| THE HISTORY OF EDGBASTON CROQUET CLUBThe Club has been in existence since around 1900. It was originally situated in the grounds of The Plough and Harrow hotel in Hagley Road, close to the Newman Oratory Church, and wasknown as The Plough & Harrow Croquet Club. Records go back to 1908 but these reveal a start date around the turn of the century .The earliestmembers included fathers from the Newman Oratory, in particular the first President, the Rev. FatherRichard Bellasis, the major benefactor of the club for over 20 years, and his brother Father LewisBellasis.|
In 1914 the Club changed its name to Edgbaston Croquet Club and in the summer of1915 moved to its present location in Richmond Hill Road where a simple pavilion(costing £30.13.0d. including carriage and erection) had been constructed.
Two lawns had been levelled for the opening on 5th June which, according to the Minute book ” only rose coloured spectacles could make the surface appear passable.”
In 1914 the Club had 48 playing members, but by 1917, 28 had resigned due to the war. The Club’ s first Honorary Secretary, Captain WGW Hastings, apparently went to the front in 1914, was still there in 1918,and, although he survived the war, was never able to return to the Club.
In 1919 a Minute by Margaret Barrows records the death of the landlord, Mr. Cary Field, “without whose generosity and kindness the Club would never have been able to exist” – it appears that he charged no rent whatsoever! She went on to record ” the carrying on of the Club has been a difficult task, left as it was in the hands of the very few. Now, however, we hope that our troubles are over, and we foresee a very successful season for 1920 – we have set up a board to attract notice at the entrance gate and are doing what we can in the way of advertisement. Tea is always now obtainable at the ground, Mrs. Bayley Parker being kind enough to supply us with boiling water any afternoon – the china, tea, sugar and other necessaries may be used by any member on payment of a trifling fee. We have been considerably troubled this season by constant burglaries, the pavilion having been broken open no fewer than 3 times. Ground at the close of the season was in excellent condition and reflects great credit on our groundsman Styles.”
Margaret Barrows was the Club’s Treasurer for 21 years until 1928 and Secretary for almost as long The Club’s subscription in 1919 was 1 guinea, increased to 2 guineas the following season and 2.5 guineas in 1925. Mains water was connected that year (in spite of this, it was to be another 65 years before proper flush toilets were installed).
In 1922 the Club registered with The Croquet Association. The third lawn was opened in May 1926 – it had been constructed using completely new turf at a cost of £100.17.0d raised from donations from members,which now numbered 34. Father Richard as he was affectionately known, continued to provide the club with machinery, lawnsmaterials and all manner of other items at his own expense.
1929 was a notable year in the Club’s history, when its team won the very first Longman Cup. The team consisted of Mr. Owen Parsons, Miss M. Whitehouse, Mr. G.F. Crisp, Major A.M. Deakin, Mrs. H.H. Benton and Mrs. A.M. Deakin. (Edgbaston won again in 1952 and 1961). During the 1930s Edgbaston established itself as the Midlands leading club Bridge was introduced to the Club and became increasingly popular. War Savings Certificates were purchased with the proceeds (table money 3d per player)
Golf croquet was played on Wednesdays and Saturdays on lawn 3 only. A tea “woman”named Mrs. Tubb was employed on a daily basis. In 1939 both Fathers Richard and Lewis Bellasis died. At the AGM in December the Hon. Secretary reported ” The year had not been so successful as the preceding one, owing to continuous wet weather, and war starting in September.” In 1940, it was arranged with the Food Controller for butter and sugar for an average of 60 membersper week. By 1945, however, the war had reduced the number of members to 20 playing and 12 bridge and by 1951 the number of playing members was further reduced to 17.Dr. B.R. Sandiford,Secretary of the Club and Mr. R.H. Newton, the Chairman, were both instrumental in reviving the Club in the 1950s and early 60s.
Reg Newton sadly died suddenly in 1965, and was succeeded by Professor Alan Ross. In 1964 a “revolt” was reported due to the suspension of Saturday teas as no suitable “tea woman”could be found. A House Committee was formed and lady members now formed a rota to provide teas. The fabric of the ageing pavilion was of increasing concern, made worse by visiting vandals and rodents.During the early 1970s, notable events were an exhibition of croquet at Cannon Hill Park by John Solomon and Professor Bernard Neal, and the formation of The West Midlands Federation of Croquet Clubs at the instigation of Alan Girling. Dr. R.C. (Ray) Jones joined the Club, and became increasingly involved in its activities taking over as Chairman in 1981. He was instrumental in the new pavilion project and a major recruitment drive. A side issue for Ray was a Miss Finlay from the Edgbaston Girls High School who frequently complained to him thatour younger lads frequently “looked at” and even wolf-whistled through our fence at her girls on the school playing ground.
In spite of such minor annoyances, Ray was able to raise the amount of just under £4,000 for a new clubhouse from grants from Birmingham City Council, The Sports Council, donations from former president John Meacham and other members, and various fund-raising activities. A loan and grant from the Croquet Association was also obtained – this was something of a first and a proving ground for such assistance, which is now regarded as reasonably normal.In 1983 the old club house was finally demolished, and replaced by our existing one.
The construction was by an organisation called “Community Action” in which young men who had got into difficulty (or had no training) worked under the supervision of a professional foreman. This organisation was funded by the City and the Club paid only for the materials, not for the labour.
The new pavilion was officially opened on 23rd July by Councillor Norman Green, of the Sports Council of Birmingham with Alan Oldham, representing The Croquet Association in attendance.
In 1985 and 1986 the Club hosted visits of USA and Australian test teams to play warm up matches against a West Midlands team prior to the MacRobertson Shield. West Midlands won on both occasions.
By 1987 membership had increased to well over 60 and during the early 1990s the Club continued to thrive. By 2001, however, membership had once again dwindled.
A major flood in that year almost destroyed lawn 3. It was decided to appoint Chris Bennett (who had been an active member of the Club during the early 1960s and again from 1982) to manage the Club, in particular to oversee lawn repairs and organise a renewed recruitment effort. This enabled a long-term development plan to be put in place.
In 2003 Edgbaston hosted an International between England and South Africa: the teams were captained by Robert Fulford and Reg Bamford, the then world ranked nos. 1 and 2. The South African team included that country’s two first black players, Meschack Mazibuko and Victor Dladla both of whom had been coached by Chris during his winters there. England were the winners, and an official visit from the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Birmingham made it a memorable occasion.
In August 2005 Edgbaston were co-hosts with Cheltenham, Bristol and Nailsea of The World Croquet Federation Championships. 50 of the world’s top players from fourteen different countries competed at Edgbaston over the five days of the tournament.
The Club benefited massively from this event, with major tree surgery being done by its landlords, Calthorpe Estates, and its neighbours – the police ground, and a grant from Birmingham City Council which provided the Club with a new mower and other machinery, new mallets and Dawson tournament balls.
In 2005 Edgbaston set up its website. In 2006 we increased our subscriptions to cover the running costs of the Club, and have decided – due to lack of precise records -to celebrate our Centenary year. We now look forward to the next 100 years .As a quid pro quo for this, however, our landlords Calthorpe Estates agreed to meet the cost of connecting an electricity supply from our neighbours, the Edgbaston High School for Girls, to our pavilion. So we are no longer in the dark ages!