Basingstoke & District Bowling Association
“An abbreviated history of the BDBA will be available to view on this page”
These notes on the history of the BDBA have been extracted from a booklet produced in 1997 on the 75th Anniversary of the Association.
The History of the BDBA
Bowls was actively played in Basingstoke 100 and more years ago. The Basingstoke Conservative Club, then in Church Street, had a 3 rink green behind the Club and ‘The Grapes’, a public house and Brewhouse in Wote Street, had a small 2/3 rink green between the buildings. Basingstoke Town, after a couple of false starts under other names in Winchester Road and at the ‘Half-Way House’ (later renamed the ‘Golden Lion’) in Cliddesden Road, finally settled at Fairfields Recreation Ground and were initially known as the Recreation Ground BC. Thornycrofts had a green on its extensive sports ground at West Ham beside the Worting Road between the junction of South Ham/Worting Road and the now Ring Road. All these greens were in use prior to the Great War.
In the period between 1919-21 all the clubs except ‘The Grapes’ played in the Aldershot & District League along with Farnham, Guildford and Aldershot Conservative Clubs, Cove, R.A.E. (Farnborough) and Farnham Bush Club. The league was played on Saturday afternoon in a 2 rink format, one home and one away. Travel was probably by bus, although a train may have been more convenient for Cove and the R.A.E. Basingstoke Town has a record of a rink from the Conservative Club going to Farnham for a league match with Arnold Joice, who had a coach building business, harnessing up his pony and trap for the journey! Play in this league only lasted until 1921 when the Basingstoke clubs left.
In January 1922 at the Thornycroft AGM the Secretary, F W Tranter, was actioned to get in touch with the other Basingstoke clubs with the object of forming a league in the town. He sent a letter to the Secretaries, Mr Goswell (The Grapes), Mr H Woods (Conservative Club) and T Horton (Basingstoke Town), which was greeted enthusiastically. A committee was created and league competition rules were formulated with the first league match, between Thornycroft ‘A’ and Thornycroft ‘B’ was played in May 1922. A brief and concise Constitution evolved and was written on a sheet of foolscap. It resolved that a President be invited, elected Officers of Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary and a Treasurer come from any constituted club and that the Secretaries of the Clubs would be Council Members. Provision was made for Life Memberships, Vice-Presidents, Auditors and other Officers should the need arise. The local MP, Col. Sir Arthur Holbrook K.B.E, was invited to be the first President and he responded by presenting a shield for League play and a trophy for singles competition, trophies still played for today. Mr Wolfe (Basingstoke Town) and Mr Goswell were elected as Chairman and Secretary respectively and the first of many long serving Treasurers was Mr T Newman of Thornycrofts. The annual subscription was set at 5/- per team with all the clubs initially entering two teams although the Grapes and the Conservative Club withdrew one each in the second year. The chosen format was as previously used in the Aldershot League. Basingstoke Town and Thornys were successful with their two teams and in later years Town increased to three teams and Thornys eventually to four.
In 1923 two more clubs were admitted, Whitchurch and Laverstoke. Whitchurch bowlers had until then been satisfied with somewhat primitive arrangements originally formed from the remnants of the wartime Rifle Club, the purchase of some woods and using a space opposite the Church alongside the original rectory, eventually progressing to a larger green in Bell Street. With the assistance from one or two generous patrons a small wooden club house was obtained. Laverstoke BC, formed in 1921-22 also had small beginnings with a thatched roof club house and a four rink green, expanding from their football and tennis clubs, situated in Laverstoke Lane. Both clubs entered two teams in the League and individuals in the Singles competition. League play was fixed for Monday and Thursday evenings and Saturday if the weather intervened.
In 1923 the first ‘Prize Distribution’ was held and was a “do” in the proper sense, not confined to bowlers but with tickets on sale and invitation cards to many of the towns’ notables. The speeches, reported in the Gazette of the day, were interspersed with humorous anecdotes and musical renderings by a small orchestra and singers who came down from London. So the League had got off to a good start, and progressed throughout the 1920’s, not always smoothly but always with good intent and good fellowship and prominent in all its proceeding were the Officers previously mentioned plus Messrs Rumbold, Horton, Meakins, Noyce, Hopkins, Hilton, Yerbury and Carter.
1928 saw an Open Singles Tournament held on Whit Bank Holiday and was known as the Hospital Tournament. This was continued with a few interuptions and later as an American Pairs event organised by a host club. Besides being a charity event it also attracted a few ladies who were now playing. Most, if not all, of the clubs were male dominated and not many of the ladies got a chance to play regularly.
In 1929 the Presidency was taken over by Lord Lymington, and the first of many major wins was recorded when Messrs Hopkins and Noyce (Basingstoke Town) won the County Pairs, were joined by Messrs Spencer and Dear to win the County Rinks title and a month later clinched the EBA National Rink title, played that year at Leicester. Also in 1929 another club came into existence when a green at the back of the British Legion War Memorial Institute was opened by Lady Portal. Used mainly by Overton residents (chiefly by British Legion members) it did not, however, join the Basingstoke & District League and when it closed in the mid 1960’s most of its members joined Portals BC.
Mr A Wolfe, Basingstoke Town BC, was elected President in 1930 and by then all the B&DL clubs were affiliated to the Hampshire County Bowling Association
In 1931, after seven years in the talking and two years in the making, a new green was formally opened in the War Memorial Park and the Park Club duly affiliated to the League. It promptly attracted bowlers from ‘The Grapes’ BC, by now renamed RAOB (Royal Antiluvian Order of Buffaloes) Bowls Club, whose members were probably going to lose their green anyway due to building extensions by the Brewery and closure of the Brewhouse (the club had already dropped out of the League programme). It also took in some of the Conservative Club members and new bowlers who lived on the east side of the town. The new green was no great shakes, but it was welcome as the Conservative Club was not bad, but small and the Town’s green no better than reasonable. Not much is known of the Laverstoke and Whitchurch greens and Thorny’s was probably the best in the town area. Soon after the War Memorial Park started a member of the public had a letter published in the ‘Gazette’ stating that he had witnessed gambling in progress on the green and he was “horrified”. What he had seen was the ‘Penny on the Jack’ ritual. In the event a letter of explanation was published and the League Council regulated the matter with a lockable box (courtesy of Giffords, the cycle shop) being supplied to each club and from then on all monies were recorded at the AGM, when the key holders opened up the boxes and the proceeds noted. The recipient was the local hospital and by the time the NHS took over some £600 had been donated from an apparently meagre source. Subsequently other charities received some benefit.
Also in 1931 Hopkins and Noyce won the County Pairs again, but lost in the third round at Paddington in the EBA Finals, and St Mary Bourne was formed, but did not affiliate to the B&DL until after the second world war. By now the RAOB club was virtually finished and as the green was a prime site, and the War Memorial Park in operation, the end was inevitable.
The B&DL AGM of 1932 approved a Life Vice-Presidency for Mr A Wolfe, the Lord Monck was elected President (a position he continued to hold until 1965) and a subscription of 6d per head was invited for a parting gift for Mr Newman. In 1934 Mr W E Rumbold was presented with 2 woods and a bag to mark his retirement as Secretary and a couple of years later Cyril Humphreys made his mark as the new Basingstoke Town secretary by winning the HCBA Secretaries Cup. This was his first year of a long career of Office holding until shortly before his death in 1972.
Throughout the 1930’s the Annual Dinner remained a public affair, often with a small orchestra or a couple of entertainers in action between speeches, and the usual venue was the Town Hall or Thornycroft’s large canteen. There were 300 at the 1933 Dinner.
In 1935 a club was formed in Kingsclere, but it did not affiliate to the B&DL until 1950, although it played competitively along with Whitchurch, Andover, St Mary Bourne, Winchester Conservative Club and Overton in the Whitchurch League.
In 1936 the ‘Railway Athletic Club’ approached the League with the intention of joining. They had no green but asked to play in the War Memorial Park, but whether two clubs operating on a green with little in the way of facilities was a sound idea was never put to the test as the club did not join and most of the railwaymen joined the War Memorial Park Club anyway, or else joined Basingstoke Town BC where they effectively made a third team to enter the League programme.
At the 1936 AGM Mr Newman, Thornycroft, and Mr Meakins, a long serving Laverstoke bowler and recent League Treasurer, were made Life V/P’s. To mark this honour Mr Meakins offered a gift of a cup for the Triples Competition, generously declining to have it in his name proposing instead to name it the ‘Tranter Cup’. At first the format was 2 wood, 21 ends, the following year it became 3 woods for the Lead and Two and 2 woods for the Skip. In the third year it became 3 woods, 18 ends to conform with the County Triples. Mr Tranter was elected Life V/P in 1938.
All through the 30’s the League and its constituent clubs individually had put pressure on the Town Council to upgrade its two greens and if possible construct another. The clubs themselves were growing, with more league teams and individual bowlers, and more friendly matches were being arranged with neighbouring clubs. The B&DL introduced friendlies with the Aldershot and Winchester Associations and an annual match against the Whitchurch League. Whitchurch BC itself confined its members to competitions in the B&DL and dropped its league team for several years until after the second world war.
In 1938 Mr Lanham, head of the big emporium in Winchester Street offered a cup for competition in rink play.
Mr George Credland from the Conservative Club was elected to the Presidency of the Hampshire County Bowling Association in 1939, but, with the war clouds gathering, bowls generally went into war-time mode and both the County and the B&DL were closed down. Competitions were played, but with greatly reduced numbers and often the ladies were brought in to make up the numbers. Charity events continued of course and sometimes special days for the ‘Spitfire Fund’ or the ‘Warship Week’. Many of these were played at Thornycroft’s because Fairfields and the War Memorial Park were Council greens and no Sunday play was allowed on them. The League records make no mention of wartime casualties, but it seems unlikely there were none, and any named as passing away were Club Officers or those of the League Council. It should be noted of course that up until the 1950’s the majority of bowlers were middle-aged or older, although photographs exist which do show one or two young faces.
By the end of the War the number of bowlers had not changed much, but younger players were entering the game. All the greens in the area were grass with one, Thornycrofts, possibly of sea-washed turf. Anything better was expensive but a new green planned for Kelvin, Bottomley and Baird’s factory (latterly Smiths Industries) in Winchester Road was to be of Cumberland turf – the best! A factor in this was probably the use of the Italian prisoners-of-war, who were encamped nearby, for the construction. The green was playable in 1945 and Kelvin’s joined the league with 2 teams. Laverstoke had retained League membership but only played in competitions through the war years because of the difficulty of shift working at Portal’s paper mill.
In 1946 Mr Collyer from the War Memorial Park club won the revived County Singles and the Borough Council permitted Sunday play on their greens from 6:00pm – at no extra charge! A positive result was obtained from a deputation to the Borough Council’s Estates Dept when the War Memorial Park green was extended to permit play in both directions and the Fairfields green was also extended by removal of the shrubbery on the west side, thereby allowing am almost square 41 yard green surrounded by a perimeter path.
In 1947, to celebrate the League’s 25th Anniversary, some special matches were played against Paddington and Pirrie Park Bowls Clubs. The past and present League officers played The Rest at Kelvin’s and won 79 – 76. This match was followed by a full blown supper and concert in the works canteen.
The 1948 season was dislocated early on by a ban on play for four weeks on the Council greens due to excessive rain rendering them unplayable. What the private greens were like is not recorded, but anyway, the good sense and co-operation from all the clubs saw the programme completed. Mr George, a lifetime member of the Conservative Club kindly presented a trophy for the Pairs Competition and this year also saw an application from Fleet United (founded 1930) to join the League and this was accepted at the AGM. Due to some club disagreement the membership wasn’t taken up however, and the League continued with just the seven affiliated clubs. Basingstoke Conservative Club entered 2 teams, Basingstoke Town 2, War Memorial Park 2, Thornycrofts 3, Laverstoke 1, Kelvins 1 and Whitchurch none, a total of 11 teams and upwards of 120 entries to the four competitions, singles, Pairs, Triples and Rinks.
1949 saw the first County friendly match hosted in the area. Kelvin’s had the honour and the Middlesex guests beat Hampshire 116 – 90, but the Basingstoke Town rink of Rew, Askew, Kingston and Whiterow won 20 – 12.
Two more Clubs entered the League in 1950, Kingsclere (formed in 1935) came in to play in both league and competitions, and the newly formed Old Basing played in competitions only to begin with. An Open Triples Competition was introduced for the Festival of Britain Cup and the year also saw the Annual Presentation Dinner revived after the wartime lapse. The existing clubs were still growing and the new entries made the single division league to overloaded to fit into a season so two divisions were formed. Kelvin’s, Town and Thornycroft were each strong enough for three teams, Conservative Club managed two teams and the remaining clubs one team each. Seven teams played in each division and the rules were amended to cater for increasing affiliations or additional teams. In this year also the payments to charities stopped and the League appointed its first Almoner to run a Benevolent Fund.
Sunday play in all sports was fiercely debated everywhere in the early 50’s and, as elsewhere, the local community was split with its views for and against. The local press had its quota of letters, the pulpits of the various churches were occupied by antis in varying degrees of denunciation and the Town Council was wavering first one way and then the other. The eventual outcome was that permission was given to play on the War Memorial Park and Fairfields Greens from 2:00pm – with the approval of the Home Office. League matches were fixed for Friday evenings with no concessions except for weather and any re-arrangements within various time scales.
In 1951 the HCBA Triples title fell to Whiterow, Kingston and Rew (Basingstoke Town BC) and in 1952 the Town won all of their League matches – a first for any team.
In 1953 the League reverted to one division again, Laverstoke resumed their league programme and things continued with little change during the latter 50’s. Whitchurch left the league in 1957 (but returned in 1963) and the Basingstoke town development and overspill issues were beginning to be debated, rearing a bleak outlook for the Conservative Club and the War Memorial Park, though the latter hoped for a boost when the Pegasus Sports & Social Club (Lansing Bagnall & J E Shay) made moves to form a bowls section and play at the Park. This, however, did not materialise and it was the AWRE which became the next entrant into the league. The Atomic Establishment, though in Berkshire, was within the 15 mile radius catchment ruling and it suited them to play on Friday evenings as well and this, plus the influx of fresh players to most of the other clubs allowed expansion to continue.
By the early 60’s many of the bowlers of the formation years were in the twilight of their careers. Some had given much service in Office and to mark this the Vice-Presidency was re-introduced as a Life Honour. The procedure giving each club the authority to nominate one V/P annually was scrapped and the League AGM became the forum for proposing those deserving of the new position. Four were elevated in the 1960’s, Joe Hilton (1963), Harry Williams (1964), Steve Oliver (1967) and E (Cyril) Humphreys (1968), all for services to bowls in various capacities.
At the Annual Dinner in 1961 Alderman Townsend revealed that there was in the financial estimates some provision for a new bowling green in the War Memorial Park – a green, nothing more. The League Council decided that this was not sufficient and pressed for a full scale club with a proper clubhouse and facilities to be able to entertain a representative visiting team of at least County standard. Needless to say, in the finish, the existing green at the Park got the sentence of death and eventually the new Borough Offices and car park appeared. A novel departure in 1962 at the suggestion of the Bowls league was an inter-denominational church service for all the sports men and women of the town. The bowls clubs supported it well, but the attendance from other sports was disappointing. Throughout the decade there were more changes and a few innovations. Smiths canteen was used for a short time for some indoor bowling. It proved fun but frustrating as, besides the workers’ meals, it was used at various times for Dinners, dances, concerts, club shows of all kinds, judo and boxing.
1965 brought more hope of an indoor green when suggestions for the Town Centre Sports Hall were considered, this time a roll down carpet, 2 rinks twice a week evenings, or 4 rinks once a week. Though probably made with good intent the suggestion had not really been based on what bowlers required as the design specification for a flat and level floor to suit tennis and badminton was way below the standard required for flat bowling. Not only that, a bright spark on the design side planned for sockets to accommodate tennis and badminton nets, electrical sockets and connections, and other trackways to cross the flat (??) floor.
In this year, 1965, Portals Sports and Social Club built a new Club House at Laverstoke and Laverstoke Bowling Club became Portals Bowling Club. The League playing format also received some alterations. The 2 rink arrangement was altered to 3 triples and the scoring system of 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and a point for each winning triple was put into place. Following two seasons of discussions the league and competition rules were adopted and a Novice Singles competition was introduced with Cyril Humphreys kindly donating a Rose Bowl. Another offer of a trophy came from the Hants and Berks Gazette as for several years the Record Secretary had been providing copy in the way of results and bowling orientated articles. Not wishing the offered trophy to be ‘personalised’ Des Newling suggested it become a league trophy and after some discussion the cup was put up for the Inter-Club 3 rink KO competition and is still played for today as the ‘Hants and Berks’ Cup.