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Home of the Games | Leamington’s Victoria Park

When the first bowling green was opened in Victoria Park in 1913, it could never be imagined that a century later the Royal Leamington Spa venue would have been transformed into one of the most famous bowling establishments in the world, with five greens and impressive facilities.

Not only that but following the transfer of the Bowls England administration from Worthing on the Sussex coast to the Warwickshire spa town in the heart of England in 2013 and the subsequent decision to stage both the men’s and women’s national championships there from 2014, it has become the epicentre of outdoor bowls in England.

It first emerged on the national stage in 1975 when the English Women’s Bowling Association moved its annual championships to Victoria Park from Wimbledon.

A strong working relationship was formed between Warwick District Council, who could visualise long-term financial benefits for the town from the annual influx of players and spectators, and the EWBA, under the astute and persuasive leadership of the indomitable Nancie Colling.

It also became the home of the international series when England were hosts and in 1996 it was firmly placed on the world map of bowls when it staged the Women’s World Bowls Championships that year, with the venue having undergone a massive facelift with new clubhouse facilities and a fifth green.

It was there that the diminutive Carmen Anderson exploded onto the scene, catching the public’s imagination as she smiled and gyrated her way to the singles title for the tiny Norfolk Island at the expense of England’s Wendy Line.

There was also Mary Price’s unique celebration, running down the rink arms aloft aeroplane fashion, perhaps a forerunner to the modern-day ‘high fives’.

Eight years later, the Women’s World Bowls Championships returned to Victoria Park when Malaysia was forced to withdraw their offer owing to political issues.

Ireland’s Margaret Johnston duly underlined her status, if that was necessary, as perhaps the world’s greatest ever woman bowler, by winning the world singles for a third time to add to three world pairs titles.

And for England supporters, the joy of Jayne Christie, Jean Baker, Ellen Falkner (now MBE) and Amy Monkhouse (now Pharaoh) smiling through the rain as they lifted the fours gold.

Victoria Park over the years has provided a platform for some of the world’s greatest ever bowlers and launched the international careers of many others. Now it is in a new era where both men and women are writing new chapters side by side.

Players and spectators flock from all corners of the country for the Bowls England national championships perhaps without any real inkling of Leamington’s Regency inspired town, some visitors probably not even stepping beyond the confines of Victoria Park.

The famous Royal Pump Rooms were opened in 1814 when the town was known as Leamington Priors. The spa waters attracted the rich and famous and in 1838 it was granted a ‘Royal’ prefix, with Queen Victoria having visited the town in 1830 as a Princess and then 28 years later as the Queen.

Victoria Park was opened in 1899 to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and was initially used for flower shows, military parades, gala days, and circuses.