History of the Club
(This is a extract from One Hundred Years On – a booklet written on the Centenary of the Club- The whole booklet can be download here)
REVIEW OF THE HISTORY
FOREST HILL BOWLING CLUB
Our Early Years 1894-1905
The story of the Forest Hill Bowling Club begins on Friday 13th April 1894 with a small advertisement in the Anerley and Norwood Times stating that "A Forest Hill Bowling Club is in the course of formation". Further information followed inside the same newspaper under the heading
"PROPOSED BOWLING CLUB AT FOREST HILL - It is proposed to establish at Forest Hill a club in which the old fashioned game of bowls may be indulged in. A private ground, 240 feet by 60 feet, at the foot of Perry Rise, has been levelled and prepared during the winter, where two or more games may be played at the same time. It is estimated that a subscription of l0s 6d (without entrance fee for the first fifty members) will be sufficient to provide material and maintain the ground in first class condition during the season. Mr C Spencer-West of Glenthorne, Perry Rise who is acting as Hon. Secretary, pro tern. will be glad to receive names for membership. As soon as a sufficient number o(,names shall have been received, a meeting will be called with a view to framing rules, and appointing officers of the club".
To put the subscription charge of 10s 6d into perspective, this is just over 50p in today's money. An advert in the same local newspaper indicates that you could purchase four dozen pint bottles of beer for this sum ie. Approximately 1p per pint in new money.
The Club was situated between the Baptist Church and the Forest Hill Lawn Tennis Club on the west side of Perry Rise, less than a quarter of a mile from the present location, and it remained there until 1905 when it moved to the Forest Hill Cricket Club in Perry Hill. No reason can be found for the move but it may have been due to the re-development of the area. We do know that a Croquet and Lawn Bowls Club opened nearby whose Hon. Secretary was the same Mr C Spencer- West.
The Period 1905-1910
On Saturday 29th April 1905 an opening ceremony was held at the Forest Hill Cricket Club and was duly reported in the Sydenham. Forest Hill and Penge Gazette. The Club President, Major Coates MP. was expected to open the new green but was prevented by absence abroad. In his absence, Mr H J Hancock, one of the Vice Presidents, discharged this pleasant duty. The Club was now under dual management in conjunction with the Forest Hill Cricket Club, and the green, which had three rinks, was situated in the south east corner of the grounds. Before the end of 1905 Mr Hancock became President and the first Annual Dinner took place at the Rutland Hotel which still stands today.
The next report we have is dated 19th December 1908, describing the Annual Dinner, held at Frascati's in Oxford Street, with the Mayor of Lewisham as guest of honour. It is interesting to note that at the Dinner, the Treasurer was pleased to report that after the year's working the Club had a balance on the right side of £5, making a total in hand of £22 13s 0d. He also reported that membership “as low and new members urgently needed”. Thanks were tendered to members' wives (not present at the Dinner) for dealing with refreshments. These dinners were entirely male functions and included a programme of music provided by Club members, after lengthy speeches, progress reports and prize-giving. Probably "Carriages at 10.30pm" was on the programmes.
In 1910 the Club moved once more to the present ground in Wynell Road and to make this move possible, a Company" was formed with a Capital of £600 in £1 shares. The prime mover of this project was Mr W P Ginner, the one-time (and only) Patron of the Club. who was the main person responsible for financing the laying down of the green and building the pavilion.
1910 To The Present Day
The first turf of the new green was laid by Mrs W P Ginner in March 1910 and the pavilion was opened by the President, Mr H J Hancock on the 4th June1910. The opening ceremony is described at some length in the Sydenham. Forest Hill and Penge Gazelle of 11th June 1910. It reports that the green was opened by Mr Robert Iowat. President of the London & Southern Counties Bowling Association and representatives of the following Clubs were present:
Bannister Park Finchley
Catford Muswell Hill
Chiswick & West London Redhill
Crouch Hill South London
Croydon Springfield Park
Edmonton Sydenham Wells
It was reported that the Club had every right to be proud of its new green at Wynell Road as it was declared to be one of the finest in the County (which is still true today). It has been a fine achievement to turn something like a ploughed field into a bowling green in just three months. The new green, which had a run of 42 yards was square so that members could play either way. In a long speech which traced the history of bowls back to the 12th and 13th century, Mr Hancock said that the ground had been leased for 21 years.
At the time, to those old boys, 21 years must have seemed an eternity but, if it had not been for the foresight of some of their successors, who turned the original lease into a longer one and subsequently purchased the freehold we should not now be celebrating our Centennial Year. In replying to the toast to the visitors, Mr McBride of the Chiswick and West London Club closed his speech with the following:
Of sports we re know there's a charming variety ;
Pastimes to suit every grade of society;:
Sport of the vulgar and sports of property:
But bowling’s the sport that is the king of all.
Bowling hath charms you can never resist:
Once you have played it you will always persist
Game full of jollity
No silly frivolity
Stands first for quality and ever shall
Here's to Forest Hill bowlers, stout hearted and true,
They’re the best of good sports the whole world through
Steadfast and zealous.
Never spiteful or jealous
Prince of good fellows is only their due.
The original pavilion and green-keeper's cottage were blasted by a flying bomb in 1943 and the present pavilion was built on the same site at a cost of around £5,000. Due to post-war controls and restrictions this could not be done before 1951 and it was chiefly due to the energy and persistence of the then Club and Company Secretary. Mr Jack Wade, and his Board of Directors that the job was done even then. The new pavilion was opened by Mr Henry Price, MP for Lewisham West on 8th September 1951.
The Club prospered over the years and many improvements were made to pavilion and green surrounds. The green was true and fast and, up to the early 1960s the grounds man, after mowing the green, used to shave it with a scythe. The year 1964 marked the formation of a Ladies Section which has continued to flourish over the years. It is pleasing to note that our centenary year coincides with the ladies' 30th anniversary.
In July 1969 discussions were initiated by our Board of Directors with the Leathersellers Company with a view of acquiring the freehold of the Bowling Club land held on a lease expiring 1994. These discussions reached a successful conclusion in April 1976 after nearly seven years of negotiations. We are much indebted to Mr Keith Martin, Chartered Surveyor, for his valuable advice and good services in this connection. The knowledge that the Company/Club owns its own Freehold is of great comfort and will be of lasting benefit to future generations of Club members.
The Club also had its share of misfortune during the 1970s. On the night of Thursday 28th September 1972 a serious fire almost completely gutted the Club pavilion. The cause was never fully established but, at that time, the Club was suffering from vandalism and regular break-ins. The blaze appeared to have been started by an intruder setting fire to the curtains which then formed a screen from the bar area. To the great relief of the Company Secretary, who answered the call-out, the fire brigade had not damaged the green. From the insurance proceeds, the Club pavilion was restored to its former glory before the commencement of the 1973 season and, indeed, the opportunity was taken to extend and improve the original building. All members played their part in the restoration through gifts, contributions and hard work and their enthusiasm was well rewarded by the final result of their endeavours The only sadness was the loss in the fire of many photographs, bannerettes and mementos from earlier years. However, the old honours boards, although badly blistered, were miraculously restored.
Also in the early 1970s, the Club was shocked to receive a claim for tree-root damage caused to a neighbouring property. The claim was eventually dealt with by our Insurers but the outcome was that many of the large trees on the Club perimeter had to be chopped down and the roots poisoned. As this coincided with the incidence of "Elm Disease" we unfortunately lost most of the last remaining part of the "Forest on the Hill".
During much of the 1970s and 1980s, the green was maintained on a voluntary basis by our own members with varying results. However. we should remember the considerable good work carried out by David Topping and Joffre Harmsworth until their untimely deaths. Over the past years we have employed the professional services of a green contractor, Phil Clarke, and thanks to his excellent work we again have one of the best greens in the County. We have long been troubled by urban foxes who have in the past caused a considerable amount of damage to the green. After trying many preventative measures, without success, we were forced into having a low-current electrified fence around the green. This fence, although not harmful to the foxes, has succeeded in keeping· them off the sacred green.
FOREST HILL BOWLS CLUB - LADIES
As mentioned earlier, the Ladies Section of the Club was formed in 1964 so that they are celebrating their 30th Anniversary this year. Initially they were granted a Licence which restricted their membership to 24 and set limits on their use of the green. Happily these restrictions no longer apply and the men and ladies co-exist side by side in perfect harmony. Care is taken with fixtures so that when the men are at home the ladies play away and vice versa.
The Club is much indebted to the ladies for their assistance over the past years with fund-raising and catering. For all intents and purposes we are one Club and we hope the ladies will equally enjoy our Centenary celebrations this year. We must congratulate Eleanor Canham, the Ladies Secretary, on her election as President of the Kent County Women's Bowling Association for 1994 and we wish her a very happy and successful year. We would also wish to mention Mary Green who is the Club's oldest member. Mary, a past President of the Ladies Club, is a sprightly 96 year old who still attends meetings and social functions at the Club. We all send her fond wishes and hope that she will be able to attend many of our events during this Centenary Year.
FORMATION OF THE KENT COUNTY BOWLING ASSOCIATION
A meeting was held at the Angel Hotel, Tonbridge on 1st March 1911 attended by 41 men representing 20 clubs. Forest Hill was represented at this meeting by Messrs. C. A. Booth, H. J. Hancock and W. A. Sims. Other clubs represented were Beckenham. Bromley, Bromley Common, Bromley Town, Chatham, Cray Valley, Camden, Darnley, Greenwich, Hythe, Maidston'. Margate, Shortands, Thanet, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Tunbridge Wells Grove, Westerham and Woolwich and Plumstead. The meeting was chaired by Mr W. A. Sims who at the time was President of the English Bowling Association.
The first part of the meeting was to elect three delegates to represent the Kent District Bowling Clubs of the E.B.A. The three elected were Mr T. Woof representing Bromley, Mr J. Gillespie representing Forest Hill and Mr G. E. Smith representing Tonbridge
The second part of the meeting was to consider the "desirability of forming a Kent County Bowling Association". Mr T. Woof (Bromley) then proposed and Mr H. J. Hancock seconded a proposal "that a bowling association be formed in Kent to be called the Kent County BO\\ling Association." This was carried unanimously. Mrr H. J. Green was thereupon elected first Hon. Secretary of the ne"-Associarion. Under the new title, the Hon. Secretary brought the meeting to order and charged them with two duties:
a) To elect a Committee of eleven clubs.
b) To elect a President who was to be Chairman.
The eleven clubs elected were Bromley, Chatham, Cray Valley Darnley, Forest Hill, Greenwich, Hythe, Thanet, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells Grove and Woolwich and Plumstead.
On the proposal of Mr G. Judge (Margate) seconded by Mr G. E. Smith (Tonbridge) Mr W. A. Sims of Forest Hill was then elected the first President of the Kent County Bowling Association.
Not only was Mr W. A. Sims of Forest Hill the first President of the K.C.B.A. in 1911 On the same year that he was also President of the E.B.A.) he also subsequently became the third Hon. Secretary of the K.C.B.A.