Bristol Greenbank Bowling Club, like many bowls clubs in Bristol, has it origins within the industrial past of our city. Clubs like G B Britton (Footwear), B.A.C. (Aerospace), Imperial (Tobacco), Bristol Arrow (Printing i.e. J W. Arrowsmiths), City & Port of Bristol (Shipping), Frys (Confectionary) and Bristol Omnibus (Transport) exist today and all began life by a company's reaction to the needs of its employees.
All of these clubs were formed within the last 115 years.
Other clubs such as Robinsons (Printing), Courage (Brewing) and National Smelting (Iron Trades) sadly no longer exist.
Bristol Greenbank, like Frys, were spawned from the confectionary industry. Indeed Mr H J Packer, the founder of the company on who's land our green was constructed, once worked for Frys but left to form his own business.
Bristol Greenbank wish to convey their thanks to Elizabeth Shaw Chocolates who kindly allowed us to publish the following photographs of the times prior to and during the construction of the green.
This photograph (taken from a periodical produced for the Packers workforce) shows the Packer Recreation Ground in 1923.
The caption below the photograph says " This fine photograph taken from the roof of the new No. 5 Block, gives a very good impression of the spaciousness of the ground, which has been described by an eminent Welfare authority as one of the finest and best equipped Industrial Recreation Grounds in England. The Imposing Institute, named after the late Mr. Bruce Cole, can be seen at the back. During the war, it served first to house a number of Belgian refugees, and afterwards as a Military Hospital. In the foreground the newly erected Tennis Courts show to great advantage. The cricket match in progress is the Gloucestershire v Sussex match. It may be mentioned that the ground has become the recognised venue for a number of Gloucestershire's home fixtures."
The land in the foreground of the photograph is part of the allotments referred to in the next paragraph, many of which still exist today.
The plots immediately to the left of the Tennis Courts would eventually give way to the new bowling green.
Note also the Bristol Midland railway line out of Temple Meads via Lawrence Hill at the bottom right, this is now a cycle path that passes through Fishponds, Staple Hill and Mangotsfield before turning east through Bitton and on to Bath.
An article in the November/December periodical of 1924 appears to start the "bowl" rolling as it were for the implementation of the bowling green. The article says "Mr Clouter asked whether it would be possible to construct a bowling green for the use of the employees. A petition containing about 120 signatures had been submitted to the management. Mr. Crawford said that he recognised that a keen interest was being taken in this question by a very large section of the men. He pointed out that it would entail the giving up of a good many allotments, but he promised that the whole question would be most carefully considered."
It was not until the June/July of the following year when it was reported (in the periodical) that the green was to be constructed.
The article reports that:
"The bowling enthusiasts and those that feel that cricket, tennis and football are a bit too strenuous for them, will be pleased to learn that it has definitely been decided to construct a bowling green alongside the tennis courts. There will be a good deal of excavating and filling in to do to level the site, but this work will proceed throughout the summer.
The seed will probably be sown in the spring of 1926, as there is a great risk attached to autumn sowing should we have a severe winter. If we are as successful with the bowling green as we were with the tennis courts, we should be able to have the opening ceremony about the end of June or early July next year.
When the bowling green is finished we shall be in the happy position of having a recreation ground, which will provide sport for all who care to join, whether young or old, and no better appreciation of the Firms generosity can be shown than by making full use of the recreation facilities offered."
Action spoke louder than words it seems at Packers and in the August/September edition of the periodical photographs were published showing the construction of the green at a relatively advanced stage with no mechanical earth moving equipment in sight.
The photographs above showing the green under construction are taken from opposing diagonals. The view on the left is taken in the shadow of the No. 5 Block mentioned earlier. Just visible to the right are two men, one in a white coat, standing by the tennis courts, obviously discussing the progress of the project. In the background is the Institute. Less obvious are several workmen at work around the rear of the green as we view it. The view on the right shows the newish No. 5 Block with the tennis courts on the left. A workman in the centre leans on his spade for the photographer. A welcome break? To the right of him runs a pair of rails, no doubt an aid to help him move the soil etc. from the site. Planks of wood and levelling sticks appear to be the only aid when attempting to produce a surface that one day will be the "field of dreams" for so many bowlers.
November 1925 brought another statement in the periodical and things appeared to be moving on apace as a Bowls Club was proposed. The article read as follows: easy.
The article above reports that:
A meeting held at O.K. on Monday 12th October 1925, a good number of employees and the management being present to decide the best way of using the new Bowling Green which the Directors of the Firm had so kindly given. The chair was taken by Mr T Crawford who explained the different ways by which this could be carried out.
It was proposed and seconded that a club be formed with each member having to find their own woods and galoshes. This was carried unanimously.
Officers proposed and seconded were:- President - Mr Horace Walker
Vice-Presidents - Mr T Crawford and Mr H Trowse
Chairman - Mr H Smith (Engineer)
Hon. Secretary - Mr A J Hale (Despatch Department)
The Secretary would be pleased to receive any names and at the same time give any particulars of the Club.
After enquiries as to when the green would be opened, it was stated by Mr Crawford that it is expected to be able to use the new Green about the middle of July next year, provided the weather in the spring is favorable and we get the same results with the large Green as with the test piece put down this year and sown in the 1st April. The turf on the test piece, in the middle of July, was in excellent condition and fit to play on.
A. J. Hale Hon. Sec."
As a consequence of hard work and endeavor the bowls club was open for business in the spring of 1926 and thus became officially active on the opening of the green.
The Early Years
Little is known of the early years of the H J Packer Bowls Club. We know that, in line with existing bowls clubs in the area, it had an official club badge and tie.
It is thought that the club existed for some six years under the H J Packer banner before becoming Bristol Greenbank Bowling Club. Somerset County records suggest that there may have been an existing Greenbank Bowls Club that amalgamated with the H J Packer Bowls Club. Membership of the Somerset County Bowling Association followed the amalgamation in 1932.
In 1933 Greenbank won the Bristol League Championship and were presented with the Christie Cup, a trophy that was to be retained for another two seasons.
In 1934 an even more prestigious cup was in the trophy cabinet, The Turnball Cup. As members of the Somerset County Bowling Association Greenbank were entitled to play in the county cup competition and thus became only the second team on the north side of the river Avon to become champions of Somerset, the first being St. George in 1932.
The following was published in a regional morning newspaper dated Wednesday 29th August 1934:
Turnball Cup Rivalry
The Turnbull Cup competitions was now nearing its close, and the final will be fought out by the holders, Ashcombe, Weston-super Mare and Greenbank, on Saturday-week, September 8. In reaching this stage both the finalists have played remarkably good bowls, and have beaten many fancied clubs. With Greenbank anxious to add the Turnbull Cup to the Bristol League championship honours they won last year, and Ashcombe just as determined to win the trophy for the second year in succession, an excellent game is assured.
Greenbank played a fine game at Knowle to defeat Bath in the Northern Area final by 20 shots. Indeed they did not allow Bath the consolation of having a winning rink !"
Subsequently the following was published in the same newspaper dated Monday 10th September 1934:
"Turnball Cup Comes To Bristol"
Greenbank Triumph by 13 Shots.
At the Victoria Bowling Green, Weston-super-Mare on Saturday, Greenbank Bowling Club, Bristol made club history by winning the coveted Turnbull Cup for the first time. They triumphed over Ashcombe, Weston-super-Mare by 13 shots.
Bowlers from Bristol and throughout Somerset made up the large crowd of spectators which was treated to an interesting game the result of which was in doubt until the closing ends.
On the first rink the Greenbank men, skipped by E Jones led until the twelfth end, when H Kift's men then went ahead to finish with an advantage of three shots.
On the second rink F Hewsons Bristolians went away from the start to play a great part in Greenbank's victory by gaining a 14 shot lead.
Play on the third rink went in favour of the Ashcombians, who led all the way to get a majority of nine.
But another substantial win came Greenbank's way on the fourth rink where E W Gosling's men took the lead at the start and finished 11 shots in front.
Mr E M Trevor (county president) presented the trophy to Mr E W Gosling captain of Greenbank.
Messers Gosling J Sheppard (president, Greenbank) T G Thomas (captain, Ashcombe) and A E Ateyo (president, Ashcombe) made short speeches.
The above poses the question "How did Bristol Greenbank and for that matter other Bristol Clubs be allowed to play for the Somerset County Cup and why are we now affiliated to Gloucestershire County Bowling Association?"
The following may go some way to explaining.
Change of County
This account of the troubles that prevailed through 1936 and 1937 that follows, was kindly supplied by Graham Starr of Somerset County Bowls Association and is produced with his permission in its entirety.
The very first indication of a problem concerning Bristol Clubs and Somerset is found in the Minutes from the EBA committee of 20th March 1915, where in the Bristol Arrow Club was admitted to membership "subject to the English Bowling Association (EBA) consenting to their withdrawal from Gloucester County in favour of Somerset."
The next reference is a Minute from an EBA committee of 20th October 1919, wherein the Secretary reported "correspondence with the Bristol Clubs who desired to be attached to the Somerset District instead of the Gloucester District because of the remoteness of the other clubs in Gloucester from the City of Bristol, a section of the city forming part of Somerset geographically."
(This infers that Bristol Arrow had been allowed to transfer, and that other clubs wished to follow suit).
An EBA sub-committee of W N Lake, W H Ware and H K Fox of Gloucester (who had attended the Somerset inaugural meeting), was appointed to report on the matter with power to co-opt an equal number of Somerset & Gloucester players.
At the committee of 16th January 1920 it was reported that no action had been taken, and the Secretary was "authorised to determine the question."
Then the committee of 26th April 1920 was informed "that still no meeting of the sub-committee had taken place, either in Bristol or elsewhere, but as a result of correspondence the proposal was agreed to."
This is rather odd, because at the County Council meeting of 28th February 1920 i.e. before the EBA Committee, "the Secretary read correspondence from the EBA in which sanction was given to clubs in the Gloucester portion of Bristol to affiliate with Somerset County, but that they should be debarred from playing in the John Bull Competition. This was protested against by Mr Edbrooke of Bristol Arrow, and the Secretary was requested to write to the EBA with reference to same."
Just what did happen in early 1920?. No EBA sub-committee meeting, but a decision by EBA on 26th April, although they had written to Somerset before 28th February as the Minutes show. One possible explanation is that the EBA Secretary having been "authorised to determine the question" took it upon himself to say yes and reported as much to the next committee meeting, which endorsed his decision. This would fit in with the County Secretary having correspondence to read out at the 28th February Council, with the fact that Bristol Arrow had been affiliated much earlier, and that immediately (at the AGM of January 1921) no fewer than five Bristol Clubs were accepted as members of the Association.
A the same meeting, Mr Edbrooke queried the number of Bristol clubs applying for affiliation, and brought up the matter of a Bristol District. "This led to considerable discussion in the course of which Mr. Montague Cooper explained the rulings of the EBA, but on the suggestion of Mr W Wake that the discussion was out of place at this meeting, but that Bristol clubs had but to please themselves as to what action they took. The discussion dropped."
So, by the end of 1921, discussion had largely ceased and as the seasons went by, more and more Bristol clubs affiliated, so that by 1935 their number had risen to 22.