spectating a game

Bristol Croquet Club - A Short History

by John McCullough, Feb. 1993

This history is simply the result of studying easily available documents - the Club records, retained newspaper cuttings, trophy inscriptions and old croquet Association gazettes. Hopefully it may provide the basis for a future, fully researched, history on true investigative techniques.

How it All Began

There is no record of croquet, in the early days of the game, (middle to late 1800's) being played in Bristol. It is recorded, however, that in 1869, Mrs Tivy and her sister, Miss Newton, left their Herefordshire home to play in the Open Championships at Wimbledon.

In 1895 the Croquet Association decided to try and revive a flagging interest in the game by holding a tournament at Wimbledon using 4 inch hoops. This was such a success that they decided to arrange a provincial Tournament for 1896, which was held at the County Ground, Bishopston. Mr Walter Peel, cousin of Mrs Tivy, came down to manage it and quite a number of well known London players took part. The sensation of the Tournament was the defeat of Mr Willis by Mrs Tivy; it was the first time he had been beaten by a member of the opposite sex! Towards the end of the year a meeting of Croquet players was held in Clifton, attended by the Secretary of the Croquet Association, and it was decided to put up enough money to acquire half an acre for 2 lawns and Pavilion space.

Clifton and County Croquet Club - The Early Years

In 1897 the Clifton and County Croquet Club was opened "on the Northumberland House estate alongside North View, just about where the Christian Science Church now stands"; "inside the wall where Henleaze Road turns off the Downs". Mrs Tivy, the wife of a Clifton Doctor, became the first Club Chairman.

The Croquet Gazette of 6th July 1904 lists the Club as having 2 lawns and 31 members, the Secretary being Miss M. Averay, 81 Pembroke Road, Clifton.

The Croquet Gazette of 7th September 1905 reported on that year's "6th Annual Croquet Tournament at Clifton College from 28th August to 2nd September" but this is at odds with the Gazette report of 29th August 1907 which talked of the 10th Annual Tournament played that month on the Clifton College Close and managed by Major Pochin. The Croquet Gazette of 3rd August 1911 provides the next report of an Open Tournament run by the Club, after a lapse of 4 years. This Tournament opened on July 14th at the County Ground, Bishopston.

No direct evidence as to Club activities is available for the period 1912-1925. It apparently was a very unsettled period as there is a report that the Club moved from its original site at an unspecified date and briefly occupied 3 other sites before settling at Southmead. One document hints that, possibly at the time of World War 1, the Club had its ground at the bottom of Parry's Lane but no reference can be found anywhere to the other 2 sites.

Sojourn at Southmead

In 1937, following the death of her husband, Mrs Stoddart now claimed the full half yearly rent of £5, instead of the 10/- previously paid, putting the Club finances into deficit. This, no doubt, accelerated the considerations of moving. At the same time she expressed a wish to sell the ground and initially the Committee decided to investigate the possibility of purchase. This was obviously not carried very far as the collective desire to move site increased. For the next 2 years the Club Minutes show a hectic search for a permanent home.

Also in 1937, at a Committee meeting on 13th July, Mr Tivy proposed that an Open Croquet Tournament be held in Clifton in 1938. No doubt in his mind was the need for a larger membership, to help finance the possible move of premises and to secure the future of the Club, and that this would be most easily achieved in the wake of interest aroused by such a Tournament.

From 1st - 6th August 1938 a most successful Open Tournament was held in the grounds of Clifton College, although financially, an eventual profit of 2/10d was only realised thanks to a last minute donation of 6 guineas by the Croquet Association. In 1939 the possibility of another Open Tournament was dashed due to the non-availability of the grounds at Clifton College.

The search for a new home finally ended on 29th September 1939 when Mr Tivy and Mrs Pascoe signed a 14 year lease with Mr Gilbert Williams of Seven Elms, Druid Stoke Avenue for renting of the current site at Cedar Park at a rental of £20 per year.

Cedar Park - The Early Years

During the winter 1939 / 40 the Club moved to Cedar Park. The move, which involved transfer of the Pavilion, erection of the stand-pipe for water supply and the levelling, laying and sowing of 3 lawns, was largely financed by raising £250 on the issue of 50 £5 4% Debentures, partly secured on the property of the Club.

A move in wartime was obviously not the best way to get the Club flourishing on its new site. The Committee, on 26th February 1940 stressed the need for a recruitment drive and stated "a membership of at least 50 was necessary to meet the annual expenses". In fact the paying membership in 1940 of 28 was to be the highest for the next 19 years - it dropped as low as 19 in 1953. For most of the next 40 years no real success was achieved in balancing the Club expenses through membership income and the Club's survival depended on the continued generosity of individuals in times of need. The 1946 Annual Report sums this fact up well - "Our Membership may not be a very large one, in fact not large enough to enable us to develop our beautiful site as we should, but we do not lack enthusiasts who are always ready to help with donations and their services." In 1947, the Club's Jubilee Year was celebrated with an Exhibition Match on 28th July between Miss D. D. Steel and Major Robert Tingey, two of the top players of the day, in the presence of the Sheriff of Bristol and his wife. That year the neighbouring Bath Club folded but at least Bristol benefited in being given its equipment, which included 9 sets of croquet balls. In 1948 the West of England Cup, previously competed for at Bath, was also given to the Club, first being competed for at Bristol in 1949.

Crisis

In 1949 the Club's tranquillity was shattered when Bristol Education Committee announced its intention to acquire the Club grounds for part of the site of a new Primary School. In a letter dated 27th December 1949, Mr Tivy refers to the campaign of the Club, the Croquet Association and the local MP to fight this, which fortunately was successful. Not long afterwards, at a Committee meeting on 11th October 1952, the committee learned that Mr Williams intended to sell the land following the expiry if the lease in September 1953. Following negotiations, Mr Williams offered to sell the land to the Club for £1,750. The Club took professional advice and were prepared to offer up to £1,000. The difference could not be bridged. Some older members say that it was within the ability of the membership then to make the purchase, but it was not done. We are unlikely, in the future, ever again to have the ability to purchase our ground.

At this time of crisis, faced with the possibility of having to move yet again, the Club was fortunate that Dr Laurence Ormerod came forward to devote his considerable energies to finding a solution. He eventually persuaded the Corporation to purchase the land and to lease it back to us, but the lease period became one year and the Club no longer had even medium term security.

A Change of Name and Fortunes

In 1954 Dr Ormerod became Club President and under his guidance the Club flourished. Over the next dozen or so years the Club was to produce a trio of remarkable young players - young William Ormerod, John Simon and Nigel Aspinall. In 1956 William represented Britain for the first of 4 times in the MacRobertson Shield.

On 16th March 1957, at Dr Ormerod's suggestion, the Members decided to change the name of their Club to the Bristol Croquet Club. For his part this was probably partly one move towards modernising the image of the Club and partly a gesture of thanks to the Corporation for saving the Cedar Park site.

In 1958 William made his first appearance in the Presidents Cup and in 1960 the Club achieved an until-then record membership figure of 36.

By 1966 the standard of play on view at the Club reached an impressive peak. In that years Presidents Cup, William came 1st, Nigel 2nd and John 5th. John was runner-up in 1967 and Nigel won it many times from 1969 onwards, by which time he had unfortunately moved on to fresh pastures.

Recent Times

After those heady days in the 60's, the 70's passed fairly quietly. The signs are there that the 80's could be remembered as another of the Club's Golden eras. In 1981 the first ever Open Handicap Tournament, a 2-day weekend affair in July, was held at the Cedar Park site and in 1982 membership finally broke through the 50 mark so long sought for and the Club could count a record 58 paying members. Let us hope our descendants will not be disappointed with our efforts.

A Roll of Club Presidents

1930 - 1934 Rev. M.E.Thorold
1935 - 1949 Mr C.L.Tivy
1950 - 1954 Mr H.M.Newton
1955 - 1972 Dr. G. L. Ormerod
1973 - 1974 Mr C.G. Rich
1975 - 1982 Mrs V. Ormerod
1983 - 1992 Lady E. Porter

Appendix: Tenants' Improvements in 1985 and 1988 : Replacement of Clubhouse

The Club sought from Bristol City Council the Lease which was granted for 30 years from 29.9.83, because the Club needed to replace the old Clubhouse at Cedar Park. The old Clubhouse was a wooden 1920's building, which the Club had moved to the site in 1940. It was falling down, was unrepairable and had no services. Complete replacement was therefore considered necessary.

The replacement by the new Clubhouse was effected in two stages, in 1985 and 1988.

1985: Stage 1 (completed September 1985): A new, Wooden Pratten building (approximately 15 square metres), containing 2 toilets and a kitchen, was put up to the south of the old Clubhouse. Access to mains drainage, via the neighbouring school's sewers, was obtained by paying Avon County Council for a grant of easement.

The new building was also connected for electricity.

Stage 1 costs were:

Pratten prefabricated building £3,729
Foundations and drainage £3,506
Easement (Avon County Council) £1,123
Floor, plumbing, wiring, electricity connection £1,374
Planning application fees £ 166
Total £9,898

Between 1985 and 1988, the new building and the old Clubhouse were both used, the old Clubhouse being used for housing lawn maintenance machinery, playing equipment and providing some changing facilities.

1988: Stage 2 (completed July 1988) The original plan had been to put up a new Pratten prefabricated building of about 60 square metres, next to Stage 1 building, demolishing the old Clubhouse. The cost of this would have meant that it could not have been done for several years. We therefore purchased a third-hand demountable building (approximately 77 square metres). The old Clubhouse was demolished and the replacement building erected on its site, but further towards the site boundary, immediately next to Stage 1 building, so that the two buildings joined to form the present single building. The Stage 2 part comprises the Clubroom, with, at the side and rear, 4 partitioned rooms: 2 for changing, 1 for lawn maintenance machinery and 1 for playing equipment.

Stage 2 costs were:

3rd hand demountable building £ 2,820
Builders: demolition, foundations, erecting replacement building, partitioning, electrical work £ 6,952
Outside work: area in front of Clubhouse, car park, drive £ 497
Internal fixtures £ 284
Fees, insurance, container hire etc. £ 538
Total £11,091

The total cost of replacement of the Clubhouse in 1985 and 1988 was therefore £20,989.

John Phillips, Treasurer, Bristol Croquet Club, 20th September 1993

For more information, please email Chris Frew, who will be happy to help.