So, who has heard of Betty Snowball? I certainly hadn’t until I started reading about Women’s cricket locally in the 1930s, when her name cropped up and made me smile. What a lovely name for a cricketer, though perhaps an even better one for an umpire.
At the meeting when Burnley CC joined the Lancashire Women’s Cricket Federation in 1933, it was noted sadly that “Miss Snowball only came to Burnley during her vacations, otherwise she would have been a great asset”.
In the summer of 1986, an elderly exiled Rose Grover, Mrs. Clara Fisher nee Wheadon, was listening to Radio 2 and heard Betty Snowball, then aged 78, being interviewed. In 1935 Betty hit a test match record score against New Zealand of 189, and that record had just been broken by India’s Sandyha Aggarwal. It remains the highest individual Test score by an English woman. Betty told the listeners that during her school holidays she had been coached by Learie Constantine, who was the professional at Nelson.
Mrs. Fisher was moved to write to the Burnley Express reminiscing about watching Lowerhouse stalwarts such as Helm Spencer, Billy Wade, Roger Smalley, Ted Drabble, the Tranter brothers, and Matt Walker, grandfather of (then) current player Stan Heaton, and pointed out that Betty had been born in Burnley.
So who was Betty Snowball?
Elizabeth Alexandra Snowball was born in Burnley to Dr. Thomas and Mrs. Annie Snowball in 1908. Dr. Snowball was a very eminent Scottish eye doctor, who had his surgery at 83 Bank Parade. To be honest that is more or less her only connection to Burnley.
She was educated in Scotland at St. Leonard’s a pioneering girls’ school, where she played cricket, encouraged by her father, who was a keen cricketer. She then trained as a PE teacher, and taught in Winchester, playing cricket for Hampshire ladies’ teams.
In 1926, a group of keen cricketing ladies, who had been playing cricket in Colwall, Herefordshire, decided it was time to get the game organised properly, and the Women’s Cricket Association was formed. The WCA was run by women for women, and players were predominantly educated, middle class women in the southern counties. There followed an upsurge in interest in women’s cricket in England in the 1930s.
In the winter of 1934/5, when the first women’s test team toured Australia and New Zealand, Betty was stumper and opening bat. England Women cricketers had to pay their own way, so only ladies who could afford the £80 cost of travel etc. for that Australia/New Zealand tour, were eligible for selection.
Even allowing for the New Zealand opposition not being the strongest, Betty’s knock of 189 in 222 minutes in Christchurch in February 1935 is impressive, and her cricket career was long and distinguished. She kept wicket and opened the batting for England from 1934 to 1949 and even though she was only 5 foot tall, was considered a fine stumper. According to The Guardian (20th June 2017), Betty and her opening bat partner Myrtle McClagan were considered the female equivalent of Hobbes and Sutcliffe, the greatest male opening pair in Test history.
There is a lot of information readily available on-line on Betty’s career, and some fabulous images of her and her team mates, so go check her out!
They may have been privileged ladies, in a time when the women’s game was in its infancy, but they were very formidable sportswomen. Betty also payed Lacrosse and Squash internationally for Scotland.
When she finished playing cricket, Betty taught cricket and maths at The Elms prep school in Colwall, the village known as the cradle of the women’s game, where, in 1926, that group of cricketing ladies decided to get the game organised properly. It may be a stretch, but this could be seen as culminating in that fine World Cup Victory on Sunday, 23rd July 2017 at Lords.
You might imagine Betty’s ghost looking down and smiling at that win, but in fact, there was a remarkable living connection to those pioneers of the women’s game. Eileen Ash (nee Whelan), aged nearly 106, who rang the bell at Lords before the start of the Women’s World Cup Final , played at the same time as Betty Snowball, making her own test debut in 1937.
Betty died in Colwall on 13th December 1988, aged 80.
She was, as the website Alloutcricket rightly states, a pioneer and legend of the women’s game, so let’s celebrate her and rather cheekily, claim her for Burnley.
thanks to Ken Spencer for providing the article on Mrs. Fisher’s letter, all other information quoted is freely available online, the Alloutcricket website is interesting as is the Guardian article https://www.theguardian.com/cricket-has-no-boundaries/2017/jun/20/wicket-maidens-the-surprising-history-of-womens-cricket.
The image shown was seen on the Australian National Library website.