As a member of Sunderland Bowling Club (or the Bowls/Bowling section of Ashbrooke Sports Club) I feel duty bound to flag up its wonderful heritage. When one of the historians from English Heritage visited the green and pavilion a few years ago he went into raptures about what we have today and also what we have managed to preserve.
The history of Sunderland Bowling Club is a lengthy one and one which still needs to be explored in detail. Generally it has been accepted that its foundation is dateable to 1889 - a couple of years after the opening of Ashbrooke in 1887. However a little hand-written booklet relating to the tennis section has turned up in the archive and it is clear that the tennis club also housed a bowling green in the pre-Ashbrooke days when tennis was based in the Thornhill area. The booklet is dateable to 1886 and newspaper accounts suggest that 1883 was probably the actual year the club was founded alongside the tennis club.
It has already been noted in a previous blog that the rugby club can date its origins back to the very inauguration of the Rugby Football Union. Sunderland Bowling Club had an equally important role to play when the national association was set up in the mid- Edwardian period. Between that date (1905) and the outbreak of the First World War our club produced two national singles champions and a handful of England internationals. During the same period our green was also the venue for a match between Durham County and the national Australian side. Believe it or not references to this visit ended up in the cricket section of the local studies archive (‘Australian bowlers at Ashbrooke!’)
The club allowed wounded servicemen to play on the green while recuperating during the First World War and continued to provide national champions during the inter-war years. During the Second World War the green was damaged by enemy action but, despite all sorts of rationing, managed to make a quick recovery. (Rumours abounded about bowls playing local councillors being involved).
Since 1907 the bowling club has been responsible for the annual competition known as the
Ashbrooke Trophy. Well over a hundred years old now, this trophy is competed for by
private clubs in the old Durham County.
The club continues to flourish on the national scene and within living memory has produced a president of the national bowling association in Jim Thompson and at least one national champion (who still plays). The club is strong at the moment and continues to boast an extremely competitive ladies section which was set up towards the end of the twentieth century.
The Ashbrooke ground has always been a sun-trap when summer decides to turn up and members of other sections may enjoy watching a game of bowls as much as a game of cricket. The pavilion is worth a particular visit. Again, as noted in an earlier blog, for years the visiting international cricket sides were placed outside it for photographs as it formed a splendid background. The South Africans of 1907, Indians of 1911 and Australians of 1912 can vouch for this and there can be few bowling greens in the world which can boast of national and international links with two significant sports. (P.S. Make that three – rugby sides have been photographed here too for over a hundred years)