Club History


Anecdotes from the Club records.

1906- The first meeting of Tonbridge Cricket Club members interested in setting up a bowls club was held in the spring at the Angel Hotel. It was agreed to establish the Tonbridge Bowling Club (TBC) and that the headquarters be at the Angel Hotel. A suitable area had been allocated for a green which was laid out and prepared by the cricket club groundsman. Our green was kept in order by the Tonbridge Cricket Club and no person could become a member of the Bowling Club unless a member of the Cricket Club.  The annual subscription was set at 2/6d per annum and 59 members joined in the first year. Founder members included F W Franks- shopkeeper the first President who opened the green on the 27th April , A Cornell- Jeweller & watchmaker, who was reputed to have been the first owner of a motor car to drive through the High Street just after the turn of the century. W Ede- Confectioner, C Payne- Captain a former Sussex Cricketer and George (Gaffer) Stacey- Headmaster of Tonbridge National School later the Slade school and town councillor.

11 Fixtures in the first season-included Hawkhurst, Pembury, Sevenoaks & Crystal Palace. See full details below.

Little Billy Gale playing against W G Grace at Crystal Palace Bowls Club

1907-  At the first Annual General Meeting the Rules of the Club were agreed. The object of the club was the playing of The Game of Bowls strictly in accordance with the laws as adopted by the English, Scottish and London and Southern Counties Bowling Association. New fixtures were arranged with Tunbridge Wells, Westerham and Hythe. The Club open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. except Sundays and Tonbridge Cricket week. Prizes for the Handicap Competition included:-  Winner- Pair of bowls in a case. Runners Up- Pair of Bowls.  Third- Umbrella and Fourth – Leather bowls case. 59 guests were at the Annual Dinner held also at the Angel Hotel.

1908- 70 members by now. TBC affiliated to the English Bowling Association. The Challenge Cup was presented to the club by the President Mr F W Franks to be awarded to the Club singles champion each year.

1910- The  match at Margate was turned down this year, in consequence of the long railway journey. Few could own cars so transport depended on the railway service

Mr G E Smith, Hon Secretary & members 1910

1911- Kent County Bowls Association founded 1st March  at Angel Hotel. Tonbridge Bowling Club one of the founder clubs.     

1914- Start of the Great War.    80 members by now.
1915- Tonbridge Cricket Club fixtures cancelled. However the groundsman still working on the Cricket ground and available to tend the green. Bowls continues but matches restricted to local clubs.  2 sets of bowls & 2 jacks presented  to Voluntary Aid Detachment  Hospitals in Kent.  107 members this year.

1916- TheTonbridge Cricket Club announced due to the war the club would not be opened this season.  Crisis at the TBC.   We therefore requested terms to continue bowls. They agreed to let us continue for a rental of £15p.a., finding our own labour and paying the water rate.  They were prepared to lend us the mowing machines and heavy roller. In view of sharp reduction in membership, terms rejected and green closed until the end of the war.
1919- Tonbridge Bowling Club reconstituted and leased the green from the Cricket Club. Groundsman employed at £2 guineas per week, as up to then the green had been looked after by the cricket club. The Committee agreed that any  Officer, NCO or Private from the Army Motor Transport section based in Tonbridge could use TBC facilities for 10/6d per season. 128 members this year.  At the AGM after heated discussion Sunday play allowed from the 1920 season.
1920- EGM reversed Sunday Play rule. Some members were very vociferous in this debate. At the next  AGM after much discussion this was reversed yet again and Sunday play allowed. Only after accepting that Sunday play would not cause anyone to work and it would not be a source of profit, was Sunday opening finally agreed. Up to the 2nd World War, most people worked a 5 1/2 or 6 day week, so a ban on Sunday play was always a contentious issue for working members. First approach from Sevenoaks BC to join a Local Bowling Federation and 3 rink club competition. TBC thought that “this idea encouraged a professional spirit and not our amateur or friendly spirit of sport!”      
1921- Sevenoaks again  requested that we join the Sevenoaks and District  League. After much consideration TBC felt that ” SUCH LEAGUES HELPED to DESTROY the social side of the game and that we were fully occupied with friendly matches of OLD ACQUAINTANCES.”  
The Sevenoaks & District Bowls League eventually started in 1968 and we joined in 1970!  

1922- Club considered buying a railway carriage from the London  Brighton & South Coast Railway for use as a pavilion.
1923-  A new pavilion was opened although no surplus railway carriages were available!

1925- Tonbridge Sports Association invite TBC to  the opening of the new bowling green  at the sports ground.  Annual strawberry tea on the 1st July a great success. Mr P Aldrich won the KCBA singles championship.  

1926- Mr P Aldrich again won the KCBA singles championship.

Mr P Aldrich- County Champion

1927-  First mention that Licence for the sale of alcohol obtained and bar opened. A simplified Bar Tariff was agreed with  Whisky 6d,  1 pint bitter 6d and port also 6d.

1932-Green relaid / returfed.  To finance this expenditure Debentures issued to members
at 50/- each at 5% interest per annum, on a voluntary subscription basis.

1933 – Mr F W Franks President since 1906 passed away (after 27 years)

1934 – Still a men only club!!

1935-The start of a 35 year saga of allowing Ladies to become an integral part of the club.

1936- At AGM it was indicated that there was nothing in the rules to prohibit ladies from joining the club. “Meeting voted 17 to 11 with 3 no votes against ladies joining”. however the following year.

1937- An EGM voted to allow ladies to play in afternoon’s on Mon,Tues,Thurs and Fridays. Agreed to install electric light in the pavilion with a generator providing the electricity .

1939- War declared in September. Committee agreed that the Bowls Club should remain open if possible.  The army takes over the Angel Cricket Ground for the duration.

1940- Members of other bowling clubs at present in HMForces stationed in Tonbridge were  offered Hon. Membership of the club when in the town.  Only 15 matches due to the war. At the AGM President said-“He urged the members to give full support to the club”, declaring “it a National Duty to keep alive the country’s sporting and social activities.” Battle of Britain followed by the Blitz..

1941- The management committee decided that “due to the black out, to arrange the  Annual General Meeting in November as near as possible to the time of the FULL MOON!”

1950- Daily allocation of a pint of beer to the groundsman approved. Club matches with old friends have proved enjoyable. “Club holds a respected place  in Kent Bowling  circles which must be jealously guarded at all times.”

1953- Club rules formally amended to allow matches on Sundays but tea and bar would not be available.  An annual match with the Council was held on the Castle Lawn which fixture continued for many years. 35 matches played.

1958- The Chairman said that  “The Dinner Dance was becoming too much of a PARTY and that entertainment of a reputable singer and pianist would be a STEADYING INFLUENCE”. The Chairman was overuled by the committee and a 3 piece band was hired with dancing allowed & a good time was had by all!!  September 5th/6th green flooded due to Medway floods. Green closed for a fortnight.

1959- Inter County match held at the club. Kent versus Devon on 12th May. 45 matches played. Members were requested to ensure braces were covered by suitable clothing.

1961- The green flooded four times over the winter.

1962- A proposal at the AGM was-“That the AGM should consider the possibility of the use of the green by a Ladies Club for a suitable rental.”  As no such application  had come before the club from any Ladies Club this matter was not discussed.

1967- Match cancelled for the “pathetic & feeble reason that the opponents members wanted to gawp at the cup final on the goggle box.” Heated discussion on whether a Tonbridge Women’s Bowling Club be formed or if a womens section of TBC would be preferable. Major problems were the lack  of changing facilities and loo’s.         

1968- Green and pavilion flooded again in the great flood.  £52 of stock damaged and all glasses and crockery covered in silt.   Major works carried out by members on the green and pavilion .

1970- Accepted invitation from Sevenoaks & District League to apply for membership 50 years after turning down our first invitation to join. The rabbit population was increasing and the Council Rodent exterminator was requested to assist.

1974- Agreed at AGM that ladies be admitted as playing members. Ladies Section formed with 8 ladies and applied to KCWBA for affiliation.

1975- Requested KCBA to “revise rules to enable clubs to appoint lady members to serve on Management Committee or if KCBA governed by EBA rules to request EBA to amend rules.”  Our request turned down by KCBA committee who stated that clubs must be governed and controlled by men only!

1978- 43 men’s and 20 ladies matches played plus Sevenoaks League games.

1980- Ladies join West Kent League.

1982-  Tonbridge Council discussions about an alternative green following redevelopment of the Angel Ground and the opening of the Angel(Tonbridge) Indoor Bowls Club.  

1989- Dora Farman won Kent Ladies Singles. Joan Campbell & Dora Farman Kent Pairs Champions.  J Campbell, J Hellyer, J Hards and D Farman win Kent Fours championship. 101 men and 49 ladies Total 150 members. The largest membership in our history. Council now recommending Tonbridge Farm site.  Members agree to move with target  1993.

1990- M Milgate wins the men’s Kent Singles Championship. 48 men’s and 28 ladies fixtures. 3 teams from TBC in Division 1 of Sevenoaks League. Club still strong with 138 members.

Mick Milgate Kent County Singles Champion

1991- J Campbell and D Farman win women’s English National Pairs Championship and Kent Pairs.

1992-  1992 British Isles Pairs Champions- Joan Campbell & Dora Farman. Green laid by contractors at Tonbridge Farm. 122 members.

1993-  Joan Campbell Kent Ladies Singles Champion. First bowls played at the new club however green did not meet the approval of the KCBA and National and County competitions still played on the old green for the last season.

1994- Tonbridge Bowling Club relocates to the modern purpose built bowling clubhouse at Tonbridge Farm site.

1995- The popularity of indoor bowls and the move from the Angels site has lead to a gradual fall in membership to 101 members.

1996- T Russell won the KCBA Two Wood singles Championship.

1996- Joan Campbell, Dora Farman, Ann Waters and Joan Hellyer are Kent Ladies Fours Champions.

1996 Kent Fours Champions- Joan Campbell, Dora Farman, Ann Waters, Joan Hellyer.

1997- Ann Waters and Joan Hellyer are Kent Ladies Pairs Champions.

2000- Club joined the Millennium League.  Teams of four men’s rinks against Tunbridge Wells, The Grove, Sevenoaks, Holmesdale, Maidstone and Ditton. Cost of contractors to maintain the green prohibitive at £7000 p.a.  Agreed to carry out work in-house from next season.  Bowling membership reduced to 91.

2001- Members take over green maintenance from contractors. TBC purchases own equipment.

2004-  Ladies Millennium Triples League set up.

2005- Bowling, non bowling and honorary  members now total 115. The trend in recent years has seen an increase in Mixed Matches and currently TBC play 32 mixed friendlies, 21 ladies and 14 men’s matches together with 42 ladies league fixtures and 64 men’s league fixtures  totaling 173 matches in the season! Many social events held throughout the winter with Quiz, UNO, Whist, Beetle, Bingo, Race Night evenings together with weekly carpet bowls and coffee sessions.

2006- Centenary celebrations included matches against the English Bowling Association, Kent County Bowls Association, London and Southern Counties Bowls Association, the Kent Patrons together with the President versus Captain match in appropriate 1906 dress .

Centenary Fun

2009- Short Mat Bowls introduced in the winter. Revised recruitment, marketing and sponsorship campaign introduced

2010- Club coloured shirts/blouses introduced.

2011- Following adoption of Bowls Development Guidelines full membership reaches 150 again, the best since the halcyon times in the 1980’s. KCBA and KCWBA agree to merge with effect from 1st October 2011.

2013-New structure introduced with integration of the Men’ and Ladies Committees.

2014-Short Mat enter West Kent League.

2018- Men’s first team do the double- Marshall Cup and Sevenoaks League First Division Champions.

2019-Men do the double again. L-R; T Russell, B Chalkin, T Young, B Simmons, T Prince, B Perryman, J Broomfield

2020-Covid-19 pandemic. Lockdown throughout year. All  National, County and Leagues bowls closed down. Lawn Bowls restricted to roll ups in late summer. Clubhouse and bar closed. Membership levels fall to 128.

2021- Struggling back to normality. Recruited 40 new members. Leagues and Competitions resume.

2022- Bowling, non bowling, short mat and honorary  members now total 163.

Trevor Russell County Two Wood Champion for the third time.

Much of the information included in this brief history  came from the original club records and minutes of management meetings held over the last century. One thing that strikes you is how it reflects the changes in society over this period.  The changes in attitude to sport and leisure on Sundays. The gradual change regarding the integration of ladies into the game with occasional roll ups on some weekdays each week, to the formation of the KCWBA and inclusion of ladies in all aspects of our club.

Certainly in the early days Tonbridge Bowling Club was very much a Gentleman’s Club restricted to Gents of a certain standing in the community, but this has changed completely since the second world war.

We are now a fully integrated modern club open to all, with both ladies and gents able to participate in social activities, short mat bowls, roll ups, internal competitions, regular friendly matches WITH OUR OLD ACQUAINTANCES, Sevenoaks League, Millennium Leagues, West Kent Ladies League together with County and National Competitions.       

Roger Davies    Archivist  
12th February 2023

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