More than just a game….

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Bowls was huge for years – many local pubs had greens including the Shoulder of Mutton and Hussey Arms. Image from Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington’s book ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’.

When I can, I like to document the history of local sports and hobbies here on the blog – although many of you will know I’m not really a sporting person, I appreciate the huge community significance of sports and pastimes within the area.

In the past we’ve covered football, cricket, pigeon racing, trotting, motorsports… Even pedestrianism. But one siubject largely undocumented has been bowls.

Bowls was once huge throughout the area: many local pubs had greens, as did parks and recreation grounds. Although their time has passed, the sport is still very popular though, and I think few realise what a great facility there still is at Oak Park in Walsall Wood.

Last week, the young David Evans paid a visit to the club to find out about it and to chick out the history of this fine institution. I believe he even had a go, and thankfully no injuries or damage to property have been  reported.

If you’re interested in bowls, or know someone who might be, you can contact Dave Elwell, the club secretary on01543 452378 – the club welcomes would be members!

Thanks to David for a great article, and thanks to to Dave Elwell and all at the club who generously shared their time with David.

David Evans wrote:

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This isn’t just a game – it’s more serious than that. Image kindly supplied by Davide Evans.

Brownhills and Oak Park Bowls Club

I was delighted to be invited to watch a bowls match at Oak Park, Walsall Wood recently, which I readily accepted. This quiet oasis, well-hidden and away from the bustle of the busy Lichfield Road, has changed little from those happy hours of my childhood spent trying to master the skills of putting, or – and always under the watchful gaze of the groundsman- enjoying a game of bowls. Proper footwear, a square rubber mat, a box of heavy bowls, a little jack bowl, and an optimistic score-card and pencil ( ‘Mind you bring everything back after, lads’).

It was not an easy sport to master, but with lots of time, patience and application this captivating sport revealed some of its enormous charm. The crown green available to children was not the one I visited. This green was reserved for grown-up experts of the sport.

So it was with a mixture of emotions that I entered the gateway. A serious match was about to get under way. I was given a warm welcome…and within minutes those members awaiting their turn and I were sharing Walsall Wood notes, experiences, adventures, from a common childhood we had shared.

Proper score cards were being kept and recorded; signals from players on the green were understood, applause and congratulations were voiced during the action, at times the green seemed quite crowded as bowls rolled across the grass, each bowl aimed, judged, gliding seamlessly from the player’s hands in graceful, balletic moves.

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Walsall Wood bowls club going strong in 1913. . Image supplied by David Evans.

Oak Park, its tennis courts, putting greens, beginner’s crown green, and pavilion are no more. But the sport of crown green bowling is alive and well here, on the ‘top green’, where new shelters for waiting players and spectators grace the ground, and perhaps a new pavilion may appear.

I would like to thank Dave Elwell, the committee, and players for their warm welcome, and for allowing me to take my photos during their match. I wish the club every success in the future.

I have always wondered when this part of Oak Park was completed. With the kind help of researcher par excellence ,Peter Cutler an answer has been discovered.

But where was the bowling green at that time?

Thankfully, Aerofilms flew over Walsall Wood in 1926, and took a rather useful aerial photograph which perhaps provides a clue to the original location of the bowling green.

Take a lose look at the image below:

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This 1926 view of Walsall Wood shows a possible location, centre – left of the main road, behind St Johns Church, and surrounded by a hedge. Image supplied by David Evans.

Oak Park and the playing fields, which I believe was opened in 1932, is seen here in this 1938 map, but no bowling green, tennis courts, or pavilion… not yet.

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1938 1:1250 mapping from Ordnance Survey showing the original Oak Park – note it’s where the current, 1970s centre stands.

August 1940 press cutting. In the early years of the war Local Authority minutes were deliberately left empty of salient details, but thanks to the excellent research of Peter Cutler, we have this press cutting, and an answer. Many sincere thanks, Peter.

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A great find – when the greens were added to the original Oak Park. Clipping found by Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler and supplied by David Evans.

David Evans
July 2016

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4 Responses to More than just a game….

  1. Thanks David, I well remember as a teenager sitting on the steps of the pavilion eating my jam
    sandwiches.

  2. Nenuco says:

    Bowls at the pavilion? Very nice! 🙂

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    Many thanks for this excellent presentation. THe blog article”More tales from the Wood”‘ August 2011 has a photo of another generation of bowlers, in the Arboretum, at one of their social events.
    Kind regards
    David

  4. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    I spent a pleasant while yesterday evening at Pelsall Bowls Club ( Station Road, Pelsall) ,where I admired their excellent crown green and club facilities and learned about the numerous active league teams they have there!….Serious thing is bowls!
    kind regards
    David

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