A group of bowlers resident in Devizes decided to form their own club. One of their number, Mr. L. H. Ferris, owned a large house known as The Ark in the grounds of which was a tennis court just large enough for two bowls rinks. This is where the Club started, but they were searching for a more suitable location.
After a failed attempt to rent the tennis court at Hillworth House, in 1919 the Club approached Mr. R. S. Gundry who owned a large house on the corner of Hillworth Road and Long Street. Alongside was a kitchen garden and tennis court, shown under “Road” of Hillworth Road below. Mr. Gundry gave permission to use the tennis court and after some hectic work early in the year they were able to play on it in 1919.
Opposite Mr. Gundry’s house in Long Street was Wilsford House, which was formerly a boys’ school known as Rumsey’s School, later to become the Conservative Club, and alongside it were playing fields which were bought by Mr. Gundry when the school closed. The land consisted of three plots. In February 1920 he offered the bowlers one of these plots for conversion into a bowling green, generously paid for it to be made into a four rink green and gave it to Devizes Bowls Club.
Devizes BC presented an illuminated address to R.S. Gundry Esq. in appreciation of his kindness in giving them their beautiful grounds. A picture of this can be seen in the Club House.
The other two of the three plots were gifted under a trust to the Girl Guides and the Boy Scouts. The Girl Guides’ plot became allotments as shown in the 1969 map below.
Mr. Gundry was asked to become the first President of the Club, which post he accepted.
Social events have a long history in the club. The first mention in the club minutes, relating to a whist drive and dance in November 1919. This was commemorated by an 80th anniversary whist drive on 12th November 1999.
The First Clubhouse
The original clubhouse was a small wooden construction on the side of the green overlooking Southbroom Road (‘C’ in the diagram below), which was kept in usable condition from 1920 to 1950. The only entrance to the Club premises was a small one through an iron gate in Southbroom Road, still used in the 1990s by members walking to the club from Pans Lane and other parts south and east.
Pieces of historical detail come from the minutes of the Club committee in May 1920 including the first mention of County matches in those minutes:
“A letter from the County Association was laid before the Meeting asking the Club to nominate 4 players for the County match against Gloucestershire on June 9th at Swindon. It was resolved to nominate three players: Mr. L. Neate, Lead; Mr. S. H. Ward, Second; Mr. B. Robbins, Third.” and”…. resolved to affiliate the Club to the English Bowling Association.”
The minutes of the Club in the 1930s and 1940s refer often to the deterioration of the “pavilion”. At the 1941 AGM, it was decided to open a fund for the provision of a new clubhouse and one of the last acts of Captain W.L.D. Gundry was to give a further piece of land, SE boundary, to enable the clubhouse to be built. Captain Gundry was President of the Club from 1937 until his death in 1942.
The Lady Members
Through most of the history of the Club, and in common with many other clubs, the ladies have helped with their usual great forbearance by producing teas for the men’s matches as well as for their own. The slightly curious history of lady membership can be seen from the extracts below. Some reading between the lines seems to be necessary.
Extracts from the minute books relating to membership of the ladies:
(GC = General Committee) [Editorial comments in brackets like this]
- GC 5/9/1919 Resolved that ladies be admitted as members to New Bowling Green
AGM 23/2/1920 Membership to be 15/- per annum, entrance fee 5/-. Ladies membership fee also 15/-, entrance fee nil.
- GC 20/1/1921 Resolved the following be elected to the Ladies Committee for Refreshments and Entertainment: Mesdames Walker, Neate, Bridges, Channing, Lewis with power to add to their numbers.
- AGM 30/1/1922 Mr & Mrs Oliver to be honorary playing members for the coming year. The Ladies Committee was re-elected.
- GC 13/2/1922 Resolved to provide suitable lavatory accommodation on the Green [most unsuitable!] for the lady members.
- GC 10/4/1923 Mixed match agreed, 3 rinks v. Bath Ladies Club.
[There are no available minute books covering the period December 1923 to March 1933]
- GC 28/9/1933 There were no Lady Members of the Club.
- AGM 30/11/1933…..invited those ladies present to join and compete for the Waylen Rose Bowl.
- AGM 29/11/1934 Subscriptions agreed – men 30/-, ladies 15/-, honorary member 10/6.
- GM 25/11/1937 The Rose Bowl had been given to the Club for a ladies’ competition but as we have no lady members and there seems very little prospect of any joining in the near future………..[the Rose Bowl was used temporarily for a men’s competition].
[There are no available minute books covering the period August 1947 to March 1962]
- AGM 12/11/1962 Male playing members 43, lady playing members 18, others 10.
- GC 19/3/1963 Agreed that the rules restricting lady membership to wives of, or daughters of, or widows of late members be amended to admit any lady subject to the usual conditions governing membership and without voting powers.
- AGM 11/11/1963 Male playing members 46, lady playing members 25, others 12.
[end of extracts, having reached a relatively normal state]
There are national competitions between the counties, each county being represented by a team of 6 rinks. The latter stages of these competitions are played on a knock-out basis. The men’s competition is played for the Middleton Cup which the Wiltshire men won in 1986.
The ladies’ equivalent to the Middleton Cup is the John’s Trophy. This was won by Wiltshire in 1995, two ladies from Devizes Bowls Club, Mrs. M. Alexander and Mrs. J. Cooper, being members of the team. Quoting from the newspaper report on the match, “In a dramatic finish to the match, Jean Cooper from Devizes scored the virtual match winner at the penultimate end of her contest against Jean Brecey, which was the third last end to be played across the game. Cooper delivered a brilliant trail of the jack, scoring five shots to put Wiltshire well on the way to a 125-119 victory”.
The ladies were affiliated to the Wiltshire County Women’s Bowling Association (WCWBA) in 1956, when the Ladies’ Section of the Club was first formed.
The ladies play in the Nor-West Wilts League, entering three teams in that triples league. The ladies’ section of the Club is held in high esteem by the County Executive and other clubs in the county. Some years ago, the EWBA selected two Club members to play for England; Mrs. Margaret Perrett had the honour of playing for her country in 1974 and Mrs. Rita Gardiner in 1976, 1978 and 1979. In 1998, the ladies’ section had nine members qualified to play for their county. In 2016 this figure is 10 but many have left and others have qualified.
The Second Clubhouse
In 1948 the club acquired a wartime single storey building for £1,000 which, by the efforts of members, they converted into a clubhouse, which was officially opened in April 1951.
The interior decor was improved in the late 1970s when members lined the walls with beech paneling
At the AGM in 1982 it was reported that the Club had completed its most successful playing season for many years, with a crowning success in winning the Four-Rink League without losing a game. It was also mentioned that the green had not played better for many years and that thanks were due to Maurice Otridge and his greens committee. This was the last report as Secretary of Eddie Noble who had held that post with distinction for fourteen years. Maurice retired from the post of green keeper in 1998 after 20 years of dedicated work alongside his band of helpers.
In the year when Eddie Noble was County President, the Club played a match against the EBA President’s touring team. Devizes BC won by 4 shots over the six rinks for which the Devizes players are listed below.
Devizes BC rinks:-
- 1 W. Thomas R. Lewis D. Paget
- 2 P. Bond R. Butchers H. Brothers
- 3 H. Cook H. Carter D. Pickford
- Skip J. Cook M. Otridge T. Cooke
- 1 G. Dight J. Leigh A. Sims
- 2 A. Mayes P. Smith H. Martin
- 3 J. Archard E. Hibbett L. Stubbins
- Skip A. Staples R. Mansfield E. Noble
(Vice-Captain) (Captain) (County President)
The number of members of the Club gradually increased to a peak in 1989 of 221 counting all categories of members. At the end of the 1999 summer season, the Club had 82 male members, 49 lady members, 3 life members and 54 social members.
In the 1990s, Devizes BC was one of the 51 Wiltshire bowls clubs registered with the English Bowling Association (EBA). The Club entered men’s teams in three leagues, the first two mentioned being leagues of the Wiltshire Bowls Association affiliated to the EBA, the Four-Rink League, the Three-Rink League and the Mid-Wilts League, the last being played in triples format.
The year book of the Wiltshire Bowls Association gives records of the Four-Rink and Three-Rink (sometimes known as the Three-Fours) Leagues. The records of the former commence in 1920 and of the latter in 1929.
Devizes BC won the Four-Rink League in 1968 and 1982 and were runners-up in 1967 and 1973. The Club also won the Three-Rink League in 1991 and were runners-up in 1990.
The Mid-Wilts League, in which matches were played as four rinks of triples, was formed in 1982. This league was intended for players who were not involved in the Four-Rink League.
Details of the history of the leagues follow.
In 1981, Roy Mansfield and Alex Staples of Devizes BC were talking to Geoff Whale and Walter Tarrant of Chippenham Town BC and agreed that competitive games between the clubs would be more satisfactory than friendlies. North Wiltshire had the Swindon and District League and in the South there was the Salisbury and District League, but there was nothing of a competitive nature in Mid-Wiltshire for players not involved in the 4-Rink League. Roy circulated clubs and subsequently called a meeting at Devizes BC on 29th January 1982 with Eddie Noble, the Immediate Past County President, in the chair. After a number of meetings the Mid-Wilts League was formed with Ken Merret of Avon as Chairman, Alex Staples as Secretary and Roy Mansfield as Treasurer. Seven teams were involved and it was decided that the matches would be 4 rinks of triples which seemed popular with most bowlers and still was at the end of the century. Wadworth & Co. Ltd. provided a cup for the League in 1983. It was intended that only persons who had not played in the 4-Rink League should be eligible. Alex and Roy continued to run the League until 1986. Devizes BC won the Mid-Wilts League in 1991, Bill Cowan having a successful year as Captain, winning also the 3-Rink League.
The 3-Rink and 4-Rink Leagues
- The following was extracted from the Wiltshire Bowls Association records at the County Record Office at Trowbridge. The “Wilts County Bowling Association” was formed at a meeting of invited delegates at the New Inn, Trowbridge on 1st April 1914. The first available year book was for 1921:-
(DBC = Devizes BC; 4RL = 4-Rink League; 3RL = 3-Rink League)
- 1921 – DBC was shown in the West Wilts District of Wiltshire County Bowling League (the other districts were South, Mid & North) playing Winsley, Trowbridge Westbourne, Bradford and Spencer Moulton.
- 1923 – rules appear for first time in the handbook, “League matches shall be played by not less than 12 players on each side but clubs having more rinks available for play may by mutual agreement play 16 players”.
- 1928 – the districts changed from named areas to A, B, C and D, with DBC in District A with Swindon, Malmesbury, Westlecot, Avon Sports and Chippenham.
- 1930 – the term “4-Rink League” appeared for the first time, DBC was not in the fixtures for that league but in a new “3-Rink League”, District C (Districts A & B were in the 4RL) with Pewsey, Warminster, Amesbury, Westbury Leigh, Avon Sports.
- 1933 – DBC had moved to the 4RL Division C (Division D was the 3RL) playing Melksham Town, Spencer’s (Melksham), Avon Sports, Spencer Moulton and Trowbridge Westbourne. Although not mentioned in the rules, it would appear that, at this time, clubs entered either the 3RL or the 4RL but not both. Neither is it clear when this situation changed.
- 1946 – the 3RL had one division and the 4RL Divisions A to D, DBC being in Division C with Trowbridge Town, Spencer Moulton, Salisbury, Trowbridge Westbourne and Bradford Rowing Club.
- 1952 – the 4RL still had Divisions A to D, with DBC in C with Warminster, Holt, Trowbridge Town, Spencer Moulton, Trowbridge Westbourne, Bradford Rowing Club and Salisbury.
- 1955 – DBC was in District D with Calne, Chippenham Town, Corsham, Spencers, Avon Sports, Chippenham Park and Westinghouse.
- 1975 – DBC now in Division F of the 4RL playing Avon Sports, Melksham, Spencers Melksham, Pewsey and Westinghouse, finishing second. There were by now 8 teams in the 3RL.
- 1979 – DBC in Division D with Alderbury, Amesbury, Pewsey Vale, Salisbury, Trowbridge Town, Trowbridge Westbourne and Warminster – finishing first.
- 1989 – DBC still in Division D of the 4RL and entered a team in the 3RL (for the first time since 1933) playing Amesbury, Bradford on Avon, Blue Circle, Broughton Gifford, Cricklade, Great Bedwyn, Holt, Salisbury Victoria, Stratton Churchway, Warminster and Westinghouse.
- 1991 – DBC won the 3RL.
- 1999 – DBC finished the century still playing in the 3RL and in Division D of the 4RL.
Growth – The Second Green
With the continued growth in the popularity of the game of bowls in the 1980s came increased membership to the extent that, at certain times during the season, it was very difficult for members to arrive at the Club in the early evening and be able to get a game.
In 1981, when the opportunity came to buy the neighbouring allotments from a further member of the Gundry family, Mr. R. Gundry, for £1,500, in order to convert them into a second green, it was seized quickly, but it took another six years to decide on the details of the development, raise the cost of £35,000 and complete the conversion. This sum was raised by loans from the Sports Council, Wiltshire County Council and Kennet District Council, personal donations from members and fund raising activities. It included £27,276 for payments to the contractor who laid the green, the remainder being for a shed, pumphouse and watering system.
It was to the great credit of members that the cost was repaid by 1984. Work on the new green continued through 1985 and 1986. The start of the 1987 season saw the first games on the new green and it was officially opened by Mr. Norman J.P. Thomson, immediate past president of the English Bowls Association, on 25th July 1987.
The clubhouse was gradually changed to accommodate increasing membership in the years up to the winter of 1990/91, by enlarging the changing rooms, kitchen and bar, again with tremendous efforts of voluntary labour by members.
In 1991, a filled-in well under the bottom green, decided to try to become a well again and much effort was expended in refilling it and levelling the green. Two of the six rinks in each direction could not be used until 1994.
1995 had the usual full programme of league and friendly games, the internal “fun” games including a game in fancy dress.
The Third Clubhouse
By 1997, the clubhouse was becoming more difficult to maintain to the reasonable standards expected by bowlers and the other users from other organisations and the local community. The clubhouse had been in use for the changing rooms, catering and social events of the Club for some fifty years and before that the building was in use by the Army. Among other signs of wear, the floor was sinking in places and the structure of the prefabricated walls was deteriorating. The club was running out of facilities, in that it was not possible to cater for the 96 bowlers and their visitors when a 12 rink game, using both greens, was played.
After discussions on the problems over a number of years, an Extraordinary General Meeting was held on 14th August 1997 to formulate the development of the Club. It was carried by an overwhelming majority that the clubhouse should be replaced with a new and larger construction.
In order to make an application to the National Lottery for a grant, it was necessary to change the constitution of the Club to give the Ladies equal status to the Men. Rule changes were agreed in that there would be a Management Committee for overall management of the Club with sub-committees to run the Men’s bowling section, the Ladies’ bowling section, the indoor winter sporting activities and other sub-committees as necessary.
The Management Committee determined that application should be made to the English Sports Council Lottery Fund for a grant and gave the following terms of reference to the development team which was co-ordinated by Philip Cave:-
To move the top green 3 metres to the south-east.
To build a new clubhouse to accommodate full occupation of the outdoor lawn bowls greens and indoor short mat rinks.
To provide the equipment and associated facilities for refreshment and catering for the sports.
To provide the appropriate sporting programmes and coaching and to attract new membership covering all walks of society with particular attention to youth and the disabled.
Planning permission for the new clubhouse was granted by the Kennet District Council on 6th March 1998. Completed application forms including a 23 page development plan were submitted to the English Sports Council Lottery Fund on 1st June 1998.
Rink 1 was moved to the opposite end of the top green to make space for the new clubhouse, starting in December 1998, and demolition of the old clubhouse commenced in February 1999.
The National Lottery Grant
The Club was advised bv the Sports Council at the end of October 1998 that a grant would be forthcoming to enable the clubhouse to be built over the winter of 1998/99. The architect appointed by the Club immediately drew up invitations to tender for the demolition of the old clubhouse and erection of the new one. In accordance with Lottery fund requirements the contract had to be offered to the lowest acceptable tender and a firm from Somerset was successful. The contract was awarded at the end of January 1999.
A clean sweep – receipt of the Lottery grant is celebrated by Derek Francis (Club Secretary), Len Hayward (Club Treasurer), John Cooper (Club President) and Philip Cave (New Clubhouse Project Co-ordinator)
The grant from the lottery was notified on 8th December 1998. On the basis of an estimated total expenditure of £186,000, the Lottery Grant was assessed at £116,000, leaving the Club to find £70,000. With the help of a grant of £10,000 from Kennet District Council, a large legacy from Mrs M Parry, one of the Lady members who played at international level mentioned earlier, the Club had sufficient resources to meet its share of the costs.
The Club voluntarily registered for Value Added Tax in February 1999 in order to reclaim a portion of the VAT paid on the new building and in advance of being required to register when turnover increased as a result of being open all year.
The new building, because it was in a conservation area, and had to be built to the highest standard, resulted in costs being higher than originally estimated and the building needed to comply with the requirements for use by disabled persons. There were also unforeseen costs which often arise when building on a ‘brown field’ site, and it could not have been foreseen that we would meet a section of an uncharted medieval town ditch.
The members, at a building progress meeting, decided that the existing tables and chairs should be replaced in the new clubhouse, the cost of which would have to come from the members. As a start and to enable an order to be placed for delivery of the main chairs and tables by the time the building was completed, a deposit of £2,600 was required and this was raised by the ready and generous response of the members present.
As is allowed by the Lottery grant authorities when final costs are known, a request was made to the Sports Council for an increased grant. The final cost of the building including furniture replacement was £306,572. The grant was increased to £162,517.
The Summer season’s bowling for 1999 started as usual at the end of April. The site of the clubhouse under construction was off limits to members because of safety regulations. There being no other shelter (much needed in that cold and wet spring) or facilities other than the Conservative Club next door, a marquee and portable lavatories were installed adjacent to the bottom green. A number of home fixtures had to be re-arranged because of the shortage of facilities for visitors, causing much work for the Men’s and Ladies’ Match Secretaries.
The new clubhouse was opened to members on 14th June 1999 and on the following Friday 18th June the opening was celebrated by 93 members at a supper of cheese and wine. This followed the usual “Spoons” drive which had been a feature of the bowls calendar on Monday and Friday evenings for many years, involving players with a wide range of skills. On Mondays the Men and Ladies played separately but on Fridays the play was mixed. The number of people turning up to play the Spoons drive determined the number of fours or triples. Numbered disks were drawn to decide on who played on each rink, odd numbers playing against even, the players on each team deciding among themselves as to the order in which they played.
The summer of 1999 was wetter than average but the Club still participated in a full complement of league games. The three Club “gala” days were played as usual. The Open Gala was played by 20 fours, each playing 5 games of 10 ends for £150 total prize money. The Walter Ireland and the Triples Galas were played by 14 fours and 16 triples respectively, in both cases as 5 games of 8 ends for their respective trophies.
Members were introduced to one of the proposed new Winter activities, Short Mat Bowling, on Friday 27th August 1999. About forty members took part.
The new clubhouse was officially opened by Mr. Peter Colling, chairman of the Community Leisure Development Sub-Committee for Kennet District Council on 14th September 1999. There were 32 official guests including the Mayor of Devizes, Councillor Noel Woolrych. 58 members of the Club also attended.
The costings for the new clubhouse project indicated that for full viability the Club should remain open during the winter for the first time in its history. To this end a Winter program was drawn up, some of the activities being shown on the following handout.
The first Short Mat match was played during the evening of Monday 13th December 1999, a friendly game against Bromham SMBC using two mats, played on by four players from each side with some extra players taking turns. The game was much enjoyed by both sides and it was agreed that there should be a return match. The total score over the two mats was Devizes 54 Bromham 20.
For most of the 1990’s, the Social Sub-Committee chaired by Philip Cave had, among many fund-raising activities, organised the availability of food after the Spoons drives. This took various forms on the Friday evenings, such as pasties or sweet and sour chicken, for which the charge was usually less than £1, but on Monday evenings throughout the summer season Norman and Joyce Weston served hotdogs, a noble effort which was much appreciated by the Spoons players.
Still on the subject of food, December 1999 saw the first of the three-course Sunday lunches produced by varying teams of people for 30 members, the plan being to have such lunches each month in the Winter season.
With increased revenue from the new policy of opening during the Winter for indoor activities, at the end of the century from small beginnings the Club had facilities second to none in the County apart from a very limited number of clubs with indoor greens.
By the generosity and effort of all the members since the Club started in 1917, the Millenium New Year’s Eve party, attended by 48 members, saw the Club into the start of the 21st Century with a new clubhouse and excellent sporting and social facilities.
In addition to its existence in the early years of the Club, there was a post of Chairman from 1979 to 1998, E.R.Mansfield being the first for that period until 1982, followed by E.Noble in 1983, J.Cooper from 1984 to 1989 and D.Tucker from 1990 until the post ceased to exist by the change of rules associated with arrangements for the National Lottery funds application in 1998.
The change of Club rules provided, inter alia, for a Management Committee for the overall management of the Club and for “….the formation of separate sub-committees to run the men’s and ladies’ bowling sections and indoor winter sporting activities, and such other sub-committees as are deemed necessary for the proper functioning of the Club….” (Rule 6 – Management, Para f).
National and County Administrative Honours
Mrs. G. Budd was President of the English Women’s Bowling Association in 1984.
The Club has provided the following Presidents of the Wiltshire Women’s Bowling Association:
- 1963/64 Mrs. R. Gardiner
- 1974/75 Mrs. R. Gardiner
- 1980/81 Mrs. G. Budd
- 1986/87 Mrs. C. Lopuszynski
- 1989/90 Mrs. J. Cooper
- 1999/2000 Mrs. M. Alexander
- 2005 Mrs M. Jones
- BW Ladies from 2009
- 2015 Mrs J. Little
The men have also provided Presidents for the Wilts County Bowling Association, later renamed the Wiltshire Bowls Association:
- 1930 S.H. Ward
- 1973 W. Ireland (Note: Walter Ireland Trophy competition is one of the most popular annual competitions among Club members)
- 1981 E.E. Noble
- 1991 J.A. Cooper
- 1996 D.G.D. Tucker
- D.G. York was Treasurer of the WBA from 1990 to 1996
- 2005 D. Francis
National and County Playing Honours
- 1978 H. Cooke, R. Burchell, J. Cook semi-finalists
- 1968 Devizes 4 rink league winners
- 1982 Devizes 4 rink league winners
- 1991 Devizes 3 rink league winners
- 1991 Devizes Mid Wilts league winners
- 1951 P. Wyer, G. Perrett, W. Ellis Triples winners
- 1966 T. Cooke, H. Cook, J. Cook Triples runners-up
- 1972 L. Stubbins, F. Johnson, W. Ireland, T. Cooke (M. Otridge playing as a substitute in the final) Fours winners
- 1974 R. Burchell, J. Cook – Pairs winners
- 1976 R. Burchell, J. Cook – Pairs winners
- 1977 R. Burchell, J. Cook – Pairs winners
- 1978 K. Gardiner, D. York – Pairs winners
- 1978 T. Cooke, H. Cook, J. Cook – Triples winners
- 1979 J. Cook – Champion of Champions winner
- 1980 T. Cooke, H. Cook, J. Cook – Triples winners
- 1980 H. Cook, R. Burchell, M. Otridge, J. Cook – Fours runners-up
- 1982 J. Cooper, T. Cooke, Hicketts – Triples runners-up
- 1988 D. Tucker, A. Alexander, J. Cook – Triples runners-up
- 1992 J. Cook – Two-Wood winner
- 1996 R. Andrews – Greenkeepers’ Championship winner OW
How Devizes Bowls Club Has Changed
1972 – 2005
BY MAURICE OTRIDGE
When I joined the bowls club in 1972, it comprised of approxiately 45 male and twenty female members. There were no junior members in those days.
The Clubhouse was a section army surplus barrack room, bought, transported and erected by the members after the end of the second world war. It was improved in the late nineteen seventies when one of the members acquired a quantity of beech cladding, which was fitted by him with the help of other members and thus greatly improved the interior of the building.
There was one bowling green (the top green|) which was three feet longer on one side than the other three sides. This made the marking out of the rinks tricky. An old Ramsome mower was used to cut the green the only other equipment we had was a Spiker (a wooden roller with nails attached), and a Triple Roller. The fertilizing was carried out by hand as was the watering (three hosepipes with sprinklers). The watering was mainly done when play had ceased about nine thirty pm. and often took about one and a half hours.
The club was a men’s club in 1972 with a ladies section who were permitted to play at certain times. Pre early nineteen eighties, the ladies played their Spoons night on a Friday, and the men played on Mondays. Then it was changed to men and ladies playing separate Spoons on a Monday evenings and mixed on Fridays. Most men accepted this and indeed enjoyed it, but there were still a few who did not. Until the early eighties, the ladies only played friendly matches, and in the clubhouse they had two tables for their own use. Believe me when I say that they always sat at those two tables at the kitchen end and the men sat elsewhere!. This seating arrangement carried on until the early nineties when we had more social intercourse. The club had no ladies on the Management Committee until a loan was applied for from the Sports Council to help us with the cost of the construction of the bottom green. (1983) They insisted that the committee must consist of both ladies and men before they would grant a loan.
The club boasted some very good playing ability in the nineteen seventies and eighties with at least four men playing Middleton Cup for the county and the ladies did even better with two players having played for England and quite a few played county league bowls as well as winning many county competitions. The men won the county four rink league in 1980.
In the early nineteen eighties. The opportunity arose for the club to purchase land on which to build the bottom green. The land cost fifteen hundred pounds and construction of the green thirty five thousand pounds a large portion of which was given by members. The automatic water system was installed and a couple of years later this facility was added to the top green.
Our new Clubhouse was erected in 1999. To the members credit again a great deal of money was donated by them. The planning research and administration of this project was a massive task also carried by members. The result is the pride we now have in having two full sized greens and probably the best clubhouse in the county. Owing to the construction of the new clubhouse, nine feet of the green had to be moved from the clubhouse side to the Southbroom Road side (luckily we had room to do this)
Today we have many more members and many more games to organise which makes much more work for Captains, Secretaries and Selectors. Many more social activities are arranged for us. Although the club spirit was very good in the seventies and eighties, when the only social event we had was the annual dinner and prize giving presentation. This was a “black tie” affair with the ladies wearing long dresses and was held at Bromham or Melksham. With our larger clubhouse, bar and kitchen facilities, we now have no need to go elsewhere. This must be good! There is a more relaxed social attitude towards our bowls these days in line with present day society and I feel that the clubs future is in very good hands.
In conclusion I must with pride mention that this club of ours has provided six County Ladies Presidents and five County Men’s Presidents between 1972 and 2005. This shows how much the club has progressed in the last thirty years
A Personal Memory – Jean Cooper – 2004
“…..For a long time now, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing about my bowling achievements. In December 1969 my husband John was transferred from Chippenham Police Station to an admin position at Devizes Police Headquarters where he was in charge of housing for the County. Our two children said he was the man in charge of drains and dustbins. So on December the 6th we moved into our house in Queens Road, Devizes.
In April 1970 we joined Devizes Bowls Club. John had started his bowling in 1950 at Bridport, but I was very new to the sport having played only a few games at Chippenham. I had an excellent teacher – one Maria Parry, who had been a very good County bowler. Later on in my years at the club she told me she had been picked to play for England, but had turned the opportunity down. She said she couldn’t leave Joe, her husband, to look after himself for a week. Maria knew the rules and etiquette of bowls like no one else in the club. She said the only way to improve was to spend hours on your own on a rink bowling the jack and bowling your woods to wherever the jack finished, without straightening it.
After many hours on my own I began to get the hang of the game and my bowling became better. In 1975 I went to the National Championships at Leamington. I was in a rink with Gwen Budd, Dorothy Carey and Rita Gardiner. We had a wonderful day and finally lost in the semi finals to a rink from Leicestershire. My first visit to Leamington “what an experience that was”.
Wiltshire County Ladies had two players playing for England in the 1970s Margaret Perret 1974/1975 and Rita Gardiner 1976/1979 both players from Devizes Bowls Club. I was then lucky enough to go to the Nationals in 1980 with Gwen Budd. 1983 with Margeurite Alexander and M Staples. (Triples) 1984 with Daphne Otridge, Joan Mayes and Rita Gardiner (Rinks). Then in 1991 I won the County Singles and also the Rinks with Irene Jones, Daphne Otridge and Marguerite Alexander.
I managed three rounds of singles at Leamington, but we had a good run in the Rinks losing in the Semi Finals to a Rink from Somerset. Then in 1995 Wiltshire played several Counties in the South West region of the Johns Trophy and managed to win. Marguerite Alexander and myself were lucky enough to be part of the County team of 24. One very hot day in August we set off by coach to play in the Semi Finals. In the morning we played Huntingdonshire and won 136-113 in the afternoon we played Sussex and won 125-119.
I also did quite well in the Club Competitions winning some of the ladies comps and in the mixed pairs I won with Don Tucker in 1986 and in 1994 with John Long (Sue’s husband) and in 1996 with Monty Smith. After winning the John’s Trophy the celebrations started in the clubhouse at Leamington – we were quite a merry lot except Marguerite Alexander who was taken off from our team to be drugs tested.
What wonderful memories and many photos I have. After thirty years I decided to retire from bowling whilst still on a high. I’m still very lucky to have good health to enjoy my new life in Wales. John I’m afraid was not so lucky – through ill health he had to give up all his commitments with his beloved Devizes Bowls Club, but at least he lived long enough to see what he wanted for the club come into fruition. A second green and most of all a new clubhouse.
Jean Cooper 2004
The History of Bowls
Although modern day bowls is typically associated with the Middle Ages, there are certain fragments of evidence to suggest a far greater lineage. Archaeologists have postulated that certain games in the stone age involved ‘bowling’ rounded rocks to a peg, and the famous English digger Sir Flinders Petrie has identified links with the Egyptian practice of skittles (which used round stones) through artefacts found in tombs dating back to 5000BC. Furthermore there is proof that the Italian variation of Bocci was played by the Romans, as well as similar Aztec, indigenous American and ancient Chinese practices.
That said, the recorded history of the game is typically associated with 13th century England, despite possible coded references to an early version in 12th century London involving ‘casting stones’. This conforms with all extant evidence such as the oldest surviving bowling green still in use, found in Southampton and dating back to 1299, and in a drawing of two participants in Windsor, Berkshire. A 14th century book of prayers gives a sense of what the early forms of the game were like, with possibly another bowl used as a jack, both players delivering just one bowl (made of wood and without any bias) and no set technique laid down on how to bowl properly (shots of players stooping, kneeling or using something in-between the two stances)
The Dangerous Game of Bowls
The popularity of the game like football in it’s mob era, is reflected by the many statutes emanating from the King and Parliament ordering it’s prohibition. Efforts were made in 1361 under Edward III, in 1388 under Richard II and in 1409 under Henry IV, all out of fear for the possible ramifications for Archery, which was then vital for the military. Ironically, the first mention of the term ‘bowls’ is found in one such document of 1511 during the reign of Henry VIII. Nevertheless, concessions were made, most notably in an order which lasted from 1541 to 1845 which permitted the lower orders to play on Christmas and tolerated private greens (if a licence was purchased for the grand sum of £100).
Bowls’ continued popularity during this period particularly among the highest circles, is today confirmed by the most famous (and possibly apocryphal) story involving the game. On July the 18th 1588, Sir Francis Drake was enjoying a game at Plymouth Hoe when he was alerted to the Spanish Armada’s approach. Rather than rush off though, Drake made the famous remark that ‘we still have time to finish the game and thrash the Spaniards too!’. Although he (somewhat humorously) lost the bowls match, the Spaniards did indeed suffer a beating, with Drake as the second-in-command.
Just how seriously the attempts at prohibition were taken is questionable at best, as the format of the game was radically developed in the following centuries. Indeed bias in the bowl was supposedly introduced in 1522 courtesy of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who, when his bowl broke in half, stuck on one side of an ornamental ball. The replacement was subsequently one part flat, producing the sort of curved trajectory which is pivotal to the game today. Moreover the jack was a development of the early 17th century, the name meaning a smaller version of something else (hence a ‘jack bowl!’)
Such innovations were matched by changes in culture during the reign of James 1 and in particular, the publication of Francis Willoughby’s book of sports, which encouraged the practice of bowls. Coupled with the prior development of gunpowder, which alleviated the burden on the army to train or find archers, the path was clear for the further expansion of the game.
Creating the Sport
The actual laws of the game came about as a result of developments in Scotland. A meeting held in Glasgow in 1848 was attended by clubs across Britain and saw the establishment of standardised laws, which were then drawn up by a W.W. Mitchell. The Scottish Bowling Association, formed in 1892, took on board these laws a year later, as did the English Bowling Association, founded in 1903 under the Presidency of a certain Dr W.G. Grace.
Codifying a set of laws was pivotal to spreading bowls worldwide. This was achieved two years later with the creation of the International Bowling Board. Initially composed of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, The board quickly increased it’s membership thanks to the entry of Australia, United States of America, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa in 1928. With a list of rules in place and an international community developing the idea of bowls as a genuine competitive sport became a reality, laying the foundations for further developments which can be seen today.
Howard Pryse – thoughts about Devizes BC – prompted by research into the history of Bowling and Bowls Clubs in Wiltshire for the purpose of compiling a Booklet for the BWM Centenary in 2014.
I found it all very interesting – especially as I knew so many of the people at the Club. We had some wonderful times playing there in the 70’s / early 80’s. Whilst the competitive element was extremely strong – Jonathan & Hubert Cook, Tommy Cooke & Dick Burchell were always hard to play, Walter Ireland, John Cooper, Des York, Roy Mansfield, Jack Bullen and a number of others were very ‘keen & sociable’ – so the Club was very well balanced!
Thinking back 40+ years I remember Maurice Otridge – who, apart from being a good player, did a huge amount of work for the Club. One of the finest leads that were around in my early days was Len Stubbins. Len would have been a regular Middleton Cup player if he hadn’t been working Saturdays. There were other great contributors to making Devizes BC a lovely Club to play at / visit – Eddie Noble, George Perrett, Frank Johnson, Dan Gaiger, Ken Gardiner, Alan Burton, Keith Hicketts, Don Tucker and many others.
Jonathan Cook – what a tremendous player he has been over such a long period. His records of successes speak for him – whilst he was an excellent ‘drawing’ player and ‘head-builder’ as a Skip, I will always remember him best for his beautifully smooth firing action – honed to perfection after hours of practice. We used to have many ‘shoot-outs’ in competitive matches – much to the disgust of some of the older Bowlers who didn’t approve of such destructive tactics!
Jonathan’s father Hubert was a very good lead, he didn’t say a lot – just chewed his pipe and put his two bowls close to the jack all the time!!
I believe it was the ‘Inaugural’ Meeting of the Christie Miller that was held at Devizes BC around about 1970 (there were no Indoor facilities in the County at that time). The first four Rinks were being constructed at Christie Miller (the space for what later became Rinks 5 & 6 was used as a temporary changing / storage area. I remember being at the Meeting in the Devizes Clubhouse when Trevor Beck (Avon) was elected as the first Hon. Sec and John Smith (Spencer Melksham) Asst. Hon. Sec. In those days the Indoor was a ‘Section’ of the EBA, so everything was organised / actioned by the Outdoor Association – with Denis Uncles doing most of the negotiations as Hon. Sec. of the Wilts. B.A.
Soon afterwards, the Indoor Section broke away from the EBA and formed the EIBA.
Devizes BC has always played an important part in Wiltshire Bowls, the playing strength and the social side have been a model for all Clubs to follow.