Forest Hill Bowling Club
Forest Hill Bowling Club
(This article uses the contents from "One Hundred Years On" – a booklet written on the Centenary of the Club . With addition material to bring up to date. (See bottom of page for download of booklet).
Early Years 1894-1910
Forest Hill Bowling Club is one of the oldest in the country. The story of the 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". It was estimated that the subscription would be l0s 6d for the first fifty members, (about £40 in today's money). A private ground, 240 feet by 60 feet, at the foot of Perry Rise, was levelled and prepared during the winter.
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.
1910 To The Present Day
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 green was opened in June 1910 and at that time was considered to be one of the finest in the County of Kent. The club had at one time two greens but in the 70's, one of these was sold off and flats built on the land.
Before the the Second World War, the club had a full time green-keeper with a cottage by the gate. In 1943 this was destroyed by a flying bomb along with the original pavilion. The pavilion was rebuilt in 1951, at a cost of around £5,000 (£150,000 in today's money) but not the cottage.
The Club prospered over the years and many improvements were made to pavilion, green and the 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! This sadly no longer happens.
A Ladies Section of the Club was formed in 1964. Initially they were granted a Licence which restricted their membership to 24 and set limits on their use of the green and club house. This is of course is no longer true today. (Fixtures were arranged so that when the men are at home the ladies would play away and vice versa). In the early days the club was only open to gentlemen, ladies were only allowed to join in 1964; there were restrictions on when they could play and their use of the bar. At one time they were not allowed to go into the bar area and there was a curtain that kept the ladies out - The men's and women's sections have now combined together to form a single club - except, because some of the leagues we play in are single sex, we still have separate Men's and Ladies Captains and officers. Most of our friendly games at weekends are now mixed. The catering and gardening is not left to the ladies although they tend to be in charge!
In July 1969 the club bought the freehold of the site from the leather sellers company.
The Club 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 blaze appeared to have been started by an intruder setting fire to the curtains which then formed a screen for the bar area. The Club pavilion was restored to its former glory before the start of the 1973 season but unfortunately many photographs, and mementos from earlier years were lost. However, the old honours boards, although badly blistered, were rescued restored and can be now be seen in the Club house.
In the 1970s, the Club was received a claim for tree-root damage caused to a neighbouring property by our trees. The claim was dealt with by our Insurers but the outcome was that many of the large trees on the Club perimeter had to be chopped down. This coincided with the incidence of Dutch Elm Disease and we unfortunately lost most of the last remaining part of the "Forest on the Hill" although there are still some lovely mature oaks and holly , yew lime , horse chestnut, ash and false acacia trees but we now we have a wood rather then a forest.
During much of the 1970s and 1980s, the green was maintained on a voluntary basis by our own members but after this time the green was again maintained by a professional firm. To prevent damage to the green by foxes we installed an electrified fence around the green. This fence, although not harmful to the foxes, has succeeded in keeping them off the green. We now coexist with the foxes who live and breed in the wood but are not allowed to play!
in 2000 the club reached its lowest point and it was proposed to close the in but luckily this was voted against by the members. We now have a healthy membership with nearly equal numbers of men and ladies. We are attracting new members with a range of abilities - from learners to very experience bowlers.
2011 Because the cost of maintaining the green was getting too expensive (£9000 a year), it was decided that the members would again undertake this task and this has continued to the present day - our present Green Ranger is Alan Godwin and his assistant is Chas Lambert. During the playing season they mow the green three times a week and other tasks that maintain the green. Help is given by other members for tasks like leaf clearing. By this year Club grounds and premises had become "tired" and it was decided to try and bring the site up to date. The patio was replaced, ramps installed, the kitchen was refitted, the men's and ladies changing rooms were refurbished and lockers replaced. In 2020 A new changing cabin was constructed in the car park for visiting players.The Garden and Wood have been completely renovated with new borders installed and planted. All the above work has been done by our members with only annual green maintenance being done by and outside contractor.
In 2019 the very strict dress code was relaxed and members are now allowed to wear shorts for games and casual dress for practice and rollups. The Club celebrated its 125 Anniversary, with matches against teams from Bowls England and the Kent Bowling Association.
In 2020, during the Corona virus crisis the club was able to have a very restricted Summer season. We could not start our season in April but did get in some bowling, starting in July. We of course followed guidelines agreed between the Government and Bowls England. The officers worked hard to make sure that the premises was Covid secure and measures were put in place like hand sanitisers, disinfectant provided and games were played under special rules with limited numbers. Unfortunately we could not use our Club house and the bar remained closed.
All games were only between club members and a truncated programme of internal competitions was held, enjoyed and supported by a significant number of our members. This was thanks to our two Captains who instigated a programme of competitions and thought "outside the box". This included an Australian Pairs competition which was new to the club, but was enjoyed by the members and it is hoped that this game will be included in our internal competition programme next season.
For the 2021 season the Club is back to near normal with a full fixtures list. The are of course some covid restrictions.