As Vice-president of the St Helens & District Badminton League I would like to take you back to the St Helens Churches League. Eccleston Christ Church were a flourishing club in 1938 and Mrs W Williams presented a Challenge Cup to the club which was won by a Mrs H Houghton in that year.
The earliest date of a Churches League was in 1940, with the following churches involved:
- Eccleston Christ Church
- Eccleston Congs
- Eccleston Methodist (formerly Wesley)
- Brook Street (now the Nat West Bank)
- Kirkland Street with its sloping floor
- Blackbrook St Marys
- Haydock St Marks with its low roof
- Haydock St James with its low roof and beams
- Brynn St Peters
- Golborne St Thoma
- Newton St Peters churches teams who generated talent from their members
Eric Usher, Maurice and Colin Hill who achieved Lancashire County standard and more recently Andrew Fairhurst of Eccleston Christ Church who played for Lancashire and England, and toured the world as a professional playing this fantastic game. Along with our star players came the England Ladies Champion Margaret Barrand who was the vicar’s wife from Parr St Peters and played a couple of times in the churches league and coached Barbara Knowlden (then Henthorne) and Sue Robinson amongst others.
The Heaton Cup
In 1940 Eccleston Congs were the league winners. There was then a long gap due to the war and was resumed again the 1948. In 1956 I took over as Secretary from Jean Owen and then Chairman, Dunc Jolly twisted my arm (as usually happens) and the next 21 years were something to remember. The league was run by four people; Chairman was Cliff Pennington, Secretary Ron Wright, Treasurer Trevor Leavesly and Fixture Secretary Bryan Bickerstaff. It was evident in 1970s that action was needed and an injection of clubs and players required to survive. At a meeting it was decided to extend our boundaries to 20 miles radius from the Town Hall. We recruited clubs from Widnes, Wigan and Newton and were able to remake two divisions.
In the early days tournaments were held in three different venues and score sheets were collected by scooter and information collated together to work out the final results. Presentation dances were mainly held at Haydock Conservative Club for approximately 200 people with the Big Band Sound as the entertainment.
Some time in the 1980s when club members began to wane and church halls began to disappear so the second division began to suffer with only four teams in a division. Phillip Middlehurst donated a trophy for the second division known as The Middlehurst Trophy.
Also, in the 1980s the Badminton Association of England forced members to register with them for a fee and that any league found to be playing with or against a non-member would be expelled. Members were up in arms about the BA of E changes and asked for a hearing about the charges and they in turn sent a Dr Edwards (a BA official) who told the meeting that no fee meant no play, so reluctantly we paid up.
In 1978 I resigned as Secretary and handed over to Alan Dewsnip. A lot has happened in the history of the St Helens Churches League and St Helens and District Badminton League and long may it continue.