1747 is the earliest documented date showing how far back in time the history of our green goes. The green was noted in the diary of one Mr. Belchin who was visiting Hurst. He visited the bowling green and the Church House after attending morning service in 1747. (ref: 1)
His host introduced him to the “noted publican” of the Church House and “after saluting each other in a gentleman like manner” they parted company with a promise to return in the afternoon. Mr Belchin described the afternoon visit in his diary:
“This house is very pleasantly situated and has belonging to it a large and handsome bowling green for the diversion of those gentlemen who please to play. Being all assembled together we sat down and smoked our pipes and drank some wine in a very sociable manner. The afternoon being half spent, the landlady of the house made her appearance and in a very complacent manner desired the company should be pleased to drink tea. Our ladies immediately accepted the offer”.
A painting was executed of the Bowling Green towards the end of the 18th century by Michael Rooker. By that time the Church House had become known as the Bunch of Grapes. Some time later it was renamed The Castle. The painting was purchased and taken to America, and is now part of the Paul Mellon collection in Washington DC.
At the time the Church House became known as the Bunch of Grapes, the decision to have our club associated with the pub was taken, and the emblem of our club remains a bunch of grapes to this day.
Our green is set in an area steeped in history and inextricably linked to Church House (now The Castle). Hurst was once set in The Royal Forest of Windsor. The date of the nearby Almshouses goes back to the 17th century and the Church of St. Nicholas opposite dates back to 1083.
Legend has it that the bowling green was laid for Charles 1 who stayed at the Castle Inn when hunting in the forest of Windsor. (ref. 2). During the English Civil War, the Harrisons of Hurst House lost most of their wealth supporting Charles 1. The unfortunate king is said to have played on Hurst bowling green in more peaceful times (ref:3).
St. Nicholas Church and The Castle are linked underground. Part of the pub, known as the coffin room, is said to be haunted.
We are pleased to say that the famous England cricketer and all round sportsman, Dr. W. G. Grace played our green. He was most disturbed to have lost to us and insisted on playing us again. He did not fare any better on the second attempt. We have a photograph of him with his team during play and a letter in his hand challenging us to a match.
Hurst is one of the original clubs in the RCBBA. Our green was extended from four to six rinks c.1920 (ref: 4). It is a designated ancient green is passed as suitable for county competitions.
The green has changed very little over time. The painting of the green in the 18th century by Rooker, a copy of which hangs in the clubhouse, can be compared with a photograph in the “Olympic Games London 1948 Official Souvenir” (page 160) which is similar. This picture and our current photograph, taken in the summer of 2010 courtesy of Rita and Terry Bunyard, are almost identical, the only difference being the maturity of trees.
Hurst Bowling Club members are committed to keeping the sport of bowls alive. We see this historic site as part of our heritage and tradition. We will endeavour to keep these alive for future generations as the ancestors have kept them alive for us to enjoy.
1. The Book of Hurst ; Henry Farrar, 1984. A copy is held in the Berkshire Record Office, Reading.
2. Wokingham District Council Countryside Service; Walks Maps and Information.
3. The New Berkshire Village Book; Compiled by the Berkshire Federation of Women’s Institutes; 1985.
4. A Century of Bowling in Berkshire; Graham Rogers; 2010.
18th century painting of the Hurst Bowling Green by Michael Rooker showing an idyllic scene at the Church House
The Castle Inn, formerly the Church House, c. 1895 when A J King was the proprietor