by Chris Frew. Published on VE Day (8 May) 2020
I was recently asked for photographs and War stories from Bristol Croquet Club, for an upcoming issue of the Croquet Gazette. Alas, I found only two photos, and the Committee minutes barely touched on the War.
But reading Committee minutes revealed the immense contribution to the Club of Chastel Tivy, Chairman from 1935 to 1949. The country fought for survival from 1939 to 1945, and was fortunate to be led by Winston Churchill. The Bristol Croquet Club also faced many existential threats before, during, and after the war and without Mr Tivy, I suspect we would have no Club.
Dr William James Tivy married Laura Newton (a descendent of Sir Isaac) in 1876, in Ireland. Their second child Chastel Lawrence Tivy was born in 1878 in Herefordshire. Incidentally, Chastel was not necessarily the oddest name in the family; siblings included Coraly and Ryder Vaughn. An ancestor was Horatio Nelson Tivy.
In the 1860s the CA had been concerned about flagging interest in croquet in the provinces, and sponsored an Open Tournament on the Gloucester County Cricket Ground in Bishopston in 1896. Young Chastel made his debut there, reaching the semi-finals of the Doubles and winning a silver-mounted mallet donated by John Jaques and Son. The Tournament inspired the founding of the Clifton and County Croquet Club in 1897 (it became Bristol Croquet Club only in 1954) and Chastel's mother, Mrs. Laura Tivy, became the first Chairman. In the search for a home, the Club moved four times around northwest Bristol before settling on half an acre of "agricultural land" off the Southmead Road in 1925, bought by Miss Stoddart, a member, and leased to the Club for a nominal rent. Two Courts were created.
It was the Club's good fortune that the energetic Mr Tivy took over as Chairman and Treasurer in 1935, as discontent with the Southmead site was growing. For three hectic years many potential new sites were considered with increasing desperation. In 1938 the AGM recorded "the present site had become unsuitable as a Croquet Club and the Committee were empowered to look out for a suitable site, Stoke Bishop for preference" with room for three lawns and a pavilion. Committee meeting minutes 28-11-38 read: "Mischief at The Club Grounds by Boys: It was reported that the Chief Constable had taken on the matter of the various complaints during the year."
Mr Tivy later wrote "the erection of a long row of small houses at the North end of the Club had entirely upset our peace of mind. Every small article of equipment had to be locked up every evening after play was over. When an elderly lady had stones thrown at her while playing, we decided to sympathise with the police and seek pastures new."
To fund such an ambitious move, Mr Tivy realised that both capital and new members would be needed. For many years an occasional Open Tournament had been held on the Close at Clifton College, and the Club, backed by the CA, now promoted a major event from 1st - 6th August 1938, to generate local interest in croquet and publicise the Club's situation. Ten temporary lawns were created; 110 entries received, including some of the best players of the day. The event was said to be "more like a garden party than a Tournament". Bristol City Council gave their support and the whole event made a profit of 2/10d - about 14 pence in today's money. A sour note in the accounts reads "set of balls stolen: £1 11s 2d.". The Clifton College Open Tournament was never to be held again. However, the ball was rolling...
During the years of searching, serious consideration was given to over a dozen sites, including at Blaize [sic] Castle, Ashton Park, Westbury Cricket Club, Stoke Lodge, Canford Park, St. Monica's, and several spare bits of land that wealthy Bristolians had bought adjacent to their mansions to prevent building development. But a site in Fishponds was dismissed as "not a convenient district".[Cttee 10-4-39]
At St. Monica's, the estimate of £320 to level three lawns was unanimously agreed to be beyond the means of the Club; all agreed "the only hope of establishing a Club with first-class lawns was to start with a comparatively flat piece of land".[Cttee 4-3-39] Belatedly the owner of the Southmead ground site suggested that £500 would secure it, but the Club resolved to not make an offer.[Cttee 20-6-39]
Finally: bingo! Mr Tivy writes a report to his Committee (25-7-39): "Mr Gilbert Williams, who lives at Seven Elms, Druid Stoke Avenue, Stoke Bishop, has a good deal of land which he has purchased from time to time to prevent building." (Mr Williams owned all the land behind his house down to the (then new) Cedar Park road.) Mr Tivy eulogises the view from where the Clubhouse now stands: "about an acre beautifully situated with a road frontage, Mr Williams' garden at the back, the Fyffes Sports Ground on the right looking towards Sea Mills, and an open field used for riding on the left. There is a gradual slope towards the new road, possibly of four feet. Nice depth of soil." (Seven Elms is now more prosaically known as 24 Druid Stoke Avenue and most of the 1939 garden has succumbed to building.)
Following negotiations with Mr. Gilbert Williams, Mr Tivy now wrote to all members:
At last your Committee has been offered a suitable Site for our New Club Ground. Mr Williams will give us a 14-year lease at a rental of £20. The Avonmouth buses pass the end of Cedar Park (1d. Fare from White Tree).
Estimates for levelling and sowing three Courts £158 14s. To this must be added preparing the Pavilion Site, removal and re-erection of the Pavilion and Sheds, repairs to existing Fences and Hedges and the making of a Foot-path from the Car Park.
The Committee estimates that an Amount of between £200 and £250 will be required, and suggest the Issue of 4% Debentures of £5 each, of which Two debentures should be redeemed annually.
The Special General Meeting of 10th August agreed unanimously with Mr. Tivy's recommendations and closed with "a hearty vote of thanks". Mr Tivy and Mrs Rogers Pascoe, as Trustees, signed the lease on 29th September 1939 and work began immediately, with Mr P F Miles supplying and planting 390 Green Privet Hedges for £5 2s 6d. Two lawns were levelled and sown that Autumn, with the third deferred to the following Spring. (The third lawn was to remain fallow until the 1941 season.) Four and a half tons of sand cost £2 7s 3d. In readiness for sweeping modernisation, the accounts for 1939 record £8 received from "sale of horse roller". A horse presumably being incompatible with the new lawn maintenance programme.
First mention of the War! Cttee 24-10-39 regretted that "the present crisis had compelled 2 members to ask for a short postponement [in taking up their debentures], which was agreed to". Eventually 50 debentures were sold. Then - an old fundraising trick - the Committee wrote to members in September 1940 asking if they would be willing to waive the interest payment due.[Cttee 17-9-40] "Only one wished to be repaid, so 4/- was paid to him.".[Cttee 4-3-41] The voluntary waiving of interest was requested and almost always conceded throughout the War.
There are other clues that Mr. Tivy was a tough negotiator: "It was decided to approach the Bristol Waterworks Company for special annual terms for supplying water for making tea, etc. from April 15th to October 15th ".[Cttee 24-10-39] By February "Bristol Waterworks Company were prepared to grant a permit to draw sufficient water for making tea, etc. from a neighbouring house without charge".[Cttee 26-2-40] Also in February 1940 "the Rating authorities had rated the New Club at £22, which he considered so ridiculously high that he had appealed, and was to have an interview with Mr F J Crook". Cttee 2-4-40 reads "the Rates Assessment had been reduced to £15 and would be payable from April 1940". In another matter "Mr Tivy had written to Mr Buckland asking him to pay the 8/- incurred by the removal of the gates; he could get no reply, and it was decided to send him a Solicitor's letter".[Cttee 17-9-40] Even Committee attendance was monitored by Mr Tivy, whose Chairman's report to AGMs commented on whether attendance during the year had been satisfactory - or not.
Subscription rates were not raised from 1940, as "War Conditions precluded this", although "A membership of at least 50 is necessary to meet the Annual Expenses".[Cttee 26-2-40] But there were only 26 playing members in 1939, and in spite of a bumper crop of six new playing members for 1940 (including Mr Gilbert Williams) overall numbers declined to 24 in 1946, and finances were constantly precarious. For example, "the final Balance Sheet for 1939 was tabled showing a profit for the year of £4, which wiped out the 1938 deficit of £2 1s 10d and left a cash balance at the Bank of £1 18s 2d. This gave satisfaction (my italics)".[Cttee 2-4-40] Throughout the War, members were constantly being pressed to find new members and make extra donations; and Mr Tivy was a leading donor.
The War again! At that same February 1940 meeting "Dr Hastings Moore tendered his Resignation on leaving for Service in France, but it was decided to invite him to retain his Membership (without Subscription) during the period of the War". Mr Linton replaced him as Match Secretary. And Gloucester County Cricket Club lent ten iron garden seats and twelve fold-up chairs "for the duration of the War, without any charge".[Cttee 7-5-40] (Gloucestershire CCC marked the Allied victory in 1945 by asking for their return.) The same May 1940 meeting records "a suggestion from Miles that a strong Boy able to push a 12 inch mowing machine at 30/- a week, under his supervision, would pay the Club, as his services would [then] be available to Members for their Gardens in the afternoons". Hmmmm.
On 21st May 1940 "Mr Yeoman intimated that his Observer Corps duties made it difficult for him to continue as Grounds Secretary" and he was replaced by Mr W B Edgar. This became a pattern throughout the War: War duties precluding Committee membership and/or playing membership.
Committee meeting 25-6-40 and the War is beginning to take its toll. Mrs Edgar resigned from the Lawns Committee "owing to increasing War work". Croquet lessons were discontinued "owing to War conditions". 1940 closed with "a Golf Croquet Tournament on 30th September, the proceeds to be given to the Red Cross". And in the same spirit of generosity, St Monica's, spurned in 1939, claimed for damages to a mowing machine "allegedly caused by some levelling pegs inadvertently left in their field" by the Club's surveyor. 19/- was paid in settlement.
The lawns were assiduously improved, with professional guidance, throughout the War, though some treatments would raise eyebrows today. In October 1940 a complete fertiliser was applied, plus ten barrows of horse manure per lawn. Then, in December, surfacing was completed with four tons of sand per lawn. In March 1941 two bad patches on Lawn 3 were taken up and replaced by 24 square yards from a golf green that had been bombed; now "available without charge". (Thank you, Luftwaffe.) "A few loads of leaf mould" were welcomed in 1942.[Cttee 18-4-42] Mr Tivy's Autumn 1944 Lawns Report reads "I am trying to get 10 tons of Flue Dust from the Gas Company for top-dressing the 3 Lawns in November, after Spike Rolling. At present the Lawns are too slow, & this should remedy this". In the event only 5¼ tons of Flue Dust were applied.[Cttee 13-3-45] Why the discrepancy? Was even soot rationed?
The boundary areas were let go a bit during the War. On 4th June 1942 "The Chairman and Mr Edgar agreed to see if they could get someone to scythe the Hay in return for the Crop".[Cttee 4-6-42]
From 1940 the availability of manpower was becoming tighter. In October Mr Tivy and Dr Ronald Tasker (pictured at the end) had to weed Lawn 3 themselves, "with the help of a boy from Miles for one day only", so it must have been a major exercise. In April 1941 Mr Tivy reported "Miles was no longer able to supply a man to cut the grasses; they were all on Government work".[Cttee 10-4-41] All members were asked to weed the courts for two hours on 10th October 1941; an exercise repeated in subsequent years.
The Club struggled to survive through the War years, but others went under. Bognor Regis Club closed down and "Mr Tivy was authorised to buy a few things, including a hand harrow and some netting"[Cttee 24-2-42]; reported as "very good value".[Cttee 18-4-42] The Weston-super-Mare club folded in 1946 and was (posthumously) "thanked for giving us their balance of equipment".[Cttee 24-1-47] The Club "deplored" the closure of the Bath and County Croquet Club in 1947, who presented Bristol with nine sets of croquet balls, nine mallets, etc. and some excellent players.
A hard line was taken on the payment of Subscriptions; it was reported at Committee on 18th June 1946 "Rev. F C Vyvyan-Jones had written on March 9th to resign. Hon. Treasurer had informed him that that resignations must be received by February 28th. No reply or Subscription had been received. It was unanimously decided that the Chairman inform him that the Committee expect him to pay his 1946 Subscription". He did.
Just when it looked like the Club would go under, Chastel's sister, Miss Tivy, held a Bring and Buy sale in October 1946 that netted £54 - greater than the Subscription income - enabling the gale damage of September that removed the Verandah Roof to be repaired. Her reward was an invitation to join the Committee!.[Cttee 24-1-47]
To attract new members, from 1942 to 1945 the Club organised an annual Exhibition Match between Miss Daisy Lintern1 (originally of Shepton Mallet) and Captain Vaughan-Jenkins (Bath), leading players of the time. Bristol dignitaries attended, there was press coverage, and the Lord Mayor's War Relief Fund benefited.
The highlight of the club's Golden Jubilee Year of 1947 was an Exhibition Doubles Match held on 28 July between Miss DD Steel and Major R Tingey against Captain Vaughan-Jenkins and Mr F W Ward, the latter two being new members from 1947, following the demise of the Bath Croquet Club. The Sheriff of Bristol attended, as did the Chairman of the CA "and a party of our friends from Cheltenham".[Cttee 24-1-47] Profits went to the CA's Victory Fund; smart move, as later that year the CA granted the Club £40 from their Victory Fund.[Cttee 16-10-47]
The Chairman's address to the 1948 AGM was notably upbeat. Gifts and grants had enabled the Club to buy a "long-wanted Atco Motor Mowing Machine" and repair the damage of the 1946/47 gales. Inheriting Messrs. Vaughan-Jenkins and Ward from Bath Croquet Club had "already raised the standard of our play considerably" The only problem was that "petrol difficulties still make the Club less accessible than it should be and so far the Ministry of Transport are unwilling to press the Tramways Company to restore the Cedar Park bus stop".
The Club's existence was again threatened in 1948. Bristol's Chief Education Officer was "desirous of the Club Site as as part of the site of a Primary School".[Cttee 12-8-48] Ferocious opposition was organised, and by December Mr Tivy could report "the question of taking over our ground has been abandoned. It was decided to thank the Council of the CA and Col. Oliver Stanley MP for their support".[Cttee 14-12-48] And so Stoke Bishop Primary School became our neighbours, not our nemesis.
In 1949: a final battle. The 'free water' conceded by Bristol Waterworks Company in 1940 from a standpipe connected via a neighbouring property had ended by 1947. But now the Primary School was to be built, Bristol Waterworks needed to reroute the water supply - and proposed to charge the Club £16 for so doing! On 27th December Mr Tivy writes his outrage to Sir Archibald Havergal Downes-Shaw OBE, Chairman of the Bristol Conservative Association: he begins "Dear Downes Shaw" and concludes "I am unfortunately confined to the house at present due to ill-health, and I would be grateful if you could spare a few moments to come and have a chat with me about this matter." The lips were smiling but the teeth were showing. The £16 was never paid.
The first Committee meeting of 1950, on 8th April, records Mr Tivy's absence through ill-health, the first Committee he had missed in fourteen years. Mr Yeoman was asked to take the Chair and Mr Newton was appointed Treasurer.
At the AGM on the 6th May 1950, the members stood in silence in memory of Mr Tivy - and Miss Tivy.
The Club's only direct casualty of the Second World War was Dr Tasker (pictured right), who was torpedoed in November 1942 and perished in an open boat west of Africa.
Dr Tasker's mallet was presented to the Club; I wonder if it's still in the cupboard?
Read more in A Short History of Bristol Croquet Club.
 Ed's note: Daisy Lintern was British Open Championship runner-up and an Open Doubles winner, also multiple winner of the top Women's events. She was the Croquet Association's first female Chairman (1958-1960) and Vice-Chairman (1973-1976), and became a benefactor in 1977. Patricia Duke-Cox was next exactly 50 years later (2008-2010, Vice-Chairman 2018-2020 and benefactor in 2013.