Where did it all begin?

Shepton Mallet Hockey Club is the off-spring of the Old Wellensians Hockey Club, who were former pupils of Wells Cathedral School. Back in 1969 the school built a brand new state-of-the-art sports hall. Leavers of that year were then given the opportunity to use the new facility, which they did frequently. Playing Tennis, Football and Hockey.

Over a period of time the idea of starting a Wellensian Hockey team came about. David Oatley became one of what could be called the nucleus of a squad and with a little effort roping in a few other old boys they managed to begin a “team”. As with all organisations a committee had to be formed and this duly arrived in 1970.

Roland Hill was elected President; he was the School’s first full time sport’s master and gave them a lot of encouragement. Chairman was Ian Hobley and Tony Lake was Treasurer. David Oatley did the rest! Others at the meeting were Arthur May, Nigel Kiddle, Robert Pearce, John Powell and Andrew Chambers. These were the founding members.

Their first season was in 1970-71 and they basically played anyone who would play them, even Sunny Hill Girls School, Bruton! They were not popular with the school as they played on their grass pitch in the pouring rain and made quite a mess! Still it was one of the first games they won. Their home matches were played on the grass pitch called Munday’s Meadow which is now part of the Wells Relief road. They changed and had teas (Bread and Cheese supplied by Arthur May) in the junior school.

They claim not to have been a very good team and it was a miracle that they stuck together. It must have been the social side that was the magic ingredient. One weekend they played Firebrands on the Saturday and lost 8-0. A day later on the Sunday they lost 5-0 to Morlands in their first attempt at the Somerset Cup.

It was becoming obvious that the defence needed a stronger backbone; enter Jeremy Roberston a genuine OW. Their play improved, as did the committee work! It very soon became obvious they needed to attract better players so it was decided to open the team to non Old Wellensians. It was about this time that the young Nick James and Ian Halsey joined (familiar names?) together with Steve Adams, Dave Thornton and Malcolm Litton. They suddenly had a much more viable team. In 1976 the Cathedral School decided they wanted an all weather pitch, which was duly built with tremendous support of O and A Level leavers – a chain gang! A few Wellensians from the building industry were also willing to help and so the pitch was completed – this pitch is now underneath the Relief road!

About this time the Sun Life League was formed, but because Wellensians played mainly on Sunday's they declined to join in that first year. However, for the second season they made the bold decision to join and play on Saturday's. For most of the players this meant giving up playing for other clubs. This was a brave decision, as for many this meant playing at a lower standard. But the decision had been made and the team went on to play on their third home pitch in Wells at the Mary Rand Recreational Ground. They maintained their Sunday team and enjoyed moderate success. They had no shortage of opponents as they entertained their visitors to lunch at the King Charles Parlour (now gone, but not to the Relief road) to Steak & Kidney Pie and Beans! Later they progressed to the Regency Hotel, now part of the Cathedral School and gave their visitors Cream Teas. Amongst the opposition teams were Chard, Firebrands, Somerton, Volcanoes, Bath Civil Service, Frome, Yatton and Lydford Young Farmers.

During the period 1973-78 David Oatley moved away from the area due to work commitments leaving the running of the Club to Arthur May and Jeremy Robertson. In the later part of the 1970s Chris Wall joined. Chris added much to the club; being an ex-England indoor international and acted as coach and mentor as well as being a regular 1st XI player. Yes the Club now had two teams!

In 1979 David Oatley returned to the area and through his connections was able to draw in members from Shepton Mallet Round Table and some other dynamic new members including Rob Hunter, Kevin Knowles. Graham Walton, Tony Sugg, Keith Jenkin, Keith Errington and Steve Tyley. The Club was also able to attract in enough women to form a Ladies team. Notable members during this time were Janet Windsor, Bev Squire, Dora Errington and Chris Phillips.

These new players were mainly based in and around Shepton which eventually brought about the permanent move of the club to Shepton Mallet and their next home pitch which was grass based at Whitstone School; a pitch affectionately known as the Somme. This move was also marked by a change in name and so Shepton Mallet Hockey Club was formed. This was the start of a long and continuing connection with Whitstone School. With Tony Sugg’s efforts and his connections with the school, and with David Oatley’s building expertise the Club negotiated the building of the “red gras” type pitch. This build was approved by the County Council and built with YTS trainees and local farmer Alan Brittain’s digger. It cost about £18,000. It was opened in 1985 by Roland Hill, the Club’s first President, who traveled down from Colchester for the occasion.

George Oatley was bestowed the honor of hitting the first ball at the opening , he started young – he was only two at the time! Unfortunately the pitch surface was not a great success, but after 12 years of use the surface was replaced by the astro surface that is still in use today. Every cloud does have a silver lining. From its humble start the Club has continued to grow and now continues to sport 2 Mens teams and 2 Ladies teams as well as a cast of 1000s in the youth section.

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