History of Lawn Bowls in Beecroft
The first bowling green in the Beecroft area was a private green built by Frederick Mason, a successful retired builder and contractor. Mason’s enthusiasm for lawn bowls was sparked during a visit to England, where his brother, who was a keen bowler, had a bowling green on his own property. On his return to Beecroft, Mason laid down a 90 feet by 60 feet green alongside his home in Hull Street, built a pavilion and invited his friends, and in due course any local residents who were interested, to join him in a game. Bowls, and afternoon tea, were provided!
However, the credit for the birth of the Beecroft Bowling Club goes to John Wallace:
‘Mr Wallace was a member of Randwick Bowling Club, and for many years was treasurer of the New South Wales Bowling Association. About 1908 he built himself a fine residence in Copeland Street, but continued to be an active member of Randwick [Bowling Club). He soon began probing around to discover whether the time had arrived when Beecroft would be likely to successfully maintain a Bowling Club. ‘ (Laurie p5)
A number of other early Beecroft residents were also active bowlers affiliated with various clubs in the metropolitan area, and discussion of a bowling club was often raised at card evenings and social gatherings in the area. Mr Wallace’s enquiries led to Mr Melbourne Green calling a meeting of residents, circulating leaflets in the area:
A meeting will be held in the School of Arts, Beecroft, on 10th March, at 8 p.m., for the purpose of considering the formation of a Bowling Club for Beecroft and district.
The Provisional Committee will be glad of a good attendance of those interested, when the following questions will be brought forward for discussion:
- Sites available.
- Finances – Ways and Means.
- Combining a Croquet Lawn with the Bowling Green.
for the Provisional Committee.
Beecroft, 3rd March, 1913 (Laurie p6)
At that meeting, chaired by John Wallace, the following motion was moved by Harry Little: ‘That it is desirable to form a Bowling and Recreation Club in Beecroft. ‘
The motion was carried, and a committee formed to investigate the availability of sites for a bowling green. Members of the site committee were Messrs W D Schrader, H J Little, F Mason, T Stobo and J Laurie.
The site committee found that very little suitable land was available which had the features considered desirable for a bowling green:
- convenience to the station
- reasonably level
- a pleasant outlook opportunities for expansion
and quickly narrowed the choice to two properties.
The present club site, owned by Mr H O Holcombe, was chosen primarily for its location.
Events moved quickly. By the middle of April the founding fathers had formed a club, chosen a site and agreed to form a company, Beecroft Bowling and Recreation Club Limited, with a capital of 1,500 pounds, to acquire the chosen site. A number of the committee members agreed to be directors of the company to purchase the site, and the name of the purchasing company was changed to Beecroft Recreations Limited to distinguish it from the bowling club. The names of the first office-bearers of the bowling club and the first directors of Beecroft Recreations Limited are given in Appendix 1; Appendix 2 lists the club presidents from 1913.
By June applications for shares were sufficient to allow the company to be registered. It was then agreed that the company would grant a perpetual lease to the Bowling Club, with an option to purchase the land and improvements at cost. Further, aspiring Bowling Club members would take up a share in the company in lieu of a joining fee.
An article on the club in a local paper in 1950 comments: <When formed in 1913, Beecroft was the first operating Bowling Club on the northern line between Strathfield and Newcastle’ . (Prince p 7)
In May 1913 a Croquet Club had also been formed with Mrs Herring as President. The croquet club was invited to become associated with the Bowling Club and agreed to the association. Thus, when tenders for ground works were called, the requirements were to lay a bowling green and a croquet lawn and to build a pavilion. Work commenced in August 1913. The slope of the land required much work in excavation and filling to form a sound, well-drained base, yet turfing and top dressing was completed by April 1914. By the end of May 1914 members could enjoy their first roll up on their new green.
The official opening ceremony was held on 29 June 1914; club membership at the time stood at 51. As was to happen so often in the history of these two clubs, the ladies of the Croquet Club volunteered to provide afternoon tea. The President of the NSW Bowling Association attended with an Association team to play the Club President’s team. By mid 1914 the new club had become one of the first 25 metropolitan clubs to be affiliated with the NSW Bowling Association and played its first Association fixture in November of that year.
By the end of 1915 the bowling club was in a strong enough position to absorb the land-holding company, Beecroft Recreations Limited. At the same time the club took control of an additional parcel of land on the eastern side of the club, which had been bought in the previous year by a syndicate of club members. With the advent of motor cars in later years, this land on the eastern side of the green was to become a handy parking area.
The popularity of bowling continued to grow in the community. By January 1919, pennants (inter-club competition) activity had so reduced rink time for social bowlers that a recommendation was put to the board to look for more playing space; the land on the eastern side of the green was considered impracticable for further rinks. A large property fronting Mary Street and reaching to the club’s rear boundary seemed the ideal extension. In 1920 the property was bought. A subdivision of the property gave the club an access lane to Mary Street and a sizeable extension to its rear boundary, and created two home sites fronting Mary Street, one of them with a tenanted cottage; the plan was to sell the two home sites to help defray the cost of the total parcel. Mr Robert Vicars, long a staunch supporter of the club, bought the two cottage sites from the club for an amount equal to the full cost to the club of the total property. In 1943, Mr Vicars was to gift the cottage fronting Mary St to the club.
Thanks to this generous gesture, the land thus retained by the club in 1920, at no cost to the club, was sufficient to allow the croquet lawn to be extended to the south and a second six-rink green to be created on the new ground. A gala opening day on 2 July 1927 was attended by the President of the Bowling Association, whose wife threw the first jack.
During World War II the full-time greenkeeper was called up for military service. The greens were kept up with casual and voluntary help, and by war’s end had deteriorated somewhat. In 1946, negotiations with the tenant of the Mary St cottage allowed the club to lease the cottage to the first permanent greenkeeper the club had been able to employ since the war.
The croquet club had started to find itself in difficulties in 1940 and eventually closed down in 1942. At the time, a promise was made that the lawn would be maintained for the ladies’ use should they need it. When a subsequent plan to resuscitate the croquet Club came to naught, the croquet lawn surface was improved to allow bowls to be played. This lower green, currently the number 2 green, was opened with a Ladies Bowling Club carnival in December 1946. The green was extended to full size in 1956.
The club site was further extended in 1962 with the purchase of two adjoining blocks on Copeland Rd. The terms of purchase were advantageous to the club: the vendor, Mr Don Ayers, granted a ten year interest free loan provided he be allowed to continue to conduct a nursery on the land during that time.
In 1964 the Department of Education sought to resume part of the Mary Street frontage to extend the school playground. A complicated transaction was completed in 1969: the Department resumed one Mary Street cottage and left the club with the lower cottage, 8 Mary Street, and the access lane to Mary Street. Legal transfers were not completed until 1970.
In the late 1980s the Government proposed changes to the laws affecting the administration of clubs in New South Wales. To examine the effect of these changes, a sub-committee was created, chaired by Mr C H White, club patron; the committee included representatives of both the men’s and women’s bowling clubs. That committee agreed on memorandum and articles of association that would meet the new stricter requirements for registered clubs, and also settled the constitutions for each of the men’s and women’s bowling clubs.
The legal entity we now know as Beecroft Bowling and Recreation Club Limited was incorporated in 1987. This name encompasses the registered club, a men’s bowling arm registered with the Royal NSW Bowling Association – Beecroft Bowling Club – and a women’s bowling arm affiliated with the NSW Women’s Bowling Association – Beecroft Women’s Bowling Club. Each bowling arm has representatives on the registered club board and is responsible for their bowling activities. The names of the inaugural board members are given in Appendix 3; Appendix 4 lists the chairmen of the board.
September 1987 saw the annual meetings of the registered club and bowling club held on the same night for the first time. Membership stood at 343: 163 male bowling members, 104 female bowling members, and 74 social members.
Falling revenues and increasing costs led to the sale of part of the land on the western boundary in 1987. Not long thereafter, plans to extend the clubhouse, followed by a fire, forced the board to consider the sale of the Mary Street cottage to provide funds for new carpets and furnishings.
From the mid-nineties, in common with many bowling clubs in the metropolitan area, the club has experienced continuing increases in costs that could not always be met by increasing fees. A more or less static membership provides local evidence of a widespread change in the amount and type of leisure activity being pursued.
Several avenues were explored during this period, but a solution was found ‘in our own backyard’. Increasing enrolments at the neighbouring Beecroft Primary School were creating a shortage of quality recreation space for the pupils. Negotiations were entered into by the Education Department for the purchase of the club’s third green, the area closest to Mary Street and bounded on two sides by school ground. The transfer was approved by both the Minister for Education and the club membership and settled in May 2003.
Lawn Bowls Ambassadors
Assistance to Other Clubs
From the earliest days, Beecroft Bowling Club was always willing to help further the game of bowls.
In 1913 it had been hoped that bowlers could be attracted from the neighbouring area of Cheltenham, and in fact bowlers from Cheltenham had been present at the initial meeting in March. However, very shortly thereafter, Mr W H Harris made land available for recreation purposes close to Cheltenham railway station and the idea of a bowling club at Cheltenham was born. Once the Beecroft green was in fit state for practice, the club issued an invitation to Cheltenham bowlers to practise at Beecroft until their green was ready.
In 1919 a movement was made to start a bowling club in Epping. Information was readily made available to the fledgling club on both green construction and the formation of a club. Similar assistance was given to assist in the formation of a bowling club in Tenterfield.
Hospitality and assistance was given to World War I veterans from the bowling club at the Lady Davidson Home, as we shall see later.
When the Eastwood Ladies’ Bowling Club sought playing rights they were made very welcome; the ladies in turn invited the Beecroft committee to their official opening in October 1936. Members of this ladies’ club became the foundation members of the Beecroft Ladies’ Bowling Club, the name adopted in 1938. The name was later changed to Beecroft Women’s Bowling Club.
The club broke new ground in 1918 by travelling to Bowral, Moss Vale and Goulburn bowling clubs. This visit led to a long-term relationship with the Bowral club – a cup donated by a Bowral member, ‘The Bowral Cup’, was played for for many years. Over the years, the club also traveled to a number of South Coast clubs including Nowra and Berry, hosted visits from Orange and Lithgow, and traveled to Orange, Bathurst and Wentworth Falls. It is a sign of those times that in 1947 a visit to Camden was written up as a visit to a ‘country club’.
Until 1930, thanks to members’ affiliation with other clubs, interclub matches were common. Some matches, eg at Randwick, Waverley and Manly, necessitated long travel, usually by train, although, earlier, members with sulkies, such as Tom Stobo and Jim Sydenham, were usually keen to help. As more members acquired motor cars, car pooling came into use – the suggested donation for such travel was 2/- per bowler. Over time, it became increasingly difficult to assemble teams willing to journey so far and in 1930 the club passed a resolution prescribing a radius within which interclub fixtures would thenceforth be played. It was considered that as there were now clubs closer to home, such as Epping, Eastwood and Cheltenham, and later Hornsby and Concord, there was no longer the need to travel further for games. Thus it was that in 1937, Beecroft joined with other clubs to raise at Association meetings the question of district bowls to provide pennant competition without excessive travel.
Night bowls were introduced in 1929 on number 1 green. The first season proved to be a great attraction not only to bowlers but also to local residents. Many successful years followed; night tournaments were attended by many players from other clubs, and Bowling Association night carnivals were held. Night play was suspended for some years during the war owing to labour and other difficulties, but although the lighting equipment was overhauled in 1946 and neighbouring clubs were invited to come and play, interest was waning. One of the last mentions of this aspect of bowling relates to New Years Eve 1949 when members, with their wives or lady friends, and members of the Ladies Bowling Club were invited to play night bowls, play to cease at 10.30 pm.
Sunday bowls were introduced in Beecroft in 1939. Care was taken not to disturb the peace of neighbouring residents. The following points from the special rules drawn up for Sunday play will be of interest:
- play is confined to the lower green
- hours of play are between 2.00 pm and 5.30 pm the club house is to be vacated by 6.00 pm definitely no card games allowed
- no competitions nor matches to be played members may invite one friend
- there will be no greenkeeper or club service.
Sunday bowls continued in this subdued fonn for many years. Its popularity was enhanced with the introduction of mixed bowling, as can be seen in the following section. An attempt made in 2000 to revive Sunday bowls as a more purely social community pastime met with little success.
The introduction of mixed bowls in 1954 again put the club in the forefront of innovation. Beecroft was in fact one of the first metropolitan clubs to introduce mixed social bowls. In February of that year it was agreed that mixed bowls be played on the first Sunday of each month. By popular demand this was soon extended to the first and third Sundays; visitors were not only welcomed but were keen to come. So popular was mixed bowls that the Sydney Press reported:
‘On 26th June, 1955, two greens at Beecroft were filled with white clad husbands and wives for the start of the first round of what is probably the first competition of its kind ever to be held in Sydney, and possibly in New South Wales. ‘ (Prince p 10)
After many years, mixed Sunday bowls on alternate Sunday afternoons lapsed in 1994-95
To make maximum use of the greens and available daylight, Friday afternoon twilight bowls were introduced during summer daylight saving hours in 1971/72. This practice developed into very much a family and social gathering; games were followed by dinner, prepared on a roster basis by volunteers among the players, to which non-playing partners and members were also welcome. So popular was this innovation that it was continued on Fridays even after the end of daylight saving, the starting time moving forward by one hour. In time, as the age of participating members started to take its toll, numbers dwindled. From 2005, Friday bowls, in its original format of mixed bowls followed by dinner, is still continued on every second Friday. On alternate weeks, on the Thursday afternoon, ‘jackpot pairs’ is played – still mixed, ‘blind draw’, and followed by dinner for players, partners and interested members.
Early photographs show bowlers immaculately dressed: white trousers, tie, hat, often a waistcoat, and, for group or team photographs, almost invariably a coat or blazer as well. As late as 1954 the Management Committee decreed that, among other things, members had to wear the club tie on the green and that new members and members joining from other clubs had to obtain the official club blazer as soon as possible.
In 1977 a motion was carried by the Management Committee whereby the Beecroft Bowling Club allowed the wearing of shorts and long socks as an alternative to long trousers at club games ‘other than Association fixtures, Inter district or Inter club matches, played on days other than Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays, in which only individuals and/or teams participated.’
This was taken a step further in 1979 when a motion was carried to initiate or support a move to change the constitution of the Royal NSW Bowling Association to allow tailored shorts with white/cream long socks as an alternative to white/cream long trousers at all times and to allow plain coloured shorts and long socks or plain coloured trousers on less formal occasions. The Beecroft delegate to the RNSWBA, Les Snape, had on a number of occasions raised this matter at Association meetings. Finally, in October 1980, Les’s motion was approved at an Association meeting and shorts with long socks were permitted to be worn by bowlers in NSW.
Each sport has its ‘blue ribbon’ event. For lawn bowls it is the Club Championship – the annual tournament to decide the singles champion of the club. Beecroft’s first club championship competition was held in early 1915 and was won by R T B Andrews. In true club spirit he asked that, rather than present him with a gold medal, the club should establish an Honour Board showing the names of club champions and runners-up. This was done – the names of club champions from that inaugural championship to 2005-06 are listed in Appendix 5.
Additional playing history is displayed on the walls of the clubhouse, with honour boards also showing the names of club champions and runners-up in pairs, triples and fours.
The Club and the Community
The history of the club would not be complete without paying tribute to the community spirit and interest that gave the club birth and nourished it in its early years. The club was not just a bowling green and croquet lawn, it was the centre of an enthusiastic, social, independent community, a community that through its involvement and hospitality was able to attract visiting artists from the entertainment world and visiting bowlers and croquet players from far and wide. This same attitude has allowed its members to travel far and wide, to be accepted to play bowls and to make new friends.
Club House and Social Life
The first club house was ‘a modest pavilion, with a 10-foot wide verandah, servery, lockers and necessary conveniences’, built at the time the bowling green and croquet lawn were constructed. By the end of 1914, with expansion of the social activities of the bowling club, the club house was opened on Tuesday and Saturday evenings for cards. At about that time the club’s first poker machine was bought – but ‘after some years it became known that the law of the land frowned upon the use of such machines and Beecroft decided to close down upon this method of raising the wind.’ (Laurie p 14)
Over the years, clubhouse alterations and improvements continued to be made, the better to accommodate the growing membership and the needs of the community. Architects were again appointed in 1960 and plans for a new clubhouse were drawn up. Prudence required that building be put on hold until 1963 when a contract was let and the building of a new clubhouse was started. The new clubhouse was officially opened by the President of the Royal NSW Bowling Association on 28 March 1964 with the Epping Pipe Band providing suitable music. The official opening was followed by a four day bowls carnival encompassing men’s fours, mixed fours and men’s pairs, with a Women’s Bowling Club official ceremony and bowls on the fourth day. Social life picked up again in the new clubhouse with dinner dances being particularly popular.
The ageing of members, increase in urban mobility and the changing of community tastes in entertainment have seen gradual changes in the use of the club as a community social centre. The following paragraphs highlight some items of social interest and community involvement from earlier times to the present.
To secure continuing funds for the club, further activities were explored and in 1915 a piano was purchased. This allowed a wider range of entertainment to be provided and a number of local residents used their influence to attract well-known artists to visit and perform. The mix of local enthusiasm and visiting talent ensured many happy evenings. Entertainments continued to be held on the club verandah, protected in inclement weather by calico sheeting provided by club members. By 1943 the city and its range of entertainments had grown and travel had been made easier by improvements in public transport and increase of private transport. The community had gradually lost its earlier self-contained character and local entertainments were no longer so necessary; the piano became a largely silent instrument and so it was sold.
However, times change – a piano was later acquired once more, and even in the ‘noughties’ it is being used at members’ functions as accompaniment for sing-alongs and light entertainments.
The first formally named social committee was organised in 1923. Three men were elected, and, in recognition of their long-time interest and valuable support, three ladies from the Croquet Club were invited to join the committee in an official capacity. From the earliest days of the club, the members of the ladies’ croquet club had been at their husbands’ sides. Comment was often made of how pleasant it was to see husbands and wives enjoying their sport in such close proximity. It was the croquet club ladies who prepared afternoon teas and suppers for special occasions and often organised club fetes and carnivals to help bolster club funds.
The current social committee of the board of the registered club still has its mixed membership of male and female bowlers.
In the early days of the club, many members had joined on the understanding that no attempt be made to obtain a licence for the sale of liquor. Interestingly enough, there had been no restraint placed on members having liquor in their lockers, nor had there been any record of this privilege having been abused in the clubhouse or on the green. By the early thirties the Bowling Association, being aware that clubs with a liquor licence were better equipped financially to keep their greens in good condition, commenced moves to have the then Liquor Act amended. However, when in 1946 the government proposed the issue of licences to bona fide clubs, the club at a special general meeting voted against applying for a licence. By 1948, however, a further special general meeting approved the making of an application, and a liquor licence was eventually applied for and granted in April 1955.
Visitors have always been welcome. Visiting bowlers from city, country, interstate and overseas have been hospitably received. The club has invited executives of the NSW Bowling Association to openings, functions, tournaments and celebrations and entertained them in fine style.
With the assistance of the croquet club and Cheltenham club, Beecroft entertained a visiting team of New Zealand bowlers and their wives in 1920 – it must be the only time a haka has been performed on the green at Beecroft.
However, the event of greatest interest and honour to the club and the community occurred on 24 April 1937 – a visit by the Governor-General, Lord Gowrie. ‘In spite of the day being wet and stormy, His Excellency duly arrived and was welcomed by the President. … he reviewed and chatted with several ex-servicemen members ‘(Laurie p 57).
Current Community Activities
As has been mentioned, the club was long a focal gathering point for the local community. Dances, concerts and fetes filled the earlier club houses with life and laughter. As has also been mentioned, however, the focus for leisure and entertainment for local residents widened as transport facilities improved.
But the club premises still fulfill their earlier role as a community gathering point although these days for more specifically focused groups. The club is home for a number of Probus groups, several card groups, exercise classes, dance groups and a very active horticultural society. Regular junior chess classes take place, the school has held music rehearsals in the auditorium and the school and the club have enjoyed combined Christmas functions entertained by the school choir and band.
To emphasise the community spirit of the club, the name ‘The Beecroft Club’ was registered in 2005. At that time the club had 309 members: 104 male bowling members, 55 female bowling members, and 150 social members.
Concern over wars played its part in dampening spirits and reducing Bowling Association activities but did not lessen the involvement of the club, its community and its volunteers where work or help was needed.
During the 1914-18 war the Bowling Association recommended that clubs organise Soldiers’ Comfort Funds; Beecroft responded by helping the Association buy and dispatch ‘Tommy Cookers’, used in the field to supply the troops with hot drinks and soups. Functions were also held in the clubhouse with the combined support of the croquet ladies and the bowlers to support the local Red Cross branch in their war efforts.
In 1918 the club heard that a Returned Soldiers’ Bowling Club had been formed at the Lady Davidson Home, and an invitation was extended to that club to send a team to Beecroft; the ladies once again helped the men entertain the visitors. When it was later heard that the Lady Davidson Home had decided to build their own green for the entertainment of its inmates, Beecroft assisted in raising funds for that purpose.
The 1939-45 war struck home somewhat harder in many respects.
As before, the club was keen to help the war effort. An interesting war-time task brought members to the club house in large numbers – making camouflage nets. Many members put their cars at the disposal of the club to collect clothing from around the district to send to British bomb victims, and the Ladies Bowling Club took an active interest in assisting convalescent soldiers, this time from the 113th General Hospital.
In response to a Bowling Association suggestion that all clubs encourage the sale of War Savings Certificates, the club decided that all club trophies take the form of War Savings Certificates. Imagine the surprise when the Amateur Athletic Association subsequently ruled that that practice would give winners professional status!
Other war -time observations worth mentioning:
- the greenkeeper was called up for military service, leaving care of the greens in the hands of volunteers and casual labour
- the house manager had difficulty keeping up supplies of tobacco and cigarettes and some drinks
- official Bowling Association fixtures were cancelled at the end of 1941 for two years
- as an austerity measure, the club annual report was not printed and circulated, just the one copy being posted on the club noticeboard for members to read
- supplies for afternoon teas and suppers dwindled, until in 1943/44 the Rationing Commission finally declined to supply the club with coupons for tea, sugar and butter.
And over all these years the bulk of the work, administrative, social and even physical, has been carried out by local volunteers. The work of the few paid greenkeepers, bar staff and, at times, catering staff has always been made easier by the amount of work that club members have put in:
- the ladies of the croquet and bowling clubs have from the very beginning voluntarily provided teas and suppers and organised galas and fetes to raise funds for the club when needed
- the men have taken on many physical jobs, from ground works on and around the greens, including actual greenkeeping tasks during wartime labour shortages and water restrictions, to regular maintenance groups keeping up the appearance of and repairs to club building and surrounds.
Mention must be made here of the debt owed in relation to this history to two volunteers in particular: John Laurie and Bert Prince. The record of club activities owes its existence to the compilation work of these two members:
Bowls in Beecroft – being the Official History of Beecroft Bowling Club from 1913 to 1946; Compiled by John Laurie, 1947.
Bowls in Beecroft Part 2 – being the official history of Beecroft Bowling Club from 1947 to 1993;
Compiled by Bert Prince, 1993.