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The Green on the Hill
Chapter Four

The Bowlers

The Hallam Grange Directors were clear from the start about what should be the main objectives of the bowls club. It was first and foremost to serve the local community by providing a not too strenuous sporting activity which would provide plenty of pleasure, interest and companionship for people of all ages. Not surprisingly, the bowling section retained its strong links with the tennis section and several bowlers were either past or current tennis players. It was not long before matches between the two sections were being played with what was described as great “tenacity and verve”. Such was the enthusiasm for the match among players from both sections that at one time there were seven jacks on the green in order to get the games played to the finish I Although membership was predominantly middle aged or older, young people were encouraged to join and there was initially a strong family flavour to the bowls section with the Gee, Oxley and Saunders families particularly prominent. Joy Gee, a talented bowler who had won the McCalman Cup two years running, remembers well the air of informality and jollity of those early days which set the pattern for future years. As was common for most crown green clubs, there was no strict dress code, but we can be rest assured that Hallam green bowlers knew, as now, the boundaries, and would not have dressed in such a way that might upset the concentration of their opponents or perhaps even their partners.

The Hallam Grange Directors were clear from the start about what should be the main objectives of the bowls club. It was first and foremost to serve the local community by providing a not too strenuous sporting activity which would provide plenty of pleasure, interest and companionship for people of all ages. Not surprisingly, the bowling section retained its strong links with the tennis section and several bowlers were either past or current tennis players. It was not long before matches between the two sections were being played with what was described as great “tenacity and verve”. Such was the enthusiasm for the match among players from both sections that at one time there were seven jacks on the green in order to get the games played to the finish I Although membership was predominantly middle aged or older, young people were encouraged to join and there was initially a strong family flavour to the bowls section with the Gee, Oxley and Saunders families particularly prominent. Joy Gee, a talented bowler who had won the McCalman Cup two years running, remembers well the air of informality and jollity of those early days which set the pattern for future years. As was common for most crown green clubs, there was no strict dress code, but we can be rest assured that Hallam green bowlers knew, as now, the boundaries, and would not have dressed in such a way that might upset the concentration of their opponents or perhaps even their partners.

The bowling management committee were keen to make no unnecessary differentiation between the sexes. It decided that mixed bowling would be encouraged as much as possible. Although the men and ladies did introduce their own trophy competitions, and separate captains were appointed, open and mixed doubles competitions were encouraged and proved very popular. Captain's Day was a particularly favourite occasion with plenty of fun and games and fiercely competed. When it was suggested at an AGM in the early 1980s that the prestigious Brewin Cup might be restricted to married couples only, it was “hastily turned down.”

The club's practice seems to have been somewhat ahead of its time, for many of the other Sheffield clubs were predominantly male dominated and indeed several remain so. Interestingly, the nearby Fulwood bowling club had rigorously confined its men and women bowlers to separate sections, and the only occasion they played all together was on Sunday afternoons. In the 1970s this was to lead to several of their lady members leaving to join the Hallam Grange Bowling Club. Only when Fulwood later changed its rules, were the ladies prepared to move back down hill to play their bowls.

Given the club's objectives, it was natural that social bowling would take pride of place from the outset and the members responded enthusiastically to what was on offer. Weekend bowling was extremely popular. Woe betides you arriving a little late. Such was the demand to have a game, you could find yourself waiting a long time to play. Away from the green a busy round of social activity was a characteristic of the time, such as quizzes, dinner dances, musical evenings, and the obligatory teas with their delectable cakes and scones. The club's annual visit to the Waterloo Hotel in Black pool to watch the nation's bowling stars in action was a popular attraction. The big social events of the year were the club's annual Dinner and the Christmas and New Year celebrations, all held in the main club Pavilion. They regularly attracted over 100 people, always smartly dressed for the occasion and ready to enjoy the splendid meals, mostly it has to be acknowledged, carefully prepared by the lady members either on site or at home.

Apart from the club's internal bowling tournaments, the management committee lost no time in arranging a programme of friendly home and away matches for both men and women teams. Their opponents were drawn from bowling clubs mainly in the western half of the city and the Hope Valley, such as Fulwood, Abbeydale, Nether Edge, Lodge Moor (the hospital club) Chatsworth, Bradwell, Hathersage and the Midland Bank. The fixture against the Hope Cement Works, where an excellent tea was always provided, became a particularly popular annual event. An interesting feature of these early matches was the use of 5 and 6 feet long canes for measuring the distance of bowls from the jack. If a bowl exceeded that length of the cane, it was discarded. Increasingly, the use of the canes came in for criticism, and in 1983 it was agreed to abolish them all together.

The Men

Although crown green bowling was well established in Sheffield and there were official leagues in place, such as the Sheffield & District Parks League and the Sheffield Works League, little interest in the early days was shown by Hallam club members in competitive league bowling. However, by 1980 attitudes were clearly changing. The men had for some time made a point of selecting its strongest team for friendly matches and they were proving to be very successful, for example winning eight of their matches in the 1980 season. But there was a growing feeling that the team needed tougher competition and that the standard of play was generally “not quite up to top green standard.” Several members were convinced that the remedy lay in joining a competitively run league. Not everyone however shared that opinion, believing that league bowling would pose a real threat to the club's customary commitment to social bowling.

At the 1982 bowling club AGM, matters came to a head when "suggestions" were made that a men's team should apply to enter the Sheffield and Hallamshire Bowling Association League in the coming season. There then took place what must have been quite a heated debate between those who believed that the future of the club depended on more competitive bowling, and those who wished to see it stay true to its traditions. However, when a vote was taken the proposition that the men should enter a league was easily carried with twenty in favour, only four against and with six members abstaining. With the motion carried, Mr Peter Staniland, who had strongly supported the proposal, was appointed to be the first captain of the team and asked to make the necessary arrangements for entry into the League. It proved to be an historic development.

The team played their first game in the "K" division of the League on Tuesday 19" April, 1983, at Hallam Grange. Their opponents were the G.E.C. "B" side. The other teams in the division were - Mather Road "B", E. M. Gas "B", Handsworth "D", Middlewood Park, Hayden Nilos, Stocksbridge Friendship “B”, and A.S.M.E. “B”.

In their first League season, under what was described as Peter Staniland's calm and efficient leadership, the men's team finished in the top half of the division. Although the team had to contend with some greens which they thought left much to be desired, it was agreed that the venture had proved popular and successful, and certainly one worth continuing. In the following season the team did very well, finishing second in the division, and winning thirteen of their sixteen matches. From then onwards league bowling for men became an established part of the club's fixture programme.

Regular competition against some strong bowling clubs, not least the tussles with close rivals Fulwood and the Academicals, undoubtedly brought improvements in the overall playing standard of the male bowlers. Promotion to a higher division proved difficult but was achieved on a few occasions, and several very good bowlers were making their presence felt, notably Andrew Hague, John Turner senior, Brian Marshall and Sydney Parke. In the 1986 season Sydney had the honour of becoming a league merit champion. And there was no keener player at the time than Ron Broadhead who was said to count down the days for the season to start. Ron was employed as a chauffeur at Firth Browns and used to arrive at the club in a spanking new Jaguar car which always impressed members and visitors alike. The club, too, were pleased to welcome its first foreign player- Edward Niesielski - a good Polish bowler whose calm demeanour was only let slip once when he was heard to hollow, "Bloody Good I " when John Turner fired a bowl that shattered their opponents' winning bowls to the four winds!

However, by the turn of the century the club ran into problems. Recruitment of new members was at low ebb and this in particular affected the availability of players for the men's team. In the 2008 season it faced a real crisis point and was unable to turn out a full side. Its captain George Wilmslow had left the club, three of its regular members had passed away, and others were not available through ill-heath. It was decided reluctantly to withdraw the side from their League for the 2009, 2010 and 2011seasons. And more generally, members were reluctant to take on important official posts such as the club Captain and Treasurer. This was a worrying time for the club, and it required determined efforts to rally round and arrest the decline. Recruitment of new members did improve, especially through the efforts of John and Florence Copley. And fortuitously, four able members came forward to take on key positions in the club, who in combination were to do much to restore the club's prospects. First, Chris Whitehead agreed to take on the vacant position of Club Captain. Secondly, Julia Boler and Liz Murray agreed to fill the key vacant posts of Treasurer and Secretary respectively. And in 2012 Trevor Kelly, having worked hard to build up interest and support among the men for a return to league bowling, led a team back into the Sheffield and Hallamshire League once more. Indeed, such was the newly-found enthusiasm for competitive bowling, in the following year there were enough men to form an additional team to play on Wednesday afternoons in the veteran section of Sheffield Parks League.

In recent seasons the men's teams have enjoyed mixed success and so far promotion to higher divisions has eluded them. But the standards of play have shown a steady improvement, culminating in the 2015 season when Martin Westley achieved the distinction of achieving the best average in the men's Wednesday afternoon league.

The Ladies

Turning to the lady bowlers, they have played, and continue to do so, a significant part in the shaping of the club. They did not immediately follow the men's example and join a formal league, and for many years were content to continue playing on a friendly basis with others local clubs. That is not to say that their standard of play or competitive spirit were lacking, and they regularly took their fair share of the club's own trophies. Winifred Horton, as well as being an outstanding peg bowler, was a formidable figure in the early days and the forthright upholder of the women's interest. But around the mid-1990s opinion began to change. Many ladies had progressed to bowling from the tennis section where a flourishing league structure had been long established, and they had enjoyed competing against other clubs. They saw no reason why they should not emulate the men and also join an official Sheffield league. They made their voices heard, and In September 1997 at a club Committee meeting it was agreed that soundings should be taken among the ladies to see if there was enough interest in playing in a league team. The response was undeniable - many were indeed keen to do so.

From then onwards events moved quite fast. A formal application was made to the Sheffield and Works Sport Association for the club to enter a mixed men and women team to play competitive matches, "in a spirit of companionship" on a Friday evening. In 2000 admission was granted for Hallam Grange to enter one team in Division 3 of the Works League. In fact, with nearly 30 men and ladies interested in playing, there would have been enough people to enter two teams but it was decided to keep it just to one for the time being.

The team's first season was an immediate success. All the men and ladies who had made themselves available were given an opportunity to play for at least six matches. The club Captain of the time, Jack Burke, reported to the AGM in 2000 that, “If the same interest and group enthusiasm that was demonstrated by the players during the season could be maintained next year, there is no doubt thot the competitive spirit would permeate throughout the whole club."

Building on the success, in the next season the club was given permission to enter two mixed sides in the Friday League, an "A" team and a "B" team. Both won 14 of their matches. It was now clear that many lady bowlers in the club were eager to play competitively in a league, and felt confident enough to want to select and run their own teams. When Jack Burke, the Friday League Secretary, suggested that there was an opportunity for a ladies only team to compete in the ladies veteran division of the Sheffield Parks League, on a Monday morning, the idea was warmly accepted. Within a week of a notice being posted in the pavilion asking for ladies to register a commitment to play, 14 had declared their support. The team was formed and duly entered the Veterans' division of the Parks League in 2002.

In their first season in the division under the inspiring leadership of Margaret Kay, the ladies finished a creditable fifth out of 10 teams. The following season proved even more successful with the team winning the Dunstan Trophy and 12 out of their 16 matches, and thereby gaining promotion. In the following seasons the team continued to do well with some outstanding performances from its players, notably by Winifred Horton, Wendy Oxley, and Muriel Burke. By the end of 2007 season it had reached the first division. Such was the popularity of the ladies' Vets division that the club decided to enter a second team which in its first year also succeeded in winning the Dunstan Trophy under the captaincy of Muriel Burke.

Further opportunities for ladies to bowl competitively came in 2012 when Hallam Grange entered a team in the Sheffield Parks Ladies Doubles League which played its matches on Friday mornings. By 2015 there was again sufficient support to enable another team to be entered in that League.

The club is rightly proud of the successes its lady bowlers have achieved on the green over the years and the reputation which they have deservedly won within the city. With strong leaders, experienced players and several promising newcomers, the prospects for ladies' bowling at Hallam Grange look good.

 

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