Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club

HHBC History Update by Brian Smith


The decade from 2010 to our centenary year in 2020 was subject to a period of Government austerity which impacted severely on the Dacorum Borough Council’s resources. Members saw a marked decline in the care of the Club’s green, the public green, and the garden surrounds.

In 2011 we obtained a comprehensive Bowls England report on the maintenance of the club green. It concluded that it was evident from the condition that the green was suffering considerably as a result of poor maintenance by the Council. There was significant compaction, a heavy thatch layer, poor drainage, leather jacket infestation, worm casts had not been cleared regularly, and substantial lateral growth. There was also an infestation of the weed pearl-wert and the green levels were poor.

In response to local authorities up and down the country closing bowling greens, the club wrote to Mike Penning our MP urging him to support the MP John Woodcock’s ‘Protection of Bowling Greens Bill’.

Club finances substantially improved when they took on the ownership and management of the Wednesday morning ‘Dacorum Bridge Club’ in 2015. The club now had the resources and confidence to seek from the Council the authority to manage the green themselves. At a meeting on 31st October 2017 with the Council and President Brian Smith and Club Secretary Jeff Streeter, it became clear that the council would not be able to address the steady decline in the maintenance of our green and it’s surrounds, but they did outline the possibility of providing a lease for the long term hire.

The season 2018 was played on a poor surface suffering from what was described as ‘a foreign invasive grass (Red Thrush) and the club green was closed throughout the 2019 season. Members were able to use the public green, thanks in no small measure to the tireless efforts of club members.

In 2018 the Council published its plans for a Sports and Physical Activity Strategy which, surprisingly, omitted any reference to lawn bowls facilities in the borough. Club President Brian Smith wrote the following letter to the council on 3rd May 2018:-

‘lists of the facilities held by DBC omits to mention the bowling green facilities located in Gadebridge Park both of which are managed by the DBC.

One of the greens has been hired by Hemel Hempstead Bowls Club each year since 1976, currently for a fee of £7000 a year.

At present, despite repeated protests, including the intervention of our MP, concerning the ability of the DBC to adequately manage this facility, we currently have a bowling green which is not fit for purpose. We have an Open Day this Sunday to encourage members of the public to join the club, followed by free coaching lessons in the following fortnight, but they will not be enthused when they see the appalling state of our bowling green.

This state of affairs does not sit well with the fine words in your review.’


Following protestations to the local MP by club member Mick Walsh, a meeting was convened on 18th September 2018 at the clubhouse. The MP, DBC and Club officials attended and it was made clear that the poor maintenance by the DBC and their lack of resources had resulted in the sorry state of the green. The DBC argument that the green had come to the end of its natural life was firmly rebutted as an absurd conclusion.

Despite assurances given by the DBC at this meeting further intervention was required from our MP Sir Mike Penning in January 2019. A council response in April 2019 at last promised a formalised proposal was being drafted for the Bowls Club to consider. In the meantime the club green was so poor that permission was obtained to use the public green for the whole of 2019 season.

Eventually in the summer of 2019 the DBC offered the club a 25 year lease incorporating both greens, requiring the club to maintain the greens, wall, ditches, the fences and irrigation system. The Executive Committee published a business case, setting out the options for managing both greens or just the club green. A members meeting on 10th November 2019 was convened when the Executive Committee proposed support for a 25 year lease incorporating only the club green. After some lively discussion this was defeated in favour of a lease for both greens. Members were drawn to the idea of converting the public green to an artificial playing surface for use particularly in the Winter months.

In August 2019 a ‘Tenancy at Will’ was agreed for the club’s bowling green in order that the club could immediately take over its preparation for the 2020 centenary year. The club made history by employing a contractor, ‘Root2Shoot Greenkeeping Services Ltd’, to provide an organic turf maintenance programme, the first such venture by a Hertfordshire Bowls Club. Club member Ron Nash was appointed to project manage this, which he did with great enthusiasm.

A carefully planned 2020 Centenary programme had to be abandoned when the worldwide Covid19 pandemic struck. Only a very limited programme was arranged, restricted to members competitions and practice. However, our Club Secretary, Sandra Blackshire, was able to innovate, by introducing an online rink booking system; there was a dramatic improvement in our bowling green; and thanks to the endeavours of club members, particularly Sylvia and Geoff Ingleby, there is now a much more aesthetic appearance to the surrounding gardens.

There is hope that in 2021 there will be a return to normality, completion of the club’s centenary celebrations, and once again we can play and enjoy the game we love.

Brian Smith

February 2021