The Early Years 1896-1914
Ludlow Hockey appears to have played its first ever men’s match on 21st March 1896, when they lost against Leominster by 4 goals to 1. This heralded a rapid spread of hockey playing in the area with teams at Tenbury, Stokesay, Onibury, Wistanstow, Craven Arms, Church Stretton and Bishops Castle. All games would have been played on poorly prepared grass and travel would have been by train with grounds close to railway stations. This does not seem to have inhibited the development of the sport and in April 1901 the Ludlow Ladies team affiliated for the first time to the All England Women’s Association. References to a South Shropshire Ladies team(1903) and to a Teme Valley Ladies side(1902) in the press coverage may indicate a proliferation of teams or an identity crisis.
By 1898 Ludlow had played the key role in the formation of the Shropshire County teams and the first ever men’s County match was played on January 19th of that year. The county Ladies took the field for the first time on January 23rd 1902. Ludlow players were well represented in both teams. The team secretary had an interesting job getting county teams together.
Hockey clearly flourished in the period up to the First World War. G. Woolley’s Sports shop in the Bull Ring was selling top quality cane handle sticks for 8/6d, shin guards for 2/-, top quality balls for 5/6d and a stylish full length ladies skirt for 16/-.However the key event of the first phase of Hockey in Ludlow was the visit of the champion club of France(Paris based "Club Athletic International") in October 1903. Ludlow defeated the French by 5 goals to nil; but without a return leg they could not be crowned as European Champions. Some of the key names in this period were E.H. Wood the County Captain; Monsieur Guerra the French master at the Grammar School; J.S. Leake, and W.P. Rees. The Grammar School began playing hockey in the Easter Term 1913.
The Inter War Years 1919-1938
After the interruption of the War, hockey playing resumed in the 1919-20 season and for the next 18 years an influx of professional people into the town with hockey experience in the Forces or at University, created a successful men’s club with their home ground, as it was before the war, at the Burway cricket ground.
The Men’s team appears to have overshadowed the Ladies section during this period, partly because the characters involved in the men’s team were well known in hockey playing circles throughout England and also on the continent. The most well known was Emmanuel Lovekin the Church Stretton dentist, an outstanding goal-keeper, known universally as No.1. Others included: the Hall brothers from Ashford Carbonel; the Peat family-who on one Saturday had three members of the family playing International matches for Ireland; Jeff Clee, a Ludlow vet; members of two influential local families-the Marstons and the Woodhouses; members of staff from the Grammar School-including the Head A. Telfer, Jimmy Jones and Fred Reeves. Significant photographic and press coverage of this period can be found in the Ludlow Hockey Club Centenary booklet printed by Tortoise Shell Press, Ludlow.
The club played a full list of Saturday fixtures, contributed hugely to the County team but more significantly through the leadership of Emmanuel Lovekin it played the key role in the formation of one of the first Invitation and Sunday teams. Known as the Nik-e-vols (Lovekin spelt in reverse), they were a star turn at Festivals at Folkestone and Weston-Super-Mare, but more remarkably at Barcelona over Christmas and the New Year 1928-29, when they played the champion clubs of Switzerland and Spain. The side had a core of Ludlow players but was augmented by several international class players. They put a high emphasis on playing hard and socialising hard and in their smart green and black kit, which reflected the Irish influence, they tried to live up to their motto " Res non Verb" (deeds not words).
By 1937 the Ludlow Club appears to have folded, with a Craven Arms men’s team playing for a couple of years at the Burway ground in Ludlow and including several of the stars of the Ludlow side from earlier years.
Brief Revivals 1940s and 1965-71
The Second World War put an end to most club hockey and there was not in Ludlow the same enthusiasm and energy in these post war years to return to the sports fields of England. The Ladies had a brief flicker in the late ‘40s and the men between 1965and 1971 played a regular fixture list on Saturdays and with some mixed games on Sundays. Led by Ian and June Purce, David Mulliner and John Blanchard, playing in tangerine against local clubs from Shropshire and Hereford at the Burway ground, they bravely tried to revive the game in Ludlow. However, with no boys’ hockey played at the Grammar School they ran out of players. In general, for much of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s it appears that Ludlow based players, men and women, would have had to travel out of the town for regular games.
Towards the 21st Century
The club was revived again in 1981, when Roger Furniss arrived in Ludlow as Vice-Principal of Ludlow College (the inheritor of the Grammar School’s traditions). 10 years later the club was running three men’s teams, men's indoor team, a ladies team, a mixed team, and was leading the way in Shropshire with the club development of boy’s hockey. Playing in purple on the Burway grass the club entered evening floodlit leagues, summer leagues, and organised tournaments and visited festivals. These developments were helped by the presence of three other hockey playing members of staff at the College: Paul Selfe, Guy Whitmarsh and Olympic athletics medallist Tim Graham. This ensured hockey was a key part of the physical education provision at the College, and provided a host of talented young players.
In the 1990’s following the Olympic success of 1988, hockey changed rapidly in this country and the Ludlow club found it difficult to keep pace. The move to astro surfaces meant that the club had to play "home games" at away venues, firstly at Newtown, then Bridgnorth and then at Leominster. Social facilities moved from the cosy Burway cricket pavilion to local pubs; The Nags Head and the Compasses; or impersonal sports centres, as at Bridge Street Sports Centre in Leominster. The supply of young players from the College began to dry up; few of the stars returned to Ludlow after finishing at University and although the club led the way with the development of youth, originally through the dedicated work of Ian Hughes it was taking a long time for the youngsters to make their way into the adult teams. The club retrenched in the late 1990’s and despite injections of new players following the demise of the ladies’ team at Craven Arms (1999) and the men’s team at Tenbury Wells (2002), senior player availability was a major problem. Whilst the club takes pride in its more ambitious young players joining the big clubs in Shropshire it takes away the opportunity for the 1stX1 sides to progress. The Nik-e-vols however have seen a rebirth, with a group of 1990’s Ludlow players who have left the town or have moved to other clubs meeting up for an annual fixture in a minor attempt to rekindle something of the past.
Recent History 2000-2020
The next twenty years once again saw dramatic changes in the sport nationally and in Ludlow. The Club continued to run ladies’ and men’s teams, with support for the men’s teams fluctuating, normally running two sides but sometimes three. The ladies’ struggled for some years but have regularly run a Saturday team and a Sunday team, playing in the Worcestershire or Shropshire Ladies’ League on Saturdays and a local Marches based Sunday league.
The junior section has flourished over this period with Martin Watts in Stretton and Ian Hughes in Ludlow coaching and encouraging youngsters to take up the sport. This was recognised with the award of England Hockey’s Club First Award. Many of the young players have represented Shropshire County age group teams now rebranded as Shropshire Academy teams. Many progressed on to Midlands based training groups.However the outstanding achievement for a youngster was the selection of Ben Carless for the Wales national team at the 2012 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Ben had moved at an early age to Stourport Hockey Club but he and his brother Luke, also a Welsh age group international have kept their links with Ludlow as they progressed from the hard court playground of Wistanstow Primary School. Amongst the girls Claire Stewardson had also at an early age moved on to bigger clubs playing many games for Cannock in the National League.
The level of junior support meant that youth tours were organised to Durham(twice) and Edinburgh, with on each tour three different sides playing four junior teams from amongst Wakefield, Preston, Belper, Gateshead, Chester, Ben Rydding, Inverleith, Edinburgh, Stockton, Whiteley Bay and Tynemouth, and Durham County
The Club made a couple of significant decisions in this period, rejectingthe idea of a merger with Tenbury Ladies Hockey Club and instead focussing its attention on Shropshire, moving its home base to a new astroturf pitch in Much Wenlock and the new half sized astro turf at Moor Park School on the edge of Ludlow. Leominster had been a good base for nearly 15 years, but the geography of the Club had moved into Shropshire. Moor Park School is an ideal base for training and hosts four separate sessions each week.
On the playing side success has been limited but the Men’s 1st are well established in the West Midlands League 1 and achieved one notable resultin 2016 when captained by Vijay Chumber they reached the final of England Hockey’s Vase competition(a third tier competition), but lost to Hazelmere at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. The ladies now play in the Shropshire Ladies League but in 2021 they will follow the men into the West Midlands League.
Planning for the next twenty years is in the hands of a new young committee led by Stuart Richards and supported by other young players including the high quality coach Claire Stewardson. In 2019 the men’s teams can seem to be a family affair with 3 Pratts, 3 Hutchinsons, 3 Matthews, 3 Hughes, and 2 Richards all playing together and providing a good bond for the teams. The ladies’ section is well supported and making real progress.
However the future is dependent on attracting new young players to the game, and the provision of an astro surface at Ludlow Secondary School is crucial to that aim.