This history of Brentwood Bowling Club was written by Richard Rose for the club centenary in 2008

In 1908 Robert Baden Powell started the Boy Scout movement, in America the first Model T Ford rolled off the production line, in Australia Don Bradman was born and London celebrated their first Olympic Games.

Whilst all this was going on a group of men were meeting in the Yorkshire Grey public house in Brentwood to form the Brentwood Bowling Club (or Brentwood and District Bowling Club as it was originally known), the first bowls club in the Brentwood area.

The Yorkshire Grey was situated in Brentwood High Street close to where the public toilets are today. It disappeared in the early 1960’s. The Publican at the Yorkshire Grey in 1908 was Albert Thomas King who was one of the early members of the Club.

Dale Womersley JP was elected as the first President of the Club. Dale was a great patron of sport in the town. When he first came to Brentwood in 1888 he briefly played first class cricket for the county. For many years he was one of the mainstays of Brentwood Cricket Club, firstly as a player and more latterly as treasurer.

He had also been associated as President with a successful show in the town by the Mid-Essex Horse Show Society as well as other local sports clubs. Mr. Perkins was elected as Hon. Secretary and C. H. Clark was appointed the Club‘s first Captain.

The green, which was situated behind the Yorkshire Grey, was apparently not of full size. The first bowl was not put down until Saturday 8 May 1909 and was delivered by L. Marlton, senior.

A quiet start

The first full season of the Club was a relatively quiet one with internal games only being played. At the end of the 1909 season a concert was held at the Yorkshire Grey on 30 September at which a set of bowls was presented to a Mr. Taylor who won the season’s final tournament.

To mark the start of the 1910 season a Smoking Concert was held at the Yorkshire Grey when it was announced that 10 friendlies had been arranged. The first of these games appears to have been played towards the end of May against Liberty of Havering which was lost by 95 to 110.

A return match the following week on Liberty’s Romford green was lost by the bigger margin of 73 to 122. Another loss followed to Wickford Castle by 86 – 97. The first recorded win was towards the end of the season, 117 to 110 against Chelmsford.

The winning run did not last long as the following week saw a 29 shot loss to Romford who were entertained to tea at the Yorkshire Grey after the game. The next week Chelmsford gained their revenge for their earlier defeat by winning the return match by 39 shots as “Brentwood were not used to the full rink game”.

During 1910 the Club dipped its toe into the water of outside competition, but when the 1911 season arrived they dived right in. This was probably the first season of affiliation to a fledgling County Association and they took full advantage by entering various County competitions. In doing so the Club probably enjoyed one of its most successful seasons in its near 100 year history.

During the close season the Club’s green had been extended to four rinks which allowed them to accommodate more members. The new green was used for the first time on 15 May 1911.

Brentwood’s first win

The first fully competitive game to be played by the Club took place towards the end of May and could not have been a closer affair. It was a county double fours game against Southend. At Brentwood the home side scored an 8 shot victory.

A similar result in Southend’s favour in the away leg meant the need for extra ends to be played which still failed to break the deadlock. Further extra ends gave Brentwood victory by two shots.

There was no similar success in the County Rinks where the Club lost to Liberty. It is interesting to note that in those days this competition was played on a home and away basis.

In June 1911 a dinner was held at the Yorkshire Grey to say goodbye to four of its members who were leaving the area.

On the 1 July the second round of the double fours was played and this resulted in a further victory over Bournemouth Park. This was obviously seen as a spectacular achievement and prompted one member to write a graphic account for the local paper. It is worth reproducing that report here.

In the vicinity of the Yorkshire Grey Hotel, High Street, Brentwood and the Bournemouth Park Bowling Club ground, Southend-on-Sea, on Saturday, passers by who are not acquainted with the charms of bowling wondered at the curious clicking sounds which constantly filled the air. To bowlers, however, the sounds were familiar and they quickly realised that somewhere near at hand the “jack” was receiving severe punishment.

They were thereby attracted to the rendezvous from whence the sounds proceeded and to their delight discovered that a game quite out of the ordinary was in progress. It was a match to decide whether the Brentwood and District Bowling Club or the Bournemouth Park (Southend) Club would be winners in the second round of the Essex County double rink championship. In this contest both clubs send a team of four players to each other’s ground on the same day.

A tough task

The Brentwood and District Club team on the Yorkshire Grey ground had a tough task set them as their opponents showed excellent form. At the 17th head the Park men were only one behind. After a most exciting game, however, the Brentwood Club won by 5 points in the 21 ends 19 – 14.

This was satisfactory, so far, for the Brentwood Club, but as the net result depends upon the total in both the home and away matches, the result of the game at Bournemouth Park was eagerly awaited, although with no great anxiety, as everyone knew that the players who represented Brentwood were well capable of holding their own under ordinary circumstances, but few were prepared for the welcome news that they had won with the handsome margin of 11 points, 25 – 14, thus making a total of 16 points in favour of the Brentwood Club. They played a magnificent game and led their opponents throughout.

The Brentwood and District Club are therefore the winners of B Division, they having previously defeated the Southend B.C. They now enter the semi final for the Browne-Grisdale 100 guineas Challenge Cup.

The players who represented the Brentwood and District Club were – At Brentwood; Messrs. A. T. King, G. Aldridge, G. H. Lacey and T. Miller (skip). At Bournemouth Park, Messrs. H. Symonds, P. Perkins, L. Merlton and A. J. Hazell (skip). The Bournemouth Park teams were; At Brentwood, C. J. Sears, H. Beale, A. W. Barrie and J. Sears (skip). At Southend; A. W. Barhett, G. Luck, A. C. Suffield and H. W. Cooper.”

The following Saturday 8 July saw more success for the Club in the County singles championship. An entry of 16 (a far cry from the current day 4/500) gathered at Falcon B.C. in Chelmsford to play the first three rounds of the competition and thus decide the finalists. Brentwood’s Arthur J. Hazell (who used to own a Wine Shop on the corner of the King’s Road) won through against opponents from Ilford Park, Essex County and Colchester Phoenix to qualify to play J. Lessels of Essex County in the final.

First county champion

The final of the singles took place at Essex County on Wednesday 9 August and saw Mr. Hazell become the Club’s first and, so far, only County champion. As a result he won the R. A. Jones 40 guineas Challenge Cup and a gold medal.

Meanwhile the Club played Ilford Park in the semi final of the double fours. A finely balanced game at the Yorkshire Grey saw the home club scrape through by one shot, 16 -15. Unfortunately the away side faired poorly being 21 – 1 down after 12 ends. No recovery followed and the game finished with a 32 – 7 win to Ilford Park who went on to beat Witham in the final.

In August T. Miller had the privilege of being selected to play for Essex in their first ever match against another county. The match was to take place at Reading against Berkshire.

A successful season concluded in October with the Club’s annual dinner and prize giving at the Yorkshire Grey. During the evening Arthur Hazell displayed the “handsome cup” which he won as County singles champion. A “capital music programme” concluded the evening.

At the beginning of 1912, Mr. M. Lowe, the vice-president of Brentwood Central Bowling Club, who played at the rear of the White Hart Hotel, presented a shield to local bowls. 

The shield was to be played for annually by the three Brentwood clubs, namely Brentwood Central, Brentwood and District and Shenfield. This would have been the forerunner of the Brentwood League. 

By the end of the season the shield had been won by Brentwood and District and was therefore the first team competition to be won by the Club.

The season proved less successful for Arthur Hazell. After his county singles win of the previous season he was knocked out in the first round of the same competition.

President moves away

1913 saw President Dale Womersley moving away from the area to Walton on the Heath although it was thought that this might only be for a while and he retained the presidency of the Club.

The 1914 season started with a presentation to secretary G. Davey of a pair of silver candlesticks as a recognition of his excellent services. Arthur Hazell improved on his 1913 performance by reaching the divisional final of the county championship.

There is little on record for the war years although we do know that a number of servicemen made use of the green while based at Warley.

The first opening of the green at the end of the war took place on 23 May 1919 with a big gathering of old friends.

The President praised the Ground Committee of Messrs. A. J. Hazell and J. G. Ward for their efforts in bringing the green to such a splendid state and he also said that he would present the Club with another trophy for competition. Mr. Womersley was then invited to put down the first bowl.

The end of 1919 saw the annual smoking concert held at the Yorkshire Grey. Dale Womersley was present and he proposed that in future the Club should be known as the Brentwood Bowling Club. The Club’s new name was celebrated with an “excellent” concert.

The 1920s seemed to be one of relative consolidation for the Club. The Club’s first President, Dale Womersley, was still at the helm and his responsibilities increased when he was elected the first Captain of the newly formed Thorndon Park Golf Club.

There were some improvements to the green, in particular a private entrance was created to give members direct access from the Ongar Road.

Arthur retains trophy

In 1923 the Club’s top bowler, Arthur Hazell, won the President’s Cup with a 21 to 8 win over C. Upton. This cup was the Club’s first trophy being presented by President Dale Womersley in 1912. At the time he stipulated that if it were won 3 years in a row or 4 years in total it should become the property of that member. Mr. Hazell had previously won the competition in 1912, 1913 and 1920 so that rule came into force.

1925 saw an interesting incident involving local neighbours and rivals Romford Central. Following a friendly some remarks were made by the Romford members.

As a result four Brentwood players suggested that they thought they could hold their own against any four from Romford “irrespective of venue and irrespective also of the number of County badges those Romford members could muster.”

Romford duly took up the challenge and Brentwood’s Messrs. Smith, Horsley, Upton and Holland played at Romford against four current county players, the losers to pay for supper after the game. A close game followed with Brentwood emerging winners by 17 to 13. The evening ended on a friendly note with supper and speeches.

Also in 1925 a young George Richards had his first introduction to Brentwood Bowling Club. George’s first job was working at a garage owned by a William Sessions which was situated in the High Street where the Funeral Directors Bennetts are today.

One day he was asked to deliver an urgent message to Mr. Sessions who he would find behind the Yorkshire Grey.

When George arrived he was confronted by a lot of bowlers. Spotting his boss on the other side of the green he started to cross it to be greeted by shouts from all quarters to “get off” and similar messages!

The highlight of 1926 was the success of L. O. Marlton (son of L. Marlton who delivered the first bowl on the Yorkshire Grey green) in the Daily Telegraph Cup. He reached the county semi-final, along the way he beat J. Dodd of Upton B.C. who was reputed to be one of the top bowlers in Essex at that time.

Renewed county glory

Starved of success since Arthur Hazell won the county championship in 1911, the Club claimed some reflected glory in 1927 when Mr. H. Solomon of Clacton won the same competition. Mr. Solomon had been a Brentwood member during the war years when he was with the Army Pay Corp stationed in Warley.

1927 was also noted for the formation of the Central Essex Bowling Club (originally known as Essex Central Bowling Club) which was, in later years, to be closely associated with Brentwood.

In the 1960s they hosted Brentwood for two seasons following the closure of the Yorkshire Grey green and later the two clubs were to become closer still when they shared the greens at King George’s playing fields.

The formation of Central Essex marked a sharp decline in the fortunes of Brentwood Bowling Club. A number of members moved to the new club including, significantly, founder president Dale Womersley who became the first president of Central Essex and top player Arthur Hazell who became vice captain.

The reason for these defections could have been to do with dissatisfaction with the playing surface and the size of the green at the Yorkshire Grey. This all resulted in a desire to play at the new Artichoke green with its Cumberland turf.

In fact the decline in the Club’s playing fortunes was to last for a long time and the oldest club in the area was to find itself living in the shadow of its younger neighbours for around the next 50 years.

In 1928 W. Horsley, who worked in the coal trade, was appointed the new Club President. He had been a great patron of local sport for 20 years. Initially he was involved in football, but later as Vice President of Brentwood Cricket Club. He was also Vice President of Essex County Bowling Association. Unfortunately his term of office was cut short the following year when he died suddenly.

New championship cup

Photo of Brentwood Bowling Club members taken in the 1930s.
EARLY DAYS: Photo of Brentwood Bowling Club members taken in the 1930s.

1928 also saw Mrs. R. Page, wife of the landlord of the Yorkshire Grey, donating a cup to be awarded annually to the club champion. 

This was to replace the cup previously won outright by Arthur Hazell. The same cup is still played for today. The winner was also to be awarded a gold medal. The hot favourite to be the first winner was C. A. Upton, now regarded as the Club’s best player and he did not disappoint.

In the same year the first game took place against Central Essex which resulted in a 62 – 54 win for the new club. However, Brentwood gained their revenge in the return fixture by 95 – 92, although in this game Central Essex were said to be blooding some new skips.

Mr. Horsley’s replacement as President was Mrs. R. Page, donator of the Championship Cup. She and her husband Robert, were great friends of the Club. Robert was a Londoner who had spent the greater part of his life at sea before moving to Brentwood to take up the licence of the Yorkshire Grey. He was a very keen fisherman.

The report of the 1932 annual dinner perhaps throws some light onto the underlying reasons for the decline of the Club following the formation of Central Essex. 

There had been a number of initiatives during the year to bring the green “up to scratch”. Also there was a strong denial by the Secretary that the Club was “cold and haughty” and an invitation to those who complained about Brentwood’s coolness to come to the Club when they would be assured of a pleasant time.

Throughout the first half of the 1930’s the future of the Club was in severe doubt. Each year brought a threat of closure unless more support was forthcoming but somehow they managed to keep going.

They were given a new lease of life in 1936 when the brewers agreed to finance the provision of a new surface to the green which was re-laid with Cumberland turf.

However, continuing efforts to get the council to agree to sell some of its land to enable the green to be extended from its current four rinks were met with resistance. The newly surfaced green was opened on 16 June 1936 with Mrs. A. S. Poel (wife of the president who was the new landlord of the Yorkshire Grey) delivering the first wood. This was followed by a match against the County Executive which was won by the visitors.

Doctors donate trophy

Towards the end of the 1920’s a group of local doctors got together and donated a silver cup to be played for annually by the members of local clubs. The aim was that it would raise money for the Brentwood District Hospital (£20 was raised during the first year).

This became known as The Doctors Cup and is still played for today, although it is now a triples competition whereas initially it was for teams of four. 

Effectively this was the first Brentwood and District knockout competition and was keenly fought for each year. It was 1938 before it found itself in Brentwood hands and then only by the narrowest of margins with the final being decided by the last wood.

The start of the war was a difficult time for local bowls. The main casualty was the Shenfield club, which played on a green beside the Eagle and Child. Their green was lost when it was decided to cultivate potatoes on it to aid the war effort. The future of Brentwood hang in the balance, but it was decided to keep going.

A major local initiative took place in 1941 with the formation of the Brentwood League. Initially this consisted of the five Brentwood Clubs, namely, Central Essex, the Mental Hospital, Brentwood, the Conservative Club and the Labour Club. For many years after formation, Brentwood was no more than an also ran in the competition against its much stronger neighbours.

1944’s Annual meeting struck the most optimistic note for some time and seemed to put to rest at last the closure threat that had hung over the Club for some years. It was reported that with 17 new members joining during the year the Club’s membership was the highest in its history and the financial position was also at its strongest.

Further improvements were made to the green at the end of the 1946 season during which the Club had finished as runners up in the Brentwood League for the first time, albeit jointly with Central Essex.

Images from Brentwood Bowling Club in the 1950s.

Bickering and controversy

A review of the Club’s committee minutes for the early 1950’s disclosed a not unusual pattern for a bowls club. Some bickering over selection policy and green fees together with plenty of discussion on the destination for the summer outing. 

During this period it was decided to start presenting competition winners with individual plaques. Unfortunately this led to controversy when some members suggested that the secretary might be obtaining some personal benefit from the purchases.

In 1957 plans were in full flow for the golden jubilee the following year. It was resolved to seek special matches against the County and Essex Vice Presidents Association. 

Efforts were also to be made to arrange games against other Group 4 and Brentwood League Clubs. The Yorkshire Grey’s brewers provided the Club with a shield to commemorate the occasion and it was decided that this would be presented annually to the winners of a one day singles competition.

The Jubilee season appears to have been successful although the results against visiting teams were disappointing with the exception of a fine win over the Essex Vice Presidents. The celebrations were marred somewhat by one of the wettest summers on record.

During 1960 the Club received the devastating news that the brewery were giving them notice to quit the green with effect from the end of the summer season. Approach was made to Brentwood Council requesting the provision of a public bowling green within the town. In the mean time the search was on for a home for 1961 and plans for the sale or storage of club property. The turfs off the green were later sold for £40 and the concrete edgings for £8.8.0d.

A sad occasion

The final AGM to be held at the Yorkshire Grey took place in November 1960 and it was a sad occasion after 52 years at what had become known to all club members as “Headquarters”. It was also sad that the club was to lose the close association with its long term president Madge Canfield who was moving away from Brentwood following the demise of the Yorkshire Grey.

In fact Madge was to remain as Club President until 1976. There was some good news with a letter from Brentwood Urban District Council confirming that provision was to be made for the construction of a public bowling green in the estimates for 1961 – 2.

Offers were received from all of the other Brentwood clubs to use their facilities during 1961 and it was decided to accept the one from Warley Hospital. Unfortunately Warley withdrew their offer and following further discussion arrangements were made to use the Conservative Club green in King’s Chase during 1961.

It would seem that things did not go well at King’s Chase with various minor upsets and disagreements during the season. As a result arrangements were made with Central Essex to use their green at the Artichoke and this stood for 1962 & 3 whilst the new public green at King George’s Playing Fields was under construction. The relationship with Central Essex appears to have been much more amenable.

All in all 1963 was a good season for the Club with the anticipation of moving to a new green next year and the Club’s 17 members managed to finish as runners up in the Brentwood League for the first time in many years. However, a cloud appeared on the horizon when the Club was informed of the Council’s terms for the use of the new green.

Season tickets were to cost £3.10.0d and £2 for OAPs. This was considered exorbitant particularly in view of the lack of facilities. Representations were made to the Council who refused to make any change. As a result the Club resolved not to move to the new green and the Council were so informed. Following receipt of this letter the Council offered to reduce season ticket prices to £2.5.0d and £1 respectively. This offer was accepted and the move to a new permanent home was once more on.

Pavilion promise

During 1964 the Club struggled to settle into its new surroundings and there was something of a culture shock moving from a private green to a public one. In particular the almost total lack of facilities provided by the Council was a source of severe irritation. A promise to provide a pavilion in 1965 looked unlikely to be fulfilled. However, in 1966 a pavilion of sorts was provided by the Council which eased the dissatisfaction.

It would seem that the 1967 season was marred by some quite serious internal disagreements, but the nature of these problems is not recorded. Those problems were forgotten in 1968 when a successful diamond jubilee season saw special games played against the Group and County Executive.

1970 saw the early plans for the construction of a Club House with Ron Morrish taking a lead role. The original intention was that the cost would be borne by Brentwood Council who were quoted a cost of £1250 to £1500. Plans were slow moving with various changes in council officers. 1973 saw the decision by Central Essex to move to King George’s Playing Fields and they were brought into the negotiations with the Council.

The question of the formation of a Ladies Section had been under discussion for several years. Early attempts had been voted down by the Club but 1974 was a significant year as it saw the plans come to fruition.

In 1975 a decision was taken to join a new league and applications were made to the Romford League and the Basildon League. The Club were to go with whichever league replied first! In fact it was Romford which was first to respond and 1976 was the first year in that league.

With the expanding number of members of both Brentwood and Central Essex there was increasing pressure on the green. Following representations work began on a second green on 23 October 1978 with a likely date for play being the 1981 season. In fact bad weather delayed the opening and the first bowl was put down on Saturday 24 April 1982 when the Club held its Drive to open the new season.

Golf club alliance

With the continued lack of proper facilities agreements were made with the Golf Club and there was a regular monthly get together of members at King’s Chase.

The Club’s 75th anniversary was celebrated in 1983 with various special games including one against an England team. The highlight of the season was a narrow win over the County side. The facilities at the Rugby Club were used to entertain visitors.

During the early part of the 1980s the plans for a purpose built Club Pavilion were moved forward by way of a joint Brentwood/ Central Essex committee and funds were raised. With considerable efforts from members of both clubs the building was finally completed and was officially opened on 4 May 1985.

1988 marked the 25th anniversary of Jim Philpot joining the Club and it was decided to hold a match against a county team chosen by Jim. This proved a great success albeit a heavy defeat for Brentwood and was followed by a barbeque which was attended by 140 club members and friends of Jim.

In 1989 Barry Philpot was selected to play for the county in the Middleton Cup, the first player from the Club to do so and, so far, the only one to have received this honour.

During the 1990s the committee was mainly involved in the normal business of a bowls club. There were the usual discussions on green fees and the protests that were received from other clubs when visitors fees were increased above the level prevailing locally.

The lack of support for friendly matches was a continual problem. There was some disagreement with Central Essex regarding the distribution of bar profits. Further discussion with our sister club led to the erection of a wooden hut to act as an overflow changing room when original plans for a [portable building] had to be downgraded on cost grounds.

Long waiting list

During the early part of the 1990’s the Club was in the happy position that it had a long waiting list for membership and it was literally a case of “dead man’s shoes” for prospective applicants. In fact at one time there were 19 names on the waiting list.

1993 was a significant season for the success enjoyed by three of the Club’s senior members. George Richards, Tim Polyblank and Jack Welham created what must be some sort of a record by winning the Brentwood and District Triples Cup, despite the fact that each of them was over 75 years old. George and Jack went on to better that in 1997 when they won another District competition, this time the Argus Pairs. By that time they were both octogenarians.

In 1998 a successful tour to Wales was organised although it was probably true to say that the off green activities provided at least as much enjoyment as the on green ones!

For the 2003 season the Club decided to resign from the Valence League in which it had competed in the previous few years. The main problem concerned the amount and difficulty of the travelling involved. An application to join the Thurrock and District League was successful and a good start saw the Club win the Division 4 championship at the first attempt.

2004 was significant for the introduction of coloured club shirts sponsored by local company Affinity Wills. These were first used in the Romford League game against St. Chads on 2 June.

During the last decade of the old century and the early part of the new one there were signs that the Club might start to enjoy some competitive success which had been so difficult to find since Arthur Hazell won the county championship in 1911.

In particular such success was relatively plentiful in Brentwood League competition. The Club won the league itself in 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1995, 1996, 2001, 2002 2003 and 2005 and the knockout competition, The Roger Burton Trophy in 1997, 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2006. As well as these team successes individual members have been well to the fore in winning the various trophies.

Family successes

In particular the singles championship has found its way into Brentwood hands on many occasions including, interestingly a father and son combination of Richard and Mark Rose in 1996 and 2003. They followed in the footsteps of another Brentwood member, Ken Bishop, whose father Leonard (who was a Warley player) and he also won that cup in 1961 and 1987.

Another father and son partnership, Jim and Barry Philpot had a good indoor season when in 1978 they reached the national quarter final of the Father and Son pairs. This was played at Barnstaple in Devon and a good following of Brentwood members travelled down there to add their support.

Outside of the Brentwood League successes have been rather less. In the Romford League the Club finished in runners up spot in 1991 and 2002 whilst George Harris, Peter Patterson and John Thorp won that league’s triples in 1989. It was another 16 years in 2005 before the Club was to win its next major Romford championship when Richard Rose won the singles.

When the Club joined the Thurrock League success started to follow in their competitions, the first being when Edward Webb won the Secretaries Cup in 2004. In 1995 Ken Bishop had a significant achievement when he was part of the triple to reach the national indoor final. In 1997 Richard Rose won the Group 4 unbadged competition.

There was also a major achievement for Mark Rose in 2004 when he reached the final of the London and Southern Counties Lonsdale Trophy. The same season saw Ron Waller, Ian Watson, Byron Davies, Richard Rose and Cliff Jaycock (substitute) win the prestigious Southend Open Fours.

On the county scene the Club struggled to emulate Arthur Hazell‘s achievement of all those years ago. Jim Baker reached the championship quarter final in 1987. In both 2002 and 2003 the Club reached the quarter final of the Double Fours.

John Howard came close in 1996 when he reached the semi final of the County Unbadged, Richard Rose got to a similar stage of the County Championship in 2003 and Edward Webb also made a semi final in 2006, this time the County Secretaries Cup. That same season saw a break through at last when Richard Rose made it to the final of the County Benevolent Cup, the first appearance in a final since 1911.