It is not known for certain when and where the game of bowls was first played in Leamington, but it is believed that there was a green in the Jephson Gardens at the end of the nineteenth century, before these gardens came under the ownership of the Leamington Town Council. Subsequently the gardens were used for tennis and for archery. Bowling also took place at The Bath Hotel, but these were not strictly level greens, whilst the Bowling Green Public House in New Street more than likely had one, and this was would almost certainly have been a Crown Green, as was the fashion with Public Houses.
In 1908, following a suggestion by the Town Improvement Association, it was agreed by the Parks and Gardens Committee, and subsequently by the whole Town Council, that a new level green be laid on land adjacent to the Victoria Park Lodge in Avenue Road, a building that still stands, though much altered since then, which was occupied by the then Parks and Gardens Superintendent, Mr Hayes, and it continued to be the home of the holder of this office for many years. The green was laid on land that was, in later years, turned into hard tennis courts and latterly has become sheltered accommodation known as Ingle Court, named after a former Superintendant, George Ingle.
The bowling green was laid under the direction of Mr Hayes, who, we are told, had considerable experience of laying bowling greens, both crown and level. It became known as Leamington Corporation Bowling Green.
It first came into use in early July 1909, and many of the people using it at that time were local town councillors and businessmen. The most enthusiastic of these was Councillor James Thorburn, a Scotsman who had a credit-drapery business and a shop in the town, and who had insisted on it being a level green. He had visited the site virtually every day since work started to check on progress, and was the councillor who had pushed hardest for the new facility.
It was constructed slightly smaller than the size stipulated by the English Bowling Association, the governing body of bowls, which had itself been founded in 1903 and had formulated the rules of the game. Amongst these it stated that a green should be 40 yards square, whereas the Leamington one was 39 yards by 30 yards. However, though not of the regulation dimensions, it was to all intents and purposes suitable for match play, albeit by playing competitions in one direction only.
On the afternoon of 12th August in that year, when bowling was finished, an impromptu meeting was called by the energetic and enthusiastic Councillor Thorburn, where, after some discussion, a resolution was put to the meeting that the green be formally opened and that a bowls club be formed. It was proposed the club be called The Leamington Bowling Club, and that Councillor Thorburn be elected as President, with Mr. C C Sutton as Secretary. This was unanimously agreed by all present, and it was suggested that the Mayor be invited to perform the opening ceremony a week later, when, after the opening, followed inevitably by tea, a match would be played between the President’s and the Secretary’s teams.
Thus on August 19th 1909, the greens were officially declared open by Alderman Sidney Flavel, the Chairman of the Town Improvement Association, and The Leamington Bowling Club was formed.
Alderman Flavel, as well as being Chairman of the Town Improvements Association, which had had a big input into the project and had made a very handsome contribution to the expenses, was also the Chairman of the Bowling Green Sub-Committee on the Council, and in his speech wished the green and the club a long and happy life. He was certainly right in respect of the club, but the green was not to have such a prosperous future. He stated that the green had already been visited by a Royal prince, a brother of the future Queen, who had watched the bowling with considerable interest, and Alderman Flavel was delighted that Leamington was joining other spas and resorts in furthering the game of bowls.
He hoped that the members would have many happy hours playing on it and would always keep good tempers because all games were trials of temper. He went on to praise the tenacity of Councillor Thorburn in getting the green laid and in forming the club.
In his vote of thanks, James Thorburn praised all those who had ensured that the town now had an excellent green, and the inhabitants of the borough must be very gratified that they now had added a further attraction to those already existing in the attractive town of Leamington.
It is recorded that the opening game resulted in a win for the President’s team by 55 shots to 44, the club had 35 members, and the subscription was one shilling. This subscription was exclusive of the Corporation charges which were three pence an hour. Twenty two of the members each gave a donation of two pence to the Lavatory Fund, although how this was used is not clear – perhaps they were permitted to spend a penny twice! Laundry cost two shillings and soap cost one shilling. This allowed the club to end the year with a balance of one shilling and threepence. The first meeting of the committee also drew attention to the rule strictly forbidding gambling on the bowling green!
Prior to the opening of the green, the Bowling Green Sub-committee of the Council had agreed the expenditure of £17 6s 6d for the supply of five green markers (with chalk box), twelve jacks, twelve pairs of Taylor’s bowls, twelve rubber mats, and twelve pairs of rubber-soled shoes.
The first officers of the club were:
|President||Councillor James Thorburn|
|Vice-President||Councillor W Sheen|
|Secretary||Mr C C Sutton|
|Committee||Mr J T Earnshaw, Mr W Hammond, Mr G Walton, Mr G A Willcox, Mr W Thomas|
No persons can be identified except for the man with long socks and his back to the camera. He is known to be Henri Lawton, a local sports equipment supplier with a shop in Denby Buildings, near the Town Hall. He supplied all the bowls equipment for the new green to the Council. He was also a gym master at Warwick School.