Bowling Along For 100 Years

Chapter 4 - Distant Guns

1931

In this year the English Women’s Bowling Association was founded. As Leamington did not have a Ladies section at the time it was of little significance to the club. However we were not to know then of the important part that the EWBA was to play in our life in later years and of the very strong bond that would develop between the two of us.

The new pavilion came into its own, the first visitors being Stoke Bowling Club from Coventry who were delighted with the new arrangements of tea being served from here instead of having to walk into Leamington.

In June the first ever match between Leamington and Avenue Bowling Club took place, resulting in a win for Leamington. Subsequently this fixture has always been a needle match played in a good spirit but with no quarter given, as should be the case between local rivals.

1932

In the early part of the season, big floods disrupted several fixtures but once the weather improved the club benefited by having a good season, winning 19 of their 24 games, and failing by the narrowest of margins to win the County League cup.

Leamington Avenue became the first local club to form a Ladies Section, and it was to be another two decades before the chauvinists at Archery Road gave way on this issue. It could well have been the reason why several more members joined the trail to the Avenue club and this short-sighted policy lost the club some of its better bowlers.

There were now 28 bowling clubs in the County and at the AGM concern was again expressed at the state of the Leamington greens in comparison with those of many of our opponents.

1933

A reasonably successful season. We finished as runners-up in the County League and won the Ivens Cup. With a membership of over 90 there was an occasion when two teams were put out, albeit each of 4 rinks, but it was a step forward.

Again at both the Annual Dinner and the AGM, speeches were made commenting on unsatisfactory state of the greens and of the rebuffs from the Council to our approaches. An offer to pay half the price of a new heavy roller had been turned down, and the Council had even refused permission for the club to put up its own flag on match days.

On the positive side, the financial affairs of the club were very satisfactory, and the atmosphere of friendliness was very marked, encouraged by a good social side.

1934

Playing results at this time are not well documented but the Captain, W Gough, in his speech at the Annual Dinner queried whether the club was wise to play in the County League. Many of the clubs in the area did not do so, and without the league pressure managed a greater level of success.

E.D. Hooper, who had been playing for the club for several years and was to go on to become Chairman, presented a cup for competition. Whilst he was still playing, his son, Lol, joined him and he too eventually became Chairman as well as Club Champion and remained a playing member until he died in his 89th year. Between them they served the Leamington Bowling Club for nearly 80 years, a wonderful record that is unlikely to be beaten.

Mr Fred Pritchard, who became the first Treasurer of the club in 1911, and had held the office ever since, died during the year.

In September, a letter appeared in the Leamington Courier above the name ‘A Somerset Council Green Bowler’, berating the state of the Leamington greens and classing them as some of the worst in England. He concluded by suggesting that both of them should be taken up and re-laid.

Two months later the Parks & Gardens Committee asked for £250 for the re-laying of one of the greens with sea-washed Lancashire turf, and the Finance Committee gave their approval.

In December a new Bowling Greens sub-committee was appointed to consider the question of providing an additional green, adjacent to the existing greens and in front of the pavilion, instead of relaying one of the other greens. This was agreed and approved by the full Council.

1935.

On July 25th, the new ‘C’ green was officially opened amidst great celebration, with the Mayor bowling the first wood and this was followed by a match between a combined Leamington & Avenue team and the County, which the latter won.

The provision of the green had been made possible largely due to the very strong efforts and powers of persuasion on the part of Councillor Rowland Salt, a very enthusiastic supporter of the game and the development of the town. In a speech to a local society on a 5 year plan for Leamington he stated – “Bowls is rapidly increasing in popularity and we might reasonably expect one new sea-washed turf green every year for the next five years. Indoor bowls would be a big attraction and would doubtless pay well.” It is not clear whether this was just wishful thinking on his part, but it certainly was not in accord with many of his fellow councillors!

The green was to become recognised as one of the finest in the Midlands, cared for by Mr Arnold as green-keeper, under the guidance of the Parks & Gardens Superintendant. Needless to say, prior to the opening of the green, the Council had great discussions as to what the charges should be for bowlers. It was eventually suggested that 3d an hour/person should be charged on A green, and 4d an hour/person on greens B & C, with a weekly ticket available at four shillings per person. It is not clear whether these charges came into effect, but the uncertainty of them greatly affected the entries for club competitions, which were well down on previous years, despite the fact that the club now had about 100 members and was one of the strongest in the county.

With the addition of this green, it was felt that the time was right to move forward and organise an Open Bowls Tournament. The Town Council agreed that such a tournament should be considered under their patronage, but there was much discussion as to how far this patronage should go. A meeting was called comprising representatives from all local clubs and interested councillors, and an organising committee was formed to get The Leamington Spa Open Bowls Tournament under way, starting with the first one from July 6th – 11th 1936. The local Chamber of Trade and Leamington Bowling Club both offered to donate trophies. This event went on to become one of the best in the country, rivalling those that were already operating in seaside towns.

It was announced that from next season, league fixtures would be abandoned.

Mr H (Harry) Howells One of the club’s most successful bowlers between the wars
Mr H (Harry) Howells
One of the club’s most successful bowlers between the wars
He won the novices cup in 1923, his first championship in 1929,
and the last of his five championships in 1951
The marker is the Club Captain, H J Bennett

1936

The rivalry between the club and our neighbours at The Avenue seemed to be intensifying at this time, possibly due to the coming and going of some of the members who could not seem to make up their minds which club they wished to join.

The first fixture between the two clubs on the new green at Archery Road drew very favourable comments from the visitors on the quality of it, some proclaiming it to be the best in the county, and Leamington were able to secure the result, although they lost the return game.

The first Open Bowls Tournament was a great success, despite the fact that it rained on every day. Competitors came from around the country and many were greatly impressed with the town, the greens and the organisation. Local players acquitted themselves well, one of them even being carried shoulder high from the green by fellow members after a notable victory!

A page from the programme of the 1st Leamington Open Tournament
A page from the programme of the 1st Leamington Open Tournament

1937

The year started with bowlers bombarding the Council and the press with letters over the issuing of season tickets. A petition signed by over 100 people was sent to the Council, but the Local Authority was adamant in their refusal to accede to the request. No reasons were given for this stance despite the fact that other Spa towns throughout the country, as well as many holiday resorts, allowed season tickets for ratepayer bowlers.

In a touch of wishful thinking the Borough Treasurer was instructed to include the sum of £250 in next year’s estimates for the provision of an indoor bowling green!

The Club enjoyed a successful season and entertained two touring sides from South Wales, Ebbw Vale and Eastern Valley, and in June the club hosted a county game between Warwickshire & Leicestershire.

More Ladies were beginning to bowl on the club greens and pressure was mounting for the formation of a Ladies section, but it was to be another 13 years before this came to fruition.

1938

It came as no surprise when, in January, the Town Council decided against the laying down of an indoor bowling green. It had been suggested that this could have been laid in the Winter Hall in the Pump Rooms, but it was felt to be totally impractical and the idea was abandoned.

At the Annual Dinner at the Regent Hotel, the guest speaker, J Taylor, Vice-President of the County Bowling Association stated that the facilities and greens at Leamington were fast becoming some of the best in the country and the town should do more to promote them. More Councillors were beginning to recognise this and were well in evidence at the Open Bowls Tournament where they were seen to be impressed with all that was going on.

The Club lost a great stalwart with the death of John Tarplee, who had served the Club for 30 years. One of the best-known bowlers in the County, he had been selected to play for them each year since 1923, with one exception, and he was the very first winner of the County Championship. He had also been Club Champion on two occasions.

This year saw the appearance of Tom Whittaker who was to become a most accomplished and successful bowler with the club.

Account

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