Bowling Along For 100 Years

Chapter 2 - The First Ten Years

1910

These were, of course, the years of development when rules started to be put in place, fixtures established and plans made for the years ahead.

The introduction of a full financial balance sheet saw a large increase in income and expenditure and it was possible to declare a profit of 8 shillings and ninepence. With all the original officers re-elected, the membership remained steady at 35 and 1910 saw the introduction of Club competitions and matches against other clubs.

The very first Club Champion was E. Cleaver who recorded a 21 – 18 win over W. Hammond, while in the handicap event, G. Willcox beat W. Pollard. Matches were played against Nelson’s Club at Emscote, both home and away, with the away team winning on each occasion. Councillor Collier from Warwick selected a side and fixtures were played, again both home and away, and whilst Leamington managed to draw the game at home, they lost heavily at Warwick. A number of the Leamington players had earlier supplemented the Warwick side when they scored a big win against Yardley.

1911

It was in 1911 that the Club started to move forward, and with a membership of 41 it was agreed that there was a definite need for a second green, preferably one of regulation size. Representations were made to the Council but the main stumbling block appeared to be the finding of a suitable site, if indeed it was agreed to go ahead. One Councillor, who was not a member of the Club, suggested that the west side of the Pump Room Gardens could possibly be used, although this raised an outcry from those who rightly thought it should be retained as a children’s play area. One of the bowling Councillors even had the temerity to suggest that any second one should be a crown green, but he received little support!

James Thorburn, resigned as President to concentrate on building up the bowling side and was warmly praised for all his efforts, and in May of that year a framed illuminated address on vellum was presented to him. He was succeeded as President by the Mayor of Leamington.

The Secretary was asked to draft a set of rules for the Club for consideration and fixtures were sought with Nelsons (Warwick), Cape Hill Brewery, Spon Street (Coventry), and the Railway Refreshment Room. This could well have been the beginning of the long association the Club has had with employees of the railway companies.

Six fixtures were played during the year but as five of these were lost, it is perhaps better not to give all the scores! It is noted that subscriptions increased to two shillings and sixpence per annum, the provision of slippers for the bowling green was raised in Council, as was the excessive cost of work on the greens and tennis courts. The Council were also asked for permission to erect a small tent on the bowling green for visitor’s teas.

Bowling on the first green - circa 1911
Bowling on the first green – circa 1911
The railway line can be seen on the left hand side

1912 – 1913

The fame of the Club was obviously spreading, or possibly it was the fact that Leamington was an easy touch, because during 1912 applications for fixtures were received from Cape Hill BC, Coventry BC, Heath Hotel BC, Oxford City BC, Warwick Corporation BC, Nelsons BC, and Wolverton BC. It was decided to limit home and away fixtures to four during the season. In the event only seven games were played, as the game against Wolverton Park was only played at home. Perhaps even then the Leamington players were not keen on travelling to away games, but the play had obviously improved because five games were won, with only two losses.

There must have been some sort of accommodation, however basic, because there was a recommendation that the ‘cabin’ be renovated inside, and the washing basin replaced. It could not have been too wonderful though as Oxford City were entertained at The Bath Hotel after the game at a cost of two shillings per head.

During 1912, following much pressuring and lobbying, a new green was seeded on land adjoining the Victoria Park tennis courts and on June 2nd 1913 a new bowling green was opened on the present site of the greens in Archery Road, whilst the original green in Avenue Road was also retained. Much of the pressure for this green had been applied by Councillors W. Sheen (the Club President), James Thorburn (Captain), and W. Pollard, all of them keen bowlers, and by Alderman Sidney Flavel. The Deputy Mayor of Leamington (Dr Harold Mason), in opening the green, spoke of the growing popularity of the game and said that it would be open for the whole of the town and would prove a very valuable acquisition for Leamington. How right he was. In anticipation of this, in January 1913, the Parks & Gardens Committee of the Council recommended the expenditure of £250 for a pavilion for the new bowling green. After much discussion and argument, the Council reduced this figure to £100. Councillor Sheen, who also sat on that committee, took the opportunity to berate a number of his fellow councillors for having no interest in sport whatsoever.

It was all to no avail anyway because in March the Borough Treasurer requested that the £100 be removed from the Council’s budget altogether for the time being due to many other financial commitments.

Rugby BC were added to this year’s fixture list, and there was also a match played against the Bath Hotel Bowling Club which some suggest was the parent of our neighbours Avenue BC, founded ten years later.

1914

The new green meant that once again pressure was put on the Council for a new pavilion. The Parks & Gardens Committee recommended that £150 be put in the budget to go towards it, but it caused a huge storm in the Council Chamber when it was put to the Council, and the ensuing argument took up three columns in the Leamington Courier. Many councillors were in favour, and the view was expressed that any pavilion built should be of a good design and worthy of the town.

On the opposing side were those who thought that this would just be a waste of money and of no benefit to the townspeople, and there were several who thought that the money could be put to better use. After an amendment that the amount be reduced to £50, the sub-committee felt that this sum would be totally inadequate and at their next meeting they decided to leave the pavilion until the following year. The Club President provided a tent for use by club members during the season.

The club affiliated to the English Bowling Association for the first time at a cost of 15/6d, made up of 5/- entrance fee and 10/6d annual subscription. Mr C.C. Sutton, who had been Secretary of the Club since its formation resigned, and for the first time a competition was started for novices.

Also for the first time, Leamington entered a rink in the National Championships when the foursome of H. Cleaver, J. Thorburn, F. Tiller, and S. Simmonds played against a rink from Bath City in the first round at Gloucester. A report in the Gloucestershire Chronicle stated that “the Leamington quartet were the finest rink of players ever seen in the district and it was a pity that there were not more bowlers present to witness so remarkable a display of really fine bowling as against the style of ‘driving’ shots which some of the Gloucestershire players seem anxious to cultivate”. Leamington won by 27 shots to 13 and were due to play either Bristol or Weston-Super-Mare in the next round, the winners going to the finals in London. However no account of the next round can be traced so it is assumed that they did not progress further.

The First World War Years

In August of 1914 the ‘war to end all wars’ began and sport of all description took a very back page as young men enlisted in the forces, and the manufacture of armaments and munitions began. Victoria Park was requisitioned by the army, who in turn passed it to the air force, and eventually the Standard Motor Company erected a factory unit for the manufacture of munitions.

In spite of all this, bowlers continued to play but in much reduced numbers, and it was decided to start a Pairs competition.

The club also managed to keep going through 1915, but records of who achieved success in the competitions are limited. The local paper was reduced in size and no mention was made of bowls, or in fact any other sport. It is understood that many sports gave up playing, not only due to lack of participants but also because many pitches were turned over to allotments as part of the war effort.

Council staff were reduced in numbers and this reflected itself in the state of the greens, and the club wrote to the Council twice asking for more attention to be paid, before they became too bad to recover. It was decided by the Committee to play all matches and competitions on the small green in Avenue Road, rather than on the new one in Archery Road in order to preserve it as much as possible.

The club struggled on in 1916 and managed to fulfil some fixtures, including a new one with Warwick Boat Club, but were unable to retain others. The Club Championship was played, and a handicap competition was arranged, the proceeds of which were donated to ‘Soldiers in Hospital’. However the situation worsened in 1917 and in March the Council resolved that in view of National Requirements, all games be discontinued for the coming year. The comment was expressed that it seemed unseemly to be providing games in public gardens or on public tennis courts.

So the club went into hibernation.

At the beginning of 1918 the club wrote to the Council asking for the re-opening of the green for play during the coming season, offering a nominal rent and also offering to provide the labour and bear the cost of maintaining the green in proper order. A letter was also sent to the Council by the Standard (Leamington) Sports and Social Club for the use of the bowling greens and the tennis courts, with their club being responsible for the upkeep.

Whilst the original requests were turned down, it was referred back for further consideration after several councillors had stated that there was a real need for workers to relax after all their efforts in the daytime, and in May the Council overturned their original decision and granted permission to the Standard S & SC to use the tennis courts and the bowling green subject to the following conditions relating to bowls:

  1. The Standard S & SC to be responsible for the whole of the upkeep of the greens subject to the satisfaction of the Parks and Gardens Superintendent
  2. The Standard S & SC to pay an agreed rental for the year
  3. Members of the Leamington Bowling Club to become honorary members of the Standard Sports Club at an annual subscription of 5/-d each, the membership to entitle them to equal rights

Thus after just one year’s break, the club was able to resume bowling, but without full control of their own activities.

1919

As bowling resumed in earnest, so did the pressure on the Council from the club to obtain some sort of facilities for the bowlers and spectators. A letter to them in June requesting that washing and lavatory accommodation be made available near the bowling green resulted in a minute to the effect that ‘a light iron frame and a basin’ be provided. No other details are given so it is left to one’s imagination as to how this would be used and for what purpose.

On the bowling side there were wins at Oxford City and Banbury Chestnuts. The account in the local paper of the Oxford encounter, played at Merton College, Oxford, was full of praise for their green, and the article went on to complain bitterly at the lack of facilities and the poor green at Leamington, which compared very unfavourably with most of the clubs in other towns.

The Annual Dinner and Presentation took place at the Angel Hotel when there were 43 present out of a total membership of 60.

W (Bill) Gough playing on the first green in Archery Road in 1919
W (Bill) Gough playing on the first green in Archery Road in 1919

Account

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