Women's football during WWI in Morpeth
Ian Leech, editor of Inside Morpeth - a hugely popular bi-monthly magazine for the Northumbrian town - kindly published an article, written by Wor Bella writer/producer Ed Waugh, about the play in the October/November 2021 (p.35) issue. Wor Bella toured the region in March 2022.
Ed's article is below.
What was also brilliant was that immediately upon its publication we received a tremendous email from Carolyn Campbell, who described how her great aunt Isabella (Bella) Potts had played in the Morpeth Post Office Ladies team, with her aunt's cousin Annie West. Both of them are listed as playing against Blyth Spartans on October 27, 1917.
Carolyn's comments are below the article.
Do you know any of the Morpeth Ladies' football team from 1917?
Inside Morpeth (October/November 2021 issue)
"After the human carnage that followed the Somme in 1916 conscription was introduced and millions of women filled the domestic employment roles left by men, hereby saving the WW1 war effort.
When the phenomenon of women's football in WW1 metaphorically exploded throughout the country between 1917/1918, teams were largely based on the million or so "munitionettes" who were employed in heavy industry like munitions factories, shipyards, steel mills and cable manufacturing.
In contrast to teams from industrial heartlands like Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Darlington, Sunderland, Newcastle, Wallsend and Jarrow, Morpeth was able to boast a side that comprised female post office workers, possibly clerks, sorters and post deliverers.
While they may have played earlier, the first recorded mention of Morpeth Post Office Ladies was on October 27, 1917, when they took on the mighty Blyth Spartans Munitions Ladies and lost 3-0. A decent result considering Spartans were hammering teams and were undefeated in their 30 matches; they went on to win the 1918 Munitionettes' Cup led by "Wor" Bella Reay who scored an incredible 133 goals.
But this is where things get sketchy because - despite raising money for wartime charities and playing in front of thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of people - the heroic deeds of these selfless football-playing women were barely recorded.
Thanks to Patrick Brennan's excellent research in his book The Munitionettes: A history of women's football in the North East of England during the Great War, we know the match against Blyth Spartans was played in Morpeth, aiding the Morpeth Cottage Hospital and War Heroes Fund.
The Morpeth team comprised: M. Mackey, M. Lowes, Isabella (Bella) Potts, P. Kelly, Annie West, M. Brown, A. Henry, M. Hindmarch, M. Wade, D. Cairns, A.Wood.
It is likely the team was initiated after the women were inspired watching a match between Palmers Shipyard (Jarrow) v Wallsend Slipway on August 25 played at Grange House Field (today the home of Morpeth Rugby Club), in aid of the Morpeth V.A.D. Hospital.
Sadly, this is the only recorded match we know of involving Morpeth Post Office Ladies."
"I read with interest your Inside Morpeth article.
My Mother told me years ago her Aunty Isabella (Bella) Potts played in a woman's football team in Morpeth. Bella had a cousin called Annie West who also played.
Bella was born in 1895. In the 1911 census she was living in Lumsdens Lane, Morpeth, with her family. She married a man called Bowles and had a daughter called Edna. They emigrated to Port Moody, Vancouver, Canada, in the 1920s.
Two of her brothers and two sisters followed her out to Canada where her husband, who was a builder, built houses for them all. My Grandad Joe was the only one of the siblings to stay here, in Morpeth.
When her husband died Bella married again, a man named Nichol.
I've attached a cutting from the Morpeth Herald (see below). It was probably from just after WW2, possibly into the early 1950s.
Bella was a well respected woman in Port Moody where she did a lot of charitable work and has a park named after her.
I don't have any photos of Bella, I hope someone has, I would love to see her in her strip.
I believe Swinney, the Morpeth engineering factory [1896 to 1979], also had a women's football team."
Sophie's Canadian cousin recently found this photo of her grandmother, Isabella Potts (on the right), and, we think, her cousin Annie.
The story goes that the photo was put onto wood and painted by a prisoner of war. Pretty in Pink!
Bella Nichol (nee Potts) when she visited Morpeth in later years to talk at Morpeth British Legion (Women's Section) on the work of the British Legion in Canada.