It is not known for certain when and where the game of bowls was first played in
Leamington, but it is believed that there was a green in the Jephson Gardens at
the end of the nineteenth century, before these gardens came under the ownership
of the Leamington Town Council. Subsequently the gardens were used for tennis and
for archery. Bowling also took place at The Bath Hotel, but these were not strictly
level greens, whilst the Bowling Green Public House in New Street more than likely
had one, and this was would almost certainly have been a Crown Green, as was the
fashion with Public Houses.
In 1908, following a suggestion by the Town Improvement Association, it was agreed
by the Parks and Gardens Committee, and subsequently by the whole Town Council,
that a new level green be laid on land adjacent to the Victoria Park Lodge in Avenue
Road, a building that still stands, though much altered since then, which was occupied
by the then Parks and Gardens Superintendent, Mr Hayes, and it continued to be the
home of the holder of this office for many years. The green was laid on land that
was, in later years, turned into hard tennis courts and latterly has become sheltered
accommodation known as Ingle Court, named after a former Superintendant, George
The bowling green was laid under the direction of Mr Hayes, who, we are told, had
considerable experience of laying bowling greens, both crown and level. It became
known as Leamington Corporation Bowling Green.
It first came into use in early July 1909, and many of the people using it at that
time were local town councillors and businessmen. The most enthusiastic of these
was Councillor James Thorburn, a Scotsman who had a credit-drapery business and
a shop in the town, and who had insisted on it being a level green. He had visited
the site virtually every day since work started to check on progress, and was the
councillor who had pushed hardest for the new facility.
It was constructed slightly smaller than the size stipulated by the English Bowling
Association, the governing body of bowls, which had itself been founded in 1903
and had formulated the rules of the game. Amongst these it stated that a green should
be 40 yards square, whereas the Leamington one was 39 yards by 30 yards. However,
though not of the regulation dimensions, it was to all intents and purposes suitable
for match play, albeit by playing competitions in one direction only.
On the afternoon of 12th August in that year, when bowling was finished, an impromptu
meeting was called by the energetic and enthusiastic Councillor Thorburn, where,
after some discussion, a resolution was put to the meeting that the green be formally
opened and that a bowls club be formed. It was proposed the club be called The Leamington
Bowling Club, and that Councillor Thorburn be elected as President, with Mr. C C
Sutton as Secretary. This was unanimously agreed by all present, and it was suggested
that the Mayor be invited to perform the opening ceremony a week later, when, after
the opening, followed inevitably by tea, a match would be played between the President’s
and the Secretary’s teams.
Thus on August 19th 1909, the greens were officially declared open by Alderman
Sidney Flavel, the Chairman of the Town Improvement Association, and The Leamington
Bowling Club was formed.
Alderman Flavel, as well as being Chairman of the Town Improvements Association,
which had had a big input into the project and had made a very handsome contribution
to the expenses, was also the Chairman of the Bowling Green Sub-Committee on the
Council, and in his speech wished the green and the club a long and happy life.
He was certainly right in respect of the club, but the green was not to have such
a prosperous future. He stated that the green had already been visited by a Royal
prince, a brother of the future Queen, who had watched the bowling with considerable
interest, and Alderman Flavel was delighted that Leamington was joining other spas
and resorts in furthering the game of bowls.
He hoped that the members would have many happy hours playing on it and would always
keep good tempers because all games were trials of temper. He went on to praise
the tenacity of Councillor Thorburn in getting the green laid and in forming the
Councillor James Thorburn
Photograph courtesy of
Mr Ian Thorburn
In his vote of thanks, James Thorburn praised all those who had ensured that the
town now had an excellent green, and the inhabitants of the borough must be very
gratified that they now had added a further attraction to those already existing
in the attractive town of Leamington.
It is recorded that the opening game resulted in a win for the President’s team
by 55 shots to 44, the club had 35 members, and the subscription was one shilling.
This subscription was exclusive of the Corporation charges which were three pence
an hour. Twenty two of the members each gave a donation of two pence to the Lavatory
Fund, although how this was used is not clear – perhaps they were permitted to spend
a penny twice! Laundry cost two shillings and soap cost one shilling. This allowed
the club to end the year with a balance of one shilling and threepence. The first
meeting of the committee also drew attention to the rule strictly forbidding gambling
on the bowling green!
Prior to the opening of the green, the Bowling Green Sub-committee of the Council
had agreed the expenditure of £17 6s 6d for the supply of five green markers (with
chalk box), twelve jacks, twelve pairs of Taylor’s bowls, twelve rubber mats, and
twelve pairs of rubber-soled shoes.
The first officers of the club were:
Councillor James Thorburn
Councillor W Sheen
Mr C C Sutton
Mr J T Earnshaw, Mr W Hammond, Mr G Walton, Mr G A Willcox, Mr W Thomas
Official opening of the green – August 19th 1909
No persons can be identified except for the man with long socks and his back to
the camera. He is known to be Henri Lawton, a local sports equipment supplier with
a shop in Denby Buildings, near the Town Hall. He supplied all the bowls equipment
for the new green to the Council. He was also a gym master at Warwick School.
Photograph supplied by his grandson, Mr Derek Billings