Club History

An appeal to anyone who can contribute to this page your contributions would be much appreciated.

With acknowledgements to Joe Garnett and Tom Gibson

1902 to 2002

 Some time during 1902 (The exact date is lost with the first, Minute books) eight Scotsmen, namely, Messrs W.M. Hunter, A. Ogilvie, R.N. Miller, D. Cockburn, A.J. Mc Gibbon, J. Fraser, Jas McAuslin, R. Dunlop together with a Welshman W. Walsh met to form MARITZBURG BOWLING CLUB. The meeting was held in ALEXANDRA PARK PAVILLION, and they were joined by A.C. Bell, Wallace Batchelor and others and they resolved that a bowling green be constructed. (It can be assumed with some certainty that the date was 5 May 1902. The reason being is that mention is made in The Natal Witness that a social and dance was arranged to celebrate the THIRTIETH birthday of MARITZBURG Bowling Club will be held on 5 May 1932).

The first President was Mr. A.J. Mc Gibbon and that the Honorable Secretary was Mr. W. Walsh.

A green was built, in Alexandra Park, across the road from the Oval Cricket Field. Play began in earnest early in 1903 on No. 1 green (what is known as “B” green).

The first Club House consisted of a large Piano crate secured to a gum tree on the bank

The first building to be erected was in 1904, and was a wood and iron room measuring sixteen feet by twelve feet, with a narrow veranda, and lockers that doubled as seats. After the First Clubhouse was erected in 1904 the Committee decided that a building fund be implemented, for future developments and improvements, also for daily running costs.

About this time the Club was worried by a large Oak tree, on one corner of the green, its shade and roots causing a bare patch on the green. Appeals to the Curator of Parks were ignored, as he preferred the beauty and shade of the tree, to the comfort of the bowlers. They had to wait until he died some three years later before getting satisfaction.

Another anecdote of these days was, about a player who, after suffering a heavy defeat in the afternoon, waited until dark, then returned to the green and ran a harrow through it.

Late 1905 early 1906 it was decided to increase the number of greens, so as to accommodate the increase in membership, and also to be able to carry out maintenance of the No. 1(“B”) green.

No. 2 green (what is known as “A” green) was commissioned on 7 June 1907 at a cost of 600 pounds, and at that stage the Council’s Parks Superintendent supervised the upkeep of the greens.

No.3 green (what is known as “C” green) was officially opened by His Worship Mayor Councillor P.H. Taylor on 10 November 1917.

In 1912 the Club entered the National Tournament for the first time. It was held in Durban that year, and six stalwarts of the Club won the rinks shot aggregate shield (Dewar Shield) and were runners-up in the knockout competition- see photograph.

The National Tournament was held in Pietermaritzburg in 1921, with the Club as headquarters, and after this it was decided that one club could not hold future events of this size and the District Association was founded.

The year 1921 was definitely Tom Gibson`s  “year”., He was chairman of the National Tournament Committee, Cub President, Club Singles Champion and, in December, the first President of the newly formed Pietermaritzburg and District Bowling Association.

The Club has had its share of District, Natal and National honours. The members have continually brought back honours to the Club both for their ability on the greens by winning most of the countries top tournaments at some stage or another. Players of the Club have represented their Country and we continually have players representing us in the District sides at bowls. It has produced it’s share of Executives for Pietermaritzburg District, Natal and (S.A.B.A.) South African Bowling Association, notably our Honorary Life President, Joe Garnet, who is also Honorary Life President of S.A.B.A and was awarded the Queen’s coronation Medal for services rendered to bowls in South Africa.

In 1923 the then Corporation agreed to grant the Club a loan to expand the clubhouse.

In 1924 a brick and tile clubhouse was built, (with the old wood and iron structure being auctioned off for 55 pounds). The brick and tile clubhouse was again modified in 1956, 1971 and 1975.

It was resolved after many years of conflict that lady members could hold minor office and a ladies section was officially formed in October of 1931, at approximately the same time the men started wearing the stripped blazers.

In 1952 the Club celebrated its Jubilee by hosting the Natal Championship Tournament

In 1975 The Azalea Tournament was started and was held during the town’s azalea festival each year. This developed into one, if not, the biggest Tournament in Pietermaritzburg for many years and we have had many of the Country’s finest bowlers taking part in this event.

We form part of the SPORT PARK of Pietermaritzburg with other sports such as Croche, Soccer, Hockey, Cycling, Canoeing and Cricket all in close proximity.

None of this would have been possible if we had not received a long lease from the Council and numerous loans over the years.

 

An article published in the NATAL WITNESS Wednesday March 12, 2002

A century around the Greens

By Margaret von Klemperer

Maritzburg Bowling Club, the City’s oldest, celebrates its centenary this year.

It all began 100 years ago, with a piano crate tied to a gum tree in Alexandra Park. That was the first clubhouse the Maritzburg Bowling Club – although whether the members were particularly small, or just used the crate as a way of staking their claim, is not recorded.

This year sees the club, the oldest bowling club in the province and the fifth oldest in the country, celebrating its centenary.

The actual date of the first meeting has been lost, along with the earliest minute book, but the first green (there are now three) was ready for play in 1903, and the crate was replaced by a more permanent building in 1904.

With 120 registered bowlers club president Angus Flockhart describes MBC as, “quite successful.” They regularly have members performing well in competition and making their way into representative teams at various levels – the current Inland Bowling Association president, Bob Radcliffe is a member.

But despite this, and despite the plans going ahead for the centenary year – competitions, a banquet and a cocktail party – Flockhart admits that bowls generally is not flourishing.

“It’s a Cinderella sport,” he says. “It doesn’t have a high profile; it doesn’t get air time on television and there is so much other international sport to watch that it keeps people away”

Flockhart also admits that bowls still carries the stigma of being an, “old man’s sport”  – partly because no one ever sees it among the glamour games on television. But in reality, there are plenty of younger bowlers. The club has a membership stretching in age from 15 to 90. And the old days of long trousers and skirts that had to touch the ground if a player knelt on the green, uniforms and hats and blazers have changed. Shorts are allowed – though not for competitions – baseball caps and peaks are fine and blazers have gone, replaced by zip up wind cheaters in club colours.

Inevitably, in a century of existence there have been ups and downs. Long-time member Brian Arnold has been researching the club’s history dredging through old newspaper cuttings and minute books and picking the brains of those whose membership stretch a long way into MBC’s past.

What he has found makes for entertaining reading. In 1921, the club formed The Maritzburg Croquet Club – still going but now separate. The croquet was for women, because the wives of the male members of the bowls club were not allowed to bowl. Eventually in 1824, the women were given permission to play on Wednesdays and Thursday, but by 1935 the subject of debate was mixed bowls. The club minutes reveal this was to be allowed on Thursday afternoon and Sunday morning, “with the view of coaching the ladies.” What the women thought is not recorded, but they all had to be wives and daughters of club members – “outsiders” were allowed. Current committee member Wendy Radcliffe is firmly of the view that men and women take different approaches to the game. “men tend to be aggressive,” she says. “Ladies think about what they are doing.”

Another issue which crops up more than once in the record is Sunday bowling. MBC leases its premises from the City Council and while bowlers were keen play on Sundays, their landlords felt they should have their minds on higher things.

In 1924 the club raised the question of Sunday bowls at the AGM, in an effort to increase revenue. After a ballot, it was decided to go ahead – the first Sunday to be December the 7, 1924. But on December 22, the club received a nasty Christmas present from the corporation demanding the they stop playing on Sundays.

It was 1938 before the town clerk graciously informed the club that the city council had no objection to Sunday bowls – but only in the morning.

It was not just Sunday activity that inflamed the wrath of the council. In 1925, they demanded an explanation for the fact that MBC were growing vegetables in the grounds. The club committee gave in on this one an issued an instruction for the end of vegetable growing. Which vegetables were flourishing in the vicinity of the greens is not stated.

Arnolds history is filled with names of long serving club members who feature regularly over the years. They include Joe Garnett, who received the Queen’s Coronation Medal for services to bowls. Tom Gibson; first president. AJ McGibbon; and Ronnie McDonald whose name is commemorated on an arch at the club. Some appear year after year, serving on committees and obviously putting a lot of effort back into the club that gave them their sport.

And not just sport. Flockhart, Arnold and Radcliffe all agree that bowls is about camaraderie. “It’s a very social game,” says Flockhart. “A game takes about two and a half hours, and you have time to talk to your opponent and then afterwards, you sit down and chat. “

All agree that, over the years, they have built many friendships on the greens.

Arnold has the last word as we walk away from the club. “It’s the one game where a man of 70 and a man of 20 can meet compete and talk on equal terms.”

It sounds like a good reason to hope for another century.