It may come as a suprise to many that there is such a bowling club in such a place. Many only learn of its existence by chance. In the past the only bowlers associated with the City of London are those which sit upon the heads of the businessmen who worked there.
However take a stroll into the gardens at Finsbury Circus, London EC2 and you may be suprised to encounter bowlers of a very different kind.
Many confuse the club with the bowling green in Finsbury Square, which is not an actual club. But a public bowling green where you can "pay to play or hire a rink and play etc". The green in Finsbury Square is not in the City, but over the border in Islington. The only Bowling green and club within London (City) is the City of London Bowling Club. Based in Finsbury Circus Gardens.
The site was originally known as "Fensbury" and was formed after the Romans had departed, by the blocking of culverts cut into the City wall for the walbrook. Early in the 15th century, the City wall was breached at this point and Moorgate was completed. By the year 1606 the level of the moor had been raised and laid out with elm trees and benches - the area becoming London's first public park.
So in 1606 the land now occupied by the club formed part of the first public park in London. From 1815 - 1817 William Montague built some tall handsome houses - designed by George Dance The Younger (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Dance_the_Younger) around the rim of the open area
The rest of the land was open fields. Gravel walks had previously been added for walking "promenading". None of the original houses has survived modern times, but over the years they have been replaced by some attractive office buildings.
In 1900 when Finsbury Circus Gardens was the largest open space in the City (Square Mile). The Corporation of London acquired the land by Act of Parliament. The bowling green was laid in 1904 according to Mr Percy Thomspon (who joined the club in 1954, was Captain in 1974 and who was Chairman from 1976-89). However it was by no means the first in the City. There was apparently a Bowling Green in Drapers Gardens, off Throgmorton Street. Which was closed in the late 1800s. A point of trivia, there are no roads within the City only streets.
However details concerning the laying of the green are not clear, as the minutes from the first committee meeting of the City of London Bowling Club taken 2nd October 1924 record a discussion about how funds were to be raised in order to "form" a bowling green. Mr Easton (donated the City of London BC Handicap Singles Cup- Easton Challenge Cup) was influential in securing our green in 1924-26. What is clear from that meeting, is how membership would only be confined to City residents and their families. However, it was resolved that Honorary membership would be conferred to those members who had businesses withn the City boundaries.
At the second committee meeting of the club, tenders were invited for the building of the bowling green and the Rt Hon Lord Mayor of London was approached in order to become President.
1924 Sir Alfred Bower - First President of The City of London Bowling Club
Members of Parliament for the City of London were approached to become Vice Presidents. Funds for the work on the green were to be raised from Livery Companies, Stockbrokers and Investment Banks. The minutes for the next few committee meetings show how little success was encountered over obtaining the money. Committee meeting number seven saw subscription lists discussed. By the tenth committee meeting of the club in May 1925, total subscriptions of £28.20 were handed over to the Hon Treasurer.
Founded in 1924, it was however on Saturday 26th June 1926 that saw the "Official" opening of The City of London Bowling Club. The 26th June is still celebrated in the club diary each year and is known as "Founders Day". The green was officially opened by the Rt Hon Lord Mayor of London, the Club President. The tradition of having the Lord Mayor as President continues to this day. (Not to be confused with Boris Johnson and the new office of "Mayor for London").
Had the club existed in the 1400s we would have had Dick Whittington as President. Richard (Dick) Whittington was a member of the Worshipful Company of Mercers. He was Lord Mayor of London for the years; 1397-98, 1406-07 and 1419-20. Sir Richard Whittington (sometimes Richard Whytyngdone) (c. 1354–1423) was a medieval merchant and politician, and the real-life inspiration for the pantomime character Dick Whittington. Sir Richard Whittington was Lord Mayor of London, a Member of Parliament and a sheriff of London. In his lifetime he financed a number of public projects, such as drainage systems in poor areas of medieval London, and a hospital ward for unmarried mothers. He bequeathed his fortune to form the Charity of Sir Richard Whittington, which nearly 600 years later, continues to assist people in need. http://www.mercers.co.uk/netbuildpro/process/223/TheCharityofSirRichardWhittington.php
London's first Lord Mayor was Henry Fitz-Ailwyn in 1189. Before then, it was ruled by Sheriffs and a portreeve. After the Magna Carta in 1215, Freemen of the City could stand for Mayor. In the 15th century the role was limited to liverymen - senior members of 100 City Livery companies. Not every Lord Mayor of London has been active within the club, but one or two have been and have donated cups, still played for today and have attended annual presentation dinners and official openings in the past. After the official opening on 26th June 1926 a match was played between The City of London Bowling Club and The City of London Police. Sadly the result of the match has been lost to the mists of time. The City of London Police were committed sportsmen around this time 1900-28. They won a Gold Medal at the Tug Or War in the 1908 Olympics (Olympic Champions- see picture below).
Throughout the remainder of the 1920s and the early 1930s the members of The City of London Bowling Club continued to enjoy their sport on their Cumberland turf bowling green.
However in 1939 the shadow of World War II loomed large. On 29th August 1939 a "Special Emergency Committee Hearing" was arranged. It was decided to recall the club silverware from the club champion and other tournament winners. It was decided that "in view of the international crisis" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II
the Midland Bank be approached as to their willingness to accept the cups for safe storage.
Many members went off and joined the services to serve King and Country.
During World War II the club and green (like many Bowling Greens) was used as a barrage balloon site. (Example of a barrage balloon site pictured below).
World War II accounts for less frequent committee meetings, though why the minutes book records nothing between March 1944 and February 1948 is not known. Since 1948 the club has continued to play and enjoy the game of bowls.
Anyone who has studied the history of The City of London Bowling Club would realise that without the efforts of Dr Arthur Westerman (Club Chairman 1942-59) the club would not have continued post 1948. On 9th March 1963 the British Medical Journal (BMJ) featured the following obituary.
ARTHUR WESTERMAN, M.D.
Dr. Arthur Westerman, who died on January 8 at the
age of 84, had a long and honoured career in the City
Arthur Westerman was born at Wakefield, Yorks, on
February 10, 1878, and was educated at Robert Gordon's
College, Aberdeen. He studied medicine at the University
of Aberdeen, qualifying with honours in 1900. Appointed
to the George Thompson Continental travelling fellowship,
he continued his studies at the Universities of Leipzig,
Munich, and Berlin, where he worked in Professor Krause's
nose and throat clinic. In 1904 he proceeded to the degree
of M.D. with commendation. He had a special interest in
diseases of the ear, nose, and throat and served as an ear
specialist in the R.A.M.C. in the first world war.
Insert -(For further info http://www.ramc-ww1.com/index.html)
held the appointment of clinical assistant in the Throat
Department of St. Bartholomew's Hospital.
In 1906 Dr. Westerman began in practice at Snow Hill
in the City of London and continued there in active practice
until 1962. During his long professional life he built up
an extensive practice principally as medical adviser to companies
and institutions in and around the City. To several
of them he was professional adviser for over 50 years, and
he was for 25 years until his death resident medical officer
to Sutton's Hospital, Charterhouse.
Dr. Westerman was also from 1941 an active member of
the Common Council of the Corporation of the City of
London, and was for some years chairman of the Public
Health Committee and other committees. He was a deputy
Alderman for the ward of Farringdon Without and was
re-elected to that office only a few weeks before his death.
He was one of Her Majesty's Lieutenants for the City of London.
He was the Senior Fellow of the Hunterian Society, of which he was president in 1928
He was a past chairman
of the City Division of the British Medical Association.
He was a Past Master of his Livery, the Plumbers' Company.
Dr. Westerman had a fund of humour much appreciated
by all who knew him. He retained an alert interest in all
his activities; indeed, his vigour belied his age. His wife,
formerly Miss Mary Davies, died in 1962, three years after
their golden wedding anniversary. They are survived by
a son and three daughters, one of whom is a member of
the medical profession.
The green was looked after by the Corporation of London and it was in 1967 that the green was extended from 39 to 44 yards and a new pavilion was built.
Today from Monday to Friday the City is busy, packed with commuters, stockbrokers, lawyers and office workers.
Up until the 1970s many wore the traditional bowler (coke) hat.
The City (Square Mile) is the hub of the UK economy. The City of London Bowling Club has an elegant setting, trees, bushes, flowerbeds, handsome buildings in the background. Some describe it as an "Oasis of calm, amidst a concrete jungle".
One building in Finsbury Circus Gardens stands on the site of the original Bethlem Royal Hospital, commonly known as "Bedlam". (Hence we have the word "Bedlam" in the English language eg- mayhem-chaos-madness). Bedlam was a place for the mentally ill and upon its demolition at Finsbury Circus it moved / was re-built in Lambeth. Interestingly enough, the site in Lambeth where part of that hospital stood, now also long gone from Lambeth, today serves as the Imperial War Museum.
Finsbury Circus, London EC2M - City of London Bowling Club's home...
The bowls club has a bandstand to its left, which is used in the summer months
an old drinking fountain in the far corner
Also an exclusive wine bar and restaurant next to the clubhouse. The wine bar and restaurant is in fact the old clubhouse, built in 1967 and used by the Bowls Club up until the mid 1980s. The restaurant is called "The Pavillion" a reference to its past. The clubhouse now used by the club is situated next door to the wine bar and restaurant. It is rather cosy with a bar /lounge area and has Ladies and Gentleman's changing rooms.
Until 1978 you had to either work or reside in The City of London in order to become a member. The club no longer has such restrictions and welcomes applications from anyone. Both novice or experienced players are encouraged to join, or anyone who wishes just to become a non-playing social member (Associate Member) and enjoy a drink or two amidst tranquill historical surroundings.
On a summers afternoon, with the club flag hoisted and gently blowing in the wind, the players in their whites, officials in their club tie and blazers and spectators enjoying a cucumber sandwich and a glass of the good stuff. It really is a special piece of England- The Capital City of England!
The following places of interest are very nearby:
The Tower of London & London Bridge,
St Paul's Cathedral,The Bank of England
Fenchurch St Station,
Liverpool St Station,
Mansion House (Home to the Rt Hon Lord Mayor of London - President of The City of London Bowling Club),
All these sites are within the City of London and are minutes walk from The City of London Bowling Club. The HQ of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), the oldest regiment in the British Army is also nearby.
Formed in 1537 by His Majesty King Henry VIII by letters patent. From an already established Guild of St George. It was in the HAC's grounds in 1784 that the first ever Hot Air Balloon flight was to take place in the United Kingdom. Mr Vincent Lunardi no doubt flew his balloon over the site where the City of London Bowling Club now stands.
Cricket has also been played within the grounds of the HAC since 1725.
Other attractions that are very nearby (minutes by public transport) in the City of Westminster (not City of London) are the Houses of Parliament & St Stephen's Tower (Big Ben).
Oxford Circus (Oxford Street & Regent St),
London Dungeon, British Museum. The list is endless.
The club celebrated its 80th Anniversary in 2004 and the 2004 Annual Presentation Evening was held in the original clubhouse, now known as the Pavilion wine bar and restaurant. The club is presently planning its 90th Anniversary celebrations which will take place in 2014.
The City of London Bowling Club has been served with an eviction notice (8th February 2010). We will be leaving Finsbury Circus Gardens London EC2M our home for the past 86 years. The City of London Bowling Club relocated to the site of Pymmes Park in Edmonton, North London for the 2011 season.
Since 2012 the club has operated in nomadic status. We hope to return to Finsbury Circus EC2M in 2018 (approx.).