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 Clubs’ advertisement in the “Reading Mercury & Oxford Gazette” 0f May 15th, 1775 stated that the bowling green (at Hurst), was in good order. Two years later, on May 26th, 1777 the same newspaper reported: “The meeting of gentlemen at the Bowling-green House…will continue every other Friday all the summer”.
As indicated above the bowling green was originally part of Church House and consisted of four rinks. In 1920 another two rinks were added. (ref:4)
Towards the end of the 18th century Church House was renamed the “Bunch of Grapes”, hence the origin of the bowling club’s emblem. Our logo remains a bunch of grapes, thus maintaining our historic link with the pub.
A water colour painting of the bowling green, circa 1790, was executed by Michael Angelo Rooker (1743-1801). The painting was purchased and taken to America. It became part of the Paul Mellon Collection, Upperville, Virginia. A copy hangs in our clubhouse.
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 Alms houses goes back to the 17th century and the Church of St. Nicholas opposite dates 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.
The wooden club house was being used in 1901. It was considered “falling to bits” then. In spite of representations to various authorities, no one wished to replace the building. At the time of writing this history, 2020, members of the club have had to admit it is beyond repair. Every effort is being made to replace this quaint building.
Passed down to us, by word of mouth, are stories of long ago. A club member used to tell of how, as a boy, he watched the green being cut by horse drawn mower. The horses wore bootees stuffed with straw to prevent damage to the bowling green. Our green keepers today are equally careful, visiting teams congratulate us on our beautiful playing green.
The club has in its possession two handwritten letters from Dr.W.G. Grace. Concerning games against London County Bowling Club. The letters are dated 6th and 14th May 1905. Hurst Bowling Club was challenged to play against London County B.C. at the Crystal Palace. The “Reading Mercury” on 20th May 1905 reported the match as follows:
“The Hurst Bowling Club was honoured by an invitation to play the London County B.C. at the Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
Dr.W.G.Grace, the famous cricketer , who is captain of the challenging club had got together a very strong team, including several internationals and London and Southern Counties’ Gold Badge Winners.
Mr Frank Butler. of Reading, who is Captain of the Hurst Club, was, however, able to get a strong team to take to the palace, and the result fully justified not only his selection but the prowess of the club he captains, Hurst winning by 77 points against 46 scored by the London County Club. After the match, Mr John Eighteen, President of the Hurst B. C. was heartily congratulated on the very fine display of the” Ancient and Royal Game” shown by his club. The match was played in three rinks, 21 ends in each game”.
August 26th, 1905 The “Reading Mercury” reported the return match:
“On Wednesday a most enjoyable meeting of expert bowlers was held at the Hurst Green when Dr. W.G.Grace , the famous cricketer and captain of the London County B.C. brought down a powerful team to avenge on the local club the thrashing they gave them at the Crystal Palace on the 17th of may when the scores were Hurst 77, London County 46.
Dr. Grace’s team included no less than six internationals, while Hurst had one international in Mr. Harry Childs, who won his gold badge a week or two ago. Again, the game proved an exceedingly interesting one throughout and there was much excitement when it was found that the result was a tie, the three rinks (four a side) having produced a score of 56 for each club.
After the game the players had dinner together at the “Castle Inn” and were joined at the social board by a number of friends from Reading. Mr. John Eighteen (President of the Hurst Club) and Dr.W.G.Grace (Captain of the London County Club) respectively filled the chair and the vice-chair with their accustomed geniality and the customary toasts were drunk”
Hurst Bowling Club was a founder member of the Berkshire Bowls association in 1910. There are records to show that the club was active during the 1939-45 war.
The club is reputed to have the second oldest bowling green in England. It is certainly the oldest in Berkshire. We are a designated ancient green.
In August 2013 our club registered with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) as a Community Amateur Sports Club (CASC). Number:CH10132.
We began our Community Project in 2012. This is done in collaboration with Link, a befriending organisation in Wokingham. Lonely and isolated, mostly elderly, residents in the area are entertained by us. Those who can play enjoy an afternoon of bowls. Those too infirm to play enjoy conversation, reminiscing, affection and laughter. They also enjoy homemade cakes and tea.
The 2020 season of bowls was suspended due to the pandemic, Corvid 19. The Sports Minister, in consultation with various sports Governing Bodies, gave dispensation to green keepers providing they observed the two-metre distancing rule. Our green keepers have been vigilant. They have ensured for us that when the pandemic is over, we have a decent bowling green for us to play on. The historical outcome of this pandemic and how it affects us is yet to be written.
Hurst Bowling Club members are committed to keeping the sport of bowls alive. We see this historic site as part of our local heritage, tradition and sporting history. We will endeavour to keep these alive for future generations as the ancestors have kept them alive for us to enjoy.
Veronica (Ronnie) Ashley. April 2020.
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