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Centenary celebrations

Not only current members, but past members and several special guests, including The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Tom Coles with the Lady Mayoress, Mrs Nikki Coles attended the bunting bedecked Pembroke Gardens Bowls Club (writes Lesley Drew).

The landmark occasion was the club’s centenary, and given a warm welcome was the Lord President of the Privy Council, the Rt. Hon Penny Mordant, and the Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan. A past president of Bowls England, Paul Robson, joined the occasion, as well as life member Pat Watson who now lives in Wiltshire.
In all, somewhat appropriately, 100 people were at the Green.
Although the banner at the entrance to the club displays 1923 to 2023, in fact the start of bowls in this area of Old Portsmouth began in a curious way in 1921. The men of the congregation of St Thomas’s Church in the High Street, now Portsmouth’s Anglican Cathedral, decided it would be sociable to establish a church sports club for men.
Bowls was one of the choices of sporting activity and a request was made of the town council to use a piece of land at Pembroke Gardens. The request was initially rejected but approved upon a second application, and the St Thomas’ Sports Club had its bowls section.
Despite having a dismal lack of success in playing local, established bowls clubs, there was much enjoyment and determination to the extent that outsiders asked to join, and numbers swelled until the section was sufficiently large to form an independent club.
The town council was approached again for approval and the Pembroke Park Bowls Club was officially recorded for its first season in 1923.
Sadly, any records of the first 50 or more years of the club have been lost without trace, but among the framed photographs in today’s clubhouse is a sepia picture dated 1928 showing the winning team of the shield and cup of Southsea Tournaments. The men are pictured all wearing suits. Two other trophies are pictured as having been won that year.
It was in 1951 that ladies wanting to play bowls, formed the Pembroke Park Ladies Bowls Club. A small room was added to the men’s pavilion for their use. June Stanley, still a member at the age of 95, remembers well joining the club after retiring from teaching in 1985.
Men and women did not mix, though the men had a habit of going to the ladies to tell them what they should be doing and had to be shooed away. After a few years, June left the club due to family needs, but by the time she rejoined in 2013, it was to become a member of an amalgamated club of men and women in a much-enlarged clubhouse with a current membership now standing at 120.
Five teams play in the Portsmouth and District League and members participate in county level competitions too.
The centenary celebrations began with the planting of a white hornbeam tree by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress. This had been presented to the club by the Portsmouth and District Women’s Bowling Association.
A total of 36 players then took to the green for a short game before tea, the special guests were invited to have a go and it was Penny Mordant who went first. Her wood powered the length of the rink and into the far ditch. With a laugh, she blamed the strength of her sword arm! Her Ukrainian house guest Lisa, the daughter of a Ukrainian MP, had greater success, while the Lord Mayor, Lady Mayoress and Stephen Morgan made creditable attempts, enough to draw applause.
Everyone retired to the pavilion and before formalities began, they were treated to two pieces of Bach viola music, played by professional musician Kate, in memory of her late father John Wilkinson who had enjoyed many happy years of bowling.
The celebratory cake was cut by club president, Carol Reynolds, assisted by the Lord Mayor, and the loyal toast was given by club secretary, Martyn Reynolds. The Lord Mayor expressed appreciation of the afternoon and made a toast to the club. Penny Mordant also expressed her thanks for a wonderful afternoon in a club with a real community feel.
June Stanley presented bouquets to Penny Mordant and to Nikki Cole, and club welfare officer, Jean Parslow presented bouquets to the club president, Carol Reynolds and to Jill Taylor, the ladies’ club captain.
A fittingly sumptuous tea concluded the centenary celebration, provided by Jill Taylor and her team of helpers, Margaret Rees, Lorna Hallet and Mollie Hoxey. Toastmaster for the proceedings was Derek Drew, a club member.

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