I first encountered the AEWHA (Hockey) Collection in 2012, as I embarked on the second year of my part-time MA in Sport History and Culture at De Montfort University. Knowing that I wanted to research some aspect of women’s hockey for my dissertation, I began looking for my topic among the minute books, press cuttings, handbooks, club lists, photographs and scrapbooks held in the archive.
While browsing through the All England Women’s Hockey Association (AEWHA) AGM minutes for 1952, I came across a reference to a fundraising target of £12,000, which the governing body wanted its members to achieve so it could host the International Federation of Women’s Hockey Associations (IFWHA) Conference and Tournament in Folkestone in 1953. This struck me as a huge amount of money for an amateur sports organisation to want to raise, particularly so soon after the end of World War II and at a time when Britain was still experiencing rationing. I had also never heard of the IFWHA event in Folkestone, so was intrigued to find out on what the AEWHA wanted to spend so much money.
From 1930, the IFWHA organised triennial tournaments that were considered world championships of the sport - although, until 1975, there were no official winners and no trophies were presented. The AEWHA had been due to host the 1939 edition in Bournemouth, but its plans had to be shelved when war broke out in Europe. Folkestone 1953 was the second post-war tournament to be held - after South Africa 1950 - and the first to be staged in England. From 30 September to 10 October 1953, 16 international teams played 48 games over six days, in what was described by contemporaneous media as ‘the largest ever gathering of international women hockey players’.
The nugget of information I found in the AGM minutes held at Bath led me to write ‘The Game is the Thing’: Amateurism, the English and the 1953 IFWHA Tournament in Folkestone - an account of the event and the amateur ideals that influenced both its organisation and its execution. It was awarded the Michael Cockayne Prize for the best MA dissertation in sports history for the 2012/13 academic year by De Montfort University.
I continue to make use of the archive, and of archivist Lizzie Richmond’s expertise, for my doctoral research. This is examining the relationship between the AEWHA – which did not allow its members to play in competitions or for cups – and the many leagues that emerged in England from 1910. In addition to its AGM and Council minutes, the AEWHA club lists have proved extremely valuable in showing that some teams dissented from the governing body’s extreme amateur position by leaving to play in leagues and for trophies.
The history of women’s hockey is a very under-researched subject, so there are certainly many more nuggets within the archive waiting to be found.