Adam McKie, MA Research Student at Royal Holloway, University of London, tells us about his research into employee sporting activities in the Huntley & Palmer papers.
My MA thesis explores the history of women’s cricket in interwar England; a project sponsored by The Association of Cricket Statisticians. Despite an abundance of research (both academic and trade) into the history of men’s cricket, the women’s game has largely been ignored by scholars and sports enthusiasts alike, and I hope to shine a light on the initial growth and organisation of the sport which occurred during this period. Women’s cricket can in turn be used as an effective cultural case study to explore issues surround women’s role in public life, gender construction, class and employment.
It is the relationship between women’s employment and sporting/recreational opportunities that led me to use the University of Reading’s Special Collections. The collection holds a large amount of records related to Huntley & Palmers and Peek Frean biscuit factories – including minute books, pamphlets, photograph albums, official works’ publications and other ephemera (the Reading Room supervisors were very patient with my continued requests for more and more bulky items…). Particularly interesting records for my research include interwar departmental cricket scorebooks [HP OS 610,6 607, 606, 676, 677] and a 1946 survey of 362 female employees’ social activities at the Huntley & Palmers’ Sports and Social Club [HP 768].
Called upon to fill the jobs left behind by men leaving for war, women joined these factories’ workforces in large numbers during WWI: the ‘munitionettes’ contributed to an estimated 60,000 shells produced at Huntley & Palmers between 1915 and 1918 [HP102 p. 14]. A number of companies, including Huntley & Palmers and Peak Frean, subsequently offered female employees opportunities to participate in company-funded sporting/recreational activities in what they claimed was a paternalistic and benevolent approach to workers’ welfare. By 1929 both companies had women’s cricket teams, and Huntley & Palmers even had 21 interdepartmental women’s cricket teams (far outnumbering the men on just 12!). In what must have been a competitive and entertaining company tournament, teams included the Invoice Office, Sugar Wafers, Cake Making, Cream Filling and ‘Sample Room’ (I wouldn’t mind working in that last one). [HP OS 610]
By allowing women to play what was generally considered a ‘manly’ game unsuitable for females, these employers demonstrated their progressiveness on issues of sex; while simultaneously undermining this by providing women with less holiday and less pay than men. By 1946 the company also offered female workers badminton, darts, hockey, rifle shooting, and tennis, alongside courses in more traditional female pastimes including dressmaking and hairdressing [HP 768]. However by this time cricket seems to have lost its popularity – less than 3% of the 362 female employees reported to play the game, with netball becoming the chief sport for women with 14% participating [HP 768].
Martin Bishop, Bats, Balls and Biscuits: A Brief History of Cricket at the Reading Biscuit Factory (2008), p. 114.