Northampton Express Bowls Club
(Express Lifts Bowls Club)
In 1918, a group of eight employees of the then Smith, Major and Stevens Lift Company got together to form a committee and sought permission to have a small strip of land in front of the offices made into a three-rink bowling green. We do know that four of these eight were Tom Barby, Harry Hargreaves, Charles Russell and Albert Noble. All four of these men enjoyed many years playing for the club, the latter almost to the time of his death in 1986, aged 95. In fact his son Ron Noble played his first game for the club in 1940 aged 16, went on to be Captain three times and Treasurer from 1971 to 1984. Between father and son they amassed an incredible 128 years of membership!
Over the years, many great characters have graced the club, none more so than three long serving Secretaries. Joe Henderson, who served as Secretary from 1928 to 1955, Walter Thorneycroft from 1956 to 1968 and then Cyril Buswell, who took over in 1973 and held the office for 24 years.
The early days saw the club enter the Victoria Park league, which they keenly competed for until the mid 1930’s, although never managing to win it. Records show that the club also entered the Crockett Cup on several occasions.
Despite the 1930’s depression, enough enthusiasm existed in the club to warrant a full six-rink green to be laid in 1935 and the clubs membership soon started to rise considerably.
1936 was a key year in the clubs history. The Inter departmental rink tournament started and the following year, Mr J.A. Phelp, Chairman of the General Electric Company, presented a handsome silver shield for this competition. The Phelp Shield remains one of the most keenly fought competitions by the members to this day. 1937 saw 19 teams enter the Phelp Shield, 80 the pairs, 50 for the singles handicap and the total membership soared to 95.
It was during that season that the members decided that some fixtures should be arranged further a field and one of the teams approached was the G.E.C. Coventry bowls club. Over a period of several months, correspondence between the two secretaries amounted to some eight letters and a suitable date was agreed. Just prior to the game the Express secretary contacted Coventry to find out how many rinks they wished to play, when it came about there had been a misunderstanding. G.E.C. Coventry was a ‘Crown Green’ bowls club! Of course, they never played.
Another amusing artefact from the club archives received during the war years is a telegram from the Installation Manager of the Westminster branch, Mr W.J. (Jack) Cove, blaming ADOLF for not being able to attend the Annual Bowls Dinner!
The ability of a certain club member, Fred Forbes, was recognised by the County when, in 1951, he became the clubs first Middleton Cup player. Fred played a number of years in the Middleton Cup team and later became a Northants selector. In 1986, Fred’s 50th year with the club a special match was arranged in his honour. The President of the County, Mr. Alistair Armstrong, was present on the occasion and he presented the club with a fine silver cup for the Singles Championship, suitably inscribed “The Freddie Forbes Trophy”.
In more recent times, two current members, Cyril Haynes and Ken Berrill have also celebrated 50 years membership.
Fred Forbes twice qualified for the EBA National Championships, first in 1954, when he, Arthur Walton and Alf Brown reached the County Triples final. At Paddington they beat Hull Road, York (Yorks 'B'), 16-13, before losing to York Co-operative (Yorks 'A'), 15-14. Then in 1972, he again reached the County Triples final, this time with Cyril Haynes and Wally Thorneycroft. At Mortlake they put up a spirited fight before going down, 18-13, to Bristol (Somerset 'A').
In 1969, a new Match Secretary was appointed in Cyril Buswell and three years later, Cyril organised the clubs first tour, a weekend to Blackpool. The tours have been a most popular highlight of the bowls calendar ever since.
Weekend Tours – 1972 & 73 Blackpool, 1974 Margate.
Week tours – 1977 & 78 Brighton, 1979 & 80 Isle of Wight, 1981 Torquay, 1982 & 83 Weston-Super-Mare, 1984 Bournemouth, 1985 & 86 Eastbourne, 1988 Weston-Super-Mare, 1989 & 90 Clacton, 1991 Weymouth, 1992 Scarborough, 1993 & 94 Newquay, 1995 Southsea, 1996 & 97 Cliftonville, 1998 & 99 Weymouth, 2000 Ilfracombe, 2001 Southsea, 2002 & 03 Weston-Super-Mare, 2004 & 05 Eastbourne, 2006 Weymouth, 2007 & 08 Torquay, 2009 & 10 Great Yarmouth, 2011 Bournemouth, 2012 Torquay.
The club received devastating news in 1996, when Express Lifts having been taken over by American rivals Otis Lifts, announced the closure of the company. This also meant the closure of the Sports and Social club and the bowling green.
In 1997, under the new name of Northampton Express, the club moved to Beckets Park, where the facilities fell some way short of what the members had previously been accustomed. The Old White Hart Social Club in Cotton End provided a base and the club are indebted for their hospitality. Another change of home took place when, in 2002, the Northampton County Ground Bowling Club invited Express to share their green. Sadly, in September 2007, the expiry of the County Ground BC's lease with the cricket authorities brought this chapter to a close. The NCCC, had decided the land was required for their expansion, stating their intentions to put practice nets on the green and use the club house for corporate hospitality. This famous old bowling club, one of the six founder clubs of the Northamptonshire Bowling Association and, with one of the most distinguished of histories in the country, thus ceased after 109-years of existence at the Wantage Road ground.
Meanwhile, Express, having been joined by several ex-County Ground members, temporarily re-located to Kingsthorpe Recreation Ground and used the adjoining Northampton and District Indoor Bowling Club for the after match hospitalities.
For Express, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, for the club is shortly set to relocate to the former British Timken green in Duston. With a contribution of Section 106 funding, secured as a result of the development of old green at Express, the green is currently being reinstated. The bowling green will be part of the Duston Parish Council owned Duston Sports Centre.
Despite the upheaval of changing venue's and having an uncertain future, Express is now stronger on the green than ever. In recent year's Chris Bland and Richard Lemon have both been capped for England Under-25s and Dominic Graham was a Trialist in 2010 and also played in a Commonwealth Games elite squad training session at Hopton-on-Sea. Seven Express players have represented Northants' in the Middleton Cup in the last decade and a host of talented young players for the County Under 25's team. In 2005, Chris Bland lifted the County Singles title; Rob White, Ian Bland and Dominic Graham won the Triples in 2009; and in 2011, Will T Parker, Richard Lemon and Chris Bland won the Triples and the same 3 men, together with Gary Lyon, won the Fours. Richard Lemon made it a remarkable treble by also qualifying for Worthing in the Singles! This was his second Singles appearance having reached the County final in 2009. On that occasion he put on a fine display at Worthing, with excellent wins in his opening three rounds saw him through to the quarter final. After a long battle he was beaten by the eventual runner-up. The County Under-25's Singles was dominated by Express players for several years, winning it four times, Chris Bland (2003), Richard Lemon (2007), Aaron Bell (2008) and Dominic Graham (2009) and also runner-up five times, Chris Bland (1999 and 2000), Richard Lemon (2006) and Dominic Graham (2007 and 2011). Dominic also progressed to the Quarter finals at Worthing in 2009 where he was narrowly beaten by the eventual winner.
With this strong nucleus of players and the potential to attract new members to the fresh new facilities in Duston, there is every reason to be optimistic about the future.
Written in 2012 (CB)