NOTES ON THE HISTORY OF HEMEL HEMPSTEAD BOWLS CLUB
First Published 2000.
(Revised & Updated 2010).
Copyright : Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club.
These notes have been compiled from information from Committee Minutes and other records of the Club and from material set out by the late W.J.T. (Bill) Smith in a letter he wrote to the Club President in 1984 and a further couple of pages in 1991, which Mrs Ethel Smith has made available to the Club. It has been supplemented by further information gained from scrap books kindly lent by Mrs Ethel Smith and by Bill England and by personal recollections from two trustees, Laurie Dell and Clive Richardson.
Any opinions expressed are those of the compiler and not necessarily of the Club.
Jack Fish. Hon. Secretary.
Chapter 1. The very early years.
Officially our Club was founded in 1920 but this is a date which the late W.J.T. (Bill) Smith often queried, maintaining that the Club’s history goes back further. There is some justification for his point of view.
It was in 1912 that the name ‘Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club’ was first used but we can go back past that date for evidence of green bowling in Hemel Hempstead.
Alderman William Randall was not only a Mayor and Baliff of Hemel Hempstead but also one of the first Hertfordshire County Councillors in the early years of the twentieth century. In those days the County Council met in London and not Hertford because there was no cross-county travel.
In 1909, he purchased 6 ½ acres of land known as ‘Beehive Hill’ as it adjoined the still existing ‘Beehive’ pub at the top of Cherry Bounce. He presented this land to the town together with a sum of money to have it laid out as a public park. The Borough Council decided to call it ‘Randall Park’.
In 1911 and 1912 pieces of ground were levelled for a public shelter, for a band stand which was used by the Dickinson’s band and several areas were levelled for the use by quoits, which was at that time a popular game; many pubs had teams. There were several tennis courts and another piece of land was levelled for use as a two rinks bowls green.
Bowls was played very haphazardly in 1911; there were no established rules, each club having their own, mainly because the definite national rules had not yet filtered down from Crystal Palace where the headquarters was then located.
A sports writer in the Hemel Hempstead Gazette on 6th June, 1912 wrote of the need of a better bowls green than that in use and could not a club be formed as in London and other towns. The Mayor supported the idea and it gradually gained impetus which resulted in a public meeting being held in the Vestry Hall on Tuesday 13th May, 1913. Mr Herbert Flint presided and it attracted a large gathering including the Rev. Spencer Jones and Alderman Roberts. The Chairman said that he and a few friends had interested themselves in the matter and ‘felt there was a need in Hemel Hempstead for a Bowls Club and anything that tended towards pleasures and recreation for those leading a busy life was to be commended’. He said it was played in Scotland and the north of England, by men of all stations of life and age and there were few towns of importance without a bowling green. By this time William Randall must have died as he is referred to in the past tense. They discussed the existing rinks in Randall Park which up to that time had been very little played on. It was said that while it was not an ideal green it was good enough for beginners.
As it was a public green in a public park, the club would not have had exclusive use of the rinks but they agreed that they would make a start. There was apparently a pavilion of sorts on the land and behind it a tool shed. A letter was sent to the Council seeking permission to use the shed to store their woods. (In those days, bowls were referred to exclusively as woods as they were made of wood.) Mr Day spoke of a few games that he had played the year before in 1912. For two or three seasons the Vicar of St Paul’s Church (which then stood in Queensway where a block of flats and the R.B.L. Club are now situated) had allowed a few games to be played on his lawn. A Mr. Locke gave the organisers a list of 40 to 50 names of men who would be interested and Mr Day submitted 15 or 20 more names. Rules of the clubs situated at that time in Aylesbury, Tring, Rickmansworth and St. Albans had been obtained and the decision was taken to go ahead and form a club. The Rev. Spencer Jones was elected Secretary and a provisional committee of seven was appointed. A subscription fee of half a crown (two shillings and sixpence, now 12i/2 pence) was set and it was agree to get a notice asking people to not run across the green. The Committee was given power to purchase two sets of bowls. Mr Barrows said that they had a little team in Apsley and would be pleased to give the new club a game at any time.
Chapter 2. The First Club is born.
They were not going to let the grass on the green, or anywhere else, grow under their feet. With commendable speed, it was exactly a fortnight later, when the first Annual General Meeting was held. Again Herbert Flint presided and Mr A. G. Day was acting Secretary. The provisional committee had drawn up suggested rules which the meeting went through and adopted. These placed the management of the Club in the hands of the President, Secretary, Treasurer, Captain and Vice-Captain plus nine elected committee members. A resolution to make Mrs William Randall the first President of the Club was agreed. Mr. A. D. Keen was appointed Honorary Secretary and Mr. H. Flint, the Treasurer. The posts of Captain and Vice-Captain were left for the Committee to fill.
We can have nothing but admiration for the way in which this new and first Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club got launched. It came into being on that evening of Tuesday, 27th May, 1913 and the first game was played the next afternoon.
At that inauguration, Herbert Flint said they hoped to arrange games with other clubs. Already they had forty members. Right from the start although there were only men playing, it was envisaged that it would be a mixed club. He said that he hoped ladies would take an interest in the game and become members. Mrs. Randall, as the first Club President, was there to bowl the first wood.
In that first summer of 1913, six matches were played with other clubs in Berkhamsted, Shendish, St. Paul’s Church Men’s Club and the local Corporation. Additionally there were several spoon drives and in September two tournaments were held. One was won by Master F. Simmons, aged 14 years, whose prize was a pair of bowls. The runner-up got a bowls measure.
During the 1913/14 closed season, the green was improved and by the start of bowling in 1914 it had been enlarged to three rinks. Again it was open by Mrs Randall bowling the first wood. A ground improvement fund was launched to which 40 members subscribed. A report in the West Herts Post of May, 1914 published a fixture list of Upton Bowls Club showing that a game was arranged with the Hemel club. The Upton Club had a three rink green at Upton Road, Watford from 1912 to 1921 and it was said that two of the rinks were in excellent condition; these two rinks were divided by a large tree growing between them. The English international player and captain, R.W. Pickering, started bowling there. The green was where Gade House now stands. The club moved in 1922 to Cassiobury Park and became the Watford Bowls Club. When Hemel Club visited them in June 1914, they lost the game by 78shots to 47.
Altogether in the 1914 season the Club had some dozen matches including one in July which took eight bowlers and their supporters by horse brake ‘over Felden to Chesham B.C.’ and they returned winners by 45 shots to 33.
Late in 1914 the war broke out and most of the Club members joined up. This, and the fact that in the previous year a tournament winner was a 14 year old, gives the indication that the average age of members in those days was far less than it is today. The outbreak of war depleted the membership to such an extent that it was impossible to attend to the green and so after a couple of years the first Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club – like old soldiers- faded away.
The Club Secretary, A.D. Keen, who was the Assistant Town Clerk to the Borough Council, took over the funds and property as custodian for the period of the war. He also became the Secretary of the Hemel Hempstead Institute in 1919 which has a relevance to later events.
Chapter 3. The next stage – New beginnings and a new venue.
In 1919, a year after the First World War ended, the Hemel Hempstead Institute moved from premises they had in the old High Street to the Old House in Queens Street, now Queensway. The Old House had previously been a doctor’s house and surgery but during the war, in 1917 and 1918, it had been used to house German prisoners of war. During their stay there, the POWs had, for six pence (2 ½ p) an hour, levelled and laid out a three rink bowling green behind the property. They had also maintained three tennis courts; two grass and one hard court. These were all situated where the Parade shops stand now at the north end of Marlowes. The house was refurbished and redecorated prior to the Institute moving in.
Sir Guy Seabright, a Vice-President of Institute, opened the new premises in May, 1920. Besides the outdoor facilities, the premises consisted of rest rooms, a billards room, writing room, meal service and bar.
A meeting of what remained of the Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club was held on 4th June, 1920 at the Church Vestry Hall at which the remaining officers Keen, the Secretary and Flint, the Treasurer reported that due to the war the old Randall park rinks were very dilapidated and great expense would be needed to put them in order. The meeting agreed to present the Club’s woods and all their funds to the bowls club at the Hemel Hempstead Institute which was called the Old House Club – Bowls Section. As mentioned above, A.D. Keen was Secretary both of the HHBC and the Institute so we may be forgiven for thinking he had a vested interest in getting the two together. The previous HHBC members could transfer to the new club and about 30 of them did so.
This new Bowls section was run by a separate committee of the Institute. Similarly, there was a tennis section with its own committee. At this time the Institute was a large concern with over 650 members, including women and juveniles. Its membership was a sizeable proportion of the town at that time.
On Saturday 3rd July, 1920 the new bowls green was opened by the Borough Engineer, Ivor Mead and his wife and were invited to send down the first woods. The couple had allowed their lawns to be used for bowls in the past. Mrs Mead was presented with a memento in the form of a silver plated jack on a wooden stand. This opening took place in the morning in what was reported as not good weather. This had improved by the evening when two to three hundred members assembled for an outdoors concert arranged by the Institute’s entertainments committee.
Chapter Four. The Twenties and after.
Relationships between the Bowls Section and the main Institute were from the start a little frayed and they did not improve as time went by. From an Institute membership of over 600 when the Old House first opened its doors, by 1925 and 1926 it was down to under a hundred following what was referred to in the local press as ‘unsavoury gossip’ about the Old House Club. The Bowls Section gave them £100 to help out their financial position- a large sum in those days and one that needs to be measured against an annual subscription of a few pounds. In 1927, the Institute sold off its tennis courts to get more cash.
A definite break between the two came in December, 1927 when the name was changed back to its original Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club. Press reports in 1928 were in that name where previously they had the old name from 1920 to 1927. The Club accounts in 1928 started to show a new item – ‘Annual rent for green -£5’.
About this time or it might have been a few years later, there was an opportunity for the Club to buy the green from the Institute. Clive Richardson told me that it was available for £675 but some of the Club members lead by Brockett, the ironmonger who had his premises in the High Street, were against it and it never proceeded. Bill Smith, in a letter that I have seen, comments that some members belonged to both organisations and loyalties were divided. It was also in this period that following more unsavoury gossip about the Institute, it became a men-only club.
There seems to be little detailed information about this period in the early 1930s. By this time the Club had women bowlers. No actual minutes are available; they were lost and probably destroyed. It isn’t till the beginning of the Seventies that Club minutes are still available and even then there is a gap in the Eighties when some are missing.
What is known is that it was a strong club with a membership right through this period of about 75. This was very large for those days when average club membership was about 25. Members are known to have played in the Hertfordshire County side and in 1937 the Club provided the first of its three County Presidents, Wilfred Davies.
In the early days, starting in 1925, there was also an annual match against Watford and District B.A. Several members were included in special teams sponsored by Watford and District competing and winning the Maud Strong Trophy from 1949 until it was last played for in 1989. Our Club held the Ray and Griffin Cups several times; the most notable occasion was in 1957 when we won them both in the same year. The Hertfordshire County Association was formed in 1920 and we affiliated to it in 1925. The Watford and District Association is older having been formed in 1914 and we joined it in 1946. It was not until 1974 that we affiliated to the latest district Association to be formed, which was that of St. Albans and District in 1958.
It was just at the end of the Second World War, in November, 1946 that the ladies formally established the Hemel Hempstead Women’s Bowls Club. They affiliated to the Herts County Women’s B.A. the next year and to the Watford and District Ladies when it was established in 1966. Like the men it was until the 1970s that they joined the St. Albans Ladies in 1977.
Chapter Five. The Move to the Park.
About 1970 the old Council (that is the Hemel Hempstead Borough Council) presumably in collusion with the Commission for New Towns (C.N.T.) wanted to form a one-way traffic scheme in the area of Queensway, Christchurch Road and Marlowes. To make this work it would need Christchurch Road to have been extended westward across Alexandra Road through to the Parade shops at the top of Marlowes, crossing the old bowls green in its track. This proposal, expected to cost £170,000, did not go down well with shopkeepers likely to be affected. Fred Sapwell, proprietor of an electrical shop is quoted in the Evening Echo of January, 1971 as saying it was the most stupid plan he had ever seen. The Works Committee approved it but when it came before the full Council, they ordered them to think again. Besides destroying the shops and the bowls green, houses in Christchurch Road would probably have to be demolished as the road would have needed to be widened.
So although this plan wasted away, it obviously got thoughts going about the development of the back land behind the Parade shops. Added to this, the Officers and members of the Club were starting a campaign for a Council owned bowls green in the town. A letter from the Club President, L.W. Stone referred to Hemel Hempstead as being the only town engaged in the New Towns Festival of Sport without a public green. He wrote-
‘Each year at Hemel Hempstead Bowling Club’s dinner the Mayor gets up and professes to have the interests of bowlers at heart and that is that for another year. This year there was a change. The Mayor told the Club that they were too polite to get anywhere. What a wonderful speech! What does one have to do? Picket the Town Hall and have demonstrations?’
A response came from the Chairman of the Parks Committee, Councillor McGuiness, saying that they were sympathetic, that it was being actively considered and will be formed at the earliest possible moment. R.A.D. (Reg) Saunders, who at that time was living in Christchurch Road and could not have been very happy about the road proposals, was Club Secretary at the time and he joined the fray. He wanted action, not sympathy, quoting that Watford had five greens, Welwyn Garden City had two, Stevenage three while Hemel had none. He suggested that the Council took over the existing green which he described as one of the best in the County. This statement was probably very true as in 1971 the County’s bowling season opened with at match at Hemel’s green between teams lead by their President and Vice-President. Reg Saunders was the Club’s second County President; he held the office in 1966.
The President advised the Committee in May, 1971 that the Institute had made an approach suggesting amalgamation between them. Their Secretary was invited to the next Committee in July to advance their arguments. He said that the Institute was giving notice to all its tenants to quit by the following March. An outline plan had been put forward for development of the area and there were people interested in the site and he said that the Club would not be left in the lurch. At this time, the Institute had 118 members but only about forty were regulars and no women were allowed on the premises. The Club Committee warily and cautiously agreed to pursue the question of amalgamation, subject to further talks. The Bowls Club at this point had 72 paid up members, with 22 of them senior citizens. This was nearly double the regular attendees at the Institute.
The Club wrote both to the Institute and the Town Clerk trying to establish what exactly was going on. A short news item in the Gazette in September, 1971 stating that after studying seven possible sites, the Borough Council was pursing the idea of bowling being established in Gadebridge Park. The spot it said was east of the river on a level site near to the Bury. It might cost around £8,000 and a pavilion, which would be essential, would cost £10,000. These were estimates that were soon proved wrong. In October, Charles Kirk, the Town Clerk, replied to the Club letting them know that a scheme was being prepared for the 1972/73 year estimates. In June 1972, the Council accepted an estimate from Doe Contracts of Fyfield, Essex to lay two bowling greens for £18,356. In July, 1972, the Institute wrote to the Club to inform them that a licence to use their green in 1973 would not be granted. The Club sent off copies of that letter to both the Council and the CNT and obviously , behind the scenes subsequently the Club must have received assurances that their tenure of the green in 1973 would be safe because by September their greenkeeper was ordering seed and fertiliser for the winter dressing of the green. In January, 1973, the Club planned for their last season at Queensway with a programme of 33 home matches and 38 away games plus the usual ‘President versus Captain’ game and some spoon drives.
In February, 1973, definite news came at a meeting between the Club, the Institute and the CNT. From 1st May, the CNT was buying the green and would let it to them until the season ended to 31st October for £100 rent. They would need to quit the site by 31st December. As well as playing their last season there the Club was busy selling off all it could of its equipment. It got £100 for its old changing rooms which it sold to the PTA of St Albans Grammar School. Kings Langley’s bowls club bought one of the mowers for £62 while they got £46.60 from the local scouts for tables and chairs. They even sold the turf from the green for £40 to a Watford firm.
Chapter Six. Who is to occupy the Gadebridge Park greens?
When it looked as if everything was going fairly smoothly for a move over to Gadebridge Park in 1974, the Borough Council, through its Recreation Sub-Committee, started to get difficult. Not only had Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club put in a bid to be the bowls club in the Park but the local firm, Atlas Copco, had also entered the fray.
The Club called a special Committee meeting in November to let them know what had happened at the Recreation Sub-Committee the week before. There, Mr Christopher had lead the Club’s representations. Atlas Copco opened proceedings by saying that they were there not to represent the firm but to represent about forty of its staff that wanted to form a new club. Our Club produced a three page document setting out comprehensively a scheme for administering the new bowling greens and emphasising our 52 years experience. Councillor de Peyer also submitted a paper setting out the advantages and disadvantages of direct and indirect management of the greens and pavilion by the Council. The Chairman, who was Councillor Stanley, stated that the administration of the greens should be restricted to one club. This disclosure apparently shook the Atlas Copco representatives and that probably exceeded their brief with a wild idea. They thought the club in the Park should be called the Dacorum or, possibly, the Gadebridge Bowls Club. Other Councillors present didn’t endorse the idea.
It concluded with a resolution that our Club and the representatives of the ‘40’ should meet to discuss how to cooperate with a view to assist the Council in managing the greens. Our Committee immediately drew up an action plan to hopefully placate the opposition and to keep our Club intact. They would demonstrate a desire to cooperate, invite the ‘40’ representatives to an ad-hoc committee and suggest a new name of the ‘Hemel Hempstead 1974 Bowls Club’ which would have a new constitution which would operate for a year on a trial basis.
It was, it seems to me, a complete fudge.
While we were satisfying the Council that we were being reasonable and were ready to bend over backwards to accommodate all and sundry, we were not going to let go the reins; and rightly so. It is of interest that the minutes of the meeting state in block capitals that in all the discussions they should avoid all reference to Atlas Copco. It was another of the decisions taken at this meeting that ladies were to be given equal status but not be represented on the committee! Just before Christmas another meeting between the parties took place at which Mr Christopher took the Chair. It finished up with a proposition from the Club’s Assistant Secretary which was passed by a substantial majority.
‘That the present administration continues to manage the club for one season and that they co-opt from those present at the first General Meeting of the new club who were not members of the HHBC, a number proportional to their strength.
Work got under way – the new greens were built in 1973 and the Club closed its last season at the Queensway green prior to opening up in the Park in 1974.
The old green is now the site of 102 flats built in 1977.
Chapter Seven. The new Green.
May 1974 saw the first use of the Gadebridge Park green – not the one which we now lease but the more northerly one which is now used by the public. It was a few years later when the pavilion was built that the Club switched to the present green. 1974 was a busy year. In August, to quote the Gazette, ‘the cream of English bowling came to Gadebridge Park’ when a team of 24 from the English Bowls Association containing top bowlers from seven counties arrived. The newspaper’s report continues that although the home team contained only five County players, who were Bill Smith, Laurie Dell, George Hewitson, Stan Reed and Cyril Perkins, they won the match by a 22 shots margin. There was no pavilion then so the Club entertained their visitors after the game with a dinner at the Old Town Hall when Hemel’s highest rink of Pat Floyd, Joe Hunt, Bill England and Bill Smith were presented with silver spoons.
Interestingly, Bill Smith in his notes of the occasion refers to this year as the Club’s 60 years anniversary which would put its founding in 1914; either too late or too early. He also refers in his documents that I have seen to another visit of an EBA team in 1984 which he describes as our 70th anniversary. Laurie Dell was Club champion that year and to disprove the old adage that no-one remembers the runner-up, it was Bill England who he beat in the final by 21shots to 19. That year saw further special games against teams from Hertfordshire County, both District Associations and the Francis Drake Fellowship.
The latter years at the Queensway green and the early ones in Gadebridge Park seem to me to have been the best years for the Club in its history to that time. The membership was stable and in those days there were very few counter-attractions from indoor rinks although as early as the seventies, the Club was playing a few indoor fixtures.
In 1980 Reg Spenser was County President, Bill Smith was elected President of Watford and District B.A., Reg Saunders was President of the London Bowling Secretaries Association (known as ‘the Scribos’) and Laurie Dell was President of the London Country Buses B.A. How many more years will pass before we again see within our Club in one year four Presidents in addition to our own? Sid Hutson was President of St Albans and District B.A. in 1977 and that office was held by Maurice Watson in the 90s.
In those days there was an Annual Dinner and Dance held at the end of the season and it was at that function that prize-giving took place. One such function held in the Culpin Room in the Pavilion in Marlowes was attended by over 120 members. Two special presentations were made. One was to Mrs F. Butterfield who had looked after the Club’s teas for over thirty years. The other was to Jack Janes and his wife who were retiring to Bexhill. He had been Treasurer for the previous six years and had played a major part in securing the move to Gadebridge Park. The report of this function refers to the Club’s pavilion being half completed which puts the event to 1976.
Chapter Eight. The new Pavilion.
During 1974, there were talks with the Council about when the pavilion was to be provided. The Council was now not Hemel Hempstead but Dacorum; the change-over took place in April 1973. The Government were imposing cut-backs on Council’s capital expenditure and the pavilion was one casualty. By February, 1975, Henry Aughton, the Chief Executive, had advised the Club that if they dropped pushing for a bar and were prepared to allow other (non-member) bowlers to use the sitting area, it was probable that the project could go ahead. This however had no immediate good result and it was not until the next January that the Club held a special meeting to report on a sight of sketch plans. The rooms were to be generally smaller than had previously been proposed, except for the locker room which was to be used by the Club and the public. The plans did allow for the pavilion to be extended at the Club’s expense and we had been told it would cost about £140 per square metre. The Committee agreed to immediately start to look at possibilities for financing an extension of about six by ten metres at a cost of £9,000 but to inform the Council that the main building should not be held up on that account. The Treasurer was asked to contact, the bank, the brewery, the Playing Fields Association and the Council to see if a loan could be arranged. At the time, in order to get the money, it was thought the Club might have to be turned into a limited company.
Since moving from the Queensway site, there had been repeated references in the Club minutes to searching for the Club’s bar licence. Apparently it had been lost in Bill Barratt’s garage and although several searches were made in 1974, 1975 and 1976, the garage was so cluttered with items that any hope of finding it was futile. It was never found; so a new licence was applied for in 1976. It is interesting that the application for the licence was made in the name of Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club (1974) so the tag ‘1974’ was still in use at that time. When it was dropped is uncertain.
A cutting from the Gazette of 1976 shows a picture of a barely started building which was to become the Club’s pavilion and which states that ‘if all goes well’ it should be ready for use by August. The cost was quoted as being £29,800 and it was built by S. W. Sears & Sons Ltd.
The membership was high in those days. The match to officially open the pavilion was played on Monday, 30th August, 1976 between the men and the ladies and both greens were used. Entry fee for the match was 50pence. They were still searching Bill Barratt’s garage to find the bar licence so it looks as if the opening day for the pavilion was a ‘dry’ one. Cyril Fowler, that year’s Chairman of Dacorum Council, carried out the opening ceremony and the match was for the Evening Echo Cup. The subsequent headline in the local paper – ‘Men are bowled over’ – confirmed that the ladies won the match and carried a picture of the ladies top rink of Margaret Sunders, Ethel Smith, Anne Davies and Wendy Tarbox.
The Club wanted to improve on what the Council had provided and in 1979 they got the go-ahead from the Council to make alterations which gave additional room for the Club’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1980. A newspaper report quotes the Club Secretary, Harry Crane, as saying that when they held a full match there was scarcely enough room for all the 48 bowlers in the lounge. This alteration saw the locker wall taken down and the area incorporated into the main hall.
In 1994 and 1995, largely by the Club’s own efforts and very actively led by Clive Richardson, a further more extensive alteration was carried out. The financing was assisted by a grant from the Council. That extension gives the clubhouse the area we now have at the start of the twenty-first century and for our 80th year. A new men’s changing room was added and the ladies room and kitchen were both extended in addition to other improvements.
Chapter Nine. The Ladies really join us.
From 1946 there were lady members but they were not of Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club; they were the Hemel Hempstead Women’s Bowls Club. On 11th December, 1979, Harry Crane wrote to Amy Rosser, the Women’s President, informing her of the decision of the Committee a few days earlier of a proposal to go before the Annual General Meeting on 13th December (two days after the date of the letter) that the ladies be offered full membership of the Bowls Club. It seemed a remarkably short period of notice. The ladies were not going to be rushed into anything and it was not until 6th January following that Jean Turon, their Secretary, wrote back thanking Harry for his letter which had been discussed at their AGM in December when it was decided to seek a meeting to discuss the matter more fully. Meanwhile at the men’s AGM after a lot of discussion there was a proposal to leave the matter till the ladies made an approach. However an amendment went forward and was carried that should the ladies make an approach, the Committee should proceed with discussions. So a meeting took place between the two clubs in March, 1980 when it was agreed that the ladies retain their own officers and one or possibly two would join the main Committee. A new joint constitution was agreed and came into operation in 1982.
This Club is one where both men and women are members and where the President can be of either gender. In fact, the present constitution (2000) allows either sex to hold most offices with the ladies still having their own officials to fall into line with the rules of various Ladies Associations.
Chapter Ten. The ‘Marathon’.
It was in July, 1981 that the Club held its Charity Marathon Bowl. The idea was for members to get sponsorship to bowl throughout the day to raise money which was going to be split between two charities. These were the Dacorum Scanner appeal for the hospital and towards the International year of Disabled People. Dawn on that July day was at 4.30 a.m. and at 5 a.m. the President, Laurie Dell rang a bell to set proceedings underway. Virtually the whole membership took part at some time during the day and bowling continued till dusk at 9 p.m. It was recorder that 10,980 woods were bowled and the average number of ends bowled by members was well over 60. The endurance prize had to go to two rinks of Don and Julie Box, Michael Feast, Pat Floyd, Dennis Graham, Derek Howard, Derek Oldham and Dave Picken who bowling continuously for the sixteen hours of the Marathon and each completed 155 ends. The two charities put up their own stalls and the event attracted spectators. A target of £2,000 had been set but when all had been collected in, the charities had £3,400 to split between them.
Chapter Eleven. The Honeymoon over?
In 1974 both new greens were laid with Cumberland turf and it seems for a year or so they were in good condition. Unfortunately the upkeep, which has always been in the hands of the Council, was not of the best and the state of the green went into decline. There were references in February and March, 1977 to the removal of clumps of meadow grass! The Club’s sentiments and frustrations on the subject can be well summed up by a letter written to the local paper in 1980 by Derek Howard, that year’s captain.
‘Hemel Hempstead has had its own premium bowls club for 60 years; a well known club which, up to 1974, had a fine bowling green. In our diamond jubilee year bowlers from all over the country have been visiting us to play on our new green at Gadebridge Park.
They arrive at our clubhouse, have their pictures taken and 48 bowlers go out to play on our new greens which have been laid. From there on, the game of bowls ceases. They are not good enough bowling greens; the ratepayers of the area have been tricked because the greens have never been looked after. It is simply an embarrassment to even try to bowl on them.
Care of a green is not costly but it needs constant attention throughout the year to maintain a reasonable standard. Watford and other councils have wonderful greens because they look after them. Our council are in no way interested although we pay a lot of money each year to play the game. If I had my own green and it was in such a state I would expect a prosecution under the Trade Descriptions Act for describing it as such. As captain for two years of our club, I have introduced thousands of visiting bowlers at our public greens and no more will I make apologies for the sorry state of the greens. I trust this letter will echo the thoughts of the 80-odd regular members of our club.’
Things must have improved a little during the eighties for by 1990 when Harold Cant was President, there was a membership of around 150 with a waiting list of a few dozen. However the green was well below the standard expected during most of the 90s and it is only in the last few years of the twentieth century, with a greater effort from the Council, taking advice from the STRI (Sports Turf Research Institute) and the dedication of a good greenkeeper that the bowling surface has started to improve.
The current year (2000) has seen our green requested by Watford & District BA to stage both a Griffin Cup semi-final and the Ray Cup final – an indication that things are improving and others outside the Club recognise this.
Chapter Twelve. Looking to the Future.
What should we look for in the years ahead? Membership has gradually receded in the last decade and more importantly the average age of members has gone up. A youth policy and attempts at recruitment publicity have failed to boost numbers. We are not alone in this state of affairs – it seems to be a common factor in a lot of outdoor clubs. It may be that we shall need to accept that club membership size will continue to slip and we will need to adjust our activities and fixtures to this reduction in size. On the other hand, social activities within the membership have increased in the last few years, showing a commitment to the Club and from our own resources, improvements to the pavilion, including central heating.
A personal view is that the larger indoor clubs can never meet, let alone match, the comradeship of an outdoor club and the pleasure of playing on an outdoor green even if it has imperfections and the weather is not always sunny.
Long may the Club prosper.
Copyright Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club.
[2010 Addendum. What changes a decade has brought.
Due to the closure of a local indoor rink, the financial fortunes of the Club have improved. In the first decade of the 21st century things have moved on with the Club now fully integrated and with a combined national organisation of the game, including all aspects of the sport. With a total membership of about 100, the Club is stronger than most in the area. Integration has brought more mixed games but has not seen any great restriction of separate women’s and veteran men’s matches, while the social functions prosper. Further improvements have been made to the clubhouse. During the decade, a lady member, Jan Batchelor, held the Presidential office for two years and at the 2009 AGM became the first lady to be elected as a Club Trustee.
We can look forward confidently to another decade to the celebration of the Club’s Centenary in 2020 – or should that be 2013? JAF]