, and club games attracted good crowds. The Yorkshire Federation encouraged Lancashire men’s clubs to form a similar Federation and the Lancashire Women’s Cricket Federation was established comprising Crompton, Rochdale, Todmorden, Heywood, Littleborough, Facit and Milnrow and Middleton. Clubs were interested in womens’ cricket primarily as a means of promoting the men’s game and as a source of additional income. Federation cricket was however played by more working class women.
Burnley CC joined the Lancashire Federation in time for the 1933 season, taking the place of Middleton who had withdrawn. The Burnley Express reported on this event on 1st April 1933, under the headline “King Willow’s Fair Followers” .
27 ladies, who had expressed interest in playing cricket, were present at the meeting plus a lot of committee men. Mr. Whittaker, from Littleborough, the Secretary of the Lancashire Women’s Federation told the meeting that the Littleborough Ladies’ team was started in 1931 as he could see that “there was something in women’s cricket to help along the men’s cricket and to help maintain interest in the winter months” (?) although some “believed women should be doing something other than play cricket.” He read from a letter written by a former professional at Littleborough who advised that the following were essential in organising a Ladies Cricket Team;
- Insistence upon proper shoes being worn
- That batting gloves and two pads must be worn
- The time allotted to bowlers was noted
- That each should learn to play cricket or stay away
- That a suitable chaperone was present at each practice.
Mr. Whittaker said, that as the ladies were new to the game and they would have to ask the men for advice, it was not necessary to form a ladies committee and the present sub- committee would continue to operate, but might co-opt one or two ladies after the first practice.
There was no dress code but “a bowler must wear a white pullover, sleeveless if preferred, if the players are not in all white costumes.”
Miss Wilding, who had played cricket in London where there were a lot of ladies’ teams emphasised the need for serious practice as some ladies “rather took it as a joke”.
Betty Snowball, the Burnley lady who had already represented England, was mentioned as an example of what can be achieved, although unfortunately “she only came to Burnley during her vacations, otherwise she would have been a great asset”.
Miss Davies was unanimously appointed chaperone as “no lady knew more about the game than she did through her father’s connection with the club.”
The Express published these photos of “The Fair Sex on the cricket field”. Most of the women have sensibly opted for trousers and look very modern. Apologies for the poor quality of the reprint from the newspaper.
In their 1934 centenary brochure Burnley CC reported on the Ladies’ Section. “They have made good progress in the various departments of the game. The members of the team, most of whom had practically no knowledge of the game, improved wonderfully under the tuition of the coach” and Miss A.A. Walsh played for Lancashire against Yorkshire in 1933 and in 1934 Miss E. Sparks, “an exceptional hard hitter and quick scorer, who is also considered to be the fastest lady bowler in the League”, also played against Yorkshire. Such County games attracted large crowds and were very profitable for the host clubs.
Littleborough was the strongest team in the league at the time and in 1934 Burnley tied with them for the championship, but Littleborough won the trophy in a playoff.
Sadly the women’s game did not sustain this period of growth, not helped of course by the outbreak of WW2 but even at this time of popularity, cricket was only ever played by a small number of women.
A lot more could, and probably should, be written about working class women in cricket, not just as players but primarily as financially significant club supporters, and perhaps someone out there would like to do it! Dissertation anyone?
Peter J Davies of Huddersfield University has written a great deal about the history of cricket and his work is freely available on-line via the Huddersfield University Repository, http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/
In particular “Bowling maidens over: 1931 and the beginnings of women’s cricket in a Yorkshire town” was a valuable source of information for the above but errors and omissions are entirely my own.