About » History


A report of what was probably the first in-house tournament, in July 1914, recorded that Club member Mr GW Wilson, of Cornhill, presented a handsome challenge cup for competition and it was this that formed the basis of the tournament, being won by Mr AE Lant of Risbygate Street. During the 1918 Annual General Meeting Mr George Gibbs (captain for the previous year) presented gold medals to the present and former Wilson cup holders, and silver medals to the runners up, as permanent reminders of their success. Cup Holders: 1914 Mr AE Lant; 1915 Mr FW Drake; 1916 Mr W Cook; 1917 Mr JE Bartholomew. Runners up: 1914 Mr GW Wilson; 1915 Mr AE Lant; 1916 Mr FW Woodroffe; 1917 Mr George King. It was at this meeting that the subscription fee was raised to 7s 6d (how times have changed!).

Frederick Drake’s services to the Club during the years it was based at Risbygate were regarded as outstanding. An extract from the 1919 AGM report reads: ‘The Chairman rose to perform what he said was a very pleasant duty and that was to make a presentation to their esteemed friend, Mr FW Drake. As every member knew, Mr Drake devoted an enormous amount of time to keeping the green in such excellent condition and thus added much to their pleasure. They felt they would like to show their appreciation, in some tangible way, of the services he had rendered’. He then handed Mr Drake a magnificent combination French carriage clock and barometer with a compass on the top, in a morocco case, and in so doing said he hoped that Mr Drake would live for many years to carry on the good work and that the clock would serve to remind him of the happy times they spent together. Mr Cook then read the inscription on the clock face: ‘Presented to Mr FW Drake by members of the Risbygate Bowls Club as a token of appreciation, April 1919’ and announced that a telegram had been received from Mr Manning, last season’s cup winner, which read: ‘Health, happiness and long life to Mr Drake and his wife, may the happy relationship existing between all members continue for many years to come’. In stepping forward to receive the gift, Mr Drake received an ovation. He said he had always felt that what little he had done had been appreciated by the members, but now he had no doubt upon the matter. He felt very gratified indeed and would treasure the gift as long as he lived. He was sure, too, that his wife would be delighted. Anything he had done which might have added to their joy, or tended to improve their play, had always been a pleasure for him to do and he always looked on it as a duty. Now the clouds of war had lifted they would meet under different circumstances and he hoped the coming season would be a happy one. He thanked them one and all.By 1922 the Club had become affiliated to the Suffolk County Bowling Association, on the basis (put forward by Mr A Whitfield) that as most members were commercial travellers they were more likely to be accepted on greens if affiliated. It was in 1922 also that Mr HJ Barbrooke, Builder, purchased part of Sextons Hall Estate from M Hayes, W Bailey and J Mitcham, all farmers, at a cost of £900. The area of land as a whole was four acres and sixteen perches. But more of this later. In contrast, the Club’s balance in hand for 1923 was 1s 7½d!!What is without doubt the Club’s first (and probably only) death on the green happened one evening early in September 1923, when Mr Alexander Fake, long regarded as the father of the Club (being its oldest member), suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 81 whilst playing in a friendly game on the Risbygate green.In keeping with the Club’s original ethos of existing for the social enjoyment of its members, in 1925 the Chairman questioned if the number of fixtures should be reduced or abandoned altogether, due to the difficulty of getting teams together. It was moved that certain matches should be dropped, but a proposal by Mr Felgett that all should be abandoned, on the basis that members could enjoy themselves just as much on their own green, was defeated.1926 saw the rescinding of the resolution limiting the number of members to 50, and Mr AE Lant, who had served the Club as Secretary for 14 years, felt the time had come to hand over the reins to someone else, although he had reluctantly agreed to carry on for just one more year.
William Walter Amos became captain of the Club at an important stage of its history. William was a commercial traveller who lived with his wife in York Road between 1911 and 1926, then Highbury Crescent after his move there in 1927. He became Club captain in 1929 and proved a popular choice not only for his geniality and sportsmanship, but for the part he was to play in the events about to unfold.

It would have come as something of a bombshell when the Drakes decided to retire in 1929 and move to Felixstowe. Furthermore, members must have been mortified knowing that the Bury Co-operative Society, the new owners, intended to continue using the green - but for the benefit of Co-operative Society members and staff only - leaving Risbygate members without a home. A short but intensive search for a new green followed and in the September arrangements were concluded with builder and contractor HJ Barbrooke for the provision of a new green and erection of a pavilion on the present site in Westley Road, which the Club agreed to rent at £20 per year. The land in question was, of course, that bought by Mr Barbrooke in 1922. The success of this new venture was subsequently attributed to Mr Amos, who was honoured with a second year’s captaincy (the first on the new green) in tribute to the excellent services he had rendered.And so, in May 1930, the new five rink green and pavilion were opened by Mr H Bullen, President of the Suffolk County Bowls Association. To commemorate the opening Mrs HJ Barbrooke and Mrs Amos planted a tree near to the new green’s entrance gate and a plaque was affixed to the fence close by. The tree is no longer evident today, presumably felled along with several others that lined the drive, in order to provide wider access and to prevent it becoming overgrown - a little ironic in view of the plaque’s inscription: ‘When we have all vanished, this tree will live on; we shall live forever, when this tree is gone’. It is quite remarkable that all this was achieved between September of one year and May the next, with virtually no disruption to the bowling season, and must be seen as a tribute to the enthusiasm, determination and cooperation of all parties involved.The Annual General Meeting of 1931 saw election of the Club’s first president, Mr Daniel Capon, who earlier in the season had presented the Club with a solid silver challenge cup. Members expressed gratitude for all that he had done for the Club and felt he was the most suitable person for the role of president. After some pressure from members Mr Amos was elected to his third successive term as captain, further evidence of the esteem in which he was held.Following the death of Mr HJ Barbrooke, in 1934, Risbygate Club was able to purchase the land and property from his executors. The sale included the green, the pavilion, wire fencing and an adjoining meadow. Trustees were appointed to run the organisation as a social club, or association, known as the Risbygate Bowls Club.

The 1935 start of season report noted that the green had been lengthened by several yards during the winter and was now in perfect condition. The ground was also made up in the opposite direction with a view to widening it another year, and play was now possible both ways. The meadow was being developed into a sports ground and work was already in hand to lay down three full size grass tennis courts and enlarge the pavilion to double its present size, following which it would be possible to provide refreshments.

1936 was the Club’s Silver Jubilee and the year Club management was vested in a management committee comprising the Chair and eight members, four each from the Bowls and Tennis sections - to include the captains and vice captains of both bowls and tennis sections. Each section had its own sub-committee, consisting of captain, vice captain and four members, empowered to deal with in-house matters, but not Club management. The President, Treasurer and Secretary were ex-officio members. This was reckoned to be a fairer way of managing the Club’s affairs and was designed in the interests of preserving harmony among members.The idea of a second bowling green was floated at the 1938 annual dinner at Everards Hotel, when it was suggested by the speaker that the Club had room for a full size green on which county matches could be played. His words were heeded in that the existing green was enlarged that winter to conform to EBA standards, which necessitated removal of the pavilion to a more convenient site.

The War saw several members called up for service and curtailed many of the Club’s activities, but with Gibraltar Barracks a mere stone’s throw away, and army personnel within the Club membership, it was perhaps natural that the Club should extend facilities to British and American troops based in the area. The annual dinners held at Everards Hotel and so much enjoyed by members were also off the menu, the loss being keenly felt when ‘not even a sausage supper’ was possible! Notwithstanding, the ladies rallied round with light refreshments and the entertainment – community singing, dancing, recitals and comedy acts – continued as before. In fact, the war was probably responsible for the Club being opened during the winter months for the social events which were to prove so popular.The Club’s benefactor, Frederick Drake, died in December 1947 at Hickling (Norfolk) and his remains were brought back to the town to be laid to rest with those of his wife, in the Borough Cemetery. Just a couple of names stand out from the list of mourners as being connected with Risbygate Club, and it seems that the origin of the Club and the part Frederick played in its creation were by now a fading memory.Cumberland turf was reckoned to be the finest possible for a bowling green and during 1948/9 £1,580 was spent on this and the construction of a new hard tennis court, the money being raised from interest free loans by members plus a rise in subscriptions. In 1949 the Club became a member of the English Bowls Association and another milestone was reached and passed when the ladies were given the go-ahead by the menfolk to use the new green during the afternoons.

Early in 1950 the seaside town of Clacton provided Risbygate with a novel experience when a team competed against the Clacton Indoor Bowls Club. The green, made of felt over-matting was exceedingly fast, the expertise of the home team on this type of surface evident in the score 102–54. Although it would be several years before Risbygate built its own indoor green, it was perhaps here that the seeds were sown.The 1950s saw a downturn in reporting the more serious side of the Club’s activities, but an upturn in social events. Former Club president Alf Barber recalls these good old days, when the clubhouse was the focus for a full and varied social life. He well remembers the whist drives on Monday, darts on Tuesday, solo on Wednesday, Bridge Thursday and quoits on Friday. The Club also had a thriving concert group whose members would put on shows in the clubhouse each year and go ‘on tour’ to the surrounding villages, not to raise money but purely for fun. A typical programme would feature a pantomime version of Aladdin, supported by solos, duets, sketches and monologues. These concerts were extremely popular and always played to full houses. A lifelong member, Alf played bowls until aged 94 years. He is now 97 and still going strong!At the 1956 annual meeting it was announced that the Club would be laying two new hard tennis courts at a cost of just over £1,000 and members again advanced interest free loans to cover the outlay.

The Club extended its boundaries in 1963 with the purchase of a triangular piece of land which today forms the car park. In 1971 a much larger tract was bought for £4,000 and this currently accommodates three hard tennis courts and the lower Federation green on the North side of the car park. These two parcels of land enabled the building of the indoor complex which now covers the site of the original grass courts adjacent to the pavilion and EBA green. Facilities included two squash courts, the indoor bowling rinks, showers, changing facilities, boiler house, office and (of course!) a bar. The development was completed in 1973 at a cost of £50,000, financed by members’ loans and various grants, and was opened by the then Minister for Sport, Eldon Griffiths, and the Mayor and Club President Jerry Glasswell. Membership numbers took a significant leap upwards with the opening of the complex and what were Bury’s first squash courts - on opening day there were 150 squash members and a waiting list already in place!A considerable debt is owed to Roy Wilson for his expertise in drawing up plans for the new build free of charge, and there is little doubt that he saved the Club a significant sum of money in fees. Roy can recall the Club’s development from 1965 with considerable clarity, when the site consisted of one bowling green, three tennis courts, a small car park and the pavilion containing kitchen, bar and toilets. He well remembers the land purchased in 1971, which was owned by a gentleman who ran a chicken farm, freezer room and packing house and whose own house in Sexton’s Close adjoined the farm. In 1970 the man's wife died suddenly. The chicken operation had been running down for several years and out of the blue he decided to sell up and move away. He approached the Club offering first refusal but insisted on the sale including not only the land but also his house! An emergency Committee meeting was called, the situation discussed, and as the Club President Jerry Glasswell offered to put up the money (£12k) everyone said ‘yes please’!! The house was quickly sold for £8k, leaving the land costing £4k which was owed to Jerry.Urgent provision of two new tennis courts to replace those displaced by the indoor rinks was accomplished early in 1972 and the contract for the new build was awarded to WJ Baker (Gt Barton) who completed the work between March and October. Unfortunately, available funds fell short of the total required by some £5k and it was decided to omit the suspended ceiling in the bowls hall in order to come in on budget. For his services in surveying the site, drawing up plans, obtaining outline planning permission and generally overseeing progress of construction work, Roy was made a life member and presented with a gold watch.
In 1975 the fourth tennis court, funded by loans from tennis section members, was constructed for £7k.

The second green(now not in use) built to EBA rules and complete with a small pavilion, was laid down in the North East corner between 1976/79. The pavilion was subsequently destroyed by fire but was replaced. A fourth tennis court was built in the NW corner of the site and the car park was surfaced and marked out. The kitchen was extended and modernised, as was the ladies (bowls) toilet. All loans were fully repaid and the Club found itself in a healthy financial position.

Sue Glasswell is the granddaughter of Jerry Glasswell, Club benefactor, one time Treasurer and Chair, Bowls Captain (1970), and President from 1971 until his death in 1984. Jerry was born in December 1896 and became involved with Risbygate Club in the 1950s. In the early 70s he willed a sum of money for use by the Social section, but by the late 70s the need for this money had diminished and so he decided instead on a slap up dinner in his memory, for all members with ten or more years standing. In addressing this gathering in 1985, Jerry’s son Leslie (Tennis Captain 1958) reminisced about their early association with the Club ……“Remember those days in the early 50s? Remember the socials? We were all packed into a small room with the old round stove getting red hot. I can still see the sweat running down the faces of Alf Barber and Nobby Clark as they organised the games, and you, Mr Chairman, were always involved in the plays and singing evenings – they were good days. Dad was a new member then but he had visions of just how good the Club could be – and now 30 years on those same people are still interested and are still working hard for the Risbygate. I know of no other club where such dedication exists”.It seems fitting that a third generation Glasswell should carry on the family association with Risbygate – today, Sue Glasswell is a member of the Tennis section and until recently coached Junior members.In 1987 two tennis courts were floodlit and a year later the groundsman’s old hut was replaced with a purpose built one (it is still there today). Proposals were put forward in 1988 to install a viewing area with a bar beyond and above the north end of the bowls hall at an estimated cost of between £55k and £65k. However the subsequent AGM voted to shelve the scheme for two years and the proposal was never revisited.Around 1995 the upstairs social room was converted to a one bedroom flat for the steward and although the squash section pressed very hard for a third court (which would have been erected on the site of the third tennis court) the cost was considered too high and the AGM of the day threw it out. The tennis pavilion was replaced by a slightly larger and better building in 1995.

In 1998 Michael Clare was asked to produce an outline scheme for a single two servery central bar, including cellar area, to obviate the need to move stock and fittings between the two bars every time the bowling seasons changed. The plan would have provided two separate lounge areas and a new entrance to the premises at a cost of £72k, which could have been met by an interest free loan from brewers Greene King and Club finances. The proposal was finally put to an EGM in March 2003, attended by 56 members. The result, including written returns to the Chairman, was 124 in favour of the scheme and 150 against. Defeat was very likely due to members’ concerns that the projected £72k spend was not founded on accurately costed quotations.The practice tennis wall was built in 2004.

2006, and the current situation at the Club is under discussion:

“Are we moving, or are we more likely to stay? The prospects for moving are not good. We identified various pieces of land to purchase and develop, but on approaching the local planning department all were turned down. If, as seems likely, we will stay here for some time, we need to spend money on the fabric and furnishings of the present buildings” (Finance Committee ~ December 2005).Only time will tell if, after 76 years in Westley Road, circumstances will become such that a move is feasible, or even wanted by the members, many of whom live in close proximity to the Club and would be reluctant to travel to a different locality. One thing is certain, as it stands the Club will not be able to stand any significant increase in membership numbers; there simply is not the capacity. On the other hand, expansion on the scale envisaged would result in the loss of exclusivity currently enjoyed by members. The scales are in the balance!

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Westley Road, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP33 3RR