Epsom Hockey Club and its history

Hockey was first played at Epsom around the turn of the century, but so far it has not been possible to trace details of the original club and its fixtures, partly because some years ago a fire at the Advertiser’s offices destroyed all the oldest newspapers.

By the season 1909/1910 a full fixture list was being played. Home games were played on the Recreation Ground, now known as Court Recreation Ground. Among the opponents were Bellvue, Croydon MO, Dorking, Dulwich, Horsham, Kingston Grammar School, London & County Bank, Malden, Merton, Spencer, Vagabonds, Wallington and Wimbledon. In some cases, such as Merton, Spencer and Wallington, Epsom played the second or third elevens of the opposing clubs.

Before the outbreak of the First War there was a second club in the borough called Epsom & Ewell, perhaps even older than Epsom, because a match between the two clubs on April 7, 1911, resulted in a win for Epsom & Ewell by 9-2. Epsom became known as Epsom Town, probably to differentiate itself from the other Epsom club.

Fixtures were discontinued during the War, but in the winter of 1921/1922 a few stalwarts, including N. Puch who had played for Epsom before the War, started playing some informal mixed games on Alexandra Recreation Ground. Following a meeting which was held in the old Epsom Public Hall, the club was revived at Epsom Town Hockey Club in 1922/1923. There were three elevens and 41 members, and in its first season the first eleven scored 153 goals in 29 matches, 75 being scored by S.M. Goldsmith. The first President was the fifth Earl of Rosebery, a former Prime Minister. The club rented the Woodcote Road ground from Epsom Cricket Club, which had already been in existence for well over 100 years.

Unbeknown to the organisers of the Epsom Town club when they advertised their meeting, there was a second club in the town called Epsom Hockey Club. A match was arranged between the two clubs, Epsom Town winning 4-0, and by the end of the season the rival club had been disbanded. This enabled Epsom Town henceforth to adopt the name of Epsom Hockey Club. By 1926/1927 there were four teams and 65 members with an average age of 21. There was also a Wednesday team, which was augmented by players from other clubs, and in 1927 there was even a fifth eleven, known as the B eleven.

In the 1930’s Epsom had one of the strongest fixtures lists in Surrey, playing against Barnes, Beckenham, Bromley, Cheam, Dulwich, Hawks, NPL, Surbiton, Tonbridge, Tulse Hill and the Banks, usually home and away. This phase was brought to an end by the Second World War which caused a seven year gap from 1939 until 1946.

Nevertheless in October 1946, through the efforts of Alan Pratley, Maurice Hooper, Jack Williams and Gordon Mills, the Club was revived once again with two men’s teams.  It was a tough revival because of the hard winter, with only 14 fixtures playable. Snow and frost caused the cancellation of four games in November and for nine weeks’ running during January, February and March the ground was covered with snow. In the post-War years the Club grew steadily in playing membership, and in the 1960’s an Annual Summer Fair was organised by Richard Smith to raise money for a new pavilion to replace the old bar/changing rooms and the tea hut which had stood for 50 years. The new pavilion, when built in 1964/1965, together with a proper concrete roadway from the gate, was successful in attracting more new members and by the season 1966/1967 there were seven men’s teams. At the peak in 1980/1981 eight men’s teams were fielded on a regular basis.

Extra pitches were required for home games and from 1962/1963 Alexandra Recreation Ground, which had been used for some home games before the War, became regular venue for the lower elevens. By 1968/1969 an additional windswept pitch at Priest Hill Playing Fields, Ewell, was being used as well.

However, the development of League hockey created a requirement that matches be played on an ‘Astroturf’ surface, and Epsom began playing ‘home’ games at Old Walcountians ground in Woodmansterne, the first such pitch in the area, in the area, in the 1989/1990 season. As new Astroturf pitches were laid, Epsom, also began playing home matches at Rose Hill, Sutton, from 1990/1991, at Epsom College from 1993/1994 and at North Cheam from 1994/1995. This allowed the Club to give up playing on the never popular Priest Hill Playing fields, where a second smaller pitch had been acquired for a ladies’ eleven, in 1991 and at the Alexandra Recreation Ground in 1993. The use of Old Walcountians’ ground was also discontinued in 1994,but started in 1996 when the North Cheam pitch became unavailable.

A Sunday side played occasionally in the inter-War years, but a regular Sunday side called the Gypsies was started in 1950. From 1982/1983 there were two Gypsies elevens, but mixed hockey gradually took over the Sunday scene and the Gypsies was discontinued after the 1987/1988 season. Beginning in 1959/1960 and by 1983/1984 there we.re three mixed reams, playing as the Rabelasians, the Elite and the Musketeers. Although the Musketeers was dropped after 1987/1988 and the Rabelasians and the Elite were disbanded after 1990/1991, an Epsom team won the Surrey Mixed Plate in 1991/1992. The names Elite and Rabelasians were revived in 1994/1995 and in the following year the Elite reached the final stages of the National cup. This success was repeated m 1996/1997 when they reached the semi-final of the National Mixed Plate.

Another introduction in the post-War years was Summer hockey, which was started by Epsom players in 1956. In 1958, on the prompting of lvan Ackroyd, they formed the Sundowners, which became and affiliated club, playing home games first at St. Ebba’s Hospital and later at Alexander Recreation Ground. However, the team became increasingly comprised of non-Epsom members and from 1962 Epsom raised its own summer elevens again. From 1974 there have been three Epsom summer teams in most years, the first and second elevens competing in summer leagues.

Epsom was one of the first clubs to start veterans’ hockey for the over 35 ‘s, beginning as Epsom 3B in the 1973/1974 season. For the next two years the team was called the Veterans, but in 1976 it adopted the name of the Vagabonds. A second, younger veterans teams, known as the Embers, was formed in 1974/1975 to take part in the Wessex Masters Veterans League and it also joined a summer evening veterans league.

In 1989 on the initiative of Arthur and Sheila Wadsworth a few junior coaching sessions were organised on Sunday mornings. By the following season, 1989/1990, a full programme of junior coaching was arranged for alternate Sunday mornings at the Woodcote Road ground. It was not long before Epsom, with a strong contingent from City of London Freemen’s School, Ashtead, was competing in the Southern Counties Under-16 and Under-18 Girls’ Leagues as well as in various tournaments. In 1995 the coaching sessions were moved from Woodcote Road to the new Astroturf surface at Court Recreation Ground and split into two – for the under 14’s and over 14’s.

By 1996/1997 Epsom was putting out eleven teams every Saturday, including four ladies’ elevens, nine of them playing in league s, and two mixed teams on a Sunday, as well as midweek and junior elevens.

The Club’s records show that the only occasion when one of its sides went through a season unbeaten was in 1967I l 968, when the fifth eleven, under the captaincy of Richard Bligh, played 22 games, winning 20 and drawing twice. The side played to a system, unusual at the time, with only three forwards, but the goal tally was 81 for and 14 against.

Epsom in the league

League hockey was started in the London area in 1969 and Epsom joined Surrey Division 1 of the Truman South League when it was formed for the 1972/1973 season. In 1973/1974 Epsom were relegated to Division 2, but they soon bounced back in 1975/1976, winning eleven games out of eleven in Surrey Division 2 under the captaincy of Mike Mulligan, and they were duly promoted to Surrey Division 1. After five seasons in Surrey Division 1, Epsom won the league with 12 wins and a draw thus gained promotion to the Surrey/Hampshire Regional League for the 1981/1982 season. In the following season Epsom reached the semi-final of the Surrey Cup. The best performance so far attained in the Surrey/Hampshire League was third in 1983/1984 under the captaincy of Bob Gill.

The second eleven began league hockey in 1981/1982 and the third eleven in 1989/1990. By 1995/1996 the first elevens were all playing league hockey, either in the Surrey/Hampshire Regional League or in the Surrey Open League.

Epsom Ladies

Although there are records of ladies’ hockey at Epsom as far back as 1922, when their opponents were Cheam, Epsom Ladies started as an affiliated section during the 1956/1957 season, with a first practice game on December 16, 1956. They began by playing away fixtures on Sundays, but they became fully integrated with a full Saturday fixture list by 1958/1959. A mixed team on Sundays was formed in the following season. A second ladies’ team was added in 1962/1963 and by 1976 there were four ladies’ elevens. Epsom Ladies first played league hockey in 1984/1985 in Surrey Division 1, but they were relegated to Division 2 in 1986/1987. They won back promotion to the Premier Division of the Surrey League in 1987/1988, winning eight and drawing one of their nine matches. They also won the Surrey Club Championship in that season.

The ladies’ second eleven began league hockey in 1988 in the Surrey Ladies Second Eleven League Division 2 and, upon coming second, they were immediately promoted to Division 1. The Surrey leagues were later reorganised and in 1994/1995 the second eleven found themselves in Division 6 of the Surrey League and the third eleven, who started league hockey in 1991, in Division 7. However, the second eleven won promotion in successive seasons, 1994/1995, 1995/1996 and 1996/1997 to reach Division 3 for 1997/1998. A fifth eleven was started in 1996/1997 with many players drawn from Epsom’s junior players.

From 1982/1983 to 1985/1986 Epsom Ladies ran a veterans team, which became known as the Vamps., but they left the Club when they recruited some outside players and could not be guaranteed a home pitch.

Epsom in tournaments

Epsom has a long history of participating in tournaments. The Club first took part in Bournemouth’s Easter Festival in 1925 and was playing in national Physical Laboratory’s Easter Festival as long ago as 1927. In the thirties the Club took part in the Easter Festival at Worthing and this continued right up to 1953, but then a change was thought desirable and from 1955 Bournemouth became the regular venue for Easter up to the 1980’s. The Club still sends a team to the NPL festival in most years. In 1963 Epsom obtained entry for a men’s and ladies’ team into the Thanet Hockey Festival held every April in Margate, to be repeated in most years. Also, mixed elevens from Epsom have taken part in the Newquay Easter Festival.

Epsom achieved its best season in cup competitions in 1996/1997 when the club reached the final of the Surrey Cup, only to be defeated by Wimbledon after extra time. The first eleven also won through to the quarter-final of the National Trophy in the same season.

Epsom ladies won the Croydon MO Ladies Tournament in 1978/1979 and their own Ladies Tournament in 1994/1995.

Epsom also has a strong tradition of participating in six-a-side tournaments, and over the years the Club has taken part in those run by the Great Western Railway, Guildford, Kenley, National Provincial (later NatWest) Bank, Old Mid-Whitgiftians, Old Walcountians, Sanderstead and Woking, as well as many mixed sixes events. Perhaps the best achievement was sharing the London Six­ a-Side tide with Southern Railway in 1964. An Epsom team also won the Old Mid-Whitgiftians and Old Walcountians Sixes Tournaments in 1979/1980. Over the years Epsom mixed teams have taken part in mixed tournaments run by Barnes, Hampton (now Sunbury), Reigate & Banstead, Trojans, Windsor and Worthing, as well as Epsom’s own Mixed Tournaments.

Epsom six-a-sides

Epsom Six-a-Side Tournament was inaugurated in 1950 in order to give the Club more publicity and it became a regular event at the start of the season, continuing every year, except for 1957, until 1989.

At the beginning it was the aim to invite the clubs which had enabled Epsom to re-establish fixtures after the War, and regular participants were sixes from Cheam, Chichester, Dulwich, Guildford, Scorpions, Spencer, Surbiton and Trojans. In the early years matches were played on a knock-out basis on the Sherwood School ground in Avenue Road as well as on the Woodcote Road pitches, but after 1958 when the Avenue ground was acquired for building apartment blocks the number of participating teams was reduced from 32 to 20·to 18 and finally to 10, the tournament being run on a pool basis. Epsom, playing as the Gypsies, were winners in 1966 and again in 1980, and were defeated finalists in 1981.

A Mixed Tournament was inaugurated at the Club in 1965 and has been continued in most years; it was reduced to a six-a-side format in 1972/1973.

Epsom abroad

Epsom’s first venture abroad was in April/May 1959 with a trip to Hudito Hockey Club in Delft to participate in a tournament celebrating Hudito’s 30th year. Trips to Delft were repeated in 1964 and 1969, with Epsom returning the hospitality of Hudito in 1966. There was also a weekend in Jersey in 1964, for men’s and ladies’ elevens, repeated in the 1970/1971 season.

A trip to Asvion in Holland was organised in 1967 and the first of many visits to Oirschott, also in Holland, was made in 1977. More ambitious visits were made to the Bahamas in 1980 and to Barbados in 1996. From 1981 to 1985. Men’s and ladies’ teams, mainly drawn from Epsom and East Grinstead, made five trips to Bermuda. After three consecutive wins, the men won the Bacardi Rum Trophy outright.

The Vagabonds have not been left out. They made a trip to Dunkirk in 1981, returning the hospitality of their hosts in 1983, and there have been many exchange visits with Bonn from 1976 onwards. In 1993 the Vagabonds and a girl’s under-18 eleven visited Woerden, near Utrecht, and Hudito in Delft. A veterans team with a strong element of Epsom players, playing as the Sextons, has also made fifteen trips to the Ascension weekend tournaments in Brussels and Prinsbeek in alternate years, the latter always run in association with a jazz festival.

Epsom’s ground

The Francis Schnadhorst memorial Ground in Woodcote Road has been the home of Epsom Hockey Club since it was revived after the First World War. At first it was rented from the Cricket Club, who secured a 50 year lease on the ground from Major-General Sir Edward Northey, President of the Cricket Club, in the 1920’s.

However, after the Cricket Club fell into financial difficulties in 1932, a non­profit making company, Epsom Sports Club Limited, took over the lease of the ground. Initially the ground was sub-let by the Company to the Cricket Club for seven years, but in 1935 the ground was purchased by Captain E.E. Schnadhorst from Sir Edward Northey as a memorial to his father, Francis Schnadhorst and his eldest son, also Francis, who lost his life in the First World War. He created a charitable trust to own the ground under which it was designated an open space in perpetuity, and he generously granted Epsom Sports Club a lease for 500 years at a nominal rental, provided the ground is maintained in good order as required by the Trust Deed.

A ground improvement appeal was launched in 1946, but it was not until 1964 that, through the persistence of a few energetic members, led by Alan Bellenger and Bill Thorn from the Cricket Club and Brian Fordh am, Mike Baird and Arthur Wadsworth of the Hockey Club a new pavilion was built to replace the old facilities. The pavilion was extended in the 1970’s to accommodate the Croquet Club and, after a fresh Pavilion Improvement Appeal, new changing rooms were added in 1982.

Epsom Sports Club Limited

Epsom Sports Club Limited was incorporated in 1933 under the Chairmanship of Captain E.E. Schnadhorst to take over the lease of the Woodcote Road ground and the assets and liabilities of Epsom Cricket Club. The Company raised £500 by the issue of 500 £1 shares.

Whilst the Company took over responsibility for the overall financial and business management, the day to day running of the individual sections was left in the hands of committees elected for this purpose by the Cricket and Hockey Clubs. When Epsom Sports Club was formed in 1947 as an umbrella body over the individual sections of the Club, this arrangement continued and it was perpetuated when the Sports Club was enlarged by the addition of the Tennis Club in January 1948 and of the Croquet Club in 1970. Epsom Lawn Tennis Club had occupied adjoining ground for many years, whilst the former Woodcote Estate Social Club had to seek new premises because their own clubhouse, located nearby, was being demolished for residential building.

Whilst the fortunes of the individual sections have fluctuated over the years, the Company has been able to provide the Club as a whole with a sound financial basis.