Tributes paid to 'superstar' Sheila Capstick who led way for equal rights for women

Sheila Capstick secures victory in the fight for women's WMC rights.
Sheila Capstick secures victory in the fight for women's WMC rights.

A "reluctant superstar" who paved the way for equal rights for women in Working Men's Clubs has died at the age of 75.

Sheila Capstick, of Eastmoor, passed away last Sunday, just over a decade after she succeeded in winning full membership rights for women in thousands of social clubs across Britain.

Sheila with friend and fellow campaigner, former journalist Brenda Haywood.

Sheila with friend and fellow campaigner, former journalist Brenda Haywood.

In 1978, Mrs Capstick arrived for a game of snooker at Wakefield City Working Men’s Club, a regular player.

But the club’s all male committee had decided that women should no longer be allowed at the tables.

What followed was a dogged campaign to secure equal voting and participation rights.

“A bloke came in and said he was going to have women stopped from playing snooker,” Mrs Capstick recalled later.

One of the meetings in Blackpool to discuss the issue of women playing snooker.

One of the meetings in Blackpool to discuss the issue of women playing snooker.

“The next thing, a sign went up banning women from playing. I complained to the committee but nothing happened.”

Furious, Mrs Capstick wrote to Cosmopolitan magazine asking if women should have to stand for this.

The letter brought her national attention, from both the media and influential figures including feminist Germaine Greer, who sent a postcard in support.

South Kirkby-born Mrs Capstick rallied friends and supporters and picketed outside the club. They presented a petition of 2,000 signatures to the committee. But it was ignored.

The campaign, “A Woman’s Right to Cues,” quickly broadened into a demand for equal rights for women in all working men’s clubs, and for full membership rights within the Club and Institute Union (CIU), to which all the WMCs were affiliated.

The wider campaign was named ERICCA – Equal Rights in Clubs Campaign for Action.

Year after year, the campaigners picketed the CIU’s annual conference in Blackpool. But it was not until April 2007, a generation after Mrs Capstick had chalked her cue at Wakefield, that the CIU relented.

By that time, Wakefield City WMC had already welcomed women to the fold.

Paying tribute to his wife as a "reluctant superstar", Ken Capstick said: “[The campaign] became bigger than the snooker. It was more about the whole issue of women and their rights, not only in Working Men’s Club, but their right to a social life, to partake in sports and their right to enjoy time outside their home as much as men did.

“It was a terrific campaign and changed a lot of people’s attitudes.

“When I see women playing fantastic football, or rugby, or see Nicola Adams climbing into the boxing ring and winning Olympic gold medals, I think to myself, if people don’t know Sheila Capstick, it’s about time you did.

“I was very, very proud of Sheila. For me, she is defined by being a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother. But there’s no doubt about it that the ERICCA campaign was a big part of her life.”

Former newspaper journalist Brenda Haywood, who reported on Mrs Capstick's story and later helped with her campaign, added: “Sheila was an inspirational friend and it was a privilege to know her and to campaign alongside her. She had a strong sense of justice and always fought for what she believed in.

“She was the driving force behind ERICCA and was always supported by Ken and her family. She never gave up and 30 years after that snooker ban she was finally successful. Sheila made a difference. She will be much missed, but she will never be forgotten.”

ERICCA was not the only battle for Mrs Capstick.

She supported her husband, who was vice-chairman of the mineworkers’ union in Yorkshire during the bitter dispute and mining strikes of the 1980s

At the time the pair lived in Sherburn-in-Elmet, closed to the Selby coalfield where Mr Capstick worked.

She built a women's support group in the area and later became active in the Women Against Pit Closures movement, which fought the wholesale dismantling of the industry in the early 1990s.

Former Wakefield MP David Hinchliffe said: "I had the privilege of knowing Sheila over many years and seeing - first hand - her courage and determination to fight various injustices. Wakefield can be very proud of Sheila Capstick."

Mrs Capstick is survived by Ken, children David, Graham and Julie, and five grandchildren.