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Coleford centenary

The thoughts of a bowling club in Coleford in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire came about in 1919 when the people of Coleford started to make collections to provide a recreation ground in honour of of the bravery and valour of Captain Angus Buchanan VC in the Great War (writes Clive Hooper)

In the Great War, a young resident of Coleford, Angus Buchanan, who had just left Haberdashers Monmouth School, volunteered to join the Army and was posted to The South Wales Borderers. He quickly rose through the ranks to become a captain. He was a man who led by example and on a number of occasions, at the front line, he went out into no-mans land under fire to recover injured men of his troop. He was wounded several times and on the last occasion, Captain Buchanan was shot in the head. He survived but became blind. For his bravery, King George V awarded him the Victoria Cross to go alongside the Military Cross that he had already received for earlier bravery.

On his return to civilian life, despite being blind, Angus went to St Dunstans to learn braille and then went up to Oxford University where he obtained a law degree and he returned to Coleford where he set up a law practice.

In the post WW1 years, following the heroic actions of Captain Buchanan, the people of Coleford drew together to subscribe the necessary funds to purchase 60 acres of land at Victoria Road, Coleford for the benefit of the townsfolk as a recreation ground.

On September 16, 1921, the memorial committee decided to put an advertisement in the local papers asking for expressions of interest from local sporting organisations that might be interested in using the facilities at the new recreation ground site. Percy Legh Jenks, the local Lloyds Bank manager, who had already made representations to the memorial committee regarding tennis courts, made an application for the provision of a bowling green on March 22, 1922. He advised that it would cost 1/- per sq.yd to construct (that’s £3 per sq m in today’s money). The memorial committee agreed a potential site on sloping ground for the new bowling green. Local Forest of Dean coal and iron ore miners were used to level the site and the three rink green was duly turfed and bowls took place in the summer of 1923 although the ditches were not cut until the autumn of that year.

Coleford Bowling Club came into existence with Captain Angus Buchanan VC MC as its president – possibly it is the only bowls club in history to have a Victoria Cross holder as its president!

In 1930, an additional rink was added and again in 1969 two further rinks were added to make six. During this time, the club had its ups and downs. The post WW2 years were a particularly hard time. The austerity and rationing caused difficulty for the club – as it did for most clubs across the country. But the 40 years from 1960 to 2000 resulted in prosperity for the club.

The members built a new clubhouse and the club had 130 bowls members and a 300 social membership. The clubhouse was open every day of the week – often into the early hours.

But this popularity was creating other issues. The local residents residing close to the club were starting to complain about disturbance from the clubhouse – so much so that they gradually took over the control of the Recreation Ground Trust who were the club’s landlords. Once in control of the Trust, the residents started to implement curbs on the club such as closing the access gates at 10pm, together with other restrictions. Further, the Trust implicated in 2010 that it would not renew the lease that the Coleford Bowls Club had had since its inception. Bowling on the Trust’s grounds would cease after 89 years if a new lease could not be negotiated.

The club fought the Trust through the courts and spent many thousands of pounds in trying to stop eviction, but in the end the Trust won. They evicted the club from its home in 2012, demolished the clubhouse – just leaving a small pavilion to be used as a tearoom for the people who visited the Recreation Ground and the bowling green became a picnic area and play area for families.

The owners of Bells Hotel in the town invited the club to use their bowling green, sharing it with the Royal Forest of Dean Bowling Club.

In 2013, the club was located at and using the Bells Hotel green – their membership had reduced to about 30 members – the balance of the bowlers and all of the social members had dispersed. The club was indeed a shadow if its former self and barely surviving being supported only by its staunchest members.

Back at the recreation ground, things were not going to plan. The Trust led by the residents had spent a considerable sum of money on the eviction of the bowls club, fighting the court case, carrying out the demolition of the clubhouse and converting the changing rooms into a café. On top of this, they were suffering losses on the new café enterprise. They had swapped the regular income of rent from the bowls club for a loss-making café enterprise and suffered the result. They had also demolished the clubhouse which had been a social hub for the community of Coleford.

By the autumn of 2015, the Trust was in desperate straits owing £8,000 and unable to pay bills. In January 2016, the trustees resigned leaving the trust in considerable difficulty. The local town council got involved and the next chapter of the bowls club story started.

The new trustees appointed to run the Recreation Ground Trust invited the bowls club back to its historic home in the spring of 2016, but the green was no longer of sufficient standard. The club decided to return to its roots in 2017 and had the whole summer of 2016 to work on its old green at the recreation ground to make it playable in the 2017 season.

With very hard work from a dedicated team of members, the green was put into a playable state and the club relocated back to its home – but the members had no clubhouse other than the café. The next phase of the club’s redevelopment will be to rebuild the clubhouse. The design work has been done and planning permission obtained – all that is needed now is the funding.

So here we are in 2023 – our centenary year – back at our traditional home with a 50 year lease and celebrating 100 years of existence.

We have a programme of celebrations highlighted by a visit by Bowls England.

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