Darlington South Park Bowls Club is over 120 years old, the club brags of a huge history which has seen great bowling and has spread itself wide across Durham, Teesside and Yorkshire.
Bowls in Darlington was played on a green at the back of a pub for many years, they say it was either the Black Swan or the Talbot Inn on Post House Wynd. In 1894 there was a massive Powder explosion in Darlington, Joseph Forestall Smythe had taken over a gunmakers owned by The Brebners (now Binns). He bragged at being the biggest gun cartridge store around and kept thousands and powder filled cartridges, he also had departments for croquet and bowls. The cartridges all exploded October 9th 1894 at 11.45am while Mr Smythe was on a train to Stockton. The explosion destroyed buildings, killed several people. There was glass everywhere and this was where bowls changed its face in Darlington forever.
South Park was being developed and in 1985 a new bowling green was ready and a set of bowls which came in 2’s were donated by Mr Smythe to the Park. The following year saw the start of our historic bowls club.
March 11th 1896 a gentleman called Mr J. Deas called a meeting at The Mechanics Hall, Darlington. He was voted into the chair and 2 proposals were accepted. One that a club called Darlington Park would be formed and that its subscriptions would be 2/6d for Ordinary Members and 5/- for Vice Presidents.
Darlington Park’s 1st game was played at Grove Hill, Middlesbrough 6th May 1896 where we won 101 shots to 62. The Club joined a newly formed bowls league called the Cleveland and South Durham League where we faced teams such as Middlesbrough, Thornaby, Stockton, Grove Hill, Ropner Park and Redcar.
Darlington Park won its 1st title in 1900 winning the Cleveland & South Durham League (a full list of club honours can be seen in our competitions section). The Club was developing well despite a reported fisticuffs forcing a meeting to be cancelled in 1899 regarding club cliques and politics!
In 1901 the bowls green had been re-laid after numerous complaints after many said the green was purely Rough, Coarse, Very Uneven Turf. Darlington Council now quoted that the new green was equal to any green in Britain. Rise Carr Band and the Mayoress Mrs JG. Harbottle attended the opening.
A lot of thanks over these recent years went to Mr J. Morrison who played a large part in the clubs and the Parks development, he even had a hit Dick Winpenny song sang on his honour at the Imperial Hotel.
In 1907 the Darlington League was formed, for one season only Darlington Park bowled in both leagues until in 1908 there was a dispute which the Cleveland & South Durham League refused any compromise. The Play-off Final for the title was between Darlington Park and Darlington Central (2 oldest Darlington Clubs, Central was wound up in 2010). The League told them both to play the championship final at Stockton Bowls Club. Bearing in mind transport was a major expensive luxury back then both Darlington Clubs refused to leave the town to play. The League banned both clubs for 2 years, we don’t know whether Central re-joined but Darlington Park certainly didn’t and our future lied in the Darlington League only.
Our club endured some tough times with 2 world wars distracting play, however the club was very benevolent raising funds for wounded soldiers and bereaved families in both World War I and World War II.
Bowls was booming not only in Darlington but across the Country. In 1911 Darlington Council donated a scoreboard which we still own today. We also still possess many wooden bowls that are over 100 years old.
1919 was the 1st year the club competed at National EBA Level and 1920 we had our 1st Northern County representatives (which we were known as rather than Durham).
1921 our clubs 25th anniversary turned out to be a farce, arguments and lack of agreement meant our celebration consisted of a tea afternoon in the Park café.
1923 saw our 1st England trialist, Mr W. Read – the EBA records say Mr Read was from Darlington and does not associate our club with him, however looking through our paper clippings it is clear he was one of our regular members.
1924 was the 1st year our club hosted a County bowls match, it was also the 1st time a county match had been held in a public park. Now known as Durham & Yorkshire County they beat Northumberland on our green with 4 of our members taking part.
1926 saw Mr J. Morrison retire as Park Superintendent which was a sad event as not only was he a top bowler, he also helped with the funding and upkeep of our green. A Cartoon strip made the Evening Despatch honouring his departure.
In 1930 we had our bottom green laid and ready for play, opened by Mayoress HP Bell, also we joined the South Durham & North Yorkshire EBA League for the 1st time although this was short lived. The Photo for the new green is displayed in the Park Café today.
Our 1st County Competition success came in 1936 where we had our fours rink of AJ. Alsop, J. Stirling, J. Dale & J. Morrison winning the competition. This followed many years of league success with 2 teams competing at the top of their divisions in the Darlington League.
In 1938 our club had agreed to become a private club. It had been agreed to build a new green on the Greylands Site, Coniscliffe Road, Darlington which is now a housing estate. 1939 ended this plan with an emergency meeting deciding that the costs for members to run such a club would be unacceptable.
Sadly 1939 saw the death of Mr James Morrison whose son continued his good work at the club. Our club championship trophy is still named after him and started in 1940. We hold a full record since then of its champions.
The 2nd World War was again a big distraction and VE Day 1945 was celebrated with a whist drive which was a regular event back then.
Our 50th anniversary was celebrated with a 3 course meal and bowls events including the women. A new honours board was built in its honour for the clubhouse which until 1996 was still intact until woodworm destroyed it. A replica was made for our centenary!
As our club was becoming very well known at county level for bowls we also had a few years with officials in the hot seats of Durham County. Alwyn Alsop became County President who was an accountant on Duke Street along with his close relative Ralph Alsop, Ralph went on the be the President of the Full English Bowling Association by the late 1940’s. Alwyn however has had the Durham County B Team Trophy named after him which is still played for today, it seems the B Team was only formed around 1948 and he had a lot to do with it. Our club was classed as being within County District 8 and all the meetings at this time were held at 22 Duke Street.
Due to the honour of having many County officials we were starting to host lost of County matches and in 1947 we held the County competition finals.
The late 1940’s was almost a very historic moment for Mr A.H. Day, he was to reach the final of the County EBA Singles, Pairs and Triples but we are led to believe he lost all 3.
1946 was when our 1st bank account was opened, the club only held cash until this point and we opened this at Yorkshire Penny Bank which has lost the “Penny” and is still based on High Row today.
Our club today has many of its own internal competitions named after former members, the ones we no longer hold today are our own Alsop Trophy and the Ald Wilkes Snuff Box which we understand we both given to the bowler that had won these competitions 3 times.
1947 saw the formation of Darlington Woodland Bowls Club which took a lot of members away from public clubs like ourselves. Both Ralph and Alwyn Alsop were members and despite our records Woodland BC have it on their honours boards that they represented them when they were EBA Presidents (we very much dispute this), chances are they were members of both.
The 1950’s saw the deaths of James Morrison and Ralph Alsop and the name Alwyn Alsop seemed to vanish (presumably bowling for Darlington Woodland). However a new era begun as Promotion and Relegation was added as a new feature to the Darlington League. This was the start of our yo-yo years seeing 2 early promotions and 2 immediate relegations. The names, Coates/Wealands/Richardson & Halliday were becoming well know within the town.
These players were part of the team that twice won the Durham County EBA Knock-Out and also were Durham County and Northern Counties Fours Winners, they also lost in the final of the triples.
1960 saw Alwyn Alsop as England Bowling Association President and Colin Richardson received England trials, only our 2nd player to achieve full England trials.
The 60’s may have been flower power and free spirit but it was the start of decline for Darlington Park Bowls CLub. Apart from our top players Wealands/Coates/Richardson Halliday still making individual headlines the club itself was falling Divisions. The A Team was kicking around the 2nd Division but the B Team had now fallen to the 5th! The decline was blamed on the attraction of newly formed Club Union Bowls where the lure of good cash prizes was hard to refuse.
Unfortunately moving into the 70’s we have very little history to show, the Vets Team seemed to be the most well supported. We lost a strong relationship with Consett Park Bowls Club who we visited yearly and no longer had close freindships with Alnwick Bowls Club or Ashbrooke in Sunderland who we had close contact. The only note really from these 2 decades is that we declined from 100 to 50 members very quickly.
Internally we had a record breaker in Bob Wealands who won the club championship 8 times, this was intact for nearly 30 years until Bill Morland broke it in the early 21st century.
The 80’s saw some stabilisation with the introduction of a new breed of bowler. We had County players such as Tony and Ronny Bousfield, Harry Ashcroft, Tony Smith, Fred Edwards and Barry Attwood. Although still a yo-yo team in the league we were starting to show improvement in team competition reaching the Area Final of National Double Fours. We did have Joe Burrows who was an exceptional player but all his main acheivements nationally were won while playing for Hundens BC. Harry Ashcroft, Fred Edwards and Tony Bousfield went on to be qualified umpires during this time.
The early 80’s was also a time that didn’t help outdoor bowls. Indoor bowls was becoming very popular with fair weather bowlers and also gained TV Coverage. Darlington Indoor BC was formed at this time and although you could play both people did not like to mix and match.
The success building in the 1980’s dwindled again and the 90’s was mainly a constant battle of ensuring enough players to run 2 teams.
1996 was our clubs centenary. We had a flower bed designed with our club badge in South Park and a massive game against the EBA Presidents Team made up of players from across the country. We managed to get good press coverage and sponsorship to make the day possible.
Whilst all this was going on Bill Morland had won the Durham County EBA 2 Bowl Singles beating Jim Rogan from Consett Park at Lyndhurst. He almost won it again in 1998 but became runner-up.
Bill’s son Scott Morland went on in 1997 to win the Durham County EBA Junior Singles and Northern Counties Under 25 Singles. He won this again in 1999 and had 3 years of England Under 25 trials unfortunately not making the team.
The club entered the indoor bowls league for outdoor club in the mid 1990’s and won the league a couple of times. We had our first disabled bowler representing us in John Appleton who was outstanding in these wins.
The 21st century has been an awful time for Darlington Clubs. Darlington Borough Council laid off all greenkeepers leaving all greens to be vandalised and players be the regular victims of anti-social behaviour. Our club house was being used as a public toilet and not necessarily in the toilet either!
The B Team left and formed their own club leaving us with only 1 team to run and only just enough players to run it.
We had 2 players going to Worthing both in the Durham County EBA Singles. Both Bill Morland and Barry Hopkins were losing finalists but both got a short taste of the national finals.
2004 Darlington South Park Bowls Club was to become extinct, not enough players, no one to run it and no interest. We survived (just) and worked on a recruitment drive in 2005, we managed to hold a singles competition with members from across the town to participate. We gained a couple more members and managed to bolster the morale a little. The Council had managed to get funding from the National Lottery and within the parks refurbishment we were given 2 new changing rooms, trophy cabinets and boards to advertise on.
2006 was the start of a new club. We agreed on the introduction of female bowlers and entered 2 teams into a mixed league (The Works League). As Barry Hopkins had formed the team we agreed to name the team Mech-Tool as that’s where he worked.
In 2008 Scott Morland entered a team into the Durham & District League and managed to get the agreement of Parkside Ladies to become South Park Ladies. We now had 5 teams running which although on a shoestring the club was starting to show some forward promise.
We were close to success with Richard Woodward reaching Durham County EBA Junior Singles Final but being defeated. Barry Hopkins and Keith Burton won this competition but both representing Darlington Railway Athletic.
Despite Barry Hopkins becoming a youth coach and gaining us numerous under 18 members the club was still in decline, we lost the womens team after a dispute and Scott Morland lost the interest he had in promoting the club. We had several disputes over point deductions and league membership and also left the Darlington and District League in 2012.
2013 was a ray of light, although losing the youth of our team we joined the South West Durham League which we won Division 2 in our 1st season. We did the double in the Sherwood League and won the Knock-out for the Durham and District League. This was a great achievement in which our current squad should be proud. Barry Hopkins Jnr dominated individual competitions this year.
We now have become a Registered Sports Club from 2015 to assist Fund Raising for safeguarding our bowls green facility and future.
In 2016 another big step forward in the clubs history. In an attempt to secure the future of bowls at South Park in a difficult era for bowls the South Park Vets have joined South Park Bowls Club to become one unified team. This is a huge step for the club not only bringing the history of both clubs together but financially the club has become more independent.
This independence will not only assist with security but it has enabled the club to expand its social approach, the club purchased a Casino kit and a carpet bowls kit which gives social and fundraising opportunities for the future.
From 2017 the club saw an unexpected but not untried for increase in membership. An increase in social activity including Race Nights, Quiz Nights, Casino Nights and Quoits Nights had a massive impact. This and social media usage of Facebook was a massive marketing tool.
By 2019 we had reinstated a ladies section and now had 10 league teams in competition. Not to mention the hope to join further league and to run more social events for new and current members.
A carpet bowls league has been formed to ensure we are all kept together in winter months, ran from the education centre at the park as well as a golfing society and Wednesday mornings! – We have also agreed to 2 away day friendlies at Whitby and Galashiels for the 1st social away day in over 20 years.
For the 1st time in over 50 years the club is able to state a membership count of 69 with an aim to make 100 by 2025. We hope this is the return of the good old days!
The future goal for the club is to continue to expand its horizons for new members socially and competitively, we are already building on relationships with other clubs and are working with the local authority to make our facilities better for the future and to ensure it is a facility fit for a bigger club massively increasing its usage.