Meon Valley Bowling Club

Priory Park, Bishops Waltham, Hampshire SO32 1SQ

Our History

In 1983 two Bowling Meetings, organised by the Meon Valley Sports Council, under the Chairmanship of Peter Gwynn took place to discuss the proposed development of a bowling green and club site.

A steering committee - consisting of Frank Harrison, Godfrey Pink, Peter Gwynn, Tim Witcher, Fred Clay, Sam Pascoe and Jessie Spencer - was elected, together with Anne Horn, a member of the Sports Council.

The committee's brief was to research a suitable site in the area for bowling facilities but in the meantime keep the interest and enthusiasm going by starting up a small indoor club. Under the chairmanship of Peter Gwynn, with Frank Harrison as Secretary, various clubs utilising indoor mobile mats were visited. The use of mats longer than the 45' by 6' "Short Mat" was decided upon because it was considered that better training would be provided for future activities on full-size bowling rinks.

Of the venues examined Swanmore Village Hall was felt to be the best option. Two 60' by 9' mats were purchased, together with the necessary ancillary equipment, and on March 22nd 1984 the Club was officially launched with bowling being available between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Thursdays; further sessions were provided frequently.

Later in the year, the President of the Southampton and District Bowling Association, Brian Brouard, accepted an invitation to bring a District Team to play in the Swanmore Hall - the result of which was the acceptance by the SDBA for Meon Valley BC to register as a member of the District organisation.

Personal loans from members of the Steering Committee were underpinning the club but available grants were being sought.

An Inaugural Meeting was held on April 26th 1984 when a new Club Committee was elected and the draft Rules and Constitution agreed. Subscription rates and green fees were agreed. Peter Gwynn outlined the progress the steering committee had made on the bowling facilities project so far. From then on the Club settled into a routine of bowling and fund-raising on a regular basis and by 1985 it was considered that the Club was sufficiently established and solvent to press on with larger plans.

For the next six yearsthe committee worked tirelessly to this end - approaches were made to Swanmore, Bishops Waltham and Shedfield parish councils and Winchester City Council, seeking land suitable for the erection of an Indoor/Outdoor bowling facility and hopes were alternately raised and dashed with monotonous frequency. Discussions took place with local football and cricket clubs on the possibility of sharing facilities; visits were made to other facilities; budgets were prepared; and, in one case, planning permission was sought - all to no avail.

During this time the Bishops Waltham Parish Council drew attention to the fact that the Police Training College was due to leave the site at the Priory, and that the playing fields and pavilion on site would be available ultimately for local development. The Council, which by then was negotiating to buy the 12 acres of sports land and the sports pavilion from the County Council, informed the Bowling Club that an area would be made available for the construction of a bowling green and pavilion in the future.

However, in view of the fact that a long delay was inevitable, continued efforts were made to obtain a site elsewhere - each of which were turned down by the Planning Authority. At the same time the Bowling Club had reached its target of 65 members maximum and was enjoying regular roll-ups, friendly matches and various in house competitions. The fund-raising was given a huge fillip in January 1987 when the club was the beneficiary of £58,897 legacy from Mr Arthur Howard (the uncle of Frankie Howerd the comedian) to be used towards the provision of a bowling green or its maintenance or any other facility required by the Meon Valley Bowling Club.

In July 1991 a Bishops Waltham parish poll was taken to decide whether parishioners supported the parish council's endeavour to purchase the former Police College sports and recreational fields. This received a resounding "Yes" and the long drawn-out process of purchasing this Priory Park site began. In September 1991 a Steering Committee was established to investigate and make recommendations for the management and organisation of this facility and President Frank Harrison and David Fisher - Treasurer of the club at that time - were invited to serve on it.

For the next two years the Club had its hopes raised and dashed as it sought to come to an understanding and agreement with the parish council on the terms under which a bowling facility could be provided and run at Priory Park, which incidentally did not become the property of the parish until March 31st 1993. At the same time the Club Committee began investigating costs and possibilities of grants for the construction of the Green and recommended an "all weather" green, but at an Extraordinary General Meeting held on March 27th 1995 a proposal by Frank Harrison "that a grass green was the preferable surface" was carried by a large majority.

Once the purchase of Priory Park had been completed, negotiations over the terms of a Lease between the Club and the Parish Council were ongoing for the next two years. Mutually agreeable conditions were eventually reached and the four Trustees appointed by the Club - Miss Jean Huish, Frank Harrison, David Fisher and Terry Lineham - finally put their names to it in May 1995. The initial term of the lease was 30 years, at a generous peppercorn rent, with a further 30 years option. The Club was required to fund and build its own green and pavilion.

After 12 years of hope and frustration the dream was becoming a reality and work began on building the Green in July 1995, and plans to build a pavilion with lottery money were proposed. No work could be started until the Lottery grant had been approved and at least 6 or 7 draft accounts and business plans were prepared by David Fisher to accommodate the complicated demands of the Lottery Sports Fund until our application was eventually forwarded in October 1996.

In April 1997 we were notified that a Lottery grant had been awarded and work started on the pavilion in July. Neither the work on the green nor the pavilion ran smoothly, but on May 1998 the first bowl was bowled in earnest on the new Green and a formal Opening Ceremony took place on June 9th 1999, in the presence of the Mayor of Winchester and members of Sports England. The pavilion was named "The Howard Pavilion" in appreciation of the large and essential assistance Arthur Howard had provided.

During this time plans to increase the membership, and discussions on a new Management structure and Constitution were undertaken as it was realised that running a Club and maintaining a green and pavilion would be a very different ball game from using the village hall.

Some difficulties were experienced between "old" and "new" members, over how to achieve our aims on and off the green, when the new facilities were first used. However, the Club soon settled down and it now offers bowling at all levels during the summer months and indoor bowling on 60' mats during the winter. Our premises are much admired throughout the County and we are achieving some success in both the Ladies' and Men's Southampton & District Leagues and enjoying Friendly Matches both summer and winter. The club competitions started at Swanmore have been added to, providing competitive play among members all the year round.

Social and Fund-Raising events are still an important part of the Club's activities as we aim to maintain and improve the facilities it took so long to achieve.

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