Wootton Bassett Bowls Club was founded in July 1927 by a group of local businessmen. The first President was M. C. Street followed in 1928 by the Reverend S Hersee. The first AGM was held at the Red Lion Public House on the 14th November 1928 and the joining fee was 21 shillings plus one share at a £1, with the groundsman to get 8d per hour for work around the green.
The green was laid from local turf sourced from the Wiltshire Downs which was free draining and hard wearing. This proved to be a good investment and has stood the test of time as it is arguably one of the best greens in the county if not the best.
In 1932 the club applied to join the Swindon & District League, which was deemed to take precedence over the Wiltshire League. The club won the Swindon & District League for the first time in 1946 (winning 14 out of 16 matches), and again on a further fifteen occasions up to 1988.
In 1949 ladies were admitted as members for the first time subject to the following conditions – no seat on the executive and not permitted to enter the club championships and no right to attend the AGM.!
In 1955 the club won the EBA Rink Championship The winners G King, J Day, A Boulter and C R Waite, were met at the Railway station and paraded through the town headed by the Wootton Bassett Brass Band. Mr C Waite gave a perpetual cup to be played as a two wood competition for the Waite Rose Bowl. In this year Mr Waite was proposed and seconded as Junior Vice President of the Wiltshire Bowling Association, but never became its President.
In 1958 President F Drury presented a new cup which is now played for as the Hart Drury Championship.
In 1964 an application was made for ladies to be accepted as full members.
In 1965 Francis Drury stood down as President after ten years in office and Ivor Hart was elected President having served as chairman, secretary and captain. He continued in office for the next twelve years and was granted honorary life membership in appreciation of his long and devoted service to the club over twenty five years.
In 1973 the men were winners of the Wiltshire League v Devizes and again in 1989 v Amesbury. They were also and winners of the County Tourist Trophy in 1986 and 1987.
In 1977 no competitions were played owing to drought conditions on the green.
In 1982 the ladies also won the Wiltshire League title.
In 1984 Roy Greaves stood down as secretary with John Mimes taking over, both were later made life members.
From 1986 to 1992 Mel Biggs, whilst a member of this club, was selected as an English International, an honour only afforded to a few of the very best bowlers.
In 1980 outline planning permission was granted for a new clubhouse with an estimated cost of £5000. Extract from the minutes suggested an approach be made to the Memorial Hall for car parking facilities – meanwhile desirable to maintain good relations with them. These comments still ring true as over thirty years later car parking is still more of a problem and it is essential we maintain good relations with the Memorial Hall. In September 1981 an EGM was called for permission to go ahead with building the new clubhouse and was given a unanimous vote from the members to proceed. The bar takings in the old clubhouse, now the changing rooms, totalled £6000 thanks mainly to the long hours put in by Peter Bull. The new clubhouse was officially opened on 3rd July 1982 by Peter Brimble, a past president of the English Indoor Bowls Association. Just ten years later Mr Brimble switched on the new floodlights around the green and was also made an honorary life member.
In 1986 there was an extension to the clubhouse of a new bar area, cellar and toilets at a cost of £5000. Most of the work for both projects was supervised by Alan Livesy and he was the driving force along with a willing band of volunteers. Nearly all the interior work was done in house enabling all the loans to be quickly repaid. After being captain from 1978 to 1981 Alan was elected President, a position he held until 1990 resigning immediately after the AGM and later joining Purton Bowls Club.
In 1997 John Wilks was appointed chairman and under his leadership the club continued to prosper thanks to an increasing bowling and large social membership with two crib teams, a pool team and two fruit machines. The clubhouse was open every evening and both socially and financially these were the golden years of our club when substantial reserves were able to be accrued. On Saturday November 16th 2002 John was duly installed as President of the Wiltshire Bowls Association, the first in our club to hold that office.
That same year secretary Brian Bishop retired owing to ill health, although at times rather irascible, Brian had put an enormous amount of time and effort in as secretary and his business knowledge and advice, from his background as a bank manager, was sorely missed.
Susan Walker then took over as secretary having served as assistant to Brian and undertaking these positions for the past twelve years. So in appreciation for her years of service to the club she was made a life member.
In June 1998 Peter Bull passed away. Peter had joined the club in 1960, having previously played football and cricket for the town, before finding his niche at the bowls club. In 1962 he joined the green committee. Peter with Hughie Orr and Ivor Hart won the county triples in 1971 going on to represent the county in the national finals at Mortlake. Most of us remember him as good natured and friendly who would pass a happy half hour with you in the bar. He was a clubman without equal and was made an honorary life member in 1987.
In 1999 Anthony Drury was made president. Mention must also be made of another stalwart Alan Small who has served as secretary, financial controller, captain, club coach and twelve years as fixture secretary.
Over the last thirty years we have built up a good working relationship with the rugby club playing a keenly competitive game against them annually.
In 2002 the Swindon & District B Team won the Division 2 League remaining undefeated the whole season. Dave Eaton was made an honorary member for his excellent coverage of the Middleton Cup games played on our green.
In 2003 Hedley Bowen was elected as our Wilts Team Captain, Ken Roe was made chairman, the clubhouse remained open every evening and the bar takings that year were £32,530. Although there were some paid bar staff, it was easier then to generate a healthy profit.
For the last fourteen years Ken has devoted much of his time to coaching new bowlers especially the youth. With the help of Alan Small, Fred Rogers and others the open evenings and latterly the school bowling programme has paid huge dividends with many young bowlers being introduced to the game, which augers well for the future. Ken was made an honorary life member in 2008.
In 2006 Hedley Bowen was elected Chairman who by his wealth of experience at county and national level is well suited to this position, especially facing the changes of the unification process as directed by Bowls England.
Since joining over thirty years ago, Richard Buckland has been a very enthusiastic member both on and off the green. Since retiring from work the clubhouse has literally become his second home, tending the green, helping Harold Jones with maintenance and stocking the bar. Richard has travelled extensively both home and abroad watching the different bowling championships and being quite distinguishable around the green wearing his braces. Latterly he is often to be seen at the bar serving a drink (not buying one!). He has certainly turned out to be Peter Bull Mark 2 and a great asset to the club and fully merited his life membership. Richard and John Williamson were also in the team that won the Middleton Cup for Wiltshire in 1986.
Fund raising has played an important part of the clubs history from an open air whist drive and dance held in 1930 to bingo and various events organized by Dave Edmonds, Ian Tanner, Dave Fackrell, Graham Smith and many others to the present day. In 2010 a portable skittle alley was purchased and regular matches organized by Roy Ockwell and Geoff Insall have proved very popular.
Mention should also be made of Eddie Levine for his excellent florals displays over a number of years and remarked on by many visitors.
In 2011 Janet Daniell was appointed Bowling Manager, the first lady to undertake this post. Also in 2011 Lucy Smith won the county under 25 singles, the youngest in the county to achieve this. The same year Chairman Hedley Bowen was appointed as England under 25 manager; could it be that he might see one of our own young pretenders play for England? David Lawrence achieved fifty years as a member, the first in the club so to do, he was also made a life member. This same year Harold Jones succeeded John Williamson as secretary who had held that role for the last three years.
No history of the club would be complete without recognizing the contribution of three generations of the Snell family. Dennis, son David and his sons Stephen and Michael – the last three being regular players in the Middleton Cup games. In 2011 David was the first in the County to have played 100 Middleton Cup games and a special presentation was made to him at the County dinner in November. Since joining in 1980 David has won the Maslin Championship singles nine times and the Hart-Drury Singles Cup no less than fifteen times, a record that is unlikely to be surpassed. David was made a life member in 2009.
Thanks go to Anthony Drury, President, for the research and compilation of this history.
If anyone has any photographs related to the history of the club, these will be most appreciated (they will be returned undamaged!)