Portishead RBL Bowls Club History

Table of Contents

In the beginning

To those not privileged to have been involved in the formation of the Portishead RBL Bowling Club the reason for the relationship with the Royal British Legion may seem a little obscure, but reference to the excellent booklet produced to celebrate the Club’s 21st Anniversary clarifies the situation and an extract is repeated verbatim here:

“It must be acknowledged that the Legion Bowling Club was not founded in the first instance to nurture the game of bowling. It was more an act of desperation to keep the local branch of the British Legion active. Since the early twenties the Legion’s headquarters had been in old wooden army huts which stood, guarded by an ancient cannon, not far from the “White Lion’, where members were often found refreshing themselves. The HQ was lost when British Railways wanted to build a new station on the site. Without a base, membership of the local branch started to fall alarmingly so the committee, concerned about this decline, called a meeting at the CEGB Club (now Clarence House) to find out what was going wrong and what it was that members wanted from the Legion. This meeting coincided with an appeal from the Urban District Council for greater public interest in the new bowling green. Some of those present seemed quite keen and they organized a casual roll-up and, of course, were immediately hooked on the game. A second get-together was quickly arranged and working colleagues invited to join – employees of the Portishead Urban District Council and of the Central Electricity Generating Board in the main.

They decided that they would form a bowling club and permission was sought from the Council to use the green on a regular basis. At a meeting with the Clerk to the Council, Mr Arthur Reynolds, they were given exclusive use of four rinks on Thursday evenings at a cost of half-a-crown per player.”

And so the “Portishead British Legion Bowling Club” was born. Note that it was not until 1972 that the British Legion received “Royal” status.

The first formal recorded meeting of the Club was on 4th October 1967 when an AGM was held to appoint officers of the Club. This first committee comprised Alf Yeoman (Chairman), Guy Mounter (President), Jack Bessant (Fixture Secretary), John Joslin (Secretary and Treasurer), Maurice Jordan, Bert Metcalfe, Ken Excell, and Arthur Phillpots.

Readers will not be surprised to learn that key items for discussion at that first meeting were selection policy and the provision of a bar (the latter unfortunately not becoming a reality until 1986).

The first few years

In the very early days hardly anyone had any experience of playing bowls. The one exception was Archie Ferriman. Archie had been the one to suggest a roll-up on the new green (it had been formally opened on 28th August 1965), and it was he who in effect became the Club’s first coach. As is recorded in the 21st Anniversary celebration booklet:

“With the exception of that grand old gentleman of the Legion, Archie Ferriman – a very knowledgeable man who had represented Oxford in his younger days – hardly anyone had played bowls. He taught us the rudiments of the game: he coached his eager pupils with enthusiasm, often on the skittle-alley at the CEGB Club, with a pint of bitter never very far away from arm’s length!

Apart from Archie, no-one possessed kit either. However, Fred Symes (the green-keeper) was most encouraging to the raw novices and got ready sets of woods and slip-ons for them. In a financial summary presented by the Council in the following year it was recorded that 332 pairs of slips and 369 sets of woods had been hired out (at 4d per set).”

The booklet also tells us that:
“For away games, with Fred Symes’ connivance, sets of woods and slips were bundled into sacks and, on arrival at the host Club, hastily shared out behind the changing rooms! A comment was made that it was fortunate that all Legion members had the same initials – PUDC. On one occasion at least, Maurice had to wear two right-footed slips. According to one wag this was to balance the two left hands he used to bowl!”

Fixtures and green allocation

Fixtures in the first full season (1968) included Bristol Omnibus, Electricity Sports, Clevedon Promenade, Nailsea, and Portishead UDC, the matches being played on mid-week evenings. Practice evenings were also held on Thursdays. Severe restrictions on green availability (only one green was available in those early days) made it difficult to host many home games, but Portishead Ladies Club members were most helpful and several matches were played between the two Clubs on the Lake Grounds.

Early relations with the Portishead Men’s Club were perhaps a little more strained certainly in part because of the lack of kit and proper bowls attire in those early days. As reported in the 21st Anniversary booklet:

“Of course, when we started taking an interest, the Portishead Bowling Club was already in existence. Its members were immaculately turned out; some even had bowls bags! They were perturbed one Thursday evening when Bill Gale, a Docks Policeman, arrived at the green resplendent in his police uniform, but astonished them when, after propping his bike against a fence (there was no hedge then), he removed his tunic, produced his woods from an old pair of his wife’s tights, and proceeded to practise – with his cycle clips on his navy-blue serge trousers which were held up by belt and braces. Many a head turned – first towards him and then skywards!”

The 1968 season ended with some conflict over the use of the green, and unfortunately a report with provocative headlines in a local newspaper almost certainly made the situation worse. The discord between the Clubs peaked somewhat in 1969 with opposition to the Legion’s application for affiliation to the County Association.
Accusations were made of lack of interest in bowling – witness Legion members not being properly kitted out. The application was however granted, and whilst competition between the Clubs has always been keen, mutual respect has developed since those early days and both Clubs have become strong competitive forces within the local bowls scene.

Encouraged by progress in that first full season (1968) the Legion sent a letter to the Clevedon and District League requesting membership. The application must have been approved as the Legion has been fully participating in the league since 1970, but apparently we are still awaiting a reply to the letter.

Optimism and hard work

Back on the green, standards of play continued to improve in 1969, although optimism was still necessary. The 21st Anniversary booklet reports that in a 1969 newsletter John Joslin wrote as follows:

“The standard of play is improving with every match, and it will not be long before we shall be able to say at last we have won”

The booklet adds:
“This was typically optimistic of John especially in view of the fact that in a friendly game at Clevedon, the Legion had gone down by 84 shots!”

Apparently, as Captain, John had spoken of the Legion’s pleasure in finishing as runners-up. As he ended his speech, David Bryant and David Rhys-Jones happened to walk into the Clubhouse and John could not resist commenting, “And with reserves like that it’s no wonder you narrowly got the better of us”.

John Joslin was at the centre of most things that happened in the Club during those early days. He took on the tasks of Secretary, Treasurer and Captain, and later President, and it was he who organized the provision of woods and slips for away matches.

Finances were a constant concern in those early years and at one stage the working balance was only 14 shillings and ten pence (for those too young to remember money before decimalization that is just slightly less than 75p). By the start of the new decade (1970) the cash in hand had risen to a handsome 1 pound 6 shillings and 2 pence
(about £1.31) and the membership fee was raised to three guineas.

1970 saw the decision to print proper fixture cards, to display team sheets in the village, to obtain blazer badges, to invite David Rhys-Jones to talk to members, and to formulate and adopt Club Rules. The Club also obtained permission from the Council to play two weekend home games.

The “Master of the Fabrics”

Fortunately, in Bert Metcalf the Club had an artist of some talent who agreed to design a badge that reflected the links the Club had with the British Legion. Bert not only designed the Club’s first blazer badge, but subsequently various other scrolls, plaques and badges, the Club’s Honours Board, and the Club Presidential Collar and Medallion.
Bert had a wonderful sense of humour and would tell hilarious stories, but he was essentially a quiet person who preferred to work behind the scenes. In 1972, Max Carey, who was then Club Captain, acknowledging Bert’s contribution to the Legion, good-humouredly bestowed on him the honorary title “Master of the Fabrics’.


Club Championships were introduced in the first full season (1968) but were limited to just singles, pairs, and triples. The first winner of the singles title was John Joslin.
1971 saw the introduction of two extra competitions, the 4-wood singles and the 2-wood singles (both handicapped events), and 25 members entered, providing a revenue (at 10p per entry) of £11.20 (our currency by then having converted to decimal).

During 1971 the decision was made to conform more to convention and to wear whites for afternoon games, and with confidence increasing some members entered the Clevedon Tournament and a few took part in Somerset County competitions. The Club was also entered for the Turnbull Cup for the first time.

Onward and Upward

Results on the green continued to improve under Max Carey’s captaincy in 1972 and by the end of the year Max was able to report that half the matches played had been won. The Treasurer was also able to report a much healthier balance of £72 in the Club coffers. Progress was also made towards a fairer share of the green and suggestions were even made about a merger with the Portishead Club. The merger did not happen – the Legion deciding to retain its separate identity – but steps were taken towards the development of a Liaison Committee.

In 1973 Max Carey became the first Club player to be honoured with County selection. Max was Club Captain in 1972 and 1973, Club Chairman from 1974 to 1976, and worked hard to put the Legion Bowling Club on the map. He was very much involved in starting the popular Club tours – the Spring Tour and the London Tour – which commenced in 1974, and some years later was instrumental in getting the Club affiliated to the City and County of Bristol Bowls Association. His father, Bill Carey, had been President of the Club in 1973, and had held the inaugural President’s Day at which he donated and raised the first Club Flag. In turn he was presented with a Presidential Collar and Medallion. The 21st Anniversary booklet reports that rather than select the medallion from a brochure it was decided to have one made by a craftsman in Yatton.
Bert Metcalfe designed the medallion, and the booklet tells us that:

“At the next committee meeting they reported that they had ordered a medallion much superior to the tinny looking one in the brochure, worthy of the President of the Club. On hearing that it was to be of solid silver, the Treasurer blanched and seemed about to faint but his distress was soothed when Max
announced “Don’t worry Greg, the bill only comes to £17.79!”

1973 was Debroy Gregory’s (Greg’s) first year as Hon. Treasurer and although at times he may have left himself open to quips such as this, the careful way he looked after the Club’s finances for a full thirty years (he only retired as Treasurer in 2002) must be acknowledged.

1973 also saw the strengthening of the Liaison Committee to forge closer links with the Portishead Club (in spite of the Legion winning a derby match against Portishead by one shot: 81-80), the wearing of lapel badges, and hosting our first touring team (from Newquay). The last match of the season was a social occasion against staff of Gordano School. This resulted in a number of Gordano people joining the Legion Club, and the 21st Anniversary booklet also reports:

“The editor of this publication likes to think that though the new arrivals did nothing to improve the Club’s intellectual status, they did no harm to the Legion’s intake of alcohol.”

The following year (1974) saw the Legion being granted equal use of the green with the Portishead Club and, to reward success in the Club night roll-ups, the Formidable Trophy competition was introduced. The first Spring Tour was enjoyed this year, at the Granville Hotel in Ilfracombe, with games against Combe Martin, Ilfracombe, and Uffcombe, and after the end of the outdoor season the Club also enjoyed its first London Tour. The Spring Tour and the London Tour were to become highly popular features of the Legion’s playing calendar and undoubtedly have contributed greatly to the camaraderie that the Club has always enjoyed.

Plans were submitted to Woodspring District Council in 1974 for a bar at the Pavilion, but unfortunately these were not approved. The matter of provision of a bar was, naturally, one that was not going to go away, and during the very hot summer of 1976 further requests for a bar were received from the membership, but it was to be another ten years before the dream of a bar within the Pavilion was realized. 1976 was however a good year for the recruitment of new members.

The Legion was also playing in the Clevedon indoor winter league by now, and under Alan Gibson’s captaincy won it for the first time in the 1975-76 season. The title was then retained the following two years under the captaincy of firstly Ralph Pearce and then Bob Fowler.

The Hardwick Cup was inaugurated in 1977. The Legion President at that time was Ken Hardwick, and he had also previously been President of the Portishead Club. He felt that friendly rivalry on the green in a pairs competition would help to improve relationships between the two Clubs, and this competition has become a regular feature of both Clubs ever since.

1978 saw Ralph Pearce reach the final of the Clevedon Singles and although he lost he did both himself and the Club proud, only losing to Pip Branfield, who was to become a future England skip. This was the year of Bob Fowler’s captaincy, and Bob was apparently well known for the hilarity which accompanied his after match jokes – not that the jokes were necessarily funny, but because he either couldn’t remember them, gave the wrong punch line, or collapsed in laughter himself before getting to the punch line.

1979 saw the staging of the first Portishead Open Pairs Tournament and Legion success was evident here as well with David Haigh and Reg Chorley becoming the first holders of the trophy. That year, under Cyril Cant’s captaincy, the Legion for the first time became Champions of the Clevedon and District League, and also that year Charlie Kitchen and Debroy Gregory became the first Legion winners of the local Champion of Champions Pairs competition.

The early 80’s saw the Club go from strength to strength. The membership reached its target of 5|0 members in 1980 and by 1983 had increased to 60. Concern over the possible effect of excessive membership on rink availability (we still only had one green) resulted in the decision to limit membership to this number, and so for a number of years the Club had a waiting list of potential bowlers wishing to join the Club.

The early tours

The Spring Tours continued to be very popular and the 1981 tour saw the introduction of a Welsh love-spoon, carved by Alan Gibson, to be presented to the least successful rink at each match. Subsequently Alan carved four more spoons so that one could be presented to each member of the least successful rink after each match.
Avoiding the spoons is still perhaps an important objective for many members when on tour, and results in much (hopefully good natured) rivalry between Legion rinks. The Original love-spoon is now to be found in the trophy cabinet in the lower pavilion.

The London Tours were very popular, although not without incident. One year at King George’s Field Club Greg’s cigarette fell from an ash tray into a ladies handbag, and with smoke coming from the bag Greg was heard to say “Excuse me madam, we seem to have a problem as your handbag is on fire”. Fortunately the lady was very gracious about this, which is just as well as her husband was on the green and was a semi-professional boxer. The London Tours often involved a trip into the West End to see a show and whilst it was not the norm for wives to come on tour, one year Bert Metcalfe was  accompanied by his wife Kate. That year a trip had been arranged to the Windmill Theatre to see “No sex please, we’re British”. The opening scene included five men in cages, stark naked, and apparently Kate’s reaction alone was worth the price of the ticket, although it was to be some time before she would speak again to Greg, who had made the booking.

Four of the founder members of the Club came to be known as the “Crazy Four’, primarily for their exploits on tour. The four were Bob Ferriman, Ken Excell, Charlie Kitchen, and Roy Lee. Bob Ferriman’s trousers were hoisted up a flagpole on one tour (an experience which Norman Rogers also had on tour many years later); Roy Lee was well known for his love of brandy; Charlie Kitchen claimed he must be famous because his name (Kitchen) was found on a door in every Clubhouse; and Ken Excell was the
quiet one of the four. All four were nevertheless tireless workers for the Club.

Maurice Jordan should also be mentioned at this point as, according to David Haigh, he claimed to be the “greatest navigator in the world”. Whether going on tour or just to away matches he was renowned for ending up in farmyards or cul-de-sacs but nevertheless insisted “Why do you want a Tom-Tom when you have a Mo-Jo?” Of course Maurice will be remembered not just for lack of navigation skills but also for his humour and his service to the Club. He was Fixture Secretary for the first 16 years of the Club’s existence as well as being Captain in 1975 and President for seven years from 1986 to 1992, and according to some current members of the Club who were ind in those early days, Maurice probably did more for the Club than any other one person.

Strength in the 80’s

1984 saw the first presentation of the Jimmy Bryant Cup, awarded to the winners of the local derby match between the Legion and Portishead, and was also the year the Legion became affiliated to the City and County of Bristol Bowling Association. In 1985 the Club reached the final of the City and County Clarence Davey Cup (and as runners- up were awarded the Ernie Morris Cup). Three years later in 1988 the Legion went one better and won the Clarence Davey Cup for the first time.
During the 80’s the Legion won the Clevedon and District League in 1981 and 1982, and the Golding League in 1986 and 1989 (which was the new name the league took on following sponsorship). The Legion also won the Clevedon and District Over-60’s Triples League in 1985, the first year of the competition.
On an individual level, success at County and National level started to be achieved on a regular basis, and in 1980 Tom Elliott reached the final stages of the Legion Tournament at Paddington, Debroy Gregory and David Haigh were invited to play for the County Under-40’s team, and Gerry Manning, Tom Elliott, Fred Chapman, and Ralph Pearce went to Worthing as County Fours Champions.
In the 1980’s Debroy Gregory was regularly selected to play for Somerset in the Middleton Cup team, playing in over 50 matches. He was selected first in 1981 and played at number three in the successful Somerset side that won the trophy. Somerset also won the trophy in 1984 with Greg at skip. His first game at skip was in 1982 when, playing against Cornwall at Plymouth, he won against a skip by the name of Fearnley Bates by a remarkable 36 – 7. That week the headline in one of the local papers stated “Gregory Masters Bates”. You have to be careful how you say that! In 1989 Greg was appointed Vice-President of the Somerset County Bowling Association.
Other notable achievements by Club members during the 80’s include Cyril Atherton and Maurice Jordan winning the Portishead Open Pairs in 1983, Bob Fowler and David Haigh winning the Clevedon Open Pairs in 1983, and John Joslin, Tom Elliott and Chris Reilly (Welshpool) winning the Clevedon Open Triples in 1984. Ken Lane and DebroyGregory won the Willmott Park Invitation Pairs in 1986, Noel Davies, Mike Stanley and David Haigh won the Gloucester Open Triples in 1986, and John Joslin and Tom Elliott reached the semi-finals of the EBA Saga Pairs in 1987. One other notable personal achievement of the 1980’s was Mike Stanley winning the prestigious Weymouth Open Singles in 1986.

Enthusiasm and Celebrity

An indication of the enthusiasm with which the Legion approached the game is reported in the 21st Anniversary booklet, which tells the story of Tom Elliott in 1984.
Apparently Tom was not a well man – he had a heart problem which made him breathless after walking only short distances and in July 1984 was admitted to the BRI for a heart by-pass operation – an operation which, whilst considered fairly routine nowadays, would not have been so in 1984. Whilst in hospital his regular bowls partner commented that he would need to find a substitute for him in the forthcoming Clevedon Tournament Triples. Tom would not hear of it and insisted “I’ll be there” and “We’re going to win it this year”. And he was…and they did, only eight weeks to the day after the operation and only six weeks after being discharged from the hospital.
Further celebrity was achieved in 1986 when, in the early rounds of the National Triples, Cyril Atherton, Bill Cridland and Tom Evans defeated the previous year’s National Champions of Ken Frost, David Rhys-Jones, and David Bryant.
The RBL Bowls Club can certainly be said to have gone from strength to strength during the 1980’s, and in 1989 acquired both a new flag and the Captain’s Chair which we still have in the lower pavilion. The chair was designed and fabricated by Gerry Manning and bears a dedication to Ralph Pearce, who had been Club Captain in 1977.
Tom Evans, as Chairman, invited the Portishead Clubs to also make use of the chair for their own events.

Association Matters

Ambitions for our own green The mid 80’s saw the beginnings of major efforts aimed at improving facilities for bowling. With only a single green at the Lake Grounds the demand for rink space was difficult to satisfy at times, and for some time it had been the ambition of John Joslin and others for the Legion to have its own green. Several options were looked at including the possibility of having a green at a site on Harbour Road. Club finances had begun to improve significantly in the mid 80’s, to a large extent through the establishment of a 100-Club, and so there were some hopes that such an ambition might be achievable. Unfortunately, despite the significant efforts of a number of Club members, the plans proved not to be affordable, and so towards the end of the 1985 season enquiries were made of Woodspring Council concerning the possibility of providing a second green at the Lake Grounds. There was also a need to expand and improve the Clubhouse facilities on the existing green. The 100-Club was set up by Greg as Treasurer, who also collected the money. On a lighter note, a suggestion was made regarding the 100-Club at an AGM. It would seem that Eric Thomas had been a frequent beneficiary of payouts from the 100-Club and a member from the floor of the AGM asked the Chair whether it would simplify matters if the monthly payments of 100-Club members were in future made directly to Eric rather than given on a somewhat temporary basis to Greg. Returning to the matter of the improvement of facilities, the Portishead Urban District Council position was also very relevant as the PUDC very much wanted to reduce its ongoing costs. Up until this time the PUDC ran the whole facility and was responsible for all maintenance including the wages of the green keeper and the staff manning the office. Through discussion it became clear that a way forward would be for the facilities to be made available to the Bowls Clubs under a long lease with the Clubs taking full responsibility for ongoing costs, but the Council made it clear that such an agreement would only be acceptable if it involved all the Clubs using the facility and not just a single Club such as the Legion. This resulted in the formation of the Association of Portishead Bowling Clubs.

Early days of the Association

Key Legion members in both the formation of the Association, and the negotiations that followed were Frank Berry, who was the first Chairman of the Association and perhaps the key man who made it all possible, and Tom Evans who succeeded him as Chairman. It would be difficult to underestimate the thanks we all owe to those involved in these negotiations as without their significant efforts we would not have the enviable facilities we now enjoy. All the legal work was completed, and the Association took over responsibility for the management of the facility as of 1st August 1991. This objective, to take over the management of the facility, was referred to as the “Privatisation” project, but was only one of the objectives of the Association. There was also the provision of the second green, improvements to the existing Clubhouse facilities, and a matter very close to the hearts of the members, the provision of a bar.

The Bar

Perhaps not surprisingly the provision of a bar was the first objective achieved, and to some extent pre-dated the Association. The earliest provision was made through an extension of the licence of the Working Men’s Club which was obtained for certain special occasions by David Haigh and involved simply a table in one corner of the Clubhouse. The first permanent bar was installed by Len Hemmings, work starting in the Spring of 1986. The bar was open in time for the Clevedon Tournament of 1986, and ever since its opening, as recorded in the 21st Anniversary booklet, Legion members have “patronized it generously”. An official opening of the bar took place on 20th April 1987 with representatives of Woodspring Council and the Brewery being present. Subsequently the bar was relocated and extended in the early 1990’s when the Clubhouse was enlarged, the new bar being beautifully crafted by Gerry Manning. Much later, at the 2007 AGM, when he was to be inaugurated as Club President, the outgoing President paid tribute to the work of David Haigh in the 80’s and 90’s, reporting that “In his spare time he ran the bar, mostly single handed from August 1986 to March 1994, when he unfortunately suffered a stroke and was forced to give up”.  Apart from some small alterations, this is the bar we now enjoy. David had also taken on the Secretary’s job for a number of years as well as that of Chairman and Captain (twice).

The Second green

Behind the scenes the Association continued discussions with Woodspring Council about the possibility of a second green. 

The Council were prepared to contribute to the costs, but required the Association to demonstrate its ability to contribute also. The Association of course had little in the way of funds, although bar receipts promised to assist greatly in the future, and so assurances of contributions from the Clubs were essential for the project to progress. Such assurances were of course forthcoming and so work started on the new green in late 1987. A significant amount of soil, including a lot of clay, was removed from the site and deposited on the far side of the Lake Grounds close to where the Cafe is now. It was put there to help with sea defences. Preparation of the new green continued, but unfortunately the work proved more problematical than initially anticipated with, in particular, serious problems over the drainage of the green. It was to be some time before the green was fit for play. Photographs from the time show the initial excavations being made in October 1987, but the green was still under construction and still without grass in May 1989. Apparently the initial contractor went into liquidation, and it has also been said that when the grass was laid, the contractor first put down a bed of clay which ruined the drainage, and the top surface of the green had to be dug out again. Originally it had been planned to have the new green in operation by the 1990 season, and so with the promise of an additional green to ease the fixture congestion, the Portishead RBL Ladies Club was formed in May 1989, and they had their inaugural match in June 1989. This, of course, resulted in further rink congestion for a while, but eventually the second green was completed and became usable. However, a significant amount of additional work on the green was to prove necessary before the new green would be considered to be of an acceptable standard. According to David Haigh “If you got the line wrong you had a good chance of a toucher!”.

Extension of the lower pavilion

Late 1990 saw foundations in place for extensions to the lower pavilion. This was a major extension adding significant additional changing and social facilities including, as already mentioned, a new bar. Photographs taken in October 1990 show the shell well on the way to completion, and a Grand Opening of the improved facility was arranged for Saturday 13th April 1991 following an Association Bowls Drive. Councillor Ken Lacey was asked to do the honours. In 1990 three members of the Legion Club, Frank Berry, David Haigh, and Alan Southey, were elected as Life Members of the Association in recognition of their services in connection with the developments at the bowls complex. Some years later, in 1996, Tom Evans was also elected as a Life Member of the Association in recognition of the work he had done.

The upper pavilion

Whilst work was proceeding on the new green and the extensions to the lower pavilion, planning began on the need for a second pavilion on the upper green. There were, of course, both financial and planning issues to be overcome. Plans were drawn up and costed, and planning consent obtained in 1995. The Association was successful in obtaining a grant from the Foundation for Sports and the Arts towards the cost of the development, and at the 1995 Legion AGM it was reported that work was expected to start in early 1996 with an official opening on 12th June 1996.

Since the mid 90’s the Association has continued to work tirelessly maintaining and improving the facilities and, whilst members of all four Clubs have been involved, your author wishes to acknowledge in particular the work of Cyril Cant. As Chairman of the Association he was the guiding hand behind many improvements, including significant extensions to the lower pavilion in the early years of the new millennium which provided the Clubs with much improved changing and lounge areas. This good work by members of the RBL Club on behalf of the Association has, of course, continued right up to the present day with Ian Gough now Chairman of the Association and Norman Rogers very active as Maintenance Manager.

THE NINETIES — On and Off the Green 

Norman Luxton had joined the Legion Bowls Club in 1989. He had no previous bowls experience, but plenty of enthusiasm and an aptitude for the game. He was also the epitome of the Somerset archetype. In his second year of bowling (1990), according to John Joslin’s record of the event (in his published collection of poems and tales), Norman decided he would enter the County Pairs and when John arrived in the pavilion told him ” You play with I, you’ve got the time”. Well they did very well, beating Mike Stanley and Eric Thomas in the first round, and then in the second round beating Pip Branfield and his partner on their own green at Clevedon. This created some celebrity amongst the local community, and back at the Lake Grounds who should come in but David Rhys-Jones who asked him the secret of his success. He replied, indicating John Joslin, “Ee tells I what to do, and I do do it”. A banner was erected over the bar in the Clubhouse saying “This is the place where Norman bowls”.

The Silver Jubilee

1992 saw the 25th Anniversary of the Legion Club. Much had happened in those first 25 years – from very meagre and uncertain beginnings the Legion had progressed to becoming a significant force in the Somerset bowls scene. Celebration matches were played that year against the Barbarians, the Somerset County Bowls Association, and the City and County of Bristol Bowls Association. The Legion also gave the Association a contribution towards the cost of the flagpole on the new top green, and an attached plaque celebrates the RBLBC Jubilee year of 1992. The Club minutes of March 1992 reported that both greens were improved, although work on improving the top green would continue for some time. Nevertheless, with both greens now useable rink congestion was much less of a problem. In 1993 the Legion quota of playing members was raised to 75 from 67 which helped to ease the waiting list situation – the waiting list had risen to over twenty in the early 90’s. The quota was subsequently raised to 80 in 1999. 1992 also saw the marriages of Debroy Gregory, Allan Southey, and John Saunders. Whilst your author would not wish to set a precedent requiring the listing of all Club marriages in this booklet, these are mentioned to enable one particular anecdote to be included. Apparently Greg was asked, quite innocently, whether his wedding was to be a white wedding. He is reported to have replied “Oh I expect so – I don’t expect I shall have time to change after bowls”.

The Association Bowls Drive

The birth of the Association resulted in the creation of the early season Association Bowls Drive, with all four Clubs enjoying a social day together on the greens. The Association Drive held on 17th April 1994 was of particular note as at the end of the day it was found that the flag was stuck at the top of the flag pole. I now quote from the Legion Newsletter of April 1994, which reported: “After many unsuccessful requests to the monkey house at Bristol Zoo it was finally retrieved by one Alan Biss who I am informed clambered up the pole like a Royal Marine Commando”.

Also in 1994 it was considered that whilst our President looked somewhat resplendent wearing the silver medallion crafted at Clevedon Craft Centre, he would look even more so if the ribbon that carried it was replaced with a silver chain. There began a search for a suitable (and affordable) chain, and eventually it was decided to return to the Clevedon Craft Centre to have one made. This was finally taken delivery of in March 1995 with the existing silver medallion attached and with 20 new silver name plates.

Club and individual honours

Club honours during the 90’s included the Ernie Morris Cup (1991, 1993 and 1998), the Golding League, later becoming the Deverill League (1992 and 1998) and the North Somerset Cup (1999). Individual honours included the appointment of John Joslin as President of the City and County of Bristol Bowling Association in 1995. Debroy Gregory continued to do well in individual competitions, winning the City and County of Bristol Singles competition in 1998, and reaching the semi-final of the EBA Over-55 Singles that same year. The 90’s also saw two other bowlers join the Club who were to see significant success at an individual level. Terry Barnes joined in 1993, and Neil Yeoman joined as a junior member in 1995. Neil’s father Roger had also joined in 1993, and together they won the Clevedon and District Closed Pairs competition in 1998. Terry Barnes won the Portishead Open Pairs Competition with Colin Saunders three times, in 1995, 1996, and 1998, and these two together with Graham Thomas were City and County of Bristol Triples winners in 1999. Other winners of the Portishead Open Pairs were John Powell (with P Thomas) in 1990, Roy Lee and Ken Excell in 1993, Bob Fowler and Debroy Gregory in 1994, and Mike Trump and Tony Pearce in 1997.

Further achievements included Ken Lane as Somerset County BA Champion of Champions runner-up in 1994, Roy Lee, Ken Excell and Graham Thomas as Clevedon and District Over-60’s Triples winners in 1997, and Dave Groves and Debroy Gregory as Clevedon and District Closed Pairs winners in 1999. Also worthy of mention is that 1995 saw Arnie Strong take on the task of Fixture Secretary – an essential but unglamorous job that he continues to do today, some twenty years on, and for which his efforts should be acknowledged.

More fun on tour

When Neil Yeoman joined us as a youngster he soon became a very good bowler but also he was well known for his pranks. Many will remember with amusement the sight of Bob Ferriman chasing him around the green for switching the stickers on his bowls and causing him to bowl a wrong bias – on more than one occasion. Father Roger was also a character, well known for his colourful dress sense and the meticulous way he would fashion a salad sandwich after Wednesday night league games.

Towards the end of the 90’s Terry Barnes started organizing overseas bowls tours. These were not strictly Legion tours as they took place before the start of the season and included members of all four Portishead Clubs, but, as with the Club Spring Tours, much fun was had by all. On one occasion on a tour to Spain Ben Daly developed an earache when visiting the town of Ronda and asked if anyone had any cotton wool. Alice Owen said yes she had, and proceeded to tear a sanitary pad apart to give Ben the cotton wool inside. Job done. However, at the end of the tour when Terry made his customary presentations, Ben was presented with a Tampax just in case he needed cotton wool again. Much laughter!

From the very early days the Legion was not just a Bowling Club, but also a club where great friendships were formed and great social gatherings were had. Not only were the tours popular, but also the Dinner Dances, and, especially as the ladies got more involved, so were social nights, often held at the Pavilion once the bar was built.

A highlight of these functions very often was a cabaret organized by the Legion Ladies, and a poem by Mary Excell would often have the assembled gathering in fits of laughter. A typical example is remembered here:

The Joy of Discovery

I used to often wonder,When he said night after night
Of what he did to Kitty – Well, I didn’t think it right.
He took her to the ditch it seems.
He said he’d had a touch.

So down the green I went(for it really was too much)
It was there that I discovered This game was made for two,
For what he did with Kitty I, with Jack, could do!

Involvement with the Legion Ladies was, of course, not always so amicable, and every year towards the end of the season the Legion play the Legion Ladies in what are generally referred to as the “War Games”. Whilst not wanting to incur the wrath of the ladies your author wishes to point out that this is a game that the men always expect to win. However, early in the history of the fixture (thought to be around 1992), the match clashed with the men playing an important cup game at the Prom.

With the Legion men so depleted Waran Dellacassa took bets as to who would win, and whilst a number of members waged small quantities on a victory for the ladies, Debroy Gregory waged £10 on the men winning. The match went right down to the last wood on the last end when Rose Hellens required one shot as skip against Frank Berry. Kate Strong was Rose’s three and as Rose describes it Kate called for a wick off one wood and then another to take the shot wood out. Against all odds this was achieved, and Rose duly jumped in the air in delight only to experience instant karma on her return to earth as she broke her achilles tendon. This final action of the match was met with a mixture of sympathy and disbelief, but the result was that Greg lost his £10 note. Later he was persuaded to contribute a second £10 note as a trophy for the winners of this fixture and this can be found framed in the Clubhouse.

The Somerset Leagues

Weekends since the turn of the century have been very much dominated by the Somerset Leagues. These were started in 1999 and have had both positive and negative influences on our fixture list. With most summer Saturdays requiring up to 36 players in the league sides there has of necessity been a significant reduction in the number of weekend friendly fixtures, and this has been the cause of some regret. On the other hand, the leagues have provided the opportunity for the Club to be tested on a regular basis against the top Clubs and players in the County, and provide all our Club members with additional experience of competitive bowling.

Perhaps the highest achievement of the Club during this time was in the A team winning the County Premier League Title in 2006 to become Somerset Champions. This resulted in us holding the Dewar Shield for a year – this trophy was made of pewter and oak and, as well as being far too large for the trophy cabinet and requiring a special fixing point on the wall of the pavilion, was also almost too large for that year’s Captain, Brian Norman, to get into his car.

The Club has for some years had three teams in the County leagues and, as well as our A team enjoying success, the strength in depth of the Club is evident in the way our B and C teams regularly punch above their weight with successes against the A and B teams of other Clubs.

Some presentations

The trophy cabinet mentioned above was obtained in 2004, by the Legion, for the use of all four Clubs. Significant further improvements to the facilities in the lower pavilion had been made by the Association in 2001/2, and the Legion wanted to provide a trophy cabinet worthy of the fine facilities we enjoyed. Part of the cost of the cabinet came via a donation from June Gibson, the widow of Alan Gibson who had been Club Captain twice, and Club President from 1999 to 2001. A plaque on the cabinet dedicates it to Alan’s memory. Also in 2004 a new flag was obtained. This was beautifully made by Val Dudley, the wife of Peter Dudley. Both these ladies were invited to the Club on the day of the Spilling Cup so that the Captain, Paul Davies, could officially thank them.

One further presentation in 2004 is worthy of mention. George Cosnett was presented with a trophy to mark his 90th birthday. George was still an active member of the Club and much loved by all his fellow bowlers. Your author remembers playing with him the following year on tour at Brockenhurst. He played so well and with such enthusiasm that repeated high fives were exchanged, much to the delight of all on the green and all spectators. In 2005 he was also the oldest person playing in the City and County of Bristol’s annual Over-80’s match…

… and talking of over-80’s – It was the winter of 2003. Paul Davies had just been appointed Captain for the following season and the Legion were on their way to King George’s Field Club for the first match of the London Tour. Paul was keen to have his time as Captain begin with a resounding success and so before we disembarked the coach at King George’s Field he treated us to an inspiring speech exhorting us to spare no quarter and finishing with the words “Kill, kill, kill”. We were of course suitably motivated, but perhaps also a little inebriated, and the match was lost. Paul, however, was not in a position to scold any of us as his own rink (Alan Wellings, Maurice Jordan, Paul, and skip David Haigh), playing against a rink skipped by a kindly 82 year old gentleman called George Archer, lost by 53 points to 8. David Haigh, when asked about it, said “Oh yes, and it could have been even worse if I hadn’t had a couple of flukes”.

Whilst our successes indoors at King George’s Field Club have been rather few, this cannot be said of our achievements outdoors. In cup competitions in the period from the year 2000 up to 2016 Legion successes have included six victories in the Bristol area Clarence Davey Cup competition (2001, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2015, and 2016), and one runner-up Ernie Morris trophy (2006). The Club also won the Wedmore Plate on one occasion (2008), the North Somerset Cup seven times (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2014), and the North Somerset Four Dimension five times (2005, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015).

During this seventeen year period the Club has also been dominant in the local Clevedon and District Leagues (which as a result of sponsorship have also been variously called the Golding League, the Deverill League, the Deverill Black League, Co-op Funeral Care Leagueand most recently the Brittania Windows League). For full details of these successes, including dates, the reader is referred to the Club Honours Boards in the Pavilion, but in summary we can report that the evening fours league was won on no less than eleven occasions, the Over-60’s triples league on nine occasions, the Over-60’s triples Knock-out Cup on twelve occasions, and the Charity Cup (fours) twice. The Legion has also been successful on four occasions in the Weston and District Over-60’s triples Cup.

Membership issues

Membership issues have been a cause for some concern since the turn of the century. In the year 2000 the active membership was well over 70, but has slowly declined in the years since. This is not a problem that only the Legion suffers from, but one which seems to be common to all Clubs nowadays. Some limited success had been achieved getting youngsters interested in bowls prior to 2005, but numbers were still dwindling. To try to alleviate this Tony Smith proposed “Open Days” at the Lake Grounds in 2005. The first was held on 8th May, and a second on 31st July the same year. Leaflets were prepared and lodged with developers and estate agents for distribution to people moving into the area, and Portishead Royal British Legion allowed us to further advertise via their stand at the Portishead Flower show of 29th – 30th July.

Later that year Tony proposed a “Teenage Bowling League” and with the help of Roy Withey made contact with various youth groups including the Air Cadet Corps, the Army Training Force, the Explorer Scouts, the local Rugby Club juniors, and two local Youth Clubs. This proposal was supported by the Association and between twenty and thirty youths took part in this league over an eight week period prior to the summer vacation in 2006. Funding was sought to provide suitable bowls equipment for the youngsters, and grants were obtained from both the National Lottery and the local Council. Sufficient funding was received to support the procurement of suitably sized coloured bowls plus coloured strip and wet weather gear for the teams. The league was highly successful and from these efforts not only were a number of youngsters introduced to the pleasures of bowling, but three members of the winning team liked the game so much they continued to play bowls on a regular basis over the summer season.

Following on from this the youngsters who played in the summer league were invited to play in an indoor Teenage Bowling League using the two rinks at the local Leisure Centre. Eight took up the offer and played throughout the winter season. Unfortunately it was not possible to repeat the outdoor league in 2007, but the group who had played indoors came along to play outdoors and four youngsters from the group subsequently joined the RBL. The following indoor season saw the indoor Teenage League membership increase to twelve, and a team was also entered in the evening adult Triples League with six teenagers supported by two experienced bowlers. Links were also forged with Portishead Primary School and twenty four younger children were given experience of bowls during the winter season.

By the year 2008 five of the youngsters had joined RBL as paid up members, and four of these were selected to play for the Somerset County at Under-25 level. By 2009 this had increased to six youngsters of whom five were selected to play for Somerset Under-25’s. Two of these youngsters, Matt Hook and Andy Hoyles, became the youngest ever winners of the Portishead Open Pairs in 2010. These initiatives continued for some time, but had to stop with the closure of the indoor bowls facility at the Leisure Centre. Nevertheless the efforts of Tony, and the bowlers (from both the RBL Club and the Portishead Club) who assisted him with the coaching, deserve to be acknowledged.

Buster’s walk

2009 saw Buster Footman embark on a fundraising walk on behalf of Children’s Hospices at Wraxall and Fremington (near Barnstaple). The plan was to walk from Fremington in north Devon all the way to Wraxall in six days, a distance of over 100 miles. Buster could only walk with some discomfort due firstly to a foot injury incurred some years earlier, and secondly to the effects of a recent course of treatment for bone marrow cancer. Nevertheless he achieved his goal, and some of our other Club members who accompanied him on certain sections of the walk commented that it was quite an effort to keep up with him. A remarkable achievement!

On a somewhat lighter note the Club was honoured with an invitation to play against the Royal Household Bowling Club at Windsor in 2011. This was a return fixture for a match played against the Household the previous year on our green and was played within the grounds of Windsor Castle. The match took place on the hottest day of the year and was a great success. We even saw the Queen drive past the green towards the kennels, which we were told she does regularly to visit her dogs. The match also took place a day or so after the England cricket team had been well beaten by Sri Lanka in a one day international at Bristol. The man who had done most of the damage was the Sri Lankan bowler Lasith Malinga. Just by coincidence we pulled into Reading services for a comfort break on the way up to Windsor and found ourselves parked next to the coach carrying the Sri Lankan team back to London. Colin Saunders sought out Malinga and asked him, very politely, to please go a bit easier on our batsmen next time!

Also in 2011, on Alan Spencer’s Captain’s Tour to Paignton, one match coincided with the day of the Royal Wedding, and the Captain challenged all tour party members to honour the day by dressing appropriately for a Royal event. The touring party responded magnificently, turning up to breakfast in the hotel in all varieties of red white and blue, but we can only guess what the other residents thought when Dave Groves turned up dressed only in Union Jack boxer shorts, a Union Jack pinny and a red and white hat.

Individual successes

Returning to performance on the green, there have also been significant individual successes during this period, and at County level three of our members have been honoured to represent Somerset in the Middleton Cup (Terry Barnes – 2002, Neil Yeoman – 2003, and Steve Secker – 2014 and 2016).

In the County Championships Terry Barnes was runner-up the SCBA Champion of Champions Singles in 2001, and Alan Biss was runner-up in 2002. The following year (2003) Terry went one better and won the competition. In the County section of the National Championships Terry Barnes won the singles in 2005; Colin Saunders, Brian Holloway, Roger Yeoman and Dave Yeates won the fours in 2005; and Keith Martin and Dave Yeates won the pairs in 2008. Neil Yeoman won the County Under-25 Singles in 2004, and in the County Mixed Pairs Championship, Debroy Gregory was successful in 2006 with his wife Pat (RBL Ladies), and in 2011 Terry Barnes was successful with Marilyn Gozna (RBL Ladies).

These successes were reflected in the Somerset County top 100 list, and in 2005 six of our members were in the top 100 list, which was topped by Terry Barnes at number one.

There was also success in mixed pairs at a National level with Terry Barnes and Marilyn Gozna reaching the final in 2006, and in 2014 Marilyn Gozna was a finalist with Ian Chapman.

More successes!

In the City and County of Bristol Championships Debroy Gregory became Singles Champion in 2000 and 2006, and also won the Pairs in 2010 with Ken Lane, and the Triples in 2010 with Ken Lane and Matt Hook.

In the Clevedon Tournament Debroy Gregory won the Singles in 2003, with Neil Yeoman having been runner-up in 2002. Legion bowlers won the Pairs on three occasions (Colin Saunders and Terry Barnes – 2000; Roger and Neil Yeoman – 2002; Steve Secker and Terry Barnes – 2008), and also the Triples three times (Keith Humphris, Jeff Bridle and Ray Stone – 2000; Colin Saunders, Dave Yeates and Terry Barnes – 2005; John Nichols, Dave Yeates and Terry Barnes – 2007).

Terry Barnes won the City of Bath Open Singles in both 2002 and 2004, and Debroy and Pat Gregory won the Weston Open Tournament Mixed Pairs in both 2004 and 2006.

There was also success in the RBL Tournaments in 2002 with Noel Davies winning the Somerset RBL Singles and David Haigh and Arnie Strong winning the Somerset RBL Pairs. That same year David Haigh, Tom Evans, Arnie Strong and Noel Davies went on to win the South West RBL Fours.

In the Portishead Open Pairs Legion bowlers won the trophy on eight occasions: Paul Davies and J Scrivin (Bristol) – 2001; Brian Holloway and Debroy Gregory – 2002; Paul Davies and Neil Yeoman – 2004; Colin Nutt and Dave Yeates – 2005; Jeff and Linda Bridle (RBL Ladies)- 2008; Matt Hook and Andy Hoyles – 2010; Debroy Gregory and Ian Blatchford (Nailsea) – 2012; Jeff and Linda Bridle (RBL Ladies) – 2013; Paul Davies and Steve Woodley (Portishead) – 2015.

Finally, Legion bowlers also had success in the Clevedon and District Over-60’s Knock-out Triples, winning on six occasions: Roy Lee, Ken Lane and Ken Excell – 2001; Tim Birth, Norman Castleton and Dave Groves – 2009; Ian Gough, Jeff Bridle and Norman Rogers – 2010 and 2011; Roy Withey, Paul Davies and Alan Spencer – 2012 and 2013.

One final honour which must be mentioned is Lionel Slatter being appointed County Men’s President for 2016. This coincided with Marilyn Gozna of the Legion Ladies being appointed County Ladies’  President, and during the year the Clubs hosted several commemorative matches to celebrate the appointments.

Final thoughts

Your author wishes to thank all those who have helped in the preparation of this booklet through the sharing of their memories. Many have contributed – too many to detail – but it is perhaps appropriate to give special thanks to that fine band of gentlemen who meet every Friday lunchtime in “Crackers Corner” and without whom an understanding of what happened in the early days of the Club would have been much more difficult. The 21st Anniversary booklet produced by Tom Evans has been an invaluable source of information, and David Haigh has been so helpful at filling in the gaps and adding extra snippets. Thanks are due to them all.

Your author also wishes to acknowledge that in such a brief history of the Club it may well be that there are significant omissions as regards the contributions or achievements of individual members. There may of course also be errors, although every effort has been made to try to ensure the accuracy of what is reported. It is hoped that any such omissions or errors will not cause offence but simply put down to your author’s ignorance or incompetence.

Finally, your author would like to comment that the preparation of this booklet has been a most rewarding experience as the research of, in particular, the early years of the Club’s existence, has revealed such a level of effort and passion on the part of Club officers and members that it becomes much easier to appreciate how and why the Club developed the strengths, both on and off the green, that it still retains today.

Alan Spencer 2016