The Incomplete history of Albany Social Bowls Club
Thursday 27th February 1936 was a cold evening, in what had been a cold and wet month. The members of The Butts Bowling Club were sat in the back room of their Headquarters, the 'Hen & Chickens' public house (*), to make a major decision on their future. The Secretary, JH Glover, rose to ask the question at hand, disturbing the smoke that hung thick in the air.
"All those in favour of leaving this place and moving to the Albany Social Club please raise your hand..."
After a count the Secretary declared the vote carried and the Crown Bowls section of Albany was born. Despite the move of HQ, we remained playing at The Butts, or ‘The Corporation Green’ (**) as it was officially known.
In 1939 we defeated a request to ground share with the Railway Men’s Institute and secured exclusive use of the green and equipment for £30 a year.
Use of the green continued up to, and during, 1941, with the Council noting that the green may not be kept in its normal condition ‘owing to a shortage of staff … and the air raids which may directly or indirectly affect the green.’ This perhaps gives an insight into the times given that this was less than a month after the air raids that destroyed Christ Church and killed or seriously injured over a thousand people.
We took up residency at our home once more in 1947. In 1952, the North Midlands County was formed in an acrimonious split from Warwick & Worcester. During the early years some of our bowlers played for our new County; W Emms (1959), J Tranter (1959-61), R Williams (1961), S Heyes (1961 as captain) and the great Reg Skidmore (1960-67).
(*) Situated on The Butts, which became The Fowl & Ferkin, and latterly The Aardvark.
(**) The green was built circa 1920 in the ‘Rover Sports Ground’ which encompassed the area now occupied by The Butts Arena, Earlsdon Park and the Premier Inn. It remained intact but unused in 2001 and even with the building of Earlsdon Park (phase 1) the footprint was still visible with two hedges surviving.
The Great Divide (1986 - 1995)
We remained at the Butts until 1986 when many bowlers had become unhappy at the basic and outdated facilities which the Council seemed unwilling to improve. Old Coventrians Rugby Club had taken on the sports fields of 'Renold Chain' and were looking for a bowls club to play on the green there. The Council, spooked by the loss of income, improved the facilities at the Butts.
The events of this time caused the Great Albany Divide and marked the start of the modern Albany Bowls Club.
‘There has been a deep division of Albany Bowls Club members during the 1987 playing season. The cause of the division being centred around the decision, taken at the end of the 1986 season, to leave the Butts bowling green, in favour of the green in Tile Hill Lane owned by the Old Coventrians Rugby Club. Many members wish to return to the Butts green, and as a consequence have decided to form another bowls section. With the full concurrence of the Albany Social Club Committee, the inaugural meeting of the Albany Social (Butts) bowling club was held at the A.S.C. on 13th October 1987 at 8-30pm’
Les Atkin (Secretary)
Horace Cooke was the first Chairman of the newly formed Albany Social Club (Butts), Les Atkin became Secretary, H Owen the Treasurer and Keith Pashley, Wal Pashley, Bob Symes and Ken Dodwell the captains.
Some bowlers did return at a later date, most notably Howard Tucker who immediately made a mark in the 'sensational' CIU cup win over 'mighty' Wyken at the Stoke Aldermoor green in 1990. Albany Butts C were in the fourth division (of four) whereas Wyken had won the cup four times out of the last five and the League title. Due to the handicaps we had a seven shot head start in each game, but Howard blew his opponent away 21 - 8. Bob Symes (21 - 14) and Gordon Grove (21 - 19) put the pressure on while Horace Cooke (21 - 11) 'conquered his bad legs and his opponent'.
In 1992 Bill Price, widely regarded as one of of best bowlers ever, passed away. His family donated a Cup in his memory and the first edition of the competition was won by Dave Atkins in 1993. Apart from a few times in the mid-2000s, it has been played ever since as a non-handicap cup - just as Bill would have wanted.
The other half of the club called themselves ‘Albany Social (Tile Hill)’ until 1994 when they renamed themselves to ‘Old Coventrians’ and the final link connecting the two halves was broken (^).
(^) The original ‘Tile Hill’ green is under the houses nearest the Club House at the entrance to Old Covents. The new green was laid somewhere between 2001 and 2006.
The Decline (1996 - 2005)
Maintaining the Butts was becoming increasing difficult with animal and footabller incursion, plus not having our own greenkeeper. Howitzers Bowling Club, who had played at Spencer Park, had folded and the Council suggested we moved there, which would enable them to cut costs. The rest of the sports facilities at The Butts (~) had fallen into disuse and disrepair so it made sense to move us to Spencer Park. The move was not without it's contraversy as the decision was taken by the Committee alone and without a full vote of the membership.
So in 1996 we started the next phase of our journey, reverting to the name of ‘Albany Social Club’, on a green that started its life over 25 years before our Club was formed (~~). The move did not come without pain as some members did not want to make the switch and we lost our ladies team completely.
Crown is a game where green knowledge can keep you competitive when in other sports age might stop this. In many ways the green is the most important piece of equipment a Crown bowler has. The thought of having to start again after learning a green for 50 years is just too much for many. This is why when a green closes you lose so many bowlers, even if there is one just down the road.
Membership continued to dwindle; we lost our Saturday team and last female bowler after the 1999 season and in 2005 our Sunday team folded and our Midweek and Thursday teams were languishing in the bottom divisions. This was symptomatic of the wider decline in Crown across Coventry, and in 2005, despite the valiant efforts of the remaining members we had just 11 bowlers. It was very likely that after 70 years Albany Social Bowls club would just quietly fade away.
(~) The banked oval cycle track had replaced the football ground that originally stood there. Coventry United now play their home games there in the new Butts Arena. What goes around comes around...
(~~) Spencer Park is the only Council gren in Coventry and is the oldest Crown green in the whole of our County, constructed in the early 1910's.
The Phoenix of Earlsdon (2006 - present)
In any story there always needs to be a twist of fate to write a new chapter, and for us that came when Scott Crowther decided to start playing bowls again. Coundon not only turned him down as they had enough members, but more importantly directed him our way as they knew we were struggling.
As often happens, a new perspective, unburdened by the weight of history, can help energise people. A lot of hard work led by Scott, but supported by the whole membership, helped to dramatically increase the number of members and forge new ties with The Albany Social Club to the benfit of both. By the end of 2013 membership had tripled and, for the first time in ten years, we were going to have a Sunday team. For the first time in a long time, the future looked secure. It was then the Council announced that the Crown Green at Spencer Park was to be closed.
Once again we mobilised and together with the help of Friends of Spencer Park, the good people of Earlsdon and bowlers from other Clubs, we saved the green and ensured a new financial deal to help safeguard the future. Our membership increased again to over fifty members for the first time in our history and gaining our first female bowler in 2015 for well over a decade. Additional teams were added, including to the Tuesday league and in 2018 our first ladies team in over two decades.
In 2017, with the Club's future secure for the time being, Graham Burden stepped down from the Committee after 26 years of continuous service as, from one time to the other, Secretary, Captain, Competition Secretary, Chairperson and Treasurer. A lot of information we have about the Club is down to Graham's hoarding (well done I say)! He has always done what is best for the Club and the people associated with it, often to the detriment of his own enjoyment, and we are grateful that he chose us to bowl for. Without his dedication, especially during that most difficult period for the Club, I doubt whether we would still exist today.
Early in 2020, Howard Tucker passed away at the age of 73. His funeral was attended by old and new bowlers; a tribute to a man who never stopped encouraging us all. Howard was a complete legend, beloved by all that knew him. 2020 was unrelentlessly grim, and just as we thought it could not get worse, we received the sad news that both Graham Burden and Gordon Gregor had passed away.
We are the oldest Crown Green Bowling Club in Coventry and by a quirk of fate we play on the oldest green in Coventry (approaching 110 years old). Albany (Social) Club bowls team has survived for over 80 years due to hard work, luck and a lot of love. Without any one of those things this would have been a footnote about a long forgotten Club, not a history of a vibrant living thing. The past tells us that the future is never certain but we should never be burdened by it, not when there are so many exciting possibilities out there.
So as we look to the future, let’s raise a glass to toast all those who came before us; upon whose shoulders we all now stand, and who's memories live on in us.
Written and researched by Damon Naile from first source material, with additional research and materials from Graham Burden.
2 Albany Social Club (Butts) minutes book 1987 - 1990
3 Coventry Archives CCB/3/1/1/26
4 Coventry Telegraph
5 Google Earth