Thursday, 14 June 2001

MHBC - The first 100 years (1901-2001)

History of Muswell Hill Bowling Club – 1901-2001


Over the hundred years of its existence, it is difficult to assess exactly how many playing members have benefited from it. The archives of the Club are not very good, which contributes to the difficulty. The length of time of membership is also very variable - from just one year to 20 years or more. We know that there are 80 signatures on the deeds and must assume these men were all playing members of the newly formed club. The membership must have fluctuated (as it still does), more so during World War I. In 1935 the ladies section was formed and from that time the total membership was limited to 100. Undoubtedly there would have been seasons when that number was reached, or nearly so. Again, the Second World War would have seen a decline. The post war boom, and particularly the reduction in working hours, saw a resurgence and numbers remained at the 80-90 mark until decline began about 10 years ago. Numbers then began to fall, recruitment fell off and this situation obtains at the present day. If the formula is used of an average five new members per year -plus the original -and round this off to 600 playing members and add about 150 non playing members, that gives a total of about 750.

Through the Committee the Club manages a strong match fixture list, a comprehensive competition programme and entry of members into outside competitions. Over the years, a respectable collection of silverware has accumulated thanks to donations by members. The club also runs social events and conducts fund raising and recruitment functions.

Originally, the ladies section was formed under sufferance from the men, they paid a lower subscription, their numbers were limited to 25 and there were many restrictions as to when they could play. Needless to say, this was a constant source of friction. The situation remained the same for many years until 1988 when the directors decided that in the age of sexual equality the ladies would be entitled to full and equal membership with the men, would pay the same subscription, would become shareholders and would be eligible to become President, Vice President, Secretary or Treasurer of the Club and a director of the Company.

The first lady President was Mrs Pat Hicks who was elected in 1999, the current Vice President is Mrs Sylvia Eldridge. Mrs Vera Passingham was approved a director in 198 1 but was succeeded by Mrs Liz Baker in 1992.

In 1904 a 30-year old Scot who had moved to London in furtherance of his commercial career and taken up residence in Muswell Hill, formed the Club. In 1905 he entered the Middlesex County BAs single handed competition which he won. This win entitled him to play for the first ever single handed championship of England which he went on to win. This win earned him a permanent place in the history of the English game and marked the start of a playing career which can only be described as phenomenal and which saw him become probably the best player in England, particularly in the period between the wars. His name was James Gillespie Carruthers.

In the clubhouse there is a framed record of Chief Events which he won, this lists 47 different items. He won the Middlesex Singles again in 1913 and was runner up in the England single handed competition in that year. For nineteen separate seasons between 1905 and 1939 he played for England international outdoor teams and indoor international teams twice. He won the Club single handed competitions nineteen times, the first in 1911 and the last in 1953. The lustre that the 54 years of his membership gave to the Club which was only 3 years old when he started, was incredible and crucial to its development and survival, and lasted for the rest of his life. When he died in 1958, the Club instituted an annual memorial fixture to which six neighbouring Clubs were invited to play for a trophy, called the Carruthers Shield, which was specially commissioned and this has been played every year since. The 2001 fixture is to be played on 28 July.

During the middle twenties, a young teenage lad was observed regularly standing at the bottom of the garden of the house overlooking the green in Queens Avenue where he lived, showing an intense interest in the game. Eventually this came to the notice of Jimmy Carruthers who asked the lad if he would like to come round and have a go, to which the lad readily agreed. It was quickly obvious to Jimmy that the lad had a natural aptitude for the game and he and several other members managed to persuade the committee to allow him to become a member. His name was Jackie Pilbrow, and he developed into a very good player thanks to Jimmy's tutelage. He led for Jimmy in many pairs competitions over the years and was selected for Middlesex and eventually made the England international outdoor teams for 1938 and 1939.  After the war he moved to Surrey for whom he played many times.

There are two types of County game, the friendly played against other Counties, Clubs and Associations and the serious games being played against other Counties in the Home Counties League or the Annual County championship contested by county teams affiliated to the English Bowling Association, for which the Middleton Cup is awarded to the winning county for the outdoor season and the Liberty Trophy for the indoor. Players are invited by the County selectors for these games purely on playing merit and are awarded special badges to wear on their blazers, which are regarded throughout the game as signalling that their wearers are very good players.

For the ordinary playing member, the winning of the Club singles championship of a County or other association outside competition, or to play for the County, is regarded as a considerable achievement. Margaret Boucher and Betty Holloway won the Middlesex County Women's BA pairs championship in 1981. Eunice Dawe MBE has won the Club ladies championship more times than anyone else, a total of 5 so far. She has also played for the County. The Club's 1974 summer tour went to Ramsgate, the Kent seaside resort. During one of their matches on a green near the sea, a holidaying visitor took great interest in the progress of the game. Imagine his surprise when he learned that one of the teams he was watching came from a location very near to his own home at Bounds Green. Contact having been made it was suggested to him that he visit the Club to try his hand at the game, to which he acquiesced. The rest as they say is history, for the onlooker was Danny O'Shea. His manual skills already being well honed as a builder, these combined with a willingness to learn, a propensity to practice and a strong desire to win, quickly made Danny into a very good player. Deciding to play in the winter indoors at the Mansfield IBC he soon caught the eye of Middlesex selectors, resulting in his selection for the Liberty Trophy Team. Once his skills were recognised by the County selectors, he was picked for the Middleton Cup team for which he was accredited as a Muswell Hill player. He played in both teams for six seasons. He has also won the Club Mens Singles eleven times so far.

FG (Gordon) Biles was an outstanding Club administrator for over 20 years. He was variously Chairman of the Board, director and Company Secretary, President and Club Secretary. In his time, the latter task included match arrangements. When in l988 he decided to move to Suffolk, the Club awarded him a life membership in recognition of his outstanding services. Other members who were similarly regarded were made life members when they gave up playing. The list includes RC(Dick)Hayman who was President, Captain, Singles Champion and committee member for over 20 years, Ida Connon who was Lady President, Match Secretary, Middlesex County and Frances Drake representative for a similar period (she also won the Club Singles twice and played for the County), Betty Holloway who was Lady President, Captain and committee member for 15 years, Elsie Alldis a member of long standing who was a tireless worker behind the scenes with catering and social committee work and Vic Cole who managed the bar for over ten years as well as being Captain and Committee member and Middlesex player.  The occupations followed by members over the years was obviously very varied. In its early days, the membership was what was then described as middle class. Apart from the traditional London businesses of banking, insurance, shipping and stockbroking, there were owners of local retail businesses, estate agents, surveyors, accountants, architects, civil servants and local government officers, teachers and policemen. After the Great War more manual workers took up the game, and with their hand-eye co-ordination, quickly became adept at the game. Builders, plumbers, carpenters, decorators, electricians, 'bus, cab and lorry drivers and motor engineers were all represented. Oddly enough, over the years only one member was famous through his profession and that was Joe Church, the well known comedian. After pursuing a career in variety and music hall and latterly as entertainments manager on cruise liners, Joe also had a strong interest in the Water Rats, the Stage charity and was in fact King Rat in 1975. Joe and his wife Pat, who also had a long and successful stage career, joined in the Club in 1986 when they quickly became involved in social and fund raising activities. They were regular players and Pat has won many competitions. Joe's excellence as an after dinner speaker was much enjoyed, as was his company round the bar.

Alongside the club entry in the English Bowling Association's Year Book appears the small letter c. This indicates that the green was originally laid with Cumberland turf, considered to be the best surface for bowls. Of course, over the years airborne grass seeds have inevitably infiltrated, but the basic surface remains good and the Club has always had a reputation for providing a good green. In the early days it was cut by hand mower and for many years the directors resisted investing in motor machinery. Eventually, however, as the quality and reliability of motor mowers improved, the Club invested in one and today the equipment shed houses three motor mowers, a hollow/solid tining machine, a scarifier and a strimmer, among other bits and pieces.

Many members have devoted their time, energies and know how to maintaining the green and the appointment of the ranger is of great importance. The current holder of this office is Keith Sage, who does an excellent job, particularly over the last year or two when the depredations of foxes have had to be made good. Maintenance is a costly exercise with the provision of fertilisers, weed killing chemicals, seed and top dressing every year. Watering of the green was a constant difficulty for many years, with the Club standing at the top of the ridge on which Muswell Hill stands, mains water pressure is not good. This problem was solved in 1989 when an automatic watering system was installed, though care has to be exercised in its use.

The President in this centenary year is Harry Hicks, ably supported by his wife Pat. As is usual with most players, Harry has a background of sporting activity before he took up bowls. In his case he was an outstanding athlete. He started running competitively at 17 and retired at 35 with a serious knee injury. In those years, he won 7 individual events in Middlesex County competitions 4 in North of Thames and 1 in Southern Counties, all in distance running from 800 yards to 20 miles. He appeared in Middlesex Cross Country teams every year from 1947 to 1959 and represented England on the track. He competed many times in the AAA championships and in 1956 won the AAA marathon. The highlight of his career was to be selected for the Great Britain team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. When his active running career was over, Harry went into athletics administration as secretary of North London Cross Country. He was on the committee of Southern Counties Association of which he was President in 1971, and secretary and championship secretary from 1977-89, served on the National committee from 197 1-77, was on the English Cross Country Union executive from 1977-89 and then President in 1990. In 2000 he was presented with an award of merit for services to athletics and Cross Country in particular, by Southern Counties AA.

Harry and Pat joined the Club in 1984 when Harry's obvious experience in administration quickly showed. He has been Treasurer since 1988, became a director of the company in the same year and chairman of the board in 1996. He was President of the Club in 1993 and of the Finchley & District Association in 2000. Pat has been equally active in club administration. She was Ladies Captain in 1989, 1990 and 2000, ladies match secretary from 1993 to 1999, and first Lady President in 1999. She was also President of North London Women's Bowling Association in 1995 and she has also played for Middlesex. Both of them have the best wishes from all of the Club members and of their many friends throughout the game in North London for a happy and successful Centenary season.

Eddie Dyer - 2001