- Advertisement -

The bowling club on an island in The Thames

We are the bowlers of The Island – this is the first line of the Island song. Yes, the Island Bohemian Bowling Club really is on an island and can only be reached by boat (writes Anne Mace). The club operate their own ferry for the short crossing.

The island (Fry’s Island) is in the middle of the River Thames at Reading and lies between Caversham and Reading bridges.
Fry’s Island was mentioned in history way back in the 12th century – nothing to do with bowling. In 1163, it was the scene of a trial by combat (attended by King Henry II) between Henry, Earl of Essex and Simon de Montford. The badge of the Island Bohemian Bowling Club depicts the duel with Henry lying (it was wrongly thought) mortally wounded.
The club on the island dates back to sometime prior to 1908, the year of the earliest records we possess. At that time, it was a summer club for the businessmen of Reading (referred to in the club’s minutes as ‘Brothers’) and went under the name of The Old Codgers Club.
At an AGM in 1909, the decision was taken to rename the club as The Island Bohemian Bowling and Social Club. No one today can explain the choice of name, but it was thought the reason was probably that the club is situated on an island and Bohemian evenings were very popular at that time.
In the early days, the club rented part of the island until, in 1966, the landlord expressed a willingness to sell. The price? £6,500. Members set about raising this money by way of loans, grants and debentures and, in 1968 the IBC became the owners of almost half of Fry’s Island.
From the club’s early minutes, bowling was just one of the sports on offer. There were two tennis courts, and the club was also affiliated to the amateur swimming association.
Over the years, the tennis courts fell into disrepair and disuse. Meanwhile, the bowling green was enlarged, and in 1997/8, new preformed ditches were put in place to conform with the new ditch regulations and making it the green it is now.
Being on an island does present the odd problem.
Everything has to be ‘shipped’ over. Not so bad these days as we have motorised boats but, in days gone by, this was all done on a rowing boat. The club does do its own green cutting, but heavier maintenance is carried out professionally and requires the shipping of all manner of heavy equipment and top dressing on the club’s boat from the mainland to the island.
We have also experienced flooding during a few winters, causing damage to mowers etc. Recent outbuildings have been built on stilts and mowers etc are now winterised on pallets.
In 1938 an Islander Edward Shuttle was in the English team at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Sydney Australia and in 1974 another Islander Eric Marsh was EBA president, taking a team to New Zealand. Island ladies have provided several county presidents over the years.
Islanders have enjoyed success in county competitions having had winners in various disciplines and presently we are very proud to have Morgan Merryweather in the national squad. Morgan joined the club as a teenager and, with Emma Cooper, won the national women’s junior pairs in 2017.
Islanders have always enjoyed celebrating. Great days to remember were 50th anniversary of VE Day, various Jubilees and of course our centenary. What a year that was! The season started with a May Day fayre which was a huge success, attracting hundreds of visitors. The island was visited by the EBA, EWBA and the Chelsea Pensioners (what a sight that was – all those pensioners in their red livery coming across The Thames in our little boat). We also entertained the London Irish, London Scottish and London Welsh, as well as the Berkshire junior men’s team.
Pre-COVID-19, our season always started with a bowling tour usually to somewhere in the West Country but in 2006 a very successful tour to Kuala Lumper was organised by one of our members. The last game of our season is always bowlers versus boaters when our bowlers play against the boat owners who moor on the island in the morning and after lunch the boaters take the bowlers for a cruise on the river.
Visiting bowlers always comment about the difficulty of going for a roll-up. Yes, it can be, but somehow we manage and, my goodness, isn’t it
worth it when you get over onto the island – there aren’t many places nicer to be!

Bowls International is the world’s most respected bowling magazine, available monthly in both digital and print formats.

A six-month print subscription to Bowls International is priced at just £19.90, or a 12-month subscription is £35.99 – that’s less than £3 per month and includes FREE POSTAGE.