Blackheath Hockey Club – The First 100 years
The following history was compiled in 1961 for the Centenary celebrations, by A.P. Hodgson, M.A., to whom the Club is indebted.
From the very earliest times it seems to have been one of man’s vices to hit a round, oblong or oval object with a stick. The Greeks, the Red Indians, the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons had their own methods which had certain features in common whether the game was called Bandy Ball, Hurley, Hockie or merely consisted of scooping mud at your opponent in lieu of a ball. There is ample evidence that a form of Hockey was played was played in Feudal times (it was proscribed under Richard II, £20 fine and three years imprisonment for playing), it was a crime to play on Sundays in Cromwell’s England and the French called it La Crosse although it was played on the ground.
It is clear that the Blackheath Football and Hockey club were playing on the heath in the 1840′s. The minute book of 1861 (the club’s earliest surviving written record) shows that the subscription went from 5/- to 7/6d and refers to the retiring secretary, Mr R. O’Neile. In fact the football (or rugby football as it was to become known), Hockey and Golf all played close together, the last two being too close for comfort. The rules of all three bore no resemblance whatsoever to their present day successors but it is curious that Blackheath should give birth to the oldest surviving independent club in each game. It was not until October 1864, as the minutes make quite clear, that the Hockey and Football clubs became separate entities after earlier attempts to do so in 1862 and 1863. In fact it is evident that after the reconstitution of the club in 1861 with Colonel Hillyard as President and T.A. Raynes as Secretary and 33 original members, Hockey and Football were still played on the same day by the same club. The link that both sections had with the Blackheath Proprietory School remained until after the turn of the century but neither club hereafter confined its membership to Old Boys of the School as they had done since the 1840′s.
Then, as now, the game that Blackheath played bore occasional resemblance to other peoples. The club played on the heath by the All Saints church next to Montpelier C.C. and the game started when ten people were present. A sack containing about 35 caps, red one side and blue the other (hence the club colours today) was produced from the “Princess of Wales”, and as more people arrived they joined in. The pitch was at least 180 yards long, 60 to 70 yards wide and the goal was 10 yards wide; there were no nets and a good surface was unnecessary. Teams were fifteen a side; a goalkeeper, two backs, two three quarter backs, three half backs and seven forwards and the ball was a cube of solid rubber “not to exceed 7 oz in weight” which had frequently to be boiled to keep it elastic. Sticks were made of oak bent by steam with a flat back, originally both sides of the stick could be used. Within a remarkably short time however certain rules were introduced which have a modern flavour. In 1863 “Left handed hitting and throwing of sticks to be prohibited”; “that the hands and legs should not be used for stopping the ball at Hockey (goal keepers excepted)”, this rule was later rescinded. In 1864 a player “shall not loiter between the halfway flag and the goal of the opposite side unless the ball be between him and the opponents goal”. So by 1864 there was an offside rule, no feet and hitting with one side of the stick only; there was also a roll in and a hit out.
With a subscription of 7/6d a year the club and its game proved popular. By the end of 1861 there were 89 members and the average until 1875 was over 100. A club supper was first held in 1863 and a Dinner, 11/- for seven courses, in 1874: matches were played between 15 boys and masters of the Proprietory School and the annual sports meeting at Westcombe Park proved very successful although the 60 yards hop had to be abandoned through lack of competitors. But difficulties began to arise. As early as 1863 thirteen members had not paid their subscriptions; a Mr Holmwood refused to obey the rules; the Metropolitan Board refused to cut the grass and the Blackheath tent was used as a target by the golfers. “Our committee think we might with reason ask you next season to move your golf hole considering the inconvenience to both clubs and the danger to ours”. More important was the fact that in 1875 on membership started to decline until in the 1880′s it was down to thirty. For Blackheath the problem was whether to stick to its own rules or join the clubs founding the first Hockey Association.
In 1875 a challenge to a match was received from the East Surrey and Sutton Clubs. Both were refused by Blackheath “Our game being so totally at variance with that adopted elsewhere” and for the same reason the club declined to join the first rather short lived Hockey Association. An exchange of rules took place with East Surrey whose rule number 9 stated “No goal shall be scored if the ball be hit from a distance of more than 15 yards from the nearest goalpost” – the first circle ? In the same year an invitation to play the Bristol H.C. was accepted if found possible and two years later, 1877, a game was arranged with Surbiton H.C. but the details of the contest are not recorded.
In common with other clubs the 1880′s appear to have been a difficult period. The subscription went up to 10/6d, attendance at the Annual General Meeting was down to 6 in 1886 when there were only 26 members in the club. But the foundation of the Hockey Association in 1886 gave new life for with nine other clubs, mostly from the West, the club founded the National Hockey Union “with the object of playing and extending the Blackheath game”. Although Blackheath’s support was crucial to the Union which did well for two or three years, the club did not play many matches and its main connection was the Bristol Hockey Club against whom 16 games were played between 1875 and 1893; each club won 6 games and 4 were drawn. Mr Ashmead who played for Bristol in those days well remembered “Mr Yoeman of Blackheath H.C. who was one of the roughest players with whom I have ever come into contact”. Mr Yoeman is still an Honorary member of Blackheath. However as early as 1890 a movement was started to join the Hockey Association and when the L.C.C. interfered with the ground on the heath the club withdrew from the Union in 1894. The following year the Union was dissolved and the sum of 25/- was passed to the Western Counties Hockey Association.
On the 13th September 1894 a meeting was called and opened by Mr H.F. Witherby “for the reconstruction of this club under Association rules”. Some old members were present and many new ones, continuity was to be preserved not only in membership but in club colours and in the subscription.
For the next few years the club struggled. Not only did the players have to adapt themselves to some different rules but there was no ground and little money. For the season 1894/95 the club played on the heath, played away or borrowed the Royal Observatory pitch. The following season the Kidbrooke Lawn Tennis club ground in Harvey Road was rented and used until 1914. Use was also made of the XL club pavilion and the ground next door and a groundsman, Puttock, who was paid £4 a month, a sum which was to include the provision of tea. The financial situation was solved by the generosity of individuals who twice provided a guarantee fund of £21 which had to be used. Only 13 games were played in the first season, 3 were won and 10 lost and this was mostly against 3rd XI sides from such clubs as Bromley and Surbiton. However the Hawks 1st XI was played – “Blackheath playing a good uphill game only once managed to get near their opponents goal” – lost 6-0. But things quickly improved. By the following season the club had a 2nd XI which played in “cloth cap (Red and Blue), stockings, knickers and shirts with no braces”. The results against other 1st XIs in 1897/8 were – played 29. Won 16. lost 8. Drawn 5. Goals for 84, against 55. In the following year both Cambridge University and Surbiton were beaten. In 1898 a merger was made with the Kidbrooke Hockey Club and four teams were run; a number that was increased to seven (one mid week) at the turn of the century. This healthy state of affairs was due almost entirely to the work of J. Nicholson-Smith and P.A. Robson.
Nicholson-Smith played under Union rules and was largely responsible for the club joining the Hockey Association. He captained the 1st XI, was the first secretary of the Kent H.A. and with P.A. Robson, was responsible for many changes in the H.A. rules. From this time club records are very well kept, photographs, all correspondence, match reports and results all entered in scrapbook form. As Chairman he was responsible for a committee meeting “held on Sat. Dec. 12 in a L. and S.W. railway carriage (no. 900)”. With Robson he not only made Blackheath an effective hockey side well able to hold its own but also did much research into the origins of the game. Both played a considerable role in the development of the game as we know it. They were followed as captain of the first XI by H.M. Tennant who was from Oxford University, Hon. Sec. of the Hockey Association and founded the Occasionals v Wanderers games which still take place. These three assisted by the patronage (and occasionally the presence on the field) of S. Cristopherson turned the club into a flourishing concern. Seven of the Cristopherson family (four of whom were members) played in a match against the club in 1896 when S. Cristopherson became a Vice President.
That the club was flourishing up to 1914 is certain. By 1898 eleven members had played for Kent and one loses count thereafter, Raikes, Beasley and later W.F. Smith (who afterwards played for Beckenham) all got international caps. A tour of the Midlands took place from the beginning of the century and in 1913 the club went to Folkestone where they played the Racing Club de France and Berlin. A club dinner at the Holborn restaurant was well attended; for 5/- (wines and cigars extra) the menu ran :
Soup. Sicilienne. Consomme Imperatrice.
Fish. Turbot and Lobster sauce. Whitebait.
Entrees. Grenadin of Veal aux legumes. Spring Chicken.
Removes. Rib of beef and Horse radish sauce. Quarter of lamb and mince sauce.
Roast. Duckling and watercress.
Sweets. Various. Cheese and Coffee.
Further proof of the enterprise of these men is afforded by the construction of a new pavilion for £85, and the draining of one of the pitches for £6.10.0. The new pavilion was completed in 1909 and paid for with the help of H.M. Tennant who arranged concerts and other entertainment to raise the money. A brake was employed to carry visiting teams from the Blackheath station to the ground and the Blackheath Ladies Club, founded in 1896, played to the outbreak of the war and presumably added to the amenities.
Play ceased during the 1914-18 war and after it the club probably took longer than any other London club to get started. It was not until 13 October 1925 that the first general meeting was held. The prime movers were again Robson and Nicholson-Smith who both played in the first season. Robson stuck to tradition, if not rule whereby, if you got your feet or body in the way he just hit you with the stick. They were helped by the Rev. Canon F.H. Gillingham (the cricketer) who became the first Captain of the Club and J.A.W. Griffiths who was secretary from 1925 until his death in 1929. He also captained the first XI which played in the first season 1925/26, 13 games on the Strathedene House school ground in Harvey Road. The next season got properly underway with a weak but full fixture list under the captaincy of A.D.S. Pasley. The club was singularly fortunate in the men who joined at this time. Apart from the secretary the new Captain ran the first XI until 1934 when he became Captain of the Club until 1952. He also ran the second XI until 1939. His record of service is equaled by that of R.K. Keller M.C. who joined in 1926, was Vice Captain of the first XI until 1931, was Team Secretary for 21 years from 1930 to 1951 when he became publicity officer, was Captain of the newly created 5th XI in 1957 and is still on the committee. His activities for Kent (and elsewhere) need no comment!
The main problem facing the new officers was where to play. From 1926/27 use was made of the Brooklands ground in Blackheath Park, but though the surface was very good it was rented from Chiesmans in Southwood Road, New Eltham. The first match there was disastrous. On arrival an open drain was discovered which stretched across the ground creating a hazard even for long jump artists – local rules had to be employed. The next week there was a ridge requiring the vertical technique. No changing accommodation led the club back to the pre-war ground in Harvey Road which was rented from A.G. Harvey in 1929 making use of some huts (pre-war) and the XL club pavilion. There was no lease and no security of tenure apart from a gentleman’s agreement with Mr. Harvey.
In the 1930′s the club slowly came into its own once more. It took until 1934 to get a strong fixture list but by that time Dulwich, Hampstead, Old Kingstonians, Surbiton, Teddington, Bromley, Richmond and Oxford University were being played. Three XIs were run in 1928 (one playing on the heath “adjoining the Hare and Billet”) and by 1935 there were six XIs and over 70 playing members. Changing accommodation remained the great difficulty – in one season use had to be made of a member’s house and garden (Dr Haydon-Jones), the club therefore decided to build its own pavilion which was ready by 1934 at a cost of £443. The final repayments on this sum were paid out of money from the War Damage Commission as the pavilion was destroyed in 1940. The pre-war years were good. The club dinner of 1934 did £4 worth of damage to crockery in Anderton’s Hotel; the team at the Worthing Festival sounds familiar – “the team was not a strong one but was socially a great success” – three were lost and one drawn. In 1936 the club dinner was presided over by S. Cristopherson “and no less than six past England captains sat down under him”; the club usually won more than it lost, in 1937/38 the results were; Played 142. Won 83. Drawn 36. Lost 23. Goals for – 501 and against 306. The good results were due to the Captains, Pasley and M.E.A. Robson (a son), and to Albert Angear who first played for Wales in 1934 and was still playing hockey in 1958 when he became Captain, as he still is, of the third XI. But the results of the club as well as its very survival after the 1939/45 war were in large measure the work of H.J. Robins. Joining in 1928 by 1936 he had scored 324 goals, Captain of the 1st XI for 18 years from 1936 – 1954 when he became Captain of the Club, he saw Blackheath through a most difficult period which lasted until their arrival at Forest Hill in 1952.
At the outbreak of the war the secretary J.A.W. Griffiths died and negotiations for the renewal of the ground appeared to be failing. In spite of this a side was run continuously throughout the war. For the season 1939/40 the R.A.F. took over the pavilion (for 11/6 a week) and a Cooks Depot dug trenches on the second XI pitch leaving the use of one. In the Blitz the pavilion was destroyed and the ground rendered useless by bombing and so for the following season the Woolwich Polytechnic ground was used, sixteen games in all being played. The next year saw the club playing in the Royal Naval College ground and the introduction of many guest players as it was proving hard to raise a side. From 1942 to 1945 play was resumed on the Harvey ground but the lease was not renewed at the end of the war so use was made once again of the College ground and two teams were run in 1945/46. To keep the club alive and a side in the field in the war was an act of faith as well as a considerable administrative feat. H.D. Greenwood (the new secretary who bore the brunt), D. Haydon-Jones and H.C. Care, the treasurer, all deserve mention.
The club had need of its good officers from 1945. The search for a new ground led it away from Blackheath for the first time to share with the Sidcup C.C. Fixture list apart things did not look too bright for the future as the pavilion was highly unsatisfactory, having no lighting, heating or hot water, the bar arrangements were poor and the pitches just de-requisitioned from the Army. A lot of self-help, a club draw, individual donations and finally money from the War Damage Commission enabled debts to be paid off, extensions made and electricity brought to the pavilion. The next year year the boiler burst and the roof burnt. As it proved difficult to get a reasonable lease negotiations were opened with Forest Hill C.C. who were getting underway once more and eventually an offer of a six year lease for the 1952/53 season was accepted and the move made. Three pitches and a better pavilion making a better prospect for the future.
For all that has gone before it is possible that the years since the club arrived at Forest Hill have been its most successful for they include :- the foundation of the 1961 club in 1956, which not only raised funds for the present celebrations but provided a means of linking past and present members. Out of a membership of eighty, fifty-eight are non playing members. These years include the purchase of the ground a joint effort with the Forest Hill C.C., so that for the first time in its history Blackheath has a permanent base of its own. The ground cost £8,250 for which grants of £3,250 and loans of £800 were obtained. Of the balance of £4,200 Blackheath raised £2,300 and Forest Hill the remainder. The purchase was completed in 1959 and the process of repayment of loans has already begun. The years include a period when the standard of hockey high and the results good. They include a period when the club’s social activities and hospitality have been eminently satisfactory.
Once again it is the officers of the club to whom it is indebted. Fortunate in its choice of President in 1945, General Sir Leslie Hollis K.C.B., K.B.E. who played in the inter war years, there is little doubt that the main credit for survival at Sidcup and endeavour at Forest Hill must go to the secretary J.F.S. Halliwell. Joining in the same season as the President, 1931/32, he was one of those who kept the club going in the war years, as secretary from 1945 to present day he kept the club alive at Sidcup, founded the 1861 Club, was largely responsible for Blackheath’s share in negociations for the buying of the ground and has tendered his resignation annually since 1953 at least. Without his persistence, optimism and clear sightedness the club would not be in its present promising position. To people like him and the present Team secretary, H.G. Webber, who has played a vital role in all relations with Forest Hill and is now a Trustee, and the present Match secretary, Bill King, everything is owed.
The playing strength and the ability of the teams has also improved since the arrival at Forest Hill. R.H. Nutall and R.Sutton both achieved International caps. Five teams were run from 1955, six from 1958 as well as the Outcasts Sunday XI and the number of new members has had to be limited. Good relations with London House have proved of infinite value, for a steady stream of New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans have enriched the club. For two or more seasons representatives of Belgium, Germany, France, Pakistan as well as the normal contingent of English, Anglo/Indians, Scots, Welsh and the inevitable Irish have played : stretching a point or two, in one first XI match there were representatives of eight different nations. The responsibility for keeping this together, indeed for getting them together, and turning them into a team and a club has largely been D. Sloanes’, the present Captain of the Club. His reward as Blackheath’s foremost ambassador in Hockey was to escort a reinforced first XI to Brussels one Whitsun, where his own performance on the field surprised even himself and a new Entente Cordiale was cemented. It was his further privilege to wine and dine the officers and the first XI on St. Patrick’s night 1961 for defeating both Universities.
Over a hundred years the club has played on at least nine different grounds, built two and a half pavilions, reconstituted itself three times and has finally bought its own ground and premises. In periods of difficulty there have always been sufficient past members and new hopes, generous donors and good club members to rise to the occasion, but it must be something of a surprise that a club as peripatetic as Blackheath has survived. It has not produced a long list of International caps, some five or six so far as is known and has just provided its quota of Divisional and County players. Its strength, like that of any other club has lain in the loyalty and long service of its members.
These pages tell of a club with an entertaining, provocative and at times chequered existence. An enthusiastic group of Blackheath School Old Boys set it on its course and in the hundred years or more of its life the number of men who have played for the club, enjoyed it and criticised it must be legion. Today the club inspired by the traditions of its forbears and very proud of its hundred years, wishes to pay tribute and honour the founders, and to the game it represents by the celebrations of 1961