Club History By John Gould
The Colchester Bowling Club was founded in 1902 the same year as the Town Hall was built, and is the oldest surviving bowling club in the Town. The club met originally in 'Ye Olde Ben Johnson Pub' on North Hill, which became known later as the 'Cock & Pye'. There was a small lawn at the back of the premises, which was not only used for bowls but also for Croquet.
In 1939 following the outbreak of the Second World War the Pub became the home of the Air Training Corps club and canteen.There is no longer any evidence of the original green today. In 1947 the Colchester Bowling Club set themselves up at Lewis's Gardens which at that time was part of Colchester's playing fields. Situated in the middle of the town the site is well known today as the site of the old Bus station.
By all accounts the the Club had a long and successful period at this location. Its proximity to the Corn Exchange and Jacklins Restaurant, both in the High Street prompted the interest of a large number of local farmers to congregate at the Club after the close of business on market days.
The sparse Club records show a rent of £150 being required in its final year on this site in 1963.Sadly the playing fields on this site had to make way as the town developed, and the Club was forced to vacate it's home, a situation that was to accur once again some thirty years later-but that was all in the future.
Finding a new green was not too difficult and in 1963 a derelict site was found behind the 'Buck Horns' public house in Greenstead Road. A bowling club had existed on the site before the 1939-45 war during which it had been used to help food production as allotments. The original hut was still there but the green had to be re-laid . The cost of doing this was £1,640 and the Club obtained a grant of £300 from the National Playing Fields Association. During the Club's 30 year stay on this site the Club provided the Essex County Bowling Association with three presidents-- Chris Jaggs, Stanley Grant and Gordon Lord.
Many County and National competitions were staged on the Bucks Horns site.
In 1984 the lease expired. The Brewery which owned the freehold changed hands several times but the Club's occupation continued on a yearly basis until a developer appeared in 1994 and the Borough Council gave permission for the development of the site to go ahead despite objections from the Club and local residents. A further year of grace was obtained through a court hearing but with nowhere to go the Club finally vacated the site on 31st Ocotober 1994, salvaging anything that might be re-usable if a future opportunity arose.
The Club was fortunate to be allowed to share facilities at the Severalls Bowling Club until a permanent site could be found.
In July 1996, the Club opened its new premises at Colchester Road, Ardleigh, with the financial support and generosity of members and grants from The Foundation for Sport and the Arts and the National Lottery.
Gentlemen bowlers after winning a match
against Severalls in 1924
COLCHESTER BOWLING CLUB FROM 1996 by John Gould
So began another chapter in the history of the Club. Despite two years surviving without a Clubhouse and bowling green there were over 100 members present at the Opening. The occasion was covered by the local press and attended by the Member of Parliament at that time, Bernard Jenkins and his wife; Colchester Borough Councilors, Local Officials and members of the Bowling fraternity were also present. The bowling green had only been laid for 10 months and had to be protected and as a result, playing on the surface was restricted.
As the years passed new members arrived in teens and restriction on numbers was necessary. The standard of bowling improved and also the Club’s financial solvency. In 2002 the Club celebrated its centenary year with visits from the English Bowling Association, Essex County Bowling Association and the Eastern Counties Association. In the following years Improvements were made to the Club premises and the Club accepted ladies as full members. Radical reform of the Club’s Constitution in 2005 brought the club into the Twenty First Century despite some opposition.
The game of flat green Outside Bowls had reached a peak but times were changing. Some members preferred indoor bowling or other forms of entertainment. New members were difficult to find due to our changing culture. Pedantic legislation did not help; neither did rising costs. Clubs are now closing and numbers falling but those who love the game remain and reap great satisfaction in being members. The Colchester Bowling club will survive because the public will wake up eventually to realize that participation and social friendship is what the game of Bowls provides and gives its members so much pleasure.