The History of the Oldest Bowling Club on the Isle of Wight

The Club's first green at Highport Cliff, Ventnor, from 1886 to 1914.

OUR FIRST HOME.

Formed in 1886, Ventnor Bowling Club’s first home was at Highport, which was situated in the King's Bay Road area, just off Madiera Road. When the First World War broke out the area was turned into a tennis and croquet club where servicemen home on leave or convalescence could seek rest and relaxation. Consequently the Bowling Club had to look for a new home. The adjacent photograph of the green at Highport shows a rather bumpy, uneven surface so it was, perhaps, a good thing that the club was forced to move to somewhere more acceptable. 

 

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The Club's second green just above Ventnor seafront at "La Falaise" from 1914 to 1927.

OUR SECOND HOME.

In early 1914, a joint committee of the Ventnor Bowling Club and the Ventnor Sailing Club launched an appeal for a new bowling green to be provided in Ventnor. At a special meeting held at the Town Hall on March 30th 1914 it was agreed to establish a new Public Bowling Green on land to the east of La Falaise Hotel off Bath Road, which is now the public car park known as “la Falaise”, just above the Spyglass Inn.

 The new green was officially opened on May 13th 1914 by Mr J H Cater JP, with dozens of local dignitaries in attendance. The new green had four rinks which was one more than at Highport, and therefore could accommodate more players at any one time. Membership soon increased significantly, especially after the end of the first world war, and carried on increasing, with the result that the club began to look for somewhere larger.

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The Club's third (and current) home in Mitchell Avenue, Ventnor from 1927 to the present day, seen from the slopes of St. Boniface Down opposite.

OUR THIRD (and current) HOME.

 At the end of 1926, following the issue of shares, a Limited Company was formed with a capital of £1000 and negotiations were started to acquire a site in Mitchell Avenue. This site formed the grounds of the large building opposite called “Huish Terrace”. A dominant feature of the Mitchell Avenue green was the huge Macrocarpa tree in the north east corner, near the road. This tree survives today but needs regular health checks to ensure public safety. Due to a preservation order it has to be retained unless it becomes too dangerous.

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The Mitchell Avenue green was Officially opened by Mr E. Dene, President of the EBA, June 27th 1927.

Prior to the Official opening of the new green, on June 27th 1927, a lunch was held at the Crab & Lobster Hotel in Grove Road . The opening ceremony was performed by Mr E Dene, President of the English Bowling Association accompanied by Alderman G E Mears, Mr W Blake JP, Capt. H Linnington TD (President of Ventnor Bowling Club) and Mr A S Moorman (Vice Chairman of the Ventnor Urban District Council). At this time the Club had 35 full members (who paid 2 guineas per annum) and 40 associate members (who paid half a guinea). Associate members were required to pay extra if they wished to bowl - just like today! In those days, only the men actually played bowls.

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An estimated crowd of 500 people came to see the Australian visitors in June 1930.

The new Club was riding high and on June 5th 1930 a party of 47 Australian Tourists came to the Isle of Wight and the Mitchell Avenue green was chosen to host the visitors. It was estimated that as many as 500 spectators came to watch the game and each one paid 6d to get in. This would have brought in £12-10 shillings which was half of the estimated cost of hosting the visit. Judging by the photographs available, the estimation of the attendance was about right.

Her Royal Highness, Princess Beatrice (who lived on the Island) donated 3 guineas and it was suggested that the event should be listed as "under Royal Patronage".

For the record, the result was a win for the Australians by 141 shots to 84.

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Some of the spectators watching the Australian Tourists in 1930. (note the absence of trees on the hillside opposite)

In the following years, membership declined and the Club got into financial difficulties and the Ventnor Bowling Club Company Limited went into liquidation in October 1934. Ventnor Urban District Council stepped in and agreed to create a Municipal Bowling Green open to the public. It was agreed that full members would pay an annual subscription of £1.5s.0d and it would cost 2/- a session for members of the public who wanted a game of bowls. In the next twenty years or so, the total number of members dropped to 39 (33 men and 6 ladies).

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A scene in the late 1950's showing the original Clubhouse and Huish Terrace.

 POST-WAR YEARS.

Up until the 1950’s Ventnor Bowling Club, was seen as rather exclusive, with the membership consisting of local businessmen and tradesmen. However, more and more people were coming to the Island to retire, and membership began to diversify.

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Members and their wives at the Club's 75th Anniversary in 1961.
Walter & Mrs Zuber are centre front.

One name is synonymous with Ventnor Bowling Club in the post-war era, and that is Walter Zuber. He had come to Ventnor on holiday from Switzerland and he liked the Island, especially Ventnor, so much that he decided to stay here! He opened a cafe at the bottom of Spring Hill and named it Cafe Suisse, and for many years it was the focal point in the town for people to meet over a drink and home-made cakes, pastries and chocolates. He was elected President of the IW Bowling Association twice.

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The inaugural Ladies section formed in 1972.

LADIES SECTION FORMED.

A ladies section was formed in 1972 with their own committee which operated independently of the men’s section. Their president for the first four years was Miss Mary Saunders MBE (a well-known local dignitary of the time).

 At this time the club membership was at an all-time high (53 men and 24 ladies) and the Management Committee felt that the Club should consider taking the Green on lease from the VUDC. This was put forward at the next AGM on 29th October 1973. It was agreed to proceed with the idea and a lease was created and signed. As part of the lease, the Bowling Club agreed to provide morning and afternoon stewards to man the green and to provide refreshments for any member of the public who wished to partake of the facilities. The Club still provides stewards to this day.

By 1981, after a gradual decline in the membership – again - it was agreed to try and get the Ventnor Youth Club involved. After all, although bowls is perceived as an old person’s game, it is basically because older people have retired and have more leisure time. As a new incentive to join, a Junior Membership was introduced to encourage younger players to take up bowls.

To a certain degree, this worked, as quite a few youngsters have played for Ventnor over the years with no small amount of success. The most notable being in 2008, when one of our Junior Members, Sam Lines, who, at the age of sixteen,won the Island singles championship against all male bowlers of all ages – so much for bowls being an old man’s game!)

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By 1982, although the bowling green itself was plenty big enough, all the other facilities were becoming overcrowded and extremely outdated. The changing rooms were still outside the main clubhouse and the toilets and other facilities were “primitive” to say the least. At the end of 1982 plans were drawn up to bring the changing rooms inside the clubhouse and to add an extension to the south to include new toilets. The final cost of this work to the Club was about £3000, with Manpower Services providing the labour free of charge. Further work was completed by April 1986 (the Club's Centenery Year) which included a new kitchen and ladies toilets. This work was financed by the South Wight Borough Council and Burts Brewery, who helped with the costs of the new bar.

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An Autumn view of the Clubhouse and Huish Terrace in 2012.

EXPANSION PLANS.

With more bowlers wanting to play indoors in the winter, their only option was to travel to Ryde, Cowes or Bembridge and use the facilities there. So, at the end of 1991 plans were conceived for the most radical improvement in the club’s existence.................

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The indoor rink seen from the road end in Autumn 2012.

 The Club embarked on a £60,000 improvement to incorporate a FULL LENGTH indoor bowling rink as part of an extended clubhouse, along with new changing rooms, extended kitchen and increased toilet facilities including a toilet for the disabled. The new indoor rink was built between the old clubhouse and the outdoor green, and ran the full length of the outdoor green. Indoor games are played on a special carpet .The new, extended clubhouse was opened in the summer of 1992 by the Mayor of South Wight Borough Council. This put the Club in the unique position of being able to offer members a TWELVE MONTHS subscription which entitles them to play at Ventnor all year round!

There have been no major changes to the premises since 1992.

 

 

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Another view from the road end with glimpses of the outdoor rinks.

PRESENT DAY
 
Moving to the present day, our Winter League programme lasts from October through to April. The indoor rink is in use Monday to Fridays (morning, afternoon and evening) and at weekends for knockout competitions. An added bonus which our indoor rink gives us is the facility to introduce beginners to the game during the winter months when ordinarily there would be no opportunity to play in Ventnor at that time of year. Monday nights are reserved exclusively for beginners.

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Our outdoor season starts in early April and runs through to late September. During the summer the indoor carpet is left in place and completely covered by tongued & grooved boarding for protection. Summer is the peak time in the Club’s year when everything comes alive, with participation in Island Leagues, County Knock-out competitions and Club events such as Presidents Day, Ladies v. Gents, etc.

It is also the Club’s main source of revenue, other than members subscriptions, with Tourist fixtures bringing in much needed cash. (through green fees, raffles and the licensed bar). On average we host about twenty tourist matches a year and the club is grateful for sponsorship from local businesses for these fixtures. Most weekends are taken up with knockout competitions and friendly matches.

Total membership is fairly constant at about 130, with about 100 being registered league players. Annual subscription rates are the same for men and women, ranging from £90 for full adult playing members to £10 for juniors, with Social members paying just £1.

 

 

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