History of the Newbury and Speenhamland Bowling Green
'The ancient Bowling Green in the hamlet of Speenhamland must always be a local landmark and is one of more than ordinary interest. So far back as 1571 there is local reference to the popular game of bowls being prohibited during the church service.' A report in the Newbury Weekly News dated April 27th, 1912.
The green was situated at the rear of the Maidenhead, now the Bacon Arms, the Chequers, the Bear and the George and Pelican, hostelries and taverns occupying the north side of the Bath Road (A4), and was located in that area up to 1935, when it was relocated in Victoria Park.
In a book, The Story of Bowls, written by Arthur H. Hynes, there are some interesting facts about the Newbury Bowling Club. 'Prior to 1934,' the author writes, play took place in the grounds of the local George and Pelican, a hostelry of considerable antiquity. The Pelican Inn, Speenhamland, has its place in history as being the place where local magistrates in 1795 made the famous decision regarding the introduction of bread scales, but a long time before this, it was the scene of many an exciting bowls match.’
In the local archives there is a reference to the foundation of the Newbury club in 1598. When the Second Battle of Newbury was fought in 1644, the green occupied the same site.
On March 24th the club and green was revived after some years of neglect, with a meeting convened by some of the principal townsmen of the day. A cost of £40 was estimated to re-lay the turf and put the green into playing order. The sum was raised by selling £l shares. A Mr Joseph Vines was appointed secretary and the subscriptions were fixed at £l for townsmen and 10 shillings and sixpence for members living more than a mile from Newbury Bridge. An inaugural game was played on the following April 10th.
Fifty poles (17,512 square yards, 17,264 square metres) of land was leased north of Pelican Lane, where the Royal British Legion Club is now situated, to construct a new green.
A medal was presented to the club Singles Champion: this is now the Club President's badge of office. It has a Latin inscription, 'Palman qui meruit ferat', which means 'Let him that has won the palm bear it'. The dictionary definition of 'palm' is any tree-like plant of a tropical or sub-tropical family, having a straight trunk crowned with a largepinnate or palmate of leaves. A leaf or branch of any of these trees is a symbol of victory or success.
Elected President at the AGM was a Mr John Porter, renowned sportsman and racehorse trainer. He trained 23 Classic winners, seven of them Derby winners, one of which was a famous horse called Ormonde, ridden by the great Fred Archer. Mr Porter was also involved in the creation of Newbury Racecourse, along with the owner of the land, a Mr Baxendale, and King Edward Vll.
The green was purchased, plus an additional adjoining piece of land to build a clubhouse.
To the design by Messrs Hill and Thomas, Mr George Elnus erected a pavilion with a verandah, toilet arrangements and a clubroom able to seat 40 people. It took time for the ornamental flower borders and climbing roses to become well established, but from a bowler's point of view it is very much doubted if there is a better bowling green to be found in the south of England.
The opening ceremony took place on May 1st at 3pm, followed by a match played between the under-50s versus the over-50s.
The green was altered to conform to the EBA regulations, i.e. with proper banks and ditches.
Extracts from the minutes of the AGM held on April 2nd:
Matches arranged with Ryde, Reading, Southampton, Winchester, Palmer Club and the Australian Tourists.
A proposal was put before the meeting that the green be levelled. It was agreed, with the proviso that by giving notice, members who preferred the old game of corner to corner, could do so on certain evenings of the week.
Affiliated to the English Bowling Association, members were now entitled to enter county competitions, either singles or teams.
The first visit by the Berkshire County Bowling Association took place. The team consisted of members from Bracknell, Desborough, Maidenhead Thicket, Palmer Park, Reading, Reading West End and Suttons.
The President was W. Johnson and the Secretary J. Foster. Newbury lost by 16 shots.
Other matches for this year: Ryde: party left by train at 9 a.m. but owing to heavy rain no play was possible. Reading Biscuit Factory away won by 4 shots; at home won by 27 shots.
The green was re-laid with Cumberland Turf
Newbury were winners of the County Double Rink Championship.
This was to be a very successful year for Newbury.
In the County Single Rink competition, a team consisting of Messrs W. J. Jones, H. A. Cannan, T. Webb and F. Bennett won the competition and went on to reach the final in the English Championships, only to lose to a team from Preston BC, Sussex.
T. Webb and F. Bennett were winners of the County Pairs Championship.
Newbury were winners of the County Double Rink Championship.
W. J. Jones and F. Bennett were winners of the County Pairs Championship.
Newbury were winners of the County Double Fours Championship.
NBC members deferred a proposal to admit women members because of insufficient accommodation.
C. H. Godwin was runner-up in County Singles Championship.
The last game to be played at the Speenhamland green was a spoon competition.
The proceeds of £5 10s were presented to the Berkshire Benevolent Fund. It seems that Newbury was the first subscriber to this fund.
Newbury Borough Council gave detailed consideration to plans submitted by the Borough Surveyor for the suggested development of the centre of Victoria Park. Plans consist of one or two bowling greens, a pavilion containing public conveniences for both sexes, and two hard tennis courts.
The club moved from Speenhamland to the new facilities in Victoria Park.
A. V. Bradshaw was runner-up in the County Singles Championship.
In the County Club Championship (Keyser Cup), Newbury played Maidenhead Desborough at Suttons Bowls Club and won by 5 shots, thanks to a 34-10 win by their only winning rink.
J. Drawbell was the winner of the County Singles Championship.
Electricity was installed in the pavilion.
The club discussed a memorial to the late Secretary, Mr John Sullivan. It was proposed that his woods should be suitably mounted, engraved and placed in the pavilion as a memorial to the high esteem and affection in which he was held by his fellow members, and for his great work for the club.
South African Tourists played Berkshire on Newbury's green.
In one of the best finals of the Berkshire County Bowling Championships at Newbury, the town's F. H. C. Pearce, F. G. Pearce and H. Lambourne beat A. Devlin, A. E. Chapman and R. J. Huckle 20-11, to win the triples title. The match made history for the Berkshire Bowling Association, for it is the first time both triples finalists have come from the club staging the championships.
The first Open Pairs tournament was arranged. The winning finalists were J. Wilson and
H. Downsborough; the losing finalists were the Newbury father-and-son partnership of F. G. Pearce and F. H. C. Pearce.
A triple consisting of J. Sullivan, J. Stephenson and E. Mann are the first Newbury Ladies to reach a Berkshire County Women's BA final.
The same triple as last year - J. Sullivan, J. Stephenson and E. Maw - reached the final again, only to be the bridesmaids once more.
After a ten-year gap of not being involved in a county final, Newbury beat Bracknell in the final of the County Club Championship at Abingdon, winning three of the four triples, to take the match by 26 shots (75-49). Despite interruptions by heavy rain, some excellent bowling was seen, but there was no doubt about Newbury's superiority, and they led by a comfortable margin at all stages.
MONDAY AUGUST 19TH: CLUBHOUSE RAVAGED BY FIRE.
Whilst Newbury members were returning from the EBA Championship at Worthing, after watching Peter Perring and Peter Bryant in the pairs competition, their clubhouse was
a-fire. Severe damage was caused to one corner and the whole of the roof section. It resulted in the entire upper section being rebuilt.
Major work was carried out on the green to improve the levels, and the ditch timber edgings were replaced with precast concrete channels.
A special meeting was held by the council to consider a suggestion that bowls may be played on a Sunday. The Borough Surveyor reported that it is essential for proper maintenance that the green is closed for the whole of one day every week.
MAJOR DAMAGE TO THE BOWLING GREEN
Responsibility for damage caused to the green when weedkiller was mistaken for a fungus-killing treatment rested entirely with the council. The weedkiller was in an identical container to the one used for fungicide and was used in error.
Mrs E. Chidwick, President of Newbury Ladies Bowling Club, had a major success, winning the county unbadged singles title by beating Mrs O. Rice of Sunningdale in the final.
County President for this year was Reg Huckle. As the green was unplayable, the other clubs in Berkshire rallied around and ensured that his year as President was not ruined, by offering their hospitality.
To express his thanks, at the end of the season a match was arranged between a number of ex-County Presidents who brought a rink from their own clubs to be entertained at Newbury. This was the start of a match played annually up to two years ago.
The maintenance of the green was taken over by club members.
Annual subscription was increased to £5.
P. Bryant was winner of the County Singles Championship.
P. Perring and P. Bryant were winners of the County Pairs Championship.
Newbury raced to a 60-22 victory over Reading in the final of the Morton Cup at Longmeadow Indoor Bowling Centre. The contest was virtually over by the halfway stage, when Newbury led 34-11. They then piled on the agony over the final stages. Peter Bryant's rink galloped home 32-10 against Les West, while Derek Chivers got the better of Danny Higgs 28-12.
Three members are to play against Bedfordshire in the Middleton Cup: H. Steele, Stan Brindley and Bert Spragg.
Newbury bowlers will wear creams in future. A resolution to this effect was passed at the AGM; the only exception will be where the secretaries of the clubs agree that creams will not be worn.
The first Sunday match to be played on the green was against Waterlooville. Newbury won by 106 shots to 71.
Newbury Bowling Club officially opened its doors to women.
A women's section has been formed and the men have given their blessing to the women playing matches on their already congested green. Eight players form the nucleus of the new section and four more are joining.
Newbury Ladies win their first home match against Hungerford.
(Newbury names first):
T. Butler, P. Chapman, E. Maw 18, R. Barrett, L. Sanders, D. Greenough 15.
N. Jones, F. Watts, C. Pidgeon 20, H. Britton, G. Dawes, H. Tucker 18.
Newbury win their first County Bannerette in the history of the club.
Extract from the NWN dated March 28th 1972: 'In an effort to encourage league bowls in Berkshire, Thatcham BC held a meeting to discuss the possibility of forming such a league. Eleven clubs were represented and a lively interest was shown in the project. It was decided to call it the Kennet League, with teams consisting of three triples.
Six clubs have joined for the 1972 season. They are Abingdon, Faringdon, Hungerford, Newbury, Thatcham and Tilehurst. Several others hope to enter next season. If there is sufficient support, the league could be run in sections.
It was decided that members of the Ladies Section will be allowed to use spare rinks in the evenings.
This will be remembered as the year of success coupled with misfortune. Success on the green came with victory in the County Club Championship, but Newbury were losing finalists in the Kennet League.
Newbury Bowls Club with 10 regulars on tour, including the club captain, pulled off then shock result of the local bowls season. They beat a full-strength Huntley and Palmers team 78-71 in the Kennet League Final, despite losing on three of the four rinks. The Newbury heroes were Derek Chivers and his rink of Ernie Bree, Philip Read and Derek Balfour, who beat Jimmy Birkett's rink 35-4.
Newbury Bowls Club produced a fine team performance to win the Berkshire County Kennet League competition. They won 13 of their 14 matches in the early rounds, only drawing with Hagbourne BC. They went on to defeat Suttons BC in the quarter finals, overcame Wokingham BC in the semis, to set up a final with Tilehurst BC, which they won 84-74.
On 9th July 1998 Newbury Men hosted the EBA in a celebration match result being
NEWBURY 117 EBA 113
Newbury Ladies also hosted the EBA
During the year there were many other celebration games but internally the big event was an "Elizabethan" day with all members dressed in suitable attire. Following the match was a pig roast washed down with "drink of the day" - mead.
Recent years have been difficult for Newbury Bowling Club in that in September 2009 Costain began their water extraction work for the construction of new shopping centre (Parkway) underground car park. Although never admitted a consequence of this was that the water levels in the park dropped (as evidenced by drop in level in well used by the club) resulting in subsidence problems with part of the green.
Thanks to the fortitude of the members the club did survive with only 4 useable rinks.
Unfortunately the state of the green did not encourage new membership and thus the club "stagnated" until 2017.
In 2015 Costains agreed to pay £600,000 towards repairing the park which appeared to sink after the shopping centre was built nearby.
The 2016 bowls season was shortened and ended early August 2016 so that the council, who received the payment from Costains, could commence work including the removal of the fir-trees around the green.
In September 2016 work then began on rebuilding the green together with ancillary works namely new fencing, walkways and pathways etc. The club is of course most grateful to Newbury District Council, especially the services manager Granville Taylor, and Greenham Trust for their help in completing the project. One must not forget all the work carried out by the members of the club and for "sticking with it" through the difficult years.
Bowling re-commenced May 2017 and one hopes that the new facilities will lead to brighter future. Maybe another 400 years!