Neston & District Hockey Club 1900

by James Ormandy

[James Ormandy is a volunteer researcher at the Hockey Museum in Woking The article first appeared in Chester Hockey Club programme for the 2015 Wirral Cup which celebrated the contribution made by Chester & Wirral hockey players in WW1.]

Neston South Wirral Hockey Club currently traces its beginnings to 1963 when Neston Hockey Club  was formed but another hockey team played for one season in 1900-1 at the cricket club at Parkgate.

Chester Courant, 3rd October 1900

Chester Courant, 3rd October 1900

Dr Harry Martindale Speechly, the cricket club’s founder member, started a hockey club in September 1900 with a group of fellow cricketers. Speechley was at first the captain and the secretary. The ground was on a portion of the cricket field that had been prepared the previous year for Parkgate Ladies HC. The team was known as Neston & District Hockey Club. Seemingly, its first match was away versus Huyton’s 2nd XI ending in victory with Andrew Barrett, Speechly’s brother in law, scoring the first two goals in the first half. The game finished 4-2 with Joseph Arthur Pemberton and John Austen Hubback, who was to prove to be one of their star players, scoring in the second half.

Their heaviest defeat, 10-3 in October, was to another new club, Hoole Hockey Club of Chester who achieved their first ever victory at the Roodee. In November they played Formby, another relatively new club, Barrett scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory. The game was spoilt “as both sides erred badly in “sticks” and deserved the severe treatment meted out to them by Mr. Harold Gill, the referee, who blew the whistle firmly and often”. The young Harold (16), an engineering student, had played in the first game but had broken his leg and was now the umpire or as in those days the referee. Harold, the son of a rich cotton broker, opted to spend his life shooting on the Dee estuary becoming the last ever professional wildfowler on the Dee. Harold spent WW1 serving in the Royal Engineers rising from 2nd Lieutenant to Captain.

The return fixture against Hoole in December was played on “a clear mild day without wind, a good ground, an impartial referee, and two sides keen in friendly rivalry” and it proved to be a closer affair as Neston were 2-1 with goals from Barrett and Tyler at half time. They were 3-1 up thanks to another goal from Barrett only to concede three goals with Hoole winning 4-3 though “they were lucky in having one goal kicked through for them.” Games against Oxton’s 2nd XI were also close affairs and the second game at Parkgate resulted in a win 4-2 despite the captain Geoffrey Frost having to play in goal because he had a sprained ankle. Nevertheless, Barrett was on form scoring a hat trick in the first half. Andrew Barrett was a cotton salesman whose career mirrored the fortunes of the UK cotton industry which went into a downward freefall in the 1920s and Barrett ended up filing for bankruptcy in 1927. Barrett was ably supported that day by Joseph A. Pemberton who joined the new territorial battalion of the Cheshire regiment based in Birkenhead before rising to a position of Major at the outset of the war. The 4th (territorial) battalion of the regiment underwent a long period of training before departing for Gallipoli as part of the 159th brigade landing at Sulva Bay in August 1915 where they incurred heavy losses retreating eventually to Mudros in December with only some 15% of the brigade left fit for action. They spent nearly three years in the Middle East fighting in Egypt, Palestine and Iraq. Pemberton was promoted to Lt Colonel and was in charge of the battalion for two periods in 1915 and 1917. He was mentioned in dispatches twice. The battalion moved to France in June 1918 to take part in the final push for victory eventually reaching and occupying Cologne.

Neston’s first season had been successful with the team holding their own against the second tier clubs in the North West. Their last game took place on Easter Monday against Northern 2nd XI losing 4-3 in a fast and exciting game. This brought to a close to the season when they had played 22 games. Out of the 22 matches they won 14, lost 7, and drawn 1, scoring 96 goals against 65. The team suffered heavy defeat on two occasions only, and then had to play with nine men for some considerable part of both games. On four occasions the Neston men played with only ten men, but won on each of those four occasions. Somewhat critical commentary in the local newspaper gives an insight to the club’s problems:

It has been found impossible to rely on a regular set of players for Saturdays, but besides the captain; A. Barrett, T. James and A. C. Partridge have been regular and reliable players. A. Barrett is a very brilliant centre-forward, fast and accurate in shooting: he has scored most of the goals and would shine in any team. Captain Tyler and E. H. Vines, when available, have done great service as wing forwards, being speedy, and centring well. H. Gill works hard, but will never make a good player until he uses his stick with both hands in the proper way. Partridge has also been a regular player at back or in goal, good at times, but is uncertain and wants to be quicker on the ball. A. Pemberton, if rather slow, has the making of a good back, as he can hit with much power. J. A. Hubback, when down from Cambridge, has been both brilliant and versatile, but is not often available. T. James has done a lot of hard, useful work, at half-back principally, and has always supported the team loyally through the season he is rather given to one-nausea play, which spoils his hitting now and again. However, one season does not make a team of novices satisfy all the requirements of the critics, home or foreign. Messrs. H. Coventry and Harold Gill have very kindly refereed on many occasions. It cannot be too persistently urged on all the players of this really good game that they should observe the rules and eliminate as much of the risky element as possible by cultivating strokes free from “sticks” and “under- cutting,” the faults of bad players.

Players known to have played that year were: G. Frost (capt); W.H. Jewitt; Harold Gill; John A Hubback; H. Ormerod; Thomas A Jennings; Capt.Tyler; Jackson; J. A. Pemberton; Andrew Barrett (captain from January), T. James, E.H. Vines, A.C. Partridge and Dr H. M. Speechly. So why did they collapse?
Like many clubs of the time, they appeared for season or two before collapsing even Hoole HC with its 30 members in its first season collapsed after two seasons and similar fate was faced by Chester Wanderers in 1897. At Neston, the captain Geoffrey Frost joined the Imperial Yeomanry at the end of January and was soon off to fight in the Boer War along with W. H. Jewitt. Volunteering for the war probably also prevented others from joining. In the summer of 1901 they lost their three best players. Dr Harry M Speechly, the founder member and organiser of both the cricket and hockey clubs, who at the age of 34, left in July aboard SS Parisian for a new life in Canada settling in Pilot Mound, Manitoba. He returned in 1916 to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps at the Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital at Fleet Hampshire where he was awarded the Red Cross medal for meritorious service. He returned after the war to Canada settling in Winnipeg becoming the provincial coroner and was famous for his work on solving the mosquito problem of the province. Speechly’s brother in law Andrew Barrett joined Bebington HC and soon appeared for Cheshire in 1904 but he continued to play cricket at Neston captaining the team and playing in the last game before the war against Oxton in August 1914.
Their star full back John Austen Hubback, a distant relative of Jane Austen, had passed his Indian Civil Service examination and was heading off to Bengal. John had arrived back on the Wirral the previous summer having been schooled at Winchester and graduating in Mathematics from Kings College Cambridge University. John enjoyed a successful career in the Indian Civil Service receiving a knighthood in 1933. Sir John A. Hubback was to go on to become the Governor of Orissa when it became a separate province in 1936.

This was a period in British history were well educated young men often went out into the British Empire to seek their fame and fortune. The captain Geoffrey Frost had moved from the Boer War to business in Karachi before returning to fight in WW1 where he rose from Lieutenant to Major alongside Pemberton in the 4th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment with both being lucky to survive unlike Frost’s brother Evelyn who lost his life at Gallipoli.
Dr. Speechly had been keen to develop hockey at Parkgate the ground had been loaned to the Ladies Hockey Association to host the Lancashire v Cheshire and North v Midlands games drawing large crowds. He had organised the hockey team throughout the season and his departure was probably the crucial factor in the demise of the hockey section.

Like most hockey clubs, Neston had relied on a couple of players who voluntarily organised the team and who had now departed thereby leading to a gap of over 60 years before hockey players would once again grace the grass at Parkgate

[For a history of the Neston South Wirral Hockey Club since 1963 see pages on the Neston and South Wirral Hockey Club website–honours.html and–honours.html ]