A history of bowls on Castle Green

There has been a bowling green in Guildford’s Castle Grounds since at least the 1660s, and today it must be one of the most pleasant settings for miles around in which to play a game of bowls.

Bowlers at the Castle Green Bowling Club in the early 1960s.

Today’s Castle Green Bowling Club, nearly 100 years old, is proud of its history and the fact that bowls has been played on the site for so many years.

The late David Wood researched and wrote up the club’s history. This coincided with its 75th anniversary. He also mentioned some of the earlier history of bowls being played in the Castle Grounds. He noted a street plan for the town dating back to 1739 that showed the bowling green in its present position next to the Castle Keep.

The bowling green just after the First World War.

In his history of the bowling green, Mr Wood noted that up until 1885 Lord Grantley owned the site of the Castle Grounds. He writes that in that year Guildford borough bought the land from him for £2,000. However, it did not include the bowling green. It went to auction on July 8, 1885. There was keen bidding between the corporation and a local brewery – but the council finally secured it for £2,050.

It is possible that the brewery that was keen to get its hands on the bowling green was Crooke’s Guildford Brewery. (It was situated just over the Town Bridge near St Nicolas’ Church. The site is now the car park next to the George Abbot pub). Mr Wood notes that an Alderman Frederick Augustine Crooke and his father before him had been tenants of the bowling green for 100 years, up to the 1880s. They were the owners of the family-run brewery.

The Castle Grounds was opened to the public as a pleasure ground on June 28, 1888 – also the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Victoria.

Various picture postcards from the 1900s show people walking or sitting on the area of the bowling green. It appears that for some time after the Castle Grounds had opened it had ceased to be used for bowls. However, it appears that by 1907 the game was being played there once more.

This view dates to about the 1920s.

Although the Castle Green Bowling Club was formed in 1923, there was no clubhouse until the 1970s. The all-important tea was taken in various cafes and restaurants around the town. Lyons teashop in the High Street was once such venue.

Although the club was not well off financially, there was an indomitable spirit of its members and the generosity of those donating trophies.

Over the years, membership of the club fluctuated. At the club’s inception 40 people were interested in joining. In 1945 there were 61 members. By the early 1960s the number had dropped to below 12.

The club was saved from extinction by the generosity of an anonymous female donor. The enthusiasm of a few loyal members saw the club through during this time of crisis.

In 1969 the club agreed to take female members. New members were recruited when the London Transport Bowling Club folded in 1972.

Members of the Castle Green Bowling Club taken a few years ago with Jack Patrick seated in the centre.

Jim Dale joined the club in 1932 and gave to it sterling service, in many capacities, for 53 years before his death in 1985.

His son, Ron joined the club in 1946. He died in 2000 serving in almost all of the officer positions within the club.

In a story in the Surrey Timeson October 17, 1987, Ron Dale said: “My father was a member of Castle Green for 54 years and I joined to take the mickey because I thought it was so simple. As it was I never actually beat him.” At that time Ron Dale was both club captain and treasurer.

It was Jim and Ron together with Ted Kendall, Eric Mundell and Alf Walton who pulled the club through its difficult years.

Ted Kendall died in 2003 and his ashes are buried in the bank beside the green.

Among the new members in 1972 were Bill Whitney and his wife Freda. Between them they engendered a friendly atmosphere. Bill became club president in 1985.

Today’s clubhouse is an extension of the one that the club secured in the 1970s. Part of it once formed the entrance to an air-raid shelter. In 2000, the club received a Millennium grant to make the necessary improvements and extension.

The late Jack Patrick, a former mayor of Guildford, joined the club in 1971, and was chairman for many years.

Members of the club not so many years ago including Shirley West, front row centre.

Today, Brian and Shirley West are stalwart members in the club. They also organise charity matches and fundraising activities. Their son Gary is also a keen bowler and a proud past winner of the Mayor of Guildford’s singles championship, after being a five-time losing semi-finalist.

Without doubt, the sight of white-clad bowlers on the green on a lovely summer’s Sunday afternoon, is a joy to see.

Thanks to Brian and Shirley West for supplying archive material and the majority of photos seen in this story.


David Rose (writing for the Guildford Dragon)