Wrexham women footballers – at the Racecourse

Wrexham women footballers – at the Racecourse

Very Interesting post about women footballers at the Racecourse by my good friend Georgina Gittens.


Nathan: First women’s football matches at Wrexham Racecourse: the women of Powell Brothers Athletic, Dec 1917; and the Dick, Kerr Ladies Feb 1921.



Powell Brothers was an Engineering factory built on the site of present-day Jewson’s. Before the war they made Agricultural machinery.

During WW1 it became Wrexham’s National Shell Factory. The railway network linked it to all the other munitions factories in the Denbighshire and Flintshire area; it also brought hospital trains carrying up to 100 casualties at a time, bound for Wrexham’s two military hospitals.

Shell factories were the largest employers of women during WW1; the Powell Bros factory employed 220 women and 36 men. ¹ Until now, most Wrexham women had been employed in domestic service, out of the public eye, so the factory was the first time they had ever worked together. ²

1917 was grim. There were severe food shortages, the war wasn’t going well and there was no end in sight. The numbers of war deaths and severity of the casualties was horrific.

Many munitions factories formed football teams to raise money for their local hospitals which were continually fund-raising for basics – chairs, cups, bed linen, as well as medical equipment, and asking for donations of food – especially potatoes. Maybe the women knew about the hospital trains; they no doubt knew men in the forces and wanted to boost the Wrexham War Memorial Fund.








Match Advertisement

And this is the advert from the front page of The Wrexham Advertiser, 19.12.1917 which triggered this research project.  It’s about ‘an interesting match’ – “the first Amateur ladies football match ever played in Wrexham.” It took place on Boxing Day, 1917.

I wondered – Who were these women, who dared to play in public, wearing shorts – on Wrexham’s Racecourse?

Thankfully, a photo of the team was given to The Wrexham Leader in 1976 by Mrs A Chesters, 1st on left, lower row.  And Ruthin Archives kept it, and kindly allowed me to use it.

The names of the team were published in the newspaper, although using their initials only.  One of the backs and one of the reserves has the initial A, so we can’t be sure of what position Mrs A Chesters played. Thanks to my friend Kate Bunning who has traced most of them on Find My Past, we can build a snapshot of the women.

They’re all single; none of them would have been old enough to have voted in 1918, when women over 30 were allowed to vote for the first time. They’re all from working-class backgrounds, living in overcrowded houses.

The layout suggests a 5:3:2 formation. Was this pioneered in Wrexham? Interestingly, in Association Football, published by Caxton in 1960, the following appears in Vol II, page 432: “Wrexham … the first winner of the Welsh Cup in 1877 … for the first time certainly in Wales and probably in Britain, a team played three half-backs and five forwards …”  

Meet the team

In goal, meet Miss Gladys Manley, age 23.  Her father was a guard on the railways. She had one brother and a sister; many women footballers come from ‘footballing’ families where brothers and sisters play together. 

Of the backs, Miss Annie Buckley was aged 26. Her father and eldest brother worked in the municipal water works. Annie was the youngest of five brothers and sisters; she worked in domestic service before joining the munitions factory. 

Half-backs are called ‘midfielders’ today.  Of the Half-backs, Miss Esther Howell was 21 years old. Her father and their lodger worked as carters in one of the many local breweries. She was one of 10 children, of whom 2 died in infancy. 

Miss Blodwen Bellis was 24, from Rhos, and the daughter of a coal-miner.  She had older brothers.

Miss Blodwen Reynolds was 19, from Pentre Broughton and the daughter of a colliery labourer.  Her 3 older brothers were also coal miners; Blodwen, her 2 sisters and an older female relative all lived in a four-roomed terraced house.

Of the Forwards, Miss Gillem could be either Florence or Martha, two cousins from Rossett aged 19 and 17 respectively.  Both had brothers who were labourers, like their fathers.  Forwards would today be called strikers or wingers.

Miss G Bellis could have been Gladys or Gwladys Bellis. Gladys was 19 and her family worked in her father’s fruit and veg business as he was illiterate. Gwladys, 20, lived in 2 rooms with her widowed mother, a domestic servant; Gwladys’ father, a Rhos coal-miner died in 1903.  She was bilingual.

Miss Diggory is most likely to have been Edith Eliza, a 28-year-old cook originally from Welshpool.

Of the Reserves, Miss Heighway could be either of 2 sisters, Sarah and Harriet, aged 21 and 23.  Their father was a colliery labourer, and they were both ‘general servants’ before becoming munitions workers.

Who were our opponents? They were an experienced team, Aintree Filling Factory who trained at Goodison Park, who had already played big teams on the Wirral and in Cheshire. Many sources have survived so we know quite a bit about them. 


And I guess I’m setting you up for the fact that we lost, 5-0.  But our team did raise £184, the equivalent of £13,600 today for the hospitals. There was a positive match report.

But – like many women’s munitions football teams, they were accused of misappropriation of funds.  The War Memorial Committee issued this rebuttal of allegations in the North Wales Guardian, 15/2/18, p3:

“Messrs. Powell Bros have written to us pointing out that there seems to have been some doubt on the part of readers as to the receipts of the ladies’ football match organized by their employees in aid of the War Memorial Fund.

The total receipts were £183.5s, made up as follows: tickets sold by Messrs. Powell Bros £85; Gate money etc. £98.5s; total £183.5s. Messrs. Powell Bros Ltd have handed over the whole of this amount to the Wrexham War Memorial Committee.” 

Their spirit wasn’t squashed! They carried on raising money thanks to their very successful Tug-o-war team, competing against other Munitions factories in Wrexham and Flintshire. In 1918 they also organised a very successful August Bank Holiday Sports Fete on the Racecourse, which saw around 17,000 people attend. The events included sports competitions for injured soldiers, ladies’ sports and many music and silver band competitions – all of which were won by musicians from Brymbo. ³



Women’s football at this time had no formal infrastructure. There were “Exhibition” matches by established, well-trained, seriously competitive teams who would play against each other as there were no leagues, and by contrast, there were “Charity” matches played by women purely to raise money, usually for medical charities. Our munitions workers played an example of a Charity match; who knows what potential was thwarted though – Powell Brothers Engineering before and after the war had its own sports teams, and their women’s Tug-O-War team beat everyone else!

The second women’s football match at the Racecourse was an Exhibition match between two famous women’s teams – The Dick, Kerr Ladies, from Preston, playing their regular opponents, St Helens.


Poster from Wrexham Museum

This was their first match in ‘gallant little Wales’ – so why was it in Wrexham? The Dick, Kerr Engineering company had worked on Wrexham’s tramways in 1903 ⁴ and Preston Barracks had hosted our Royal Welsh Fusilier troops in 1914 so they felt a link with us. ⁵


The Team, with 6’-tall Lily Parr – the star player of the Dick, Kerr Ladies. She grew up playing football with her brothers and scored over 1,000 goals during the team’s 828 matches. She was the first woman to have a commemorative plaque in the Hall of Fame in the National Football Museum, Manchester.

She was mentioned in the match report so we can be assured that the Wrexham spectators saw her play.

The Wrexham Leader photograph. It carried two reports of the match – one focused on the match, the other by “Rank Outsider” rooted in sexual prejudice. 

But the match raised £509 – £26,500 today – for our local hospitals; the WFA gave the players WFA ‘Dragon’ badges to wear on their jerseys and treated them all to a meal at The Wynnstay Arms Hotel, in York Street. ⁶

The FA banned women’s teams from playing on English grounds in October 1921; in March 1922, the Welsh FA followed suit. ⁷

The Welsh FA also strengthened the ban with a further three paragraphs in August 1939. ⁸

They also published regular reminders in the Welsh newspapers – this one is my favourite! (I know it has nothing to do with the Racecourse, but I just thought it would make you smile! ⁹



The next women’s team to play at The Racecourse was one hundred years later; an historic ‘friendly’ match when Wrexham AFC Women beat Northop Hall Ladies, 6:1 on 8th August 2021.


¹ Wrexham Advertiser, 4/1/1919 page 4

² Digest of Welsh Historical Statistics, Volumes 1 & 2, John Williams. Denbighshire Archives, Ruthin.


³ NWG, 27/8/18 page 3.




⁵ Letter from Mr. A. Frankland, Hon Sec of the Dick, Kerr Ladies, Wrexham Leader 25.2.21.


⁶ North Wales Weekly News – Thursday 01 April 1948, p6


⁷ Minutes of Council Meeting held at the Criterion Hotel, Cardiff March 3rd and 4th 1922. FAW Records at National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.


C1998/6 1/15 FAW Minutes etc 1939, Minutes numbers 4954 to 4996 from the Volume entitled: War Time Football to 1944, 1117 Ladies Football. National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.


⁹ Western Mail, 12.9.1931 p6





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