A History of Meldreth Bowls Club
In writing this brief history of Meldreth Bowls Club, I have had to draw upon many sources but in the main from conversations with some of the older members. If I have missed anything out, or if the facts are not as some members remember them, I apologise.
The history of the Club breaks easily into three phases :
- 1932 – 1950
- 1951 – 1969
- 1970 – 2000
I will use these dates to try and give a subjective account of what has happened in 80 years of bowling in Meldreth.
I would like to thank the late Fred Sims and Sid Chamberlain who provided many of the early reminiscences.
John Chalkley, 2000
1932 – 1950
The first record of bowling in Meldreth was in 1932. Fred Farnham, who was head gardener at The Gables and always spent his annual holidays in Great Yarmouth where he was taught to play bowls, persuaded Mrs Dyne-Elin who lived at The Gables to allow him to use the tennis courts as a bowling green. Several men in the village then formed a club that was known as the Meldreth Bowls Club.
There was no written history of the club during this period.
In 1937 the tennis courts were reinstated and a new green was laid out on the main lawn. This was a two rink green with no banks or ditches and the game played was a version of two wood triples, based loosely on the Federation rules. Only bowls that rested within one yard of the jack scored and there was no such thing as a ‘live wood’. Incidentally, the jack at the time was known as the ‘cot’: the reason being that at the end of a match all players played for a ‘penny on the cot’ and the monies raised were donated to help maintain a children’s cot at the local hospital.
Mrs Dyne-Elin presented a cup in 1939 for a competition between the local village bowls clubs. This was known as the Dyne-Elin Cup and is still the trophy for the Meldreth & District League today. The founder villages were Meldreth, Melbourn, Harston, Fowlmere and Barrington. Our founder President, Mrs Dyne-Elin died later in the same year.
There is a record for 1939 in which the green was to be ‘perforated’ (I assume they meant spiked) at a cost not to exceed seven shillings and sixpence.
Mr & Mrs Lloyd-Browne (niece of Mrs Dyne-Elin) next owned The Gables. Miss Maude Bowen, Mrs. Lloyd-Browne’s sister, moved into Topcliffe Mill in North End about the same time. There is a photograph in the pavilion taken in 1947 showing Mrs Browne, who was then joint President with her husband and the players taken in the garden at The Gables.
The club entered the Cambridge and District League in 1947. The annual subscriptions were increased to two shillings per season and a match fee of twopence was agreed. In 1948 The Gables was sold to a farmer from Essex and Mr & Mrs Lloyd-Browne moved to London, very near to Lords Cricket Ground. Here she entertained the ladies of the club to afternoon tea on a couple of occasions.
The new owner allowed the club to continue at The Gables for another year and then the club was asked to move as soon as possible. They were presented with a cheque for three guineas as compensation. On September 30th 1949 a special meeting was held to consider an offer from Miss Maude Bowen to lease a corner of her meadow in North End at a peppercorn rent of one penny. A committee chaired by Bert Hagger and consisting of Fred Farnham, Sid Chamberlain and Fred Sims was formed to consider the offer. A further meeting was held in October 1949 when the offer was accepted. Work was started immediately to level the meadow with the help of Dennis Pepper and his tractor and a green consisting of five rinks was laid during the winter/spring of 1949/50. The cost of levelling and materials was thirteen pounds ten shillings. Although limited play was possible in 1950, the green was not fully used until 1951 when matches were played against Royston, Steeple Morden, Quy and Newnham, in addition to the league fixtures.
During 1951 a full fixture list was played but the green was very ‘sporty’ and one or two members left the club to bowl with other clubs in Cambridge. The total membership in 1951 was about twenty.
During these early days the financial position of the club was very precarious and there is a note that Ted Payne, the treasurer, had to pay the rates costing four pounds out of his own pocket. It was only by winning the Elin Cup that same season that the club ended the year with a balance of ten shillings.
The pavilion was built by Sid Chamberlain with materials donated by Bill Eades, who was a member and the manager of the Atlas works, then Eternit. The timber was supplied by Frank Course from sawn railway sleepers. This building is still in use and is in fact the green shed by the corner of the green, now used for storage. It was originally in the centre of the path alongside rink one. The facilities at this time were very limited and on a hot wet summer evening it was sometimes preferable to stand outside in the rain rather than in the shed!
The first two lady members joined the club about this time. Linda Stockbridge and Frances Sims were in fact the only lady members until the early sixties. Very few members owned a car at this time but Frank Course had a Rolls Royce and if nothing else members always arrived at away matches in considerable style. It was amusing to see him removing the ‘Flying Lady’ mascot from the radiator when we arrived and placing it in his bowls bag.
The Annual General Meetings at this time were held at Topcliffe Mill and all twenty members just managed to get into Miss Bowen’s lounge.
The next significant time in the history of the club was during the early sixties. It was at this time that Meldreth, as a village, had its first private housing developments, The Grange, and bungalows in Whitecroft Road. This in time brought new members to the club and between 1960 and 1969 the membership grew to nearly 50. It is interesting to note that during this period the bowling green was cut with a ten-bladed hand-driven mower. The village roadman, Fred Beech, carried out the work for five shillings a week. In the mid sixties several new members who had moved to Meldreth from London arranged matches with their previous clubs. Although we had no pavilion the teams were entertained to tea in various gardens in North End where the club gained quite a reputation for its hospitality. The only surviving fixture from these days is Preston Park B.C.
It was also at this time that the ‘Rose Cup’ matches began between Meldreth, Standon and Puckeridge B.C. Mr Reg Rose, who lived at Temple House in Meldreth, had a business in Standon and he presented a cup for a match between the two clubs. On the occasion of the first match, Standon arrived dressed in ‘whites’. This was a totally new concept for Meldreth and a little embarrassing.
It was traditional at this time to go to the British Queen for our after match refreshments. This usually consisted of beer, bread and cheese with sliced Spanish onions in vinegar. As the village grew in size and the British Queen became more popular, it became too crowded and it was suggested that the Bowls Club might like to make alternative arrangements. In view of this the club decided to build their own clubhouse and have a licensed bar. The money required was eight hundred pounds and this was raised by a ‘Hundred Club’ where the first prize was to be five hundred pounds or a Mini car. Miss Bowen also gave a generous donation. The first prize was won by Fred Gibbons, who in accepting the money, arranged for the bar to be built by Bill Thurley with part of his prize fund.
In the spring of 1969 the prefabricated building arrived and nearly every member was on hand to help. A local builder, Bill Parkin, who did not know at the time that this was to be the start of his bowling career, laid the footings. The club was fortunate in having sufficient tradesmen in the membership to do everything from the drainage to the electrics. We even had a lawyer, Charlie Parker, who drew up our constitution so that we could apply for a bar license. The pavilion was put into immediate use, although it was by no means complete. There was no electricity and so candles were used. The bar license had not been passed by the magistrates so Barbara Chalkley was designated to go the British Queen after each match and purchase sufficient beer and bring this back in gallon containers. We were not allowed to charge for this but donations to club funds were collected from everyone. The first furniture and fittings for the pavilion were obtained from RAF Bassingbourn when it ceased to be an RAF station. Although they were somewhat second hand gave good service for many years. The pavilion was completed by the end of the year and this started the next phase in the history of Meldreth Bowls Club.
1970 – 2000
The period from 1970 and today saw the club double in size and go from strength to strength. The original green was only five rinks wide and this prevented play in both directions. At the Annual General Meeting held in October 1971 the possibility of adding rink six was discussed and a sub-committee consisting of John Dawes and John Chalkley was asked to investigate the options available. It was eventually agreed to accept a quotation from En Tout Cas to lay a sixth rink and build regulation banks and ditches for the sum of £2,011. A grant from the Sports Council of £750 left the club the task of raising £1,260. This was achieved by issuing interest bonds to members. The joining of the sixth rink to the other five caused several problems. The contractors were called back to rectify these but the main problem was only partly solved and there is still a slight ridge at the join.
During this period the club was very active socially and the annual dinners, which in the early days were held at The Bull Hotel in Royston, were moved to the University Arms in Cambridge and eventually to the new village hall.
As mentioned earlier Miss Bowen leased the club the land for our green. In 1972 she asked senior members to visit her at Topcliffe Mill when she asked them to stake out how much land we required. She then arranged for the club to become the freeholders. The original trustees were John Dawes, John Harris and the secretary at the time, John Whitcombe. The present trustees are John Chalkley, John Dawes and Ken Singleton with one vacancy.
The ladies stated in 1973 that they were no longer able to provide match refreshments for fifteen pence per player and asked for the charge to be increased to twenty. In 1974 subscriptions were increased to £4 per member with £2 for senior citizens.
In October 1974 the green was scarified by a contractor for £15. In the following year the club purchased its own machine for £300. This was sold in 1991 for £150.
During this period Bill Soppit appeared on the scene. As Chairman he guided the club through many changes with tact and considerable diplomacy for more than ten years. He was probably responsible for the sociable and friendly club that we have today. It was also during the seventies that the club ties and badges were designed and players were encouraged to wear grey trousers and white tops for matches. Also about this time the first irrigation system was installed. It consisted of a ring main and twelve sprinklers that had to be placed on the green every time it was needed and manually moved every two hours. It served a very good purpose but the water was spread very unevenly.
By 1981 the pavilion was too small and an extension was discussed. This consisted of adding a further ten feet to the rear of the building. Another ‘100 Club’ was organized to raise the cost of the building materials. Again members carried out the actual building work with Bill Parkin as ‘Clerk of Works’.
In 1982 Meldreth Bowls Club celebrated its Golden Jubilee when the Cambridgeshire County President, Arthur Wilkinson, brought a county team to Meldreth.
1984 saw a considerable increase in membership when several members from the Shepreth Short Mat Bowls Club joined us. During this year the club acquired a second hand portacabin for use as a changing room. This proved to be a white elephant and was eventually demolished. With this increase in membership the need for extra fixtures was very apparent and in 1984 the club joined the Cambridgeshire County Triples League. However, after one year the club transferred to the County Fours League so that more players could be given matches. Also in that year it was decided that an attempt should be made to improve the quality of the playing surface and to remove the notorious ‘rink six ridge’. Stickford Lodge Sports was employed for the purpose at a cost of £1,400. Again in 1984 the ladies reported that they were having difficulty catering for our matches as the kitchen was too small so a second extension was started. A new kitchen, together with new toilets and changing rooms were built on the eastern side of the clubhouse.
Weekend club tours started in 1986 when we visited Hythe in Kent. Since then they have become an annual feature and we have travelled across most of the southern counties and the midlands.
As a result of the very dry season in 1987 our green suffered badly from lack of proper irrigation. We approached the greens maintenance committee at the English Bowling Association, who agreed a loan to enable the club to install a fully automatic system.
The period between 1987-1991 was fairly uneventful. The club gained promotion to the first division of the County League and remained in that league for a couple of years but was relegated in 1990 only to remain in the second division for one season before being reinstated back into the first division.
There was another landmark in 1990 when we hosted three county matches. The under 30’s county team played against Essex and the full county team played against the Eastern Counties Bowling Association. The ladies of Northamptonshire visited Meldreth to play the County Ladies Association.
One of the most popular activities in the club is the inter-club Monday league. Harry Oak conceived this in 1990. He put a great deal of time and effort into its foundation and ensured its success.
In 1991 plans were made to celebrate our Diamond Jubilee the following year. We were fortunate to be offered several special matches. The Presidents of the English Bowling Association, the Eastern Counties Bowling Association and our County President, all accepted invitations to bring a team to play against us. The County Ladies President also brought a ladies team to continue the celebrations.
There seemed to be a need to extend the clubhouse every five years or so and in 1991 plans were again made to build a bar and lounge attached to the other side of the pavilion. The Green King brewery were approached and agreed to lend us the necessary finances and so the winter work started all over again.
Throughout the many years that the club has been in existence we have been very fortunate in having two very keen greenkeepers. In the early years Fred Farnham not only laid the green but maintained and improved it year after year. In the mid-seventies poor health forced him to pass the responsibility to Dennis Pepper who has spent many hours improving the green to give members of the club the playing conditions that they enjoy today.
Thanks are due to Meldreth Bowls Club and Meldreth Local History Group member Ann Handscombe, who typed up this history so that it could be included here.