Chronicles: Bowling in Ventnor 2 – 1927 to 2020

The photograph on the left below shows the new Clubhouse and Green just before opening day. The large Macrocarpa pine tree and the avenue of trees outside the green are clearly visible and are still in place today.

Prior to the Official opening of the new green on 27 June 1927, a lunch was held at the Crab & Lobster Hotel in Grove Road (opposite what is now the Masonic Hall). The opening ceremony, was performed by Mr E Dene, President of the English Bowling Association (seen in the second photograph below) accompanied by senior officers of the Bowling Club along with prominent County and Ventnor Urban District Council (VUDC) Councillors.

The 1930s were a boom time for the Club, and on Thursday 5 June 1930 a group of 47 Australians, who were touring England, came to Ventnor to play a game against the Club. Their schedule allowed only one game on the Isle of Wight, and Ventnor was chosen for the venue as it was considered the best green on the Island. It was estimated that around 350 people would attend and the VUDC kindly supplied 200 deck chairs free of charge. HRH Princess Beatrice, the Governor of the Isle of Wight, sent 3 guineas as a donation and it was suggested that the event should be billed as ‘under Royal Patronage’!

Sadly, in the following years, membership declined and the Club got into financial difficulties. The Ventnor Bowling Club Company Limited went into liquidation in October 1934. However the VUDC stepped in again and agreed to create a Municipal Bowling Green at Mitchell Avenue for the Club and for the use of the general public.

One name is synonymous with Ventnor Bowling Club in the post-war era, and that is Walter Zuber (in the front row, 7th from left, in the second photo below). He had come to Ventnor on holiday from Switzerland and he liked the Island, especially Ventnor, so much that decided to stay here!  In 1922 he bought the ‘Victory Café’ at the bottom of Spring Hill and renamed it ‘Cafe Suisse’, which, for many years, was the focal point in the town for people to meet over a drink and home-made cakes, pastries and chocolates. ‘Wally’ was so highly thought of in Island bowling circles that he was elected President of the IW Bowling Association on two separate occasions – unprecedented in those days.

A Ladies section (third photo below) was formed in 1972, and, for the first time, they had their own committee which operated independently of the men’s section. The president for the first four years was Miss Mary Saunders MBE (front row, fourth from the left in the photo), a well-known County and Town councillor who lived in Belgrave Road.

The two sections (Men’s & Ladies) continued as separate entities and, although ‘mixed’ competitions were quite common, it was not until 2008 that a National decision was taken by the EBA and the ELBA to merge into a combined body under the name of ‘Bowls England’. The two Isle of Wight Associations followed suit and became ‘Bowls Isle of Wight’. Ventnor Bowling Club made history when Liz Deacon became the first ever female President of any Island club in 2008.

After one hundred and thirty-three years, Ventnor Bowling Club continues to prosper, thanks to the dedication of all those members and officials in the past who helped lay the foundations for present and future generations.

Colin Beavis, Ventnor & District Local History Society.  This article was first published in the South Wight Chronicle on 6 August 2020