The Gazette took a look back over the history of one of the oldest bowling clubs in the country.
Celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, Bideford Bowling Club is one of the oldest in the country. It was first founded in 1889, and was one of the founder member of Bowls Devon, formerly the Devon County Bowling Association. Since the 1930s has sat adjacent to the Strand in Bideford, known to many as the ‘Bideford Strand Bowling Club’.
“We’ve seen old photographs of where the club is now and it used to be part of the river, which is very strange,” says club member John Williams.
“When work first began by members on the new premises in the 1930s the building which was here was full of equipment for cattle! Now it is one of the best bowling greens in Devon.”
At 79, John has been a member of the club since the early 1970s and is the longest running member. “I don’t play so much anymore, but I enjoy still being a part of the club,” he adds.
The club, which was men-only until it became a mixed club in 1998, has around 120 members – around 90 men and 30 women – who enjoy the social, as well as the sporting side of the game. With laughter and merriment roaring from the clubhouse after a sunny, Friday afternoon game, it’s clear to see the club has formed its own community within Bideford.
The clubhouse itself was rebuilt in 1993, and with a bar, modern kitchen and seating capacity for more than 70 people, it’s a great place for both home and visiting teams. Around the walls are hung photographs of the club through the ages, one of which, John points out, sprung an interesting coincidence.
“There’s a photo here from 1898,” he says, “Where you can see the man on the right, Pengilly, holding two woods.” Walking to the other end of the hall, John points out a cabinet where the exact same woods are on display.
“Around 10 or 20 years ago a lady offered the club two woods, and they turned out to be the exact same ones that Pengilly is holding in the photograph. We now keep them on display here; it is amazing how they came together by chance.”
With so many stories to tell, it’s clear after 125 years the club is still alive and kicking. In May, the club had a visit from Bowls England to celebrate its anniversary, and is set to make history again next year with current vice-president Carol Rockey poised to become the club’s first female president.
“We also recently had a legacy left to us by a member who passed away recently,” says Carol. “We’re hoping to use this to refurbish parts of the club. We may be 125 years old but we are certainly still going strong.”