Club History

Ampthill Bowls, The early days....

The land that the club plays on was originally leased to the club by Bedfordshire Council.  The green and clubhouse is built on land originally owned by Lord Wingfield, and part of his famous ‘menagerie’.  He collected many exotic animals, some seen for the first time in these parts, including camels, zebras, ostrich and…. llamas…..  Hence the llama featured on our Club badge. Eventually the menagerie was wound down and most of the animals were transferred to Whipsnade Park Zoo which opened in 1931.

Ampthill House Llama Farm Postcard

                     Ampthill House Llama Farm, 1926

The earliest public mention of Ampthill Bowls Club is in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent:Friday, 21st March 1919 edition reported "a meeting to be held on Thursday, 27th March at The White Hart to form a Tennis and Bowls Club".  On 4th April the paper reported that "it was decided to offer the first Captaincy to Capt. A Wingfield, the Secretary and Treasurer was to be Mr. H Swaffield, the Committee was also appointed and an announcement of playing is expected."  It is interesting that the names of the venerable gentlemen is commemorated today, around the Town.

The Original Boards are still in the Clubhouse (currently on show in Centenary Exhibition in Ampthill Micro-Museum).

In an article in the Bedfordshire Times & Independent on 3 August 1923 it reported that the club was having a very good season with 9 successive wins. It goes on to say that the club was admired by most visiting teams due to its skillfully laid out lawns and ideal surroundings and had a membership of 45.  Mr J D Browing, Captain and Mr F Peck, Vice Captain are reportedly very popular as is the Hon secretary Mr C Staples who carries out his duties 'nobly and well'.  [A description we should say applies to our current Secretary, who recently took over the job without any experience (of bowls)!]

In another article dated 18 December 1931, it is noted that there were 900 Affiliated bowls clubs in 1923 and that this had increased to 1500 that year. Ampthill Bowls club had a membership of 56 in 1923.

This aerial view of the Green taken in the 1930's is the earliest photograph we have found. The Green was expanded from 4 rinks to 6 a few years later.

  

The photograph on the right shows the Greenkeeping Team of 1941 in action. Volunteers from the Club still maintain the Green, although we do have new mowers and other equipment!

A new Pavilion was opened in April 1939 by Mr F W Peck, Chairman of the Urban District Council and Vice-President of the bowls club. It is reported to have cost between £160-£170 with the money being raised by special effort. Sir Anthony Wingfield was President of the club at this time with Mr Frank Horne being the Captain. A case of pipes was presented to the Hon Secretary at the celebration tea held at the White Hart Hotel in appreciation of his services.

 

The gentlemen of Stewartby Bowls Club posing with the Ampthill Team outside the Clubhouse in 1940 - a fixture we still play today.

A match underway in 1942. Do you recognise anyone? If so, please email the Club President at enquiries@ampthillbowlsclub.com.

Some interesting points that were included in old AGM/Committee meeting Minutes:

1919 - The Club was founded.  The first Captain being Mr G E Brown, and Vice Captain Mr C J Hedges.

1920/21 - Captain was Mr H Swaffield

1922-25 - Captain - Mr J D Browning

Below: 1930's photo of trip to Windsor Castle.  We will be trying to re-create this photo on our Special Centenary visit on 22 May 2019.  

1950 - Sir Anthony Wingfield was still the Club President as shown in this 1950's Fixture card 

1954  - the land was purchased by the Urban Distric Council and thus a new lease was established.

1960 - a license was purchased for the bar at the club.  Minutes written at the time state that beer was to be purchased and collected from the Wingfield Club.

1961 - Bedfordshire Police Constabulary were given permission to use the greens; green fees would be 6d per head. They continued to use the greens for a number of years after this for their competitions.

1961 - Ladies were allowed to play free of charge and the club agreed to join the EBA.

1972 - Proposals for New changing rooms and toilets adjoining the pavilion

1976 - A New green opened at a celebtration day by County President

1979 - The Clubs' Diamond Jubilee. Plans were proposed for extention to the Pavilion incorporating new kitchen, ladies changing rooms, a lock up bar and increased dining area.

Below: Ladies Team in 1979

1996 - Following a devastating fire the club rose 'out of the ashes' with the clubhouse and facilities being completely refurbished with virtually everything apart from the brickwork being replaced.

2002 - For the first time Ladies were to be allowed to wear trousers for the EBL matches.

2007 - The Ladies section celebrated its' 40th year.

Bowls – A brief history

Most people know that Sir Frances Drake insisted on finishing his game of bowls before attacking the Spanish Armada, back in 1588. [He lost his game, but at least he won the rather more historically-significant ‘match’ on the high seas!]

"Dont rush me Sir....."

But did you know that it evolved from an Egyptian game c.5,000 BC, from where it spread across the world in various forms?  Bowls has been played for centuries in this country and the oldest bowls green still played on in England is in Southampton - used since 1299!

 

Bowls even has Royal connections, way back to Henry VIII who was a ‘lawn bowler’.  Of course King Henry has associations with Ampthill, through his visits to Ampthill Castle and the Great Park – mostly for hunting.  Unfortunately, it is not recorded if he ever played bowls in the town!

However, Henry banned the game for those who were not wealthy or "well to do" [much like most of us playing the game in Ampthill now!] because they spent more time playing bowls instead of working in their trade.  Fortunately, King James 1st was more ‘enlightened’ and actually encouraged bowls, whilst condemning football and golf! [We are much more open minded at Ampthill Bowls Club too....]

From the 1600s, the game spread to the British colonies and it has become a very popular and well organised sport world-wide, with many competitions from club to county, national and international level. Although it is yet to become recognised as an Olympic sport, it is a popular competition in the Commonwealth Games.

Further photographs can be found on the Ampthill Images website

Henry VIII’s Bowling Alley, Ampthill Castle

Research by Mike Turner, an ex-member of Ampthill Bowls Club, [recorded on Ampthill and District Local History Society’s website (at: ADD LINK  )] confirmed that during July and August 1537, a ‘bowling alley’ was built at the ’Kings Manor of Ampthill within the Great Park’ for Henry VIII. A transcript held at The Bodleian Library in Oxford reports that craftsmen including carpenters, plasterers and gardeners were employed to dig and cart earth, level, plane and ram a foundation, fell trees in the Park to erect the building and make seats, and during August, labourers dug turf for the bank of the King’s new ‘bowling alley’, for the seats to be placed upon.

Click on the following link to read the full transcripts of the Research www.mooncarrot.org.uk/adalhs  this should bring up adalhs website homepage. Click on reports. Look for Transcript D.780 ff.218-246. Look on pages 19, 22,23,31 for references to kings new bowling alley