THE FIRST THIRTYNINE YEARS
It all started back in 1969, when a handful of villagers met in the Gislingham Six Bells to discuss the possibilities of forming a Bowls club. Among those present were Dick Mumford & William “Fella” Banham, both of whom played a major part in the development of the club in later years.
At that meeting it was decided to accept the offer of the then Landlord to consider using the piece of land at the north side of the Bells that is now occupied by two bungalows and it wasn’t long before work was started to clear the area. One of those helping to prepare the land was a young Terry Lummis, who is still a member, and in fact is our longest serving member. The club was to be called The Gislingham Bowls Club. However, work was soon brought to a halt as attempts to obtain some security of tenure failed and it was considered far too risky to proceed any further.
It was then that the offer came to set the Club up at Oak Farm in Gislingham. Fortunately, the grounds already comprised a bowls green, but did need rather a lot of attention, and over the next three years a good membership was formed. A great deal of work was carried out over that period, including extensive screeding, and although they were only friendly games, we did have many matches.
Sadly, in June 1973, as a result of an unfortunate misunderstanding, The Gislingham Bowls Club was given notice to quit. It was very soon after that when, through Terry Lummis’s contact with the then Sir John Henniker, the piece of land opposite Red House Farm was offered as our final resting place, (hopefully).
This time it really did look a daunting task, basically a woodland with an old hut stuck in the middle, with big oak trees, willows, ashes by the handful and a long copper beech that was obviously in the way. It was Pete Hawes and his machinery together with a few helpers that did most of the clearing; then during the weekdays when others were at work, Dick Mumford and I (Alan Roberts) pulled out most of the smaller trees, with the aid of Pete Hawes’s JCB of course (trusting chap), and Terry plus a couple of others had to clear away undergrowth and saplings to create a driveway from the road to the site. We did have one nasty incident, poor old Charlie Draper was moving the hut, precariously balanced on the forks of the JCB, when a ridge tile slid off the corner of the roof straight into his head, then it was a high speed dash to Ipswich hospital. Fortunately, the damage wasn’t as bad as it first appeared, Charlies skin was as thick as a Rhino’s, bless him.
The next stage was where Fella took over, complete with theodolite, his band of workers, and of course a giant size rolled fag glowing like a blow lamp with every puff. The ground had to be roughly levelled by dragging soil from one end to the other, rotivated, levelled again, de-stoned, trodden down (no roller), raked, screeded and so on until it was ready for sowing. .
It’s now July1974, a year after eviction from our previous home, a new Club has been formed at Oak Farm calling themselves the Gislingham BC. After counting to 10 and to avoid any confusion, we decided to change our name to Gislingham & Thornham Bowls Club. We also now have a 3 year lease until April 1977 and Sir John has accepted our request to become President of the Club. Time to make things a little more official, and what could be better than to have Stanley Henniker, a cousin of Sir John and former Australian Bowls international, to ceremonially turn the first sod. This coincided favourably with one of his visits to England and it was a great occasion to have our President Sir John Henniker, key originators of the club Chairman Dick Mumford, Secretary Reg Tucker, Club Captain Norman Ridge, and League officials all together .
April 1975 and another big asset voted into the club, Laurie Crick. We also have grass that was sown earlier by our professional adviser Mr Huddleston and plans are put forward for the tasks ahead, cutting the green, screeding, making entrance via car park, wire netting to keep rabbits out, attention to overhanging trees, piping and bridging a ditch, digging the Green ditches and building banks, and of course there’s the foundation for a Clubhouse. With the aid of the late Mr Michael Moore, an old Seco hut was purchased and erected within a couple of months.
July 1975, we now have a Clubhouse, not too grand yet, a Green, rather thin on top, and a growing membership, its time for a bit of class. We officially opened the Green with Vera Peck from Eye Bowls Club, then England Ladies Champion, to bowl the first wood, and Stanley Henniker on his return visit to show us how it’s done. The Clubhouse was just a shell, no toilets, only a French type loo of old tin sheet construction tucked behind a bush at the road end of the Green. Up until now any games we played were friendlies, all played away, and was to stay that way for the next year.
But there was still plenty to do. Terry knocked up our first set of score boards and with some assistance arranged some form of toilets, and Pete looked after the car park. Dick, Laurie and Fella took care of the Green, including digging the ditches, again with help of course, I installed the electrics from a pile of old cable and switches and built the bar with old crates and boxes. I have only mentioned a few names, but there were many more when called on.
May 1976, we are all set to go, with a playable Green, 18 months after sowing, still a shell for a Clubhouse but with a bar and some form of toilets, Elsan inside for the ladies and tin Continental loo outside for the men. It was also quite an achievement to have our affiliation to the S.C.B.A. accepted in the first season together with being accepted into the Stowmarket League. For the next 7 or 8 seasons we were commonly known as the “friendly club”, the visitors always got good food after the match and could always go home happy with a few “points” under their belts.
The next 3 years consisted mainly of negotiating a new lease and trying very hard to obtain any form of grant that would help us to improve on our facilities, but although Sir John gave us a 30 year lease in 1979, a grant was never to come. That of course meant that any future work had to be financed with loans, donations and fund raising. As for bowls, that was of secondary concern, we certainly didn’t win many games that’s for sure. We also had a complaint from the S.C.B.A. about our dress code. We weren’t terribly smart, jeans, trainers different coloured sweaters and open necked shirts, and they were different colours. There was a memorable game with the Stowmarket Rookery at the time, when we all walked onto the Green there was a comment from a Rookery member, “this looks more like a Tramps Ball than a bowls match”.
The following 5 years was a period of trying to keep thing together. It was a continual fight against the moles and rabbits, trees were sapping the life out of the green, many efforts to patch a leaking roof in the Clubroom, inadequate toilets and in 1984 it became necessary to change our name to the Thornham Magna Bowls Club. However, by 1986 the Club had grown in stature, we had a fine membership, including many talented young players, the Clubhouse had been transformed into something to be proud of with flush toilets, new furniture, panelled walls, carpet, etc, and we had our tails up and started winning, finding our way into Division 1 of the Stowmarket League, where, barring one hiccup in 1996, we have stayed until the present time. All this down to the enthusiasm and hard work of the members, and the vision of our long serving Chairman Dick Mumford, who sadly died in this year of 1986.
For the next 14 years, up to the end of the end of the Century, things just went from good to even better, with many successes on the Green. Div 1 winners on many occasion, Afternoon League winners, County Senior Cup runners-up twice, winners of most tournaments including the Stow KO Cup, Bullen Cup, Presidents Cup, Victor LeDorum Cup twice, Rookery Tournament, many members selected for the Stow Inter-league team, Area Marie Denny team and the County teams. The icing on the cake was Simon Shepherd, David Canfer and Philip Cutting as 1989 County 3 Wood Champions, and Laurie Crick, Dick & Simon Shepherd as 1993 National 2 Wood Champions.
Year 2002, our lease is fast running out, and with many projects in the pipe-line there is little incentive to venture further until we know our destiny. This has meant going back to the negotiating table with the result that Lord and Lady Henniker have promised an extended lease, which is why we have just spent a great deal of money on drainage. However, there are conditions, which entail re-siting our car park and entrance which will cost us dearly. Hopefully this time we may succeed in getting a grant, depending on the length of our new lease.
2008, 6 years on , and in that time we have had a few happy moments and a few sad one’s with one sad occasion in particular being when our President Lord Henniker passed away. We owe a great deal to Lord Henniker, He gave us that chance to develop into a fine club with a family atmosphere and I hope we have done him proud. As for our happier moments, there have been many, with all our Drives and social functions, and in the last two seasons having the 2 Wood Men’s County Champion Ivan Doe and the 4 Wood Ladies County Champion Angela Bailey. Finally, we have a new President, Lady Julia Henniker.
Over the years we have lost many good members, but we have also gained many good members, and the Club is still strong in many respects. That doesn’t mean to say we are a closed shop, so do give us a look, beginners or otherwise.
If there is anybody wishing to know more about us, please contact:-
A Roberts 01379783244 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or D Miller 01379783430