Munition Girls' Football in Cumbria 1917-1919

I am grateful to Eva Elliott and Stephen Cockbain for their help in compiling this account

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The battlefield carnage during the Great War created an urgent need for women to move into traditionally male roles within industry, particularly in the manufacture of munitions. The response from female society was overwhelming, and by the latter stages of the war women formed a majority of the workforce. For many of them this was a liberating experience, as they pushed back the boundaries of social conventions, not only in the workplace, but in their recreational activities too. The emergence of the Munitionette football teams, which played regularly for charitable causes during the latter stages of the war, was a dramatic manifestation of their new-found confidence. A history of the Munitionette teams of North-East England can be found here. The present account is concerned with the teams which sprang up and flourished in Cumbria during the same period. If anyone can add any information I would be grateful if they would contact me

Compared to the North-East of England, the geographical and industrial circumstances of Cumbria were not quite as favourable for the development of munitionette football. There was not the same great concentration of industry, the munitions companies, with the exception of Vickers-Maxim at Barrow, being generally being smaller and more widely dispersed. Nevertheless, a number of towns had flourishing women's teams, and the local newspapers in Cumbria carried reports of their activities, though not always in sufficient detail as one might have hoped for.

The earliest report I have come across appeared in the Workington Star and Harrington Guardian on 27th April 1917. It referred to an encounter on the previous Saturday, the 21st, between the Workington Munition Girls and the Carlisle Munition Girls. The match took place at Lonsdale Park, Workington, and the proceeds were to go to the Cumberland Prisoners of War Fund and the Workington Star 'Smokes' Fund, which provided parcels of tobacco to soldiers at the front. The game had been previewed in an editorial two weeks earlier, which revealed that the Workington team had staged a trial match on 6th April. From the tone of the article it is clear that the event was considered a great novelty, which suggests that this may well have been the first women's football match in Cumbria.

workington versus carlisle advert

The teams lined up as follows:

Workington: Kane, James, Moore, S. McManus, Farish, F. Straughton, S. Watchorn, L. Johnson, E. Holliday. E. McKay, S. Tallon
Carlisle: Creighton, Connolly, Lightfoot, Raine, Williamson, Sowerby, Hall, Coulthard, Robertson, Traill, Houston

Both teams played in skirts, Workington donning red jerseys and Carlisle khaki jerseys, and it was noted that the Carlisle team's skirts were longer than their opponents. As the game proceeded it was evident that this was rather a handicap. The reporter from the Workington Star commented, "they could have sacrificed a couple of inches without any loss of modesty." Whether this would have made a difference to the outcome is unknown; Workington dominated the play, right-winger Watchorn getting a hat-trick in their 4-1 win. The other Workington goal came from a goalmouth scramble, and Raine got Carlisle's solitary goal.

The game was a success in terms of both its entertainment value and the financial return. Receipts totalled £133 14s. 4d, of which gate money accounted for £128 16s. 0d, suggesting a crowd of around 4-5,000. After deduction of expenses a net amount of £110 15s.0d was handed over to the charities.

This event seems to have inspired the formation of a number of other teams, including one which was to become by far the strongest ladies' football team in the county - Whitehaven Ladies F.C. This team differed from the others in that it was not munition workers, but schoolteachers which made up the bulk of its members. It was a properly-constituted association, with a elected committee, and its own bank account with the London Joint Stock Bank. The Secretary was Thomas Williams, and the Treasurer was Winnie Whirity, who also played at left-half. In common with most of the Cumbrian ladies' sides, they too played in skirts, unlike their counterparts in the north east England who had quickly adopted "normal" football attire. Several of them had represented Whitehaven at hockey, and were therefore accustomed to the discipline and tactics of a team game. This gave them an edge over their opponents which they fully exploited.

Despite this, their first game was far from being a walkover. On 5th May 1917 they played the Workington munition girls on the cricket field at Whitehaven, to raise funds for the new military hospital at Moresby House1. Once again the game was a financial success; a crowd of around 5,000 were in attendance, and the gross takings were £94 17s 8d. After deduction of expenses the sum of £89 19s 7d was donated to the hospital. As a footballing spectacle it was less of a success; no goals were scored, though Workington did hit the woodwork on a number of occasions.

The custom of the day was to arrange matches on a 'home and away' basis, and the formula was followed on this occasion. The replay took place at Lonsdale Park, Workington on the following Saturday, May 12th. Four charities were to benefit from the game; the Cumberland Prisoners of War Fund, the Workington Red Cross, the Workington Star 'Smokes' Fund, and the Bankfield Military Hospital2. The Whitehaven team, who were described as heavier and faster, seemed to have learned from the first encounter. On this occasion they controlled the play from the start, and scored midway through the first half. Play was more even after the interval, and Workington made determined efforts to equalise, but the Whitehaven defence beat off the attacks and the score remained unaltered at the finish.

whitehaven ladies fc in 1917

Whitehaven Ladies 1917

back row: Cissie Spedding, Kitty Cowie, May Ellwood
centre row: May Spedding, Winnie Whirity, Ida Robinson
front row: Elsie Lowes, M. Cunningham, Xaveria (Vera) Wilson, Connie Whirity, Mary Milne
Tom Williams is at the extreme right of the back row; the lady not in football kit is F. Kelly
(photograph courtesy of Eva Elliott)

workington ladies fc in 1917

Workington Ladies 1917

Although not quite good enough for Whitehaven, Workington Ladies were more than a match for Carlisle, as they proved on 19th May when they defeated them 1-0 at Brunton Park. The game was in aid of the Border Regiments' Prisoners of War Funds. They did not have long to enjoy the spoils of victory, as their visitors the following week were once again Whitehaven, who inflicted another 1-0 defeat on the Workingtonians.

Workington had more than one team. In addition to the Munition Girls, who worked in the National Shell Factory, there was another team named "Workington Combine". This was the local name for the Workington Iron and Steel Company, which had absorbed a number of smaller works earlier in the century. On 28th May they played the women of Derwent Mills at Cockermouth. Derwent Mills processed flax, and during the war its main activity was the manufacture of high quality linen fabric for covering aeroplane wings. This long-established business had been in the hands of the Harris family since 1808, and Mr T.M. Harris, a grandson of the founder, formally kicked off the game, which was in aid of the Soldiers' Comforts Fund. The match was staged at Sandair3. Workington took the offensive from the start, but the play was fairly even, with each goal being visited in turn. Shortly before half-time Cockermouth took the lead with a goal from Agnes Pennington. The second half saw Workington again putting pressure on the Cockermouth goal, but unable to make the final breakthrough. Pennington got the ball into the net again for what might have been Cockermouth's second goal, but she was ruled offside, and the game ended with the score still 1-0 in favour of Cockermouth.

workington combine ladies 1917

Workington Combine Ladies 1917

At Gretna, ten miles to the north west of Carlisle, a huge cordite explosive factory had been built in 1915, together with a new town to house the 20,000 employees, mostly women, who lived and worked there. With such a large pool of female employees to draw from, one might have expected Gretna to have fielded the strongest women's football team in the area. Surprisingly, my research turned up only one reference to women footballers at Gretna, relating to a match played against Carlisle on 9th June 1917. The game, at Brunton Park, was in aid of local war hospitals; Carlisle played in their customary skirts, while the Gretna team wore knickerbockers. The Gretna women did not derive any apparent advantage from this, as they went down 4-1 to goals from centre-forward Hall (2), inside-right Graham, and an own goal by the Gretna keeper Redmayne. This last goal should really have been credited to Graham, who sent in a shot which Redmayne could only palm into the net.

Whitehaven entertained Cockermouth on 16th June, in a match for the benefit of the Mayoress's Relief Fund and the Cockermouth Soldiers' Comforts Fund. A large crowd at the Cricket Field saw Whitehaven win the game 3-1 thanks to a hat-trick from Elsie Wilson. This match is interesting for another reason; the accounts have survived, and give an insight into the expenses involved in organising these events.

accounts for whitehaven v cockermouth match

Whitehaven v Cockermouth - statement of accounts (facsimile)

Then, as now, flag days were a commonly-used method of raising funds for charity, though it was often the case that artificial flowers were sold rather than flags. This was certainly so on 'Alexandra Day', an event which appears to have originated in 1912 to commemorate the marriage of Princess Alexandra of Denmark to the future King Edward VII. In 1917 Workington celebrated Alexandra Day on 23rd June, and in addition to the flower-selling activities a football match was arranged between the local munition ladies and a team from Derwent Mills at Cockermouth. The day was to benefit the Workington Infirmary and the local District Nursing Association. Workington beat the Cockermouth team 3-1, but overall the day was not a success because of the appalling weather. More than 10,000 flowers remained unsold, and in order to avoid a loss it was decided to have a continuation of Alexandra Day on July 14th. Again a football match was arranged between the Workington Shell Factory and Derwent Mills, and this time the Cockermouth team came out on top, winning 2-1.

In Cumbria, as in the North East, certain teams "spread the gospel" by playing at venues other than their own home towns. For example Workington Shell Factory and Derwent Mills staged the first women's football match to be seen in Maryport on 30th June, Workington winning 1-0, and on 7th July Derwent Mills beat Cleator Mills 1-0 in the first game of its type at Cleator. Cleator Mills provides a good example of how all-embracing the term "Munition Worker" could be; the women at this factory manufactured soldiers' uniforms, not bullets or shells, but were considered equally valuable to the war effort.

Closer to Carlisle, but also part of the Gretna munitions complex, Mossband, near to Metal Bridge on the A74, was the site of a large munitions depot. Here a women's football team known as Mossband Swifts were formed. They made their first appearance in the Carlisle Journal in September 1917, following a match at Brunton Park in aid of the Carlisle Friendless Girls' Association. The match was described as "perhaps the most entertaining struggle between women that has been witnessed in Carlisle." Mossband were more aggressive, with individual rushes upfield being their main method of attack, but Carlisle's defence was strong. A clever sequence of passes along the forward line led to an attempt on goal by Graham, but the ball was handled, and Graham made no mistake from the spot. The second half was equally entertaining, and Mossband were able to equalise with a simple goal from centre-forward McAdo. Carlisle applied pressure towards the end, but there was no further scoring, and the result remained 1 goal apiece.

mossband munition girls in 1917

Mossband Munition Girls 1917

Two of the women are wearing the triangular "On War Service" badges that were issued to munitions workers
(photograph courtesy of Eva Elliott)

The success of the early matches prompted a number of prominent businessmen in Workington to organise a knockout competition. The idea was first thought up by Mr Robert Reid, and a silver cup was presented by Mr Thomas Day, a fairground proprietor from Carlisle and father of a soldier. An organising committee was formed under the Chairmanship of the Mayor, Alderman Hall, and a notice was printed in the Workington Star inviting entries from teams in Cumberland. Entries were to close on July 7th, and the first tie would be played on July 21st. This proved to be too short notice, for whatever reason, and a further notice appeared on 31st August announcing a revised timetable; entries would close on September 1st and the first tie would take place on September 15th. As an added incentive to potential entrants it was announced that return rail fares would be paid for teams within a 12 mile radius of Workington. This stipulation probably had the opposite effect, discouraging teams from more distant places. In the event only six local teams went into the hat, a noticeable absentee being Whitehaven, and on 9th September the Carlisle Journal announced that the draw had been made as follows:

A. - Seaton v Maryport; September 15th

B. - Harrington v Workington Combine; September 29th

Byes - Cockermouth Derwent Mills and Workington Shell Factory

Semi-Final C. - Derwent Mills v Workington factory; October 6th

D. - Winner of A v Winner of B; October 15th

Final - Winner of C v Winner of D; October 29th; referee Mr D. Pratt

The first of these ties, between Seaton and Maryport, took place at Lonsdale Park, Workington on 15th September. Maryport were the favourites, having beaten Seaton 4-0 on 8th August, but they missed an early chance to take the lead when they were awarded a penalty and their shooter sent the ball over the bar. Lily Peacock scored for Seaton before half-time, and they held on to this lead till the end.

The town of Barrow in Furness was strategically important to the war effort, being the location of the firm of Vickers-Maxim, a major supplier of armaments, submarines and airships. A large number of female munition workers would have been employed there. The town was however, relatively isolated, and there are few records of munitionette football matches between Barrow teams and those from the rest of Cumbria. One match which did get into the newspapers was a visit by the Barrow YMCA ladies to Whitehaven on 6th October 1917. The match was in aid of the Barrow YMCA Hut Fund. One hopes that the ladies managed to take a reasonably sized collection back to Barrow, for they had little else to celebrate, having been on the wrong end of an 8-0 thrashing. The scorers for Whitehaven were Vera Wilson (3, 1 pen), Connie(?) Whirity (3), Elsie Lowes and Maggie Cunningham. (The newspapers sometimes referred to the team as Barrow YWCA, but the photograph below shows that YMCA was the correct designation, even if it does seem somewhat incongruous.)

barrow ymca munition girls in 1917

Barrow YMCA Ladies 1917-18

(photograph courtesy of Eva Elliott)

In the ladies' cup competition Workington Combine had disposed of Harrington in the other round 1 tie, which meant that at the semi-final stage Workington had two sides represented. In the first semi-final, between the Workington Shell Factory and Derwent Mills on 13th October, the Cockermouth team won with a single goal from Agnes Pennington. This left Workington hopes centred on the Combine team, who played Seaton in the second semi-final on 20th October. A large crowd at Lonsdale Park saw a goal-less first half, followed by plenty of action in the second half. Seaton scored first through Lily Peacock, but Workington equalised with a goal from Mrs Eckersley. The Seaton team proved the stronger however, and further goals from Peacock and M. Whittaker gave them a 3-1 victory, and the right to meet Derwent Mills in the final.

seaton v cockermouth clippingThe final took place on 27th October at Lonsdale Park, and was witnessed by the biggest crowd ever to assemble for a women's match in the town. Cockermouth dominated the game at the beginning, and at the end of the first half, with Seaton having the better of the play in between. Before the interval Cockermouth took the lead with a penalty goal from Florence Bigrigg. With such a slim margin against them Seaton set about testing the Cockermouth defence in the second half, but Cockermouth retained their slim lead, and the match closed without any further score. There then followed what was described in the Cumberland News as a "regrettable display of ill-feeling" as the Mayor, Mr. F. Hall, attempted to present the trophy. A section of the Seaton following made a noisy protest, alleging bias on the part of the referee. The Mayor tried to calm things by saying he was sorry the match had been decided by a penalty, but he thought Cockermouth had played the better football. This only added fuel to the fire, and as he presented gold brooches to the members of the winning team he was shouted down by "wrathful female voices." A set of silver brooches had been provided for the losing side, but when they were called up to receive them a voice in the crowd shouted "Don't have them," and the ladies accepted the advice and walked away.

Not suprisingly, the incident caused a scandal in the town, and the blame was placed squarely upon a group of soldiers from the Bankfield Hospital, who had barracked the referee and linesmen throughout the game and created an ugly atmosphere. The Seaton team did eventually accept their brooches, and were presented with them on the following Wednesday at a ceremony in Seaton.

derwent mills munition girls in 1917

Derwent Mills Ladies 1917

Winners of the Workington Ladies' Cup
back row: Peter Thompson, Janet Barnes, Tommy Birkett, Evelyn Gorley, Agnes Pennington, Hannah Lena Birkett (goalkeeper)
Will Harris, Lily Barnes, Jimmy Conway, Mabel Scott, ... Thompson
centre row: Ada Glaister, Bett Holmes, Florrie Burns, Tom Harris (factory owner), Lizzie Sim, Annie Holmes, Annie Suart
front row: Maude Plaskett, Belle Suart, Hannah May Starkie, Sarah Ellen Morgan, Sally Baxter, Florrie Bigrigg
(photograph courtesy of Eva Elliott, identifications courtesy of Gloria Edwards - Kirkgate Centre Museum Group)

To add variety, and to attract larger crowds, the organisers of these events occasionally matched the women against teams of men. These proved a popular form of entertainment. To even things up, the men usually played in comic costumes, or with their hands tied behind their backs. The earliest account of such a game in Cumbria appears to date from 21st July 1917, when the Whitehaven Ladies played a team from the Welsh Fusiliers, winning 3-2. On 13th October the munition girls of Carlisle took on a team of Canadian lumberjacks who were engaged in felling many of the woods in the area for pit props and other such applications. The match took place at Floriston, a couple of miles to the north of Carlisle, and resulted in a 3-2 win for the ladies. The Carlisle ladies' efforts on the football pitch had by then raised a total of £180 for various war-related charities. Other women versus men games which appeared in the press included matches between the Workington Combine team and the "Moss Bay Laboratory Lads," which resulted in a 3-2 victory to the women, the female workers and the apprentices of Pratchitt's Engineering Works in Carlisle, which ended in a 1-1 draw, Mossband Girls versus the Wounded Soldiers of Fusehill Hospital, which resulted in a 10-8 victory to the soldiers, and Pratchitt's versus the Wounded Soldiers, which ended in an equally unlikely scoreline of 9-4 to the women. It is fairly clear that such games were not meant to be taken seriously.

comic men v munition girls in 1917

Comic Match 1917

The teams in this photograph are unknown, but the men's costumes make it clear that it is a comic women versus men match.
The fact that the women are wearing shorts suggests they may be Mossband, and some similarities can be seen with the Mossband photograph above.
(photograph courtesy of Eva Elliott)

pratchitt's engineering munition girls in 1917

Pratchitt's Ladies 1917

back row: Archibald Wilson (Manager), unknown, Ruth Cooke, unknown, unknown, Martha Mitchell, Lily Cooke
Albert Younghusband, Thomas Wilson : middle row: extreme right Lily Blythe
the small girl holding the ball is Irene Wilson (now 93 years old), daughter of Archibald
(photograph courtesy of Eva Elliott)

The geographical separation between Cumbria and Tyneside posed a greater barrier then than now, and meant that there was very little contact between teams from these respective areas. Only those supported by large employers could meet the cost of travel, combined with the necessity for overnight accommodation. There was no larger employer of munitions workers in Cumbria than the Vickers-Maxim company at Barrow. Tyneside possessed an equally large manufacturer of armaments - Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co. Both companies were at the forefront in providing for the welfare of their female employees, at least by the standards of the day, and to raise more funds for this cause a number of women's football matches were arranged between them. Their first encounter, at St. James's Park on 1st December 1917, attracted 14,000 spectators, and resulted in a 2-1 win for Armstrong-Whitworth, with goals from Sarah Cornforth (penalty) and Bella Willis. The Barrow Times petulantly remarked that Armstrong's had chosen their team from 17 factories, which was stretching things a little; the company had five main centres of operation, albeit with an enormous pool of labour, but at the end of the day the team was still restricted to eleven players. Although the result went against them, there can be no doubt that the Vickers' team enjoyed their visit; the night before the match they were housed in the Douglas Hotel, Grainger Street, and after post-match refreshments at Armstrong's sports club their train pulled out of Newcastle Central Station to the strains of "Will ye no' come back again" from their hosts.

They were to come back again, but not immediately, as fair play required that the next encounter take place at Barrow. The game was played at Holker Street, the home of Barrow F.C., on 12th January 1918. Unfortunately heavy snow fell in the morning, and increased in severity prior to the match, which both reduced the prospective attendance and made playing conditions difficult.

The snow continued to fall after the start of the game, but the players battled on despite the conditions. Both goals came under pressure on several occasions, but the respective defences dealt with the threat. As the snow ceased, more spectators began to arrive and cheer on the home team, and after 25 minutes play Parton scored for Vickers after a goalmouth scramble.

Conditions had improved somewhat by the commencement of the second half, and the crowd was treated to some entertaining play, the highlight of which was a solo run by Bradley who took the ball over half the length of the field before crashing in Vicker's second goal. Both Cornforth and Ruddock made some outstanding efforts on the part of Armstrong's, but could not get the ball past Percival, and as the final whistle blew Vickers were still leading 2-0.

The usual post-match refreshments and speeches took place after the game, and each member of the visiting team was presented with a pearl and ruby pendant set in gold, provided by W.T. Storey, a local jeweller. Miss E. B. Jayne, speaking on behalf of the visiting team, thanked the people of Barrow for their hospitality and a sporting contest. They accepted that the better team had won on the day, but reminded them that "we licked you in Newcastle," and there would now have to be a third game to decide who was to be "top dog."

Some considerable time was to elapse before the teams could meet again to decide the issue, but eventually a decider was arranged at St. James's Park on 23rd November 1918. The proceeds were to be devoted to a fund to help female munition workers "whose health is suffering by the strain of their work to take necessary rest and recuperation." The players and spectators alike were more interested in who would win.

The account of the game in the Barrow News reveals that Vickers had two players, Bayley and Milmine, who were playing in public for the first time. This must have been a nerve-racking experience, even though the crowd only numbered 5,000.

Vickers showed strongly from the kick-off and early in the game Bayley gave the Armstrong team a nervous moment by striking the foot of the upright. There was no scoring until five minutes before the interval, when Willis sent in a long range shot which Wilson cleared, but before she could get back into her goalmouth Cornforth got the ball into the net for Armstrongs. Towards the close Vicker's came within an ace of equalising, when Christian passed to Harris, who was well placed in front of goal, but before she could shoot Parton rushed in and skied the ball over the bar.

During the customary post-match speeches it was suggested that there ought to be a fourth and final encounter on a neutral ground, but whether it actually took place or not is unknown. Given the speedy discharge of munitionettes from employment following the end of the war it is highly improbable.

The Vickers team appears to have kept itself aloof from the other Cumbrian sides, which was probably for the best, as only Whitehaven could have posed a serious challenge. In addition to playing against Armstrong-Whitworth, they also played against Beardmore's of Glasgow, another large arms company. On 2nd March 1918 they played them at Celtic Park, Glasgow, in a match billed as "Scotland v England," and beat the Scots 4-0 with goals from Dickinson (2) and Bradley, an own goal completing their total. Three weeks later Beardmore's travelled to Barrow, and this time gave a better account of themselves, holding Vickers to a 2-2 draw before a crowd of 5,000.

The only Cumbrian side to play another club from Tyneside, as opposed to a combined team, was Carlisle Munition Ladies. On 20th April 1918 they had as visitors Blyth Spartans Ladies from Northumberland. Spartans were by far the strongest team in the North-East, and had reached the final of the Alfred Wood Munitions Girls Cup, a knockout competition on a much larger scale than the Workington Cup, involving 30 teams from Tyneside and Teeside. They were too strong for Carlisle, winning 3-0 with goals from Reay (2) and Morgan. By the time Carlisle visited Blyth for the return match Spartans had won the Cup, and celebrated by putting five past Carlisle on this occasion.

carlisle munition girls in 1917-18

Carlisle Munition Girls 1917-18

(photograph courtesy of Sheila Angus)

Back in Cumberland Whitehaven were cementing their reputation as the county's leading side. On 1st June 1918 they played Barrow YMCA once more, this time at home. Whitehaven won by 5 clear goals, and later that week Tom Williams received a letter from Alfred Frankland, secretary of the Dick, Kerr team in Preston, canvassing his opinion on the possibility of forming a women's football league in Lancashire for the coming season. The letter closes with a handwritten note; "I see you managed to beat the YMCA team. Mr Whittam gives me a glowing account of your team AF." Dick, Kerr had also played Barrow YMCA on two occasions; on 9th February 1918 they held them to a 1-1 draw at Barrow, and defeated them 2-0 a month later in the return match at Deepdale.

What became of the proposal to form a league is one of the issues I have yet to investigate. However the exchange of views between Frankland and Williams led at least to a match between their sides. This was to be Whitehaven's finest hour. The Dick, Kerr Ladies, although relative latecomers to women's football, (their first match was in December 1917), had established a tremendous reputation, one which would continue long after the war's conclusion. On 21st September they travelled to Whitehaven and in a thrilling encounter held the home team to a 1-1 draw. Elsie Wilson scored for Whitehaven and Florrie Redford for Whitehaven. To be held to a draw on their home ground was a rare experience for Whitehaven, and the Preston women must have felt confident as they prepared for the return match. They had not reckoned with the determination of the Whitehaven team, who also had a reputation to defend. On 9th October they travelled down to Deepdale and stunned the Preston crowd by winning 2-0. It was the first defeat in the history of the Dick, Kerr team.

As the war neared its end newspaper coverage of women's football became very sporadic, but three important games involving Whitehaven were reported. On 14th December, they tasted defeat for the first time. Their opponents were Lancaster Ladies, who had strengthened their side for the occasion with the inclusion of Dickinson from Vicker's. In the first half the Whitehaven strikers had numerous opportunities to score, but the ball went everywhere but in the net. Fifteen minutes into the second half Harris scored for Lancaster, and a remarkable display of goalkeeping by Hastie ensured that they kept this slim lead till the final whistle.

On Boxing Day the team travelled to Newcastle to take on Tyneside Ladies at St. James's Park. It was a case of David versus Goliath, as the Tyneside team were in fact drawn from 6 of the strongest sides on Tyneside and Teesside, and included a number of internationals. On this occasion, Goliath had the benefit of home advantage. As the Tyneside team slept on, the Whitehaven women departed on the 6am train to Carlisle, where they had a two-hour wait before catching their connection to Newcastle. They eventually arrived at noon to find the city covered in a blanket of snow. The pitch too was snow-bound, the markings being faintly visible, but an enormous crowd of 18,000 had turned up to witness the encounter. The match, which was refereed by Mr. J. W. Collins of Australia, assisted by Messrs. J. Black (Newcastle) and T. Williams (Whitehaven), kicked off at 2.30. Tyneside led all the way, winning 3-0 with goals from Mary Dorrian, Winnie McKenna and Mary Lyons, each of whom had international experience. It must have been a long and miserable journey back to the west coast.

The return game was fixed for 18th January 1919 at Whitehaven, and here the home team showed their fighting spirit. A crowd of between five and six thousand saw them take the lead after only five minutes with a brilliant goal from centre-forward Elsie Wilson. At half-time Whitehaven were still leading 1-0. In the second half Tyneside pressed continuously, and Hastie in the Whitehaven goal had to make some superb saves from Reay, Lyons and McKenna. Eventually, Reay got an equaliser, but Whitehaven had not given up, and in an exciting finish they nearly scored a winner, but Johnston shot straight into the Newcastle keeper's hands. The result, 1-1, was a fair reflection of the play, but undoubtedly the Whitehaven supporters would have considered that their team had secured a moral victory.

This is the last report I have been able to uncover relating to women's football in Cumbria, other than a charming piece in the Cumberland News for March 8th 1919, entitled "Whitehaven Lady Footballer's Wedding." It reported the marrriage of Elsie May Lowes to Mr. Thomas Johnston. It stated that Elsie, a teacher at St. James's National School, "has been a popular member of the Whitehaven Ladies' Football Club, and has played right wing in all that Club's matches, contributing in no small way to the successful career of the Club." Reading between the lines, this suggests that the ladies' footballing days had now come to a close.

The above account is based upon press reports mainly from the north of the county, and probably does not give a full report of activities south of Whitehaven. This is something I hope to rectify when time permits, so please return periodically for an update.

© Patrick Brennan 2006


1. Moresby House is now a Premier Inn, known as The Howgate.

2. The Bankfield Military Hospital was located in Bankfield Mansion, Workington, an enormous pair of semi-detached villas built in 1888 for two local ironmasters. The building was demolished in 1985.

3. Today, as then, the home of Cockermouth Cricket Club

Summary of matches reported in the press

In the early days local newspaper accounts were full of detail. As the novelty of the women's matches wore off the press lost enthusiasm, and if a report was published at all, it was often no more than the result, which would be tucked away in a corner of the paper.

1917-04-21Workington Munition Girls 4
Carlisle Munition Girls 1
Played at Lonsdale Park, Workington, raising £110 15s 0d for the Prisoners of War Fund and the Workington Star 'Smokes' Fund
scorers: Watchorn (3), A.N. Other for Workington; Raine for Carlisle
Workington (red jerseys, blue skirts): Kane, James, Moore, S. McManus, Farish, F. Straughton, S. Watchorn, L. Johnson, E. Holliday. E. McKay, S. Tallon
Carlisle (khaki jerseys, black skirts): Creighton, Connolly, Lightfoot, Raine, Williamson, Sowerby, Hall, Coulthard, Robertson, Traill, Houston
1917-05-05Whitehaven 0
Workington 0
Played on the Cricket Field, Whitehaven, before 5,000 spectators, raising £89 19s 7d for the Military Hospital at Moresby House. This was Whitehaven's first match
1917-05-12Workington 0
Whitehaven 2
Played at Lonsdale Park, Workington before 3-4,000 spectators, in aid of the Bankfield Military Hospital, the Cumbrian Prisoners of War Fund, the Workington Red Cross Fund and the Workington Star 'Smokes' Fund
1917-05-19Carlisle 0
Workington 1
Played at Brunton Park in aid of the Border Regiments' POW Funds
Carlisle: Mrs. Creighton, S. Raine, D. Foster, Hall, Hounson, Robertson, Graham, Hyland, Williamson, Sowerby, Mrs Traill
Workington: Kane, James, Moore, McManus, Parish, Straughton, Johnson, Watchorn, Holliday, Elliott, Tallon
1917-05-26Workington 0
Whitehaven 1
Played at Lonsdale Park, Workington
1917-05-28Derwent Mills 1
Workington Combine 0
Played at Sandair, Cockermouth, raising £100 in aid of the Soldiers' Comforts Fund
Scorer: Pennington
1917-06-09Carlisle 4
Gretna 1
Played at Brunton Park in aid of local War Hospitals.
Scorers: Hall (2, 1 pen), Graham, Redmayne (og) for Carlisle
Carlisle: Arnold, Traill, Bainbridge, Raine, Broadhead, Highland, Housen, Graham, Hall, McHarry, Williamson
Gretna: Redmayne, A. McCartney, F. Perrett, Bulman, J. Daley, O. Gray, E. Wilson, M. Parker, J. Latimer, M. Ferguson, L. Batey
1917-06-16Whitehaven 3
Cockermouth 0
Played on the Cricket Field, Whitehaven, before a large crowd, in aid of the Mayoress's Relief Fund and the Cockermouth Soldiers' Comforts Fund
corer: Wilson (3, 1 pen)
1917-06-23Workington Shell Factory 3
Derwent Munition Girls 1
Played at Workington as part of the 'Alexandra Day' fund-raising event, in aid of the Workington Infirmary and the Workington District Nursing Association
1917-06-30Workington 1
Derwent Mills 0
Played at the Athletic Ground, Maryport, in aid of the Lord Roberts Memorial Workshops. This was the first women's football match seen at Maryport
Scorer: Holliday
1917-07-07Derwent Mills 1
Cleator Mills 0
Played at Cleator in aid of the Cockermouth Sailors' Comforts Fund, and the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial at Cleator and Trumpet Terrace. This was the first women's football match seen at Cleator.
1917-07-14Workington Shell Factory 1
Derwent Mills 2
Played at Lonsdale Park as a continuation of the rain-affected Alexandra Day
1917-07-21Whitehaven Ladies 3
Welsh Fusiliers 2
Women v Men match played at Whitehaven in aid of the Whitehaven and District Discharged Soldiers' and Sailors' Fund
scorers: Whirity, Wilson, Dugune (o.g.) for the ladies; McCue (2) for the soldiers.
1917-07-28Cockermouth 1
Workington 0
Played at the Athletic Ground, Maryport, in aid of the Maryport branch of the Discharged Soldiers' and Sailors' Federation
Scorer: F. Burns
1917-07-28Cleator 2
Seaton 1
Played at Workington, raising £30 for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Comforts Fund
Scorer for Seaton: Peacock
1917-09-08Carlisle 1
Mossband Swifts 1
Played at Brunton Park in aid of the Carlisle Friendless Girls' Association
Scorers: Graham (pen) for Carlisle, McAdo for Mossband
Carlisle (blue and white): Arnot, Traill, Bainbridge, Hyland, Broadhead, Skinner, McHarry, Wiliamson, Howson, Graham, Sowerby
Mossband (khaki and red): McCullock, M. Estell, M. Waters, N. Hulme, A. Riddell (capt. ), L. Veitch, B. Anderson, E. James, M. McAdo, H. Fisher, S. White
1917-08-08Maryport 4
Seaton 0
Played at Maryport raising £24 1s 3d for the Servian Relief Fund.
scorers: Pattinson, Nutter, Davidson, Olive Scott
1917-09-09Cockermouth 0
Whitehaven 1
1917-09-15Seaton 1
Maryport 0
Workington Ladies' Cup R1 tie played at Lonsdale Park, Workington
Scorer: Peacock
1917-09-15Whitehaven 6
Cleator 0
Played on the Cricket Field, Whitehaven, in aid of the Whitehaven and West Cumberland Infirmary
scorers: Wilson (2), Connie Whirity, Cowie + 2 o.g.
1917-09-22Carlisle 1
Whitehaven 2
Played at Brunton Park in aid of the Discharged Soldiers' and Sailors' Association
Scorer for Carlisle: Sowerby
1917-09-29Workington Combine 3
Harrington 0
Workington Ladies' Cup R1 tie played at Workington
scorers: Annie Elliott, M. Wallace (2)
Workington: E. Cooper, M. E. Carruthers, S. Bergamanns, S. E. Madden, A. Elliott, A. Murphy, E. A. Parker, A. Eckersley, M. Wallace, H. Norman, D. A. Rice
Harrington: L Creasey, K. Burns, N, Bewthwaite, E. Scott, H. Elwyck, M. A. Brown, D. Glown, N. Douglas, J. A. Robinson, R. Creasey, G. Townsley
1917-10-06Cockermouth 3
Maryport 1
Played at Laithwaite, Cockermouth, in aid of the Cockermouth YMCA Hut Week
1917-10-06Whitehaven 8
Barrow YMCA 0
Played at Whitehaven in aid of the YMCA Hut Funds
Scorers: Wilson (3, 1 pen), Whirity (3), Lowes, Cunningham
1917-10-13Carlisle Munition Girls 3
Canadian Lumberjacks 2
Women v Men, played at Floriston
1917-10-13Workington Shell Factory 0
Cockermouth 1
Workington Ladies' Cup SF played at Lonsdale Park, Workington
scorer: Pennington
Workington: F. Kane, F. Straughton, D. Moore, B. McManus, E. Holliday, A. Clarke, J. Johnstone, S. Watchorn, E. McKay, D. Armstrong, D. Tallon
Cockermouth: M. Berry, F. Bigrigg, R. A. Holmes, A. Holmes, L. Simon, S. E. Morgan, A. J. Pennington, M. Plaskett, F. Burns, S. Baxter, B. Suart
1917-10-20Carlisle 0
Cockermouth 2
Played at Brunton Park in aid of the local Red Cross hospitals and the Cockermouth Soldiers' Comforts Fund.
1917-10-20Maryport 6
Carlisle Women 1
Played at the Athletic Ground, Maryport in aid of wounded soldiers and sailors
1917-10-20Workington Combine 1
Seaton 3
Workington Ladies' Cup SF played at Lonsdale Park, Workington
scorers: L. Peacock (2), M. Whittaker for Seaton, Mrs Eckersley (pen) for Workington
Workington: E. Cooper, M. A. Carruthers, S. Bergmanns, S. E. Madden, A. Elliott, A. Murphy, E. A. Parker, A. Eckersley, M. Wallace, K. Norman, D. Rice
Seaton: Holmes, Owens, Eckersley, Brown, Allen, Carruthers, Messenger, Casson, Peacock, Whittaker, Brown
1917-10-24Barrow 1
Whitehaven 4
Played at Barrow
1917-10-27Cockermouth 1
Seaton 0
Workington Ladies' Cup Final played at Lonsdale Park, Workington
Scorer: F. Bigrigg (pen)
Cockermouth: M. Berry, F. Bigrigg, K. A. Holmes, A. Holmes, L. Simm, S. E. Morgan, M. Plaskitt, J. A. Pennington, B. Stuart, S. Baxter, F. Burns
Seaton: L. Holmes, F. Eckersley, S. Owens, L. Carruthers, Molly Brown, A. Allen, Mattie Brown, M. Whittaker, L. Peacock, L. Casson, S. Messenger
1917-11-03Workington 3
Carlisle 0
Played at Lonsdale Park in aid of the Red Cross Xmas Gifts Fund
Scorer: S. Watchorn (2), E. McKay
1917-11-24Carlisle 0
Workington 0
Played at Brunton Park in aid of the local VAD Hospitals
1917-12-01Pratchitts Women 1
Pratchitts Apprentices 1
Women versus Men, played at Warwick Road
1917-12-01Armstrong-Whitworth Newcastle 2
Vickers Barrow 1
Played at St James's Park, Newcastle, before 14,000 spectators for the benefit of munitionettes employed at Armstrong-Whitworth's
Scorers: Sarah Cornforth (pen), Bella Willis
Armstrong's: A. Shaw (60 Shop), G. Battista (60 Shop), J. Turnbull (Birtley CCF), R. Cole (60 Shop), B. Willis (60 Shop), N. Innes (58 Shop), I. Spedding (Aviation), E. Fairbairn (57 Shop), S. Cornforth (Birtley CCF), E. Wallace (57 Shop), H. Ruddock (Naval Yard)
1917-12-15Whitehaven 4
Carlisle 0
Played on the Cricket Field, Whitehaven, in aid of the Whitehaven Infirmary and the District Nursing Association
Scorers: Wilson, Whirity (3)
1917-12-22Workington Combine 3
Moss Bay Laboratory Lads 1
Played at Lonsdale Park in aid of the Bankfield Hospital
1917-12-26Carlisle 4
Mossband 1
Played at Brunton Park in aid of the Carlisle Nursing Association
Scorers: Williamson, Sowerby (2), Felton for Carlisle; Fisher for Mossband
1918-01-12Mossband 8
Wounded Soldiers 10
Women versus Men played at Brunton Park in aid of the Comforts Fund of the Fusehill Military Hospital. The soldiers team were from the hospital, which was located in Fusehill Street, Carlisle.
1918-01-12Vickers Barrow 2
Armstrong-Whitworth Newcastle 0
Played at Holker Street, Barrow.
Scorers: L. Parton, A. Bradley
Vickers: J. Percival, G. Tindall, L. Wagstaff, M. Christian, L. Michaelson, S. McClellan, A. Fletcher, W. Bradley, M. Holmes, L. Parton, M. Dickinson
Armstrong's: A. Shaw, G. Battista, J. Turnbull, B. Cole, B. Willis, N. Innes, L. Spedding, E. Fairbairn, S. Cornforth, E. Wallace, H. Ruddock
1918-02-09Barrow Y.W.C.A. 1
Dick, Kerr 1
Played at Barrow
scorers: Beck for Barrow, Rance for Dick, Kerr
1918-02-23Pratchitt's Munition Girls 9
Wounded Soldiers 4
1918-03-02Beardmore's Parkhead 0
Vicker's Barrow 4
Played at Celtic Park, Glasgow, and billed as "Scotland v England"
Scorers: Dickinson (2), Bradley, 1 o.g.
1918-03-09Whitehaven 5
Cleator Mills 0
Played at the Cricket Field, Whitehaven
Scorers: Wilson (3), Lowes, Johnson
1918-03-09Dick, Kerr 2
Barrow Y.W.C.A. 0
Played at Deepdale before 2,000 spectators.
Scorers: Standing, Mitchell
Barrow: Hopley, Rawlinson, Burrows, Watterson, Horsfield, Crook, Harrison, Sadler, Stevens, Morgan, Prince
Dick, Kerr: Clayton, Nixon, Crozier, Birkins, Redford, Traynor, Standing, Hyton, Rance, Mitchell, Jones
1918-03-23Vicker's Barrow 2
Beardmore's Glasgow 2
Played at Barrow before 5,000 spectators
Scorers: Michaelson, Dickinson for Vickers; Devlin, Renwick for Beardmore's
1918-04-01Whitehaven 3
Cockermouth 0
1918-04-01Seaton 5
Barrow 0
Played at Lonsdale Park in aid of the Seaton Heroes' Fund
1918-04-06Vickers Barrow 2
Lancaster 2
Barrow Shield round 1 played at Holker Street.
Scorers: Minto, Harris for Lancaster; Dickinson (2, 1 pen) for Vickers
1918-04-13Whitehaven 1
Lancaster Women 0
Played at the Cricket Field, Whitehaven
Scorer: Wilson
1918-04-20Carlisle Munition Girls 0
Blyth Spartans 3
Played at Brunton Park, Carlisle, in aid of the Carlisle Citizens' League for the Borderers Prisoners of War Fund.
Scorers: Allen, Reay (2)
Carlisle: L. Skinner, Mrs Traill (capt.), P. Broadhouse, M. McAdo, E. Bainbridge, V. Newton, S. White, F. Peel, E. Williamson, E. Sowerby, C. Howson
Spartans: L. James, H. Malone, N. Fairless, A. Sample, M. O'Brien, B. Metcalf (capt.), E.. Jackson, A. Allen, B. Reay, M. Lyons, J. Morgan
1918-05-25Blyth Spartans 5
Carlisle Girls 0
Played at Croft Park, Blyth, in aid of the Blyth War Widows and Orphans Fund; £31 was taken at the gate.
Scorers: Reay (3), Allen, O'Brien
Spartans: L. James, H. Weir, N. Fairless, A. Sample, M. O'Brien, B. Metcalfe (capt.), A. Read, A. Allen, B. Reay, S. Rhodes, J. Morgan
Carlisle: L. Skinner, Mrs Traill (capt.), P. Broadhead, M. McAdo, E. Bainbridge, V. Newton, S. White, F. Peel, E. Williamson, E. Lowry, C. Howson
1918-06-01Whitehaven 5
Barrow 0
Played at Whitehaven
1918-06-08Whitehaven 4
Seaton 0
Played at Lonsdale Park in aid of the Seaton Soldiers' and Sailors' Comforts Fund
1918-09-21Whitehaven 1
Preston (Dick, Kerr) 1
Played at Whitehaven
Scorers: Wilson for Whitehaven, Redford for Preston
1918-10-19Dick, Kerr 0
Whitehaven 2
Played at Deepdale.
Dick, Kerr: Clayton, Traynor, Crozier, Perkins, Kell, McAvoy, Walker, Standing, Redford, Jones, Mitchell
Whitehaven: Cowie, Spedding, Alwood, Robinson, Whirity, Field, Low, Cunningham, Wilson, Walmsley, Milne
scorer: Wilson 2 (1 pen)
1918-11-23Armstrong Whitworths 1
Vickers, Barrow 0
Played at St James's Park before 5,000 spectators in aid of the Armstrong Whitworth's Girls' Benevolent Fund, and to settle the championship between the two, each side having won one of the previous two encounters.
Scorer: Sarah Cornforth
Armstrong's: A. Shaw, G. Battista (60 Shop), J. Turnbull (Birtley C.C.F.), R. Cole (50 Shop), B. Willis (60 Shop), N. Innes (58 Shop), L. Spedding (Aviation), E. Fairbairn (57 Shop), S. Cornforth (Birtley C.C.F.), E. Wallace (57 Shop), H. Ruddock (Naval Yard)
Vickers: J. Percival, L. Wagstaff, L. Michaelson, A. Fletcher, M. Holmes, D. Cookson, M Christian, S. McLellan, W. Bradley, L. Parton, M. Dickinson
1918-11-23Barrow 0
Whitehaven 2
Played at Barrow
1918-12-07Lancaster NPF Girls 3
Barrow (Vicker's) Girls 2
Played at Lancaster
1918-12-16Whitehaven 0
Lancaster 1
Played at Whitehaven; Lancaster fielded Walker of Preston and Dickinson of Vickers
scorer: Harris
1918-12-26Tyneside Munitionettes 3
Whitehaven Munitionettes 0
Played at St. James's Park, Newcastle, before 18,000 spectators.
Scorers: Dorrian, McKenna, Lyons
Tyneside: Sarah Atkinson (N.U.T., South Benwell), Grace Battista (A. W. & Co.), Lizzie Gibson (Palmers), Bella Willis (A. W. & Co. and Prudhoe), Cissie Short (A. W. & Co.), Lizzie Form (Palmers), Mary Dorrian (Brown's West Hartlepool), Winnie McKenna (South Bank), Bella Reay (Blyth Spartans), Mary Lyons (Palmers), Minnie Seed (Sunderland).
Whitehaven:Kitty Cowie, May Elwood, Cissie Spedding, Ida Robinson, Winnie Whirity (capt.), Gladys Field, Elsie Lowes, Maggie Cunningham, Vera Wilson, Mary Milne.
1919-01-18Whitehaven Ladies 1
Tyneside Ladies 1
Played at Whitehaven before a crowd of 5-6,000. Whitehaven fielded Hastie and Walmsley of Lancaster
scorers: Reay for Tyneside, Wilson for Whitehaven
Tyneside: Sarah Atkinson (N.U.T., South Benwell), Grace Battista (A. W. & Co.), Lizzie Gibson (Palmers), Bella Willis (A. W. & Co. and Prudhoe), Cissie Short (A. W. & Co.), Lizzie Form (Palmers), Beattie Taylor (Palmers), Winnie McKenna (South Bank), Bella Reay (Blyth Spartans), Mary Lyons (Palmers), Minnie Seed (Sunderland).

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