A Potted history of the Chestnuts Bowls Club
The original site of the Club was at the Flying Horse Inn ( now The New Flyer ) in Parsons street in 1554. The Inn had a bowling green at the rear and although the green was looked after by the proprietor of the Inn, it was actually owned by Banbury Borough Corporation.
The land, including the Inn, had been given to Banbuy by a Charter granted by Queen Mary. The corporation records show that rents were received for both the Inn and the Bowling Green.
This arrangement continued untill 1790 when a Banbury Church Building Act was passed by Parliament, authorising the sale of the Inn and the green in order to raise funds for the rebuilding of St Marys Church ( how many other clubs can say that they have been discussed in Parliament?)
Throughout this period, the patrons regularly used the green and in 1780 formed the club, it was then known as the Banbury Bowling Green Cub, a name carried over by the club and retained for some years after they moved to the present site and re-named themselves The Banbury Chestnuts Bowling Club.
Although they must have had competitive games between the members, the first match ever recorded in the Club records took place on June 3rd 1867, when Mr C Page, Mr H Page and Mr Pellett played Mr Grimbly, Mr Mander and Mr Farmer for 10 shillings a side. Similar matches are recorded and in 1873, the Club held what was called The Trial Stakes and a Championship, each round of these was called a "Course" and played on a Knockout basis.
The first pairs competition is recorded in 1882 and was called The May Sweepstake, there were 20 entries at 1 shilling each, the winners received 13/4d and the runners up, 6/8d each. About this time, the first mention of a game against another club is recorded, the club being Winslow, and was played on a home and away basis. In 1883 the above matches and competitions were repeated, and a new fixture, again on a home and away basis, against Leamington was added. (Think of the difficulties they had travelling to matches in those days)
Only the Trial Stakes and the Winslow match are recorded in the record for 1884, this must have been due to the shortage of members, as the Banbury Guardian who regularly recorded the activities of the Club, ran a front page advertisement for new members advising that a ticket for the season was 12/6d (I wonder how much that would equate to in todays money?) and the green was open for play afternoons and evenings.
As well as the club, other patrons of the Inn used the green, and in 1891 a special meeting was called at the White Horse Hotel (now a hairdressers opposite Debenhams), and the Brewery agreed to lease the green solely to the Club at a rent of £20.00 per Year, this was unanimously agreed by the 32 gentlemen present and a lease agreement was drawn up. This agreement, beautifully written by John Fingland, is still perfectly legible and is in one of the match books still in possession of the Club. There were 9 rules passed during this meeting, among them the annual subscription was fixed at 12/6d. From this meeting, on to the present date, propert accounts for all the committee and annual general meetings have been kept and are in possession of the Club.
In the following year, the general committee met and appointed three sub-committees, a ground committee to deal with the green, a refreshments committee, who had responsibility for ordering and pricing the refreshments, and lastly , a boys committee. This committee selected boys of about 12 years of age, who were expected to clean the bowls before handing them to the bowlers, to oil them after the games and return them to the lockers, fo this they were paid 1/6d per week plus 1d per night. This practice seems to be unique in bowling circles and does not seem to be mentioned in any other clubs history. The arrangement contiuned for some years after the move to the present site.
At the 1893 annual general meeting, the treasurer reported a profit of four pounds and one shilling, and the subscription was increased to 17/6d. It was also decided to hold a dinner at the White Lion Hotel to be held after the Championship games. A man was also engaged to mow and keep the green tidy for a weekly wage of 10 shillings.
On the 28th September 1893, a special general meeting was called and during this meeting it was advised that a piece of land known as "The Shades" had become vacant and was on offer. This land reached from West Bar and the Shades was bounded by high stone walls on two sides and magnificient horse chestnut trees on the other two sides. Mr Henry Page explained how the land had become vacant and how it could be opened as a bowling green as it had been originally ( although nothing is recorded about this other green other than it was there). After much discussion it was agreed to lease the Shades for 25 years at the cost of £25.00 pr year. Mr Flick released the Club from the earlier lease agreement at the Flying Horse and the 38 gentlemen present each agreed to subscribe £2.00 as a start towards the new green. It would appear therefore that the Banbury Bowling Club much later known as the Chestnuts had come Home.
In 1897 the first of the fine trophies held for the Club came into existence, The Jubilee Cup was purchased to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Mary and was bought mainly from subscriptions from the committee. Meanwhile at the Shades, an old building in the grounds was converted into a club house and the rules of the newly formed International Bowling Association were received by the Club in 1900. The Club took exception to two. It was proposed that the jack be thrown to a minimum length of 21 yards, the Club proposed that it should be 25 yards, this length was accepted by the International Association and remained in force untill very recently. The Association also proposed that should the jack rebound from the backboards, it would be counted at "live" he Club objected to this also, and proposed it to be deemed "dead".
Membership of the Club gathered strength and in 1900 the membership numbered 63 playing and 5 non playing members.
Six years after the club moved to its new home, the owners of the land offered to sell the property to the Club fo £612.00 or £600.00 if the club paid the solicitors fees. The committee met and decided to accept the £600.00 and on the 18th Jan 1902 the then president, John Fringland signed a draft contract. The members agreed to purchase £5.00 bonds to enable the money to be raised.
It would appear that even in those days, bowlers were a thirsty lot, for in 1903 the hours were agreed to be from 8 in the morning untill 12 midnight, however it was not untill 1951 that the rules were changed to allow the bar to be opened on Sundays reflecting the Purital outlook of the town.
In 1899 the Club was invited to become founder members of the International Bowling Association, this was accepted as was a similar invitation to become founder members of the Imperial Bowlling Association. In 1903 the Imperial Bowling Association informed the Club that they had received a proposal from Dr G W Grace the the English Bowling Association be formed and the Clube should again be asked to be founder members. Closer to home the Oxfordshire Bowling Association was formed in 1908 and again the Club became a founder member. It is believed that the Club is the only Club in Oxfordshire to be founder members of all the mens's outdoor bowling associations.
Up to the beginning of World War One the Club grew in stature, and there were three visits by international teams, the first being two rinks from New Zealand. In 1908 it was the turn of the Canadians and in 1912 it was a team from Australia. In 1911 the Club reached the dizzy heights of winning the All-England fours the winning rink being A Thornitt, T Croft, W Willis and John Fringland as Skip, they beat Reading in the Final 21-17.
During the years new rules were adopted many of which still exist today, such as one passed in 1906 banning dogs from the Club.
In 1904 Ladies were permitted to attend the green on certain Tuesdays which were then half closing days. 1907 saw the boys committee dispersed. This years also saw the start of flat rubber shoes being only allowed on the green and Ladies and children were politely requested to keep of the playing areas. In 1911 the English Bowling Rules were adopted and prize money outlawed thereby maintaining true amateurism.
Obviously during WW1 matches were reduced to a minimum, though most of the Club competitions were played unhampered. Changes during this time included a new pavillion erected for £200.00, gas installed for the lighting and heating, and a new water supply for the green was laid on. A Mrs White began service in the Club in 1915 providing teas and running the bar, she continued this for over 50 years.
After the war in 1919 matches returned to normal, it became practice for the Oxford clubs the play the Banbury clubs annually, later this develeped into City versus the County clubs, this was later to be called the Bradshaw Cup.
The County played the New Zealanders in 1921 and the Australians in 1930, both of these matches were played at the Shades.IN 1926 the club mourned the death of John Fringland, John had been instrumental in the formation of the Club at its present premises and had given over 30 years service in a official capacity, as the Clubs Honours Boards Show.
During the 2nd World War play of course was severely restricted and as the fixtures decreased it was decided to run a Banbury League amongst the five clubs in and around town,
After the war, fixtures were resumed and matches with Rugby, Birmingham, Oxford, Stratford and Calne were recorded. In 1946 a Fred Joiner joined the club as green keeper a position he was to hold for 25 years. Up to 1950 the Club was still officially known as the Bowling Green Club and becaus of the trees at the side of the green it was fondly known by all around as "The Chestnuts" and in this year the name was officially changed to "The Banbury Chestnuts bowling Club", with new colours and in 1951 a new badge and tie was introduced. At this time the rules were overhauled and Sunday opening of the Bar confirmed, all bowls used on the green had to be stamped with the EBA or IBB stamps.
The Club was presented with a clock still in use today by the Handsworth Bowls Club to commemorate an association with that Club going back 50 years, the Club in turn presented them with a presidents chair which is still in use today.
In 1973 Ladies were allowed to become associate members and by 1975 they were permitted to play afternoon mid-week matches and in 1979 they introduced their own honours board.
In 1976 just after the clubhouse had been decorated it was broken into and vandalised and in the resulting fire, many of the treasured boards were damaged beyond repair. Not long after this Bloxham Bowls Club presented "The Nuts " with a new honours board. in 1977 the horse chestnut trees became diseased and were reluctantly cut down and replaced with new sweet chestnuts.
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