4 June 2008
By Gavriel Hollander
IT MIGHT not be the most glamorous of Southwark's sporting venues, and its players may never have become household names, but this year sees the centenary of one of the borough's most popular and enduring sports clubs.
Southwark Park has been a focal point for the area's lawn bowls enthusiasts for exactly 100 years. It was in July of 1908 that the London County Council (LCC) first allowed the game to be played in the park, with the strange proviso that players understood "that no bowling green will be formed at a later date."
The lack of proper facilities did not seem to put off Southwark's bowling fraternity, and the nascent Southwark Park Bowls Club boasted over 30 members within a month of play first being permitted. The first captain at the club was a man known as Penfold. Unfortunately, there is no record of anyone called Dangermouse being involved!
In 1909 the informal patch of grass on which players practiced their art moved from the west side of The Oval to the China Hall side. Over the next four years, members set about convincing the LCC to overturn their decision and in 1913, following a petition of over 1,000 signatures, the authorities caved in.
Bowling on the new green, which is still home to Southwark Park's bowlers today, began with a match against Finsbury Park. Although the home team went down 60-58 on the day, it was the start of a sustained period of growth for the club between the wars. 1925 saw a merger with the neighbouring Borough of Bermondsey Bowling Club and membership swelled to over 50 bowlers.
Besides its own internal competitions, the club entered many regional and national tournaments in the pre-war years, encountering a fair amount of success along the way. They won the Prescott Bowl Pairs title in 1934 and followed that up with the Haven Cup Triples Championship a year later. Individual honours came to Bernard Dibsdall, who won several county medals in 1930 and went on to represent London, and F.E. Justice, who won the London Parks Bowling Association's (LPBA) champion of champions' trophy, the Cornish Cup, in 1937.
However, the club was never just about the sport. The social side was always just as (if not more!) important, with annual prize-giving events and outings for members. It did not hurt matters that Fred Boatman, landlord of The Royal George on Jamaica Road, was a keen member. The pub was soon adopted as the place to entertain opponents after matches, whatever the result!
In 1938, the club finally got their first pavilion, but the good times did not last as the outbreak of war the following year meant the gentle pursuit of bowls had to take a back seat. As with many public spaces, Southwark Park was requisitioned by the military and, although the club continued through those dark years, access to the green was severely limited.
Peace brought the bowlers back to Southwark Park in 1945, and in the 1950s the club enjoyed an unprecedented period of success, winning the LPBA's prestigious Clarke Bowl in 1956 and the LCC Challenge Trophy later that same year.
Unfortunately, much of the club's post-war story has been lost in the mists of time. Many precious notes and records were destroyed in 1997 when vandals set fire to the old wooden pavilion. However, one of the most important changes in this period is well documented: the establishment of the Southwark Park Ladies Team.
Thanks in no small part to the efforts and enthusiasm of Grace Beesley and a number of other female players, the ladies team was established in the early 1980s and soon numbered 15 members. In 2002, Beesley went on to become the club's first woman President and played a major part in the building of a new pavilion, funded by National Lottery grants, that same year.
Today, under the presidency of Colin Smith, the club is going from strength to strength. Last Sunday, Southwark Park took on a Surrey County Presidents in a special match to help a fine old club celebrate its centenary in style. Here's hoping they keep rolling for another 100 years.
No comments have been posted.
RAILTON ROAD SE24,
Leasehold, For Sale
TEA TRADE WHARF SE1, £1,295,000 , For Sale
TOWER BRIDGE WHARF E1W, £550 , per week, For Sale
PROVIDENCE SQUARE SE1, £1,600,000 , For Sale