The History of Hockey


Rules Britannica

By the 1820's Welsh bandy was becoming a favorite all-seasons game in the small isolated villages and towns throughout Wales. Writing in the English periodical Sporting Magazine in 1830 under the title The Kalendar of Amusements, Heliwir Morganwg states:

There appears to be a peculiar proneness in the disposition of the Welsh towards all sorts of sports and diversion . . . the most popular of all the vale of Glamorgan is the important game of Bandy.

It is clear that the main piece of equipment needed for Welsh bandy was similar in type and shape to that used later for hockey. The Welsh word of bandy is the name associated with the standard curved stick used to play the game. The stick was preferably made of ash and bent at the bottom, although it was not unknown for players of the Glamorgan coal mines to substitute a pick or a shove handle so that they could play. The ball was ideally made from yew, box, or even crabapple, although a ball of rags or even tins was used if necessary. The game's flexibility meant it could be played anywhere, on street or field, depending on the location and number of the players. However, in its heartland, it was played on the seashore of the Glamorgan Coast. The beach near Margam and Kenfig hosted many exciting games featuring the Margam Bando Boys who were one of the most famous of the 19th century teams. There is a ballad which is well known in Wales, and it recorded the Margam boys, whilst poking fun at the English neighbors:

Let cricket players blame
And seen to slight our game
Their bat and wicket never lick it,
This ancient manly game.

The Museum of Welsh Life in St. Fagans has two examples of early bando sticks. Senior Museum Curatorial Assistant, Dylan Jones, dates one of the sticks to 1845, used by Thomas Thomas, of the Glamorgan Margam Bando Boys. He describes these wooden bando sticks as having a clubbed end, curved by steaming, and a shaved face for striking ball. Of one of the sticks, Jones states:

[The] bando stick or club, curved at its lower end, similar in shape to a modern hockey stick but narrower and very much lighter in weight. The stick has been varnished, and 5" from the curve a 'hand mark' has been painted in black 31/2" in length. The end of the club is covered with leather strips, held in position by bound string which acts as a hand-grip. A strip of leather is attached, which was probably used as a holder for hanging club on wall when not in use. This stick almost certainly belonged to one of the players from Margam - overall length 2' 9 1/2".

The early 19th century saw the advent of the modern era in sports. The beginning of this period is marked by the growing need to formalize the rules for games that had been played informally for centuries. This was particularly driven by Britain's elite private schools which started to set formal rules and began to publish them in an effort to regulate national and international standards of play. The first published set of early ice hockey rules along with recommendations on how to play the game appeared in the Boys' Own Book, written in 1810, published in 1813. The rules state:

In choosing a hockey, the young player should be careful not to over-weight himself; all the real work of the game is done by pure 'wrist work'; the hockey, therefore, must not be of a greater weight than he can easily manage . . . With a good player the hockey is scarcely ever lifted above the shoulder, the ball being driven along by a succession of taps, and is guided in and out between the opposing ranks of hockeys by the mere action of the wrist.

The game may be played by ten to a dozen on a side with advantage if the space be not too confined; but a game with only six or eight on a side gives more room for individual skill, and is therefore preferable. Under all circumstances a 'crowded' game is to be avoided . . . In the confined space of a few yards, it cannot but be that some blows must be inflicted upon the heads and faces of those engaged.

Hockey is an amusement for all seasons - in the summer on the turf, in the winter on the ice. Sides are chosen by the two best players, selected alternately . . . In the North of England the game is called "Shinney," from the custom of players striking the shins if the bung, or ball, gets between the legs; but we protest against this practice as tending to create angry feeling. With a party of good skaters this game affords fine sport; but of course can only be played on a sheet of ice of great extent. The following are the rule:

1. The ball must be struck with the stick, and not kicked with the foot or touched by hand.

2. The ball must be struck fairly through the goal before the side can claim the game.

3. The goals must be marked by lines at either end; and in the centre a line must be drawn across to determine the side which has possession of the ball.

4. If the ball bounds against the person of a player, he must allow it to fall to the ground before he strikes at it.

5. Any player striking another with stick or hand, kicking or otherwise unfair playing the ball, is out of the game.

6. A captain on each side is to be chosen to regulate the game, and it is the duty of any player, when directed by the captain, to fetch the ball when struck a distance.

These six rules will be sufficient.

The winter of 1813 would also bring the so-called the first "official" reference to bandy on ice being played in the English marshlands of Cambridgeshire, northeast of London, in and around the village of Bury Fen. An example of this can also be found again in the Boys' Own Book:

After they had walked for some time in a path, which skirted a wood, they came to an open place, where some well-looking boys were at play. Each of them had a sort of hooked stick, with which they were beating a ball. Thomas stood for some time looking at them, and then asked his father what game they were playing at.

Mr. White. It is called hockey. Those boys seem to play well; but I cannot say it is amusement of which I am very fond.

Thomas. Why not sir? It seems a very pretty game. . .

Mr. White. I cannot help thinking it a rather dangerous one; though I believe it is in reality, not more than many others. It was a favourite amusement among us when I was a boy at school . . . You have heard me speak of James Robson, a boy of whom I was particularly fond? . . . he lost his eye playing at hockey . . . A boy . . . missed his aim, and gave him so severe a blow as to occasion the loss of his eye . . . he had nearly lost the sight of the other eye in consequence of the violent inflammation which the pain occasioned . . .

Thomas. Pray, sir, will you tell me some of the rules of it, for I do not very well understand the game from only seeing it played?

Mr. White . . . do not you see a piece of stick with both ends stuck in the ground . that is called a goal, and there is another which answers to it at some distance, the other side of the boys . . . Well when the goals are erected the players divide into two parties, to each of whom belongs the care of one of them. The game consists in endeavouring to drive the ball (called a hockey) . . . through the goal of your antagonist. Both parties meet in the middle space between the goals, and the ball is then tossed up . . . In this the art of the game consists, for it requires a good deal of skill to send it through so small a space at such a distance. I have known the game to last for more than two hours if the parties have been well matched.

Thomas. Ah! Look, it is over, is it not? The tall boy has driven the hockey through the sticks - the goal I think you call it.

Mr. White. Yes, it is usually so called; and the sticks are known by the name of hockey-sticks.

Thomas. I think hockey seems a pretty game. I wonder whether I could play at it.

Mr. White. Not without a good deal of practice, I dare say; but it is not a game, which is now in very general use. The eagerness with which boys are too apt to play at it has been the occasion of many accidents, and it is, I believe, forbidden in many schools.

It is clear from these early rules and accounts that, although the teams may have been referred to as bandy clubs, indeed the game they were playing was early ice hockey. By the beginning of the 19th century, the term hockey was now being used to describe the standardization of rules and equipment used in organized bandy on ice in England. By 1827, the villages in the county of Cambridgeshire had become a hotbed for early hockey as teams from the regional villages of Bury Fen, Sutton, Willingham, Cottenham, Swavesey, Nepal, Chatteris, Somersham, St. Ives and Bedford competed in parish-sponsored matches. This could be considered the first recorded ice hockey league in history as teams competed in annual matches, staged on the frozen rivers and canals, in a quest for victory and the promise of kegs of ale and legs of mutton for the winners.

In 1837, a severe winter hit England freezing the River Thames allowing for hockey to be played on the ice near Richmond. A permanent reminder of the unusual winter was captured on an image emblazoned on a Staffordshire China sugar bowl. The bowl is significant due to the fact that it features the images of two hockey players skating on an idyllic pond. It is the oldest image of hockey being played on ice in England.

The game's popularity led to the establishment of the earliest known upper-class ice hockey club in England, the Blackheath Hockey Club, in 1840. However, the lack of suitable ice then, as today, ensured that ice hockey would not become a truly major sport in Britain. It would not be until another eighteen years later, in 1855, that the Thames River would again freeze over. This time artists recorded the images of local Londoners playing hockey near Paine's Bridge with the images appearing in the March 3, 1855, Illustrated London News. This event is significant for it marked the first incident in hockey's history when an actual calendar date together with location was given where hockey was played. It also predates traditional Canadian claims that modern hockey was first played on Christmas Day in 1855 at Kingston, Ontario, by soldiers of the Royal Canadian Rifles.

By the 1860's hockey had become so popular in England that it had once again become the focus of public rebuke. An editorial which appeared in 1862 in The Times of London read:

Hockey . . . ought to be sternly forbidden, as it is not only annoying, but dangerous. In its right place, hockey is a noble game and deserving of every encouragement; but on ice it is in its wrong place and should be prohibited. Any weak spot on the ice is sure to give way if the ball should happen to pass near it or over it; for the concourse of fifty or a hundred persons all converging on the same point is a test which no ice, save the strongest, is able to bear. When a mass of human beings precipitates itself recklessly in any direction, accidents are certain to follow
. . . The game is by no means what it ought to be, as it is impossible to enforce the rules in such a miscellaneous assembly . . . It is more than annoying to have the graceful evolutions of a charming quadrille broken up by the interruptions of a disorderly mob, armed with sticks and charging through the circle of skaters and spectators to the imminent danger of all. I should be truly glad to see the police interfere whenever hockey is commenced.

Yet regardless of the views expressed, hockey was by now an increasing popular form of recreation in England. With its growing popularity it was logical that a formal definition for the game would eventually be constructed. In the 1867 edition of Cassell's Popular Educator in England one reads:

Hockey consists of driving a ball from one point to another by means of a hooked stick . . . No precise rule is laid down as to the form this stick should take. It is simply a weapon with a bent knob or hook at the end, large or small, thick or thin, according to the option of the player . . . Now for the game itself, which in its principle bears a great resemblance to football and contains at least the germ of the Canadian 'La Crosse.'

By the late 1860's, hockey on ice was being played in over a dozen countries on the European continent. At the same time Canadian hockey, as it was also now called, was regionally well established in parts of the British Isles, the Eastern United States, Canada and the British colony of Newfoundland. In Britain, normally mild winters meant that there was little natural ice, which in turn guaranteed there would be few natural skaters. Artificial ice was the only practical solution in Britain. Ice plants were incredibly expensive and as a result very few rinks had been built, with the few that were built, being elite private clubs patronized by Britain's Victorian and Edwardian gentry. The first artificial ice rinks in Britain were built in 1876, in London, at Charing Cross and Chelsea. A third rink was opened, and closed within a year, at Rusholme in Manchester, due to what was reported as the "inelastic characteristics of its surface and intense cold."

Lack of ice was not the only inhibiting factor that limited ice hockey back from England. The purchase of expensive and essential gear like skates, effectively barred the ordinary Englishman from participation. With easier access to playing fields and less costly equipment, mass affection for sports was directed particularly toward soccer but also towards rugby and cricket. It is no surprise then, given the prevailing conditions, that ice hockey was a game for the wealthier classes that had both the time and income to play. Yet gradually, more rinks were built.

Prince's Club, which stands near the famed department store Harrods in London's Knightsbridge district, replaced a roller skating rink with an ice surface showing the growing interest in the sport and making England the ice hockey epicenter of modern 20th century European hockey.

By the late 19th century Oxford University emerged as a base for British ice hockey. The Oxford Blues "officially" date their formation back to their first game against their traditional rivals from Cambridge in a match played at St. Moritz, Switzerland in 1885. It is believed to be a 6-0 Oxford victory although no written accounts of this game exist. The harsh winters of 1891 and 1895, offered a chance for the Oxford student body to effectively participate in ice hockey giving us the earliest known photograph of English hockey as it was being played on a frozen and flooded piece of Christ Church Meadow in the winter of 1895. Ironically, evidence exists in the form of published illustrations and a law library building blueprint implying that an outdoor rink existed three decades earlier on the exact spot. This evidence would seem to imply that ice hockey dates to at 1east 1865 at Oxford. For the average person, the advent of 19th century industrialization resulted in a rising standard of living and a shorter work week. With the shorter work week came an increase in personal leisure time. As a result, new artificial ice arenas sprang up throughout England and Continental Europe and by 1885 competitive British ice hockey had taken root. By the 1890's, matches were being held in London at the Prince's and Niagara rinks as well as on the frozen ice surface of the lake at St. James Park across from Buckingham Palace.

During this time, the National Skating Club built a rink on the site of what is now the famous London Palladium theatre. It would be called Henglers Arena. Later, the rink would be home to two clubs, the Henglers and the Argylls, and would exist until 1909 when it was torn down to make way for the Palladium.

In 1897, Major Peter Patton received formal permission from Admiral Maxe, the founder of Prince's Skating Club, to create the Prince's Ice Hockey Club. By 1903, the Prince's, along with Cambridge University, Argyll, Henglers, and a team called the London Canadians, had formed the English League. The league was to last only two seasons, but it marked an important step in establishing competitive hockey in Britain.

France joined the ranks of enthusiastic pursuers of the ice sport when, in 1892, Paris opened its first ice rink - the Pole Nord - at the Porte de Clichy. A year later, the city would be home to a second rink, the famous Rond Point des Champs Elysees, a circular rink that still exists as an indoor theatre. Though the French had played an organized form of hockey for two years it was not until the 1894 arrival of Canadian George Meagher, with an updated rulebook and detailed coaching instructions, that the finer points of the game were introduced to the French. Meagher's efforts led to the formation of the first official club in the capital, Le Hockey Club du Paris, followed a short time later by the creation of Le Club de Patineurs de Paris. By 1904, the first hockey club outside of Paris was formed in Lyon.

Throughout Europe, hockey was beginning to develop into an organized sport. On May 16, 1908 hockey representatives from England, France, Belgium, Bohemia (today's Czech Republic) and Switzerland met in Paris to form the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace (LIHG), the forerunner of today's International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). In 1909, the Ligue Internationale would meet in Chamonix, France, establishing its own rules while deciding to organize an annual European championship, set to start the following year. In September 1908 the LIHG added Germany to its membership, paving the way for future conflict and rivalry between the Germans and the Bohemian Czechs.

Bohemia had been only a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time of the Ligue's formation. However, the people were keen players of the game (the area had historically been a home to primitive hockey for centuries) and the region had been allowed to join the organization due to its sporting reputation. In 1890, Josef Rossler-Orovsky "officially" introduced bandy to the Bohemian Czechs with hockey becoming popular in 1905 when a Canadian, Ruck Anderson, demonstrated the game in Prague. It was, however, Professor Joseh Gruss of Karlov University who was seen as the real founding father of modern Czech hockey as it was he who had translated the rules into Czech. In 1908, Gruss had persuaded members of some of Prague's leading sports clubs to found the hockey teams known as Slavia and Sparta. In November of the same year, he helped institute the creation of the Czech Hockey Union and its entry into European ice hockey. On October 1, 1907, Scotland's first rink, the Crossmyloof ice rink, opened in Glasgow eventually staging their first hockey matches the following year. England played Scotland for the first time in March 1909 defeating their northern rivals 11-1 at the Prince's Club. Britain was the leader in European ice hockey in the years leading up to World War I. This pre-eminence was largely due to the Canadian influence in the mother country. British club teams would become the instrumental driving force for the further development of European hockey. One of these teams, the Oxford Canadians, an all-Canadian team of Rhodes Scholars attending Oxford University, would transform the European game.

In a country where sports was nurtured by the elite as a training field for future leaders, Canadian expatriates were able to sow their passion for ice hockey. The Canadian Rhodes Scholars (or "the Rhodies" as they were called) would form a team called the Oxford Canadians in 1906, and enter into English League competition, winning the championship in 1907. With their success, the Oxford Canadians would receive an invite from tournament organizer, Louis Dufouras, to participate in the European Championship of 1910. Held at the French Alpine resort community of Les Avants, the Oxford Canadians would participated as a non-official competitor playing against teams from Bohemia, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland as well as a second team from Great Britain. The Canadians would be the class of the tournament, winning all of their games, but it would be the gentlemanly Prince's Club who would be declared the inaugural European Champion. In all, the Oxford Canadians would play a total of 17 matches in 21 days winning each one and outscoring their competition by 204 to 17 margin. Their influence would lead to the LIHG decision to adopt "the Canadian rules" of ice hockey for the 1911 championship.

The following year, the Canadians would find the competition to be greatly improved. Oxford Canadians goaltender, Gus Lanctot, in a 1913 article he wrote for The Montreal Daily Herald, stated that now "Each game had to be fought to the very end. Even more, the Canadians met with two defeats at the hands of France and Germany." Lanctot rationalized the defeat to Germany and France in part due to the inexperience of the officials and the presence of Canadian hockey star Quigg Baxter of Montreal, playing for France.

Later that year, at the age of 24, Baxter would perish on the RMS Titanic. Born in Montreal, Baxter had joined the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association when he was 17 and quickly earned a reputation as a star hockey player. He played hockey with the Montreal Shamrocks until he was blinded by an opponents stick in one eye during a 1907 game. No longer able to play competitive hockey in Canada, due to his handicap, Baxter relocated to Paris where he was instrumental in organizing early French hockey.

During a trip to Brussels, Belgium, in the winter of 1911, Baxter met a young female cabaret singer and the two became lovers. He was determined to bring his love back to Montreal with him, and booked her into a stateroom on the Titanic under an assumed name. His bride-to-be would survive the sinking. However, Baxter would perish, his body would never be found. The woman later returned to Europe and resumed her career as a singer in Paris. She never married.

By 1911, Czech-Bohemia had eleven hockey clubs in existence, more than any country in Europe including England. As a result of their rapid growth Bohemia would become the dominant continental team winning the 1911 and 1912 European Championships. The political tension of the day manifested in the hockey arena in 1913 when Germany filed a protest against Bohemian-Czech participation, at the European Championships, on the grounds that as Austria was now a member of the LIHG and that the Bohemian-Czechs, being a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, should not be permitted to participate. In the end, the Germans were quietly persuaded to drop the protest, but the incident exposed the bitter rivalry between themselves and the Bohemian-Czechs. Such was this growing animosity that even after the breakup of the Austrian Empire following World War I, the fundamental divide between the Czechs and the Germans was still present. In time this anti-Germanism would become a seething hatred made worse by the emergence of Czech nationalism.

On the British domestic level, 1913 would be a pinnacle year for hockey as five clubs came together to found the British Ice Hockey Association. The teams were Oxford University, Cambridge University, the Prince's Club, the Manchester Club and the Royal Engineers (a British army unit based in Chatham in Kent). The Association's first president was Major Peter Patton of the Engineers, the man who founded the Prince's Ice Hockey Club in 1897 and who, in 1914, would serve briefly as president of the LIHG.