The First 25 Years by Hasting Wang
After attending a croquet course at Lilleshall, Bert Mason and his wife Nora became enthusiasts and as there was no club at or near Chester, they decided to form one. Bert contacted Margaret Povey, who had attended an earlier course at Lilleshall, various friends and neighbours and placed an announcement in the local paper about an inaugural open-air meeting at the old crown green bowling lawn at the Groves, adjacent to the Hermitage in Chester. As my wife and I with one of our sons, Andrew, along with our friends Tony and Mary Page and one of their sons, Julian, had played sequence croquet (an earlier form of the game) for many years at Cobe Hill, a large guest house near Scarborough, we all jumped at the chance of furthering our interest. Most of those who attended this meeting had little or no experience of Association Croquet.
At this meeting on 18 th June 1977 the basic structure of the club was formed. Bert Mason lent the club his equipment and play started. Other equipment was purchased or borrowed. The number of founder members in this first season was 25 including two students. The successful launching and development of the club over the first few years was largely due to the enthusiasm of Bert and Nora. The club was also indebted to Rupert Thorp, an excellent and experienced player who carried out valuable coaching. This resulted in a rapid improvement in standards of play. Rupert also lent the club a set of hoops and donated ten copies of his book on croquet for sale to club members, the proceeds going to club funds. Unfortunately, due to business commitments abroad, Rupert ceased to be an active member after 3 years, but accepted an invitation in 1980 to become president, and continued to keep his interest in the club. We were all pleased to see his return to an active role in the club in 2001.
In 1981 the club moved to its present location in Westminster Park. This move was necessitated by the need to have two full size lawns to cater for increased membership and for matches.
In the 1980’s the club prospered mainly due to the efforts of Bert Mason as secretary, and the chairman, Don Duffy, who concentrated more on the administration and social side of the club. Following Bert Mason’s untimely death in 1987 following an emergency operation, Andrew Collin carried on the good work as secretary. In the early part of the nineties Roger Croston did sterling work as secretary, keeping the club going through difficult times. He liaised with Carden Park in the development of 7 excellent croquet lawns, these culminating in the 5th World Championship in 1994. At this event many members of the club acted as stewards. During 1993 and 1994 the club played many of their matches and some club competitions at Carden Park.
Almost from the start, the club has taken part in regional and national competitions. Initially we entered the Northern Federation Handicap League, and won it in 1979, 1982, 1983 and 1984. Later, the league became the North-West League, but we did not manage to win again until 1999. In each case we automatically qualified for the next year’s Secretary’s Shield competition, open to the winners of the various leagues. However, the only time we won the Shield was in 1980 when we played the final at Edgbaston and beat Wallingford 5 – 1. The team on this occasion was Bert Mason, Andrew Collin, George Collin and myself.
At various times the club has entered teams for the Longman Cup and the Short Croquet League. We managed to win some matches, but no overall success.
Over the years, many members have competed in numerous competitions throughout the country with many successes. The most notable of these were:
- 1978: Andrew and George Collin won the first indoor doubles championship.
1982: Mary Collin won the C.A. Steel Bowl for the most improved lady player in the country.
1983: Keith Aiton (a Scottish international player who joined Chester for three years) won the C.A. Chairman’s Salver.
1985: Mary Collin won the National Ladies Championship after a final lasting nearly 9 hours. (Immediately after this, Mary was on the lawn again with Keith Aiton to win the final of the National mixed Doubles Championship).
1987: Mary Collin won the National Ladies Championship again.
2001: Derek Bell-Jones won the North-West Millennium Trophy at Pendle, with Alistair Wooley runner-up.
Over the years, many social events have been held to enable members, their spouses and friends to get to know each other away from the lawns. Some of these also had the secondary object of raising funds for the club. These events have taken the form of cheese and wine parties and coarse croquet events. For these events the club has to thank many members including Don and Mary Duffy, Bert and Nora Mason, Margaret Povey, Mrs. Richards, Andrew and Mary Collin, Mike Wilkins, Soili Barker, Malcolm and Ann Fletton. In 1999 Geoff Reynolds arranged a club dinner, and this has become an annual event.
Furthering the Game of Croquet
Besides running croquet courses at Chester as part of our own recruitment drives, many members have helped to spread awareness of the game of croquet. We have run courses for the W.I., and Andrew Collin, Bert Mason, Roger Croston and Margaret Povey have run courses for the pupils of King’s School and Queen’s School.
In 1981 the BBC television cameras came to Chester and Bert Mason described the game of croquet while some members, including his wife Nora, Margaret Povey, and my wife Jane, played in the background.
Mike Wilkins and I were requested on two or three occasions to demonstrate croquet on the lawn in the walled garden at Norton Priory. Roger Croston and Chris Boon have organised croquet at corporate functions at Peckforton Castle and several at Carden Park, raising some funds for the club in the process. One of these at Carden Park was played under floodlights.
When Liverpool held their Garden Festival the Cheshire stand had a small kidney-shaped lawn and asked croquet clubs in the area to put on demonstrations at the weekends. A number of our members helped out on various occasions during that summer.
In 1984, Granada TV set up a croquet lawn adjacent to their set for Coronation Street in Manchester. The croquet took the form of UK International players playing a series of short croquet matches against each other. At this time short croquet was in its infancy. For a week, Granada televised croquet for 5 – 6 hours each day, with “Match of the Day” at 11pm. By invitation, many members of our club went along as spectators to help set the scene.
Earlier, I mentioned that my wife and I got hooked on croquet at Cober Hill. Over the years, more than a score of guests there have become interested and joined their local clubs. Two guests, Clive and Georgina Llewellyn, finding there was no club in North Wales, founded one at Llanfairfechan. Joan and I spent several days there giving them preliminary coaching. Another Cober guest, David Barrett of Bury and Pendle clubs later gave them more advanced courses. For several years, I, along with a member from Ellesmere club, ran courses for Vale Royal Council at Castle Park in Frodsham. Initially Chester club did not benefit from this, but eventually gained a few new members. As will be seen later, Chester club did get unexpected benefits from these associations with Vale Royal and Llanfairfechan.
Relationship with the public has not always been as friendly. One year, our hermitage event coincided with Chester Races. The owners of the Hermitage, along with other lady friends were selling refreshments to the public to raise money for charity. Three drunks from the race meeting were causing trouble along the Dee. They started shouting abuse and obscenities to the players, causing distress to everyone, especially the ladies. They started climbing the fence and approached the lawn. I was nearest to them and moved to intercept them. I was immediately aware of Roger Croston and Chris Boon behind me. We did not threaten them, but, as we later told the police, “as we were in the middle of a game, we just happened to have our mallets in our hands!” They were not so drunk that they could not see the error of their ways and beat a hasty retreat. Roger later reported this to the police who had been aware of the trouble the drunks had been causing but needed some member of the public to give evidence. Roger told the police we were willing to do this so, several weeks later, we attended a magistrates court. They changed their plea to guilty at the last moment so we did not have to give evidence, but we did see each of them fined £100 with costs of £25. An expensive day out for them at the races!
During the early part of the nineties, the club was in difficulties. Despite running coaching courses the membership was falling. We had great difficulty raising teams for the league. We invited Clive and Gina Llewellyn from Llanfairfechan to join the club as country members. With their help we managed to honour all our commitments in the league. We were so worried that we revised the constitution to bring up-to-date the provisions for winding up the club.
We reached rock bottom when in 1996 the pavilion, which we shared with the bowls club, was destroyed one night by fire – probably by an arsonist. We lost all our equipment. We first learnt of this when Cheryl Hindle went along on the following afternoon hoping for a game. Cheryl reported this to Janet Davies in the early evening. We were due to play a league match against Southport at home the following day! After a series of frantic telephone calls the match went ahead as planned. Southport supplied the croquet equipment, all our team brought along an assortment of chairs and tables, Geoff Reynolds borrowed a tent from the Guides and adjustments were made to our catering arrangements.
Because of our previous associations, Vale Royal were very happy to lend us two sets of hoops and sets of balls. Llanfairfechan Club lent us two sets of balls. Various members of the club lent or donated chairs and other equipment. Thanks to everyone concerned we were fully operational by the following weekend!
Fortunately, we were fully covered by insurance. Janet Davies, our treasurer at the time, undertook the lengthy and painstaking job of seeing the assessor, getting information and replacement costs for the equipment, making the claim and later, seeing to the purchase of new equipment. Without Janet’s efforts the club may very well have folded up.
Having survived the effects of the fire, there was a new spirit to revive the club. Janet Davies undertook a new recruitment drive with beginners’ courses. Janet was helped by other members of the club, particularly Margaret Povey who had been a constant and willing helper in the club since its inception. Subsequently the courses were run jointly by Janet and Malcolm Fletton, one of Janet’s protégés. The club managed to retain a high proportion of participants from these courses. The standard of play rapidly improved, and we managed to win the North-West league for the first time in 1999. The backbone of the team in 1999 was Roger Croston, Janet Davies, Malcolm Fletton, Dennis Graham and Geoff Reynolds. Unfortunately we did not win the Secretary’s Shield the following year, but we did lose to the eventual winners, St. Albans.
In 1993 Roger Croston started a campaign to get new lawns and we looked at several sites in and around Westminster Park. Chester City Council wanted to develop the facilities at Westminster Park, including relocating our lawns. With this in mind Chester City Council applied for a lottery grant, but failed in their bid. However, in 2000 Chester Croquet Club applied to the Lottery Millennium Fund for a grant for new and extra lawns at Westminster Park. Through the prodigious efforts of Janet and Malcolm, who had frequent meetings with relevant officials and getting quotations and other information, we got the grant without any problems. Work started in the autumn of 2000 but because of the unprecedented bad weather throughout the country, work stopped almost immediately. It had been hoped that we would be playing on the new lawns in 2002, the club’s 25 th anniversary but because of problems with the contractor it appears that 2003 is a more realistic date.
Outlook for the Future
As the club celebrates its 25 th Anniversary, the prospects look bright. The membership has risen and we are getting many younger members who can carry the club forward. Hopefully, the new improved lawns will be a success. The committee is enthusiastic with many new ideas. It would complete the new lawns project if we could erect a new pavilion to replace the Portacabin that we have been using since the fire. I can see a rosy future for the club with, I hope, great successes to be reported when the next account of the club is written in 25 years time – but not by me!
I am indebted to Margaret Povey and Roger Croston for checking the manuscript for accuracy and making several useful comments and additions. I also wish to thank Geoff Reynolds for reproducing this account on a word processor and duplicating it.
Founder Members: D.S. Lester (Chairman); C.J. Richards (Treasurer); Bert Mason (Secretary); Margaret Povey; Lyn Atkinson; Andrew Collin; George Collin; Mrs. B. Dolby; Don Duffy; Mary Duffy; Miss H. Ellis; Miss J.J. Fice; Major J.T. James; Mrs. James; Nora Mason; Tony Page; Mary Page; Julian Page (student); Mrs. Richards; Mr. D.H.M. Roberts; ; Revd. Norman Ryder; Rupert Thorp; Hasting Wang; Jean Wang; Andrew Wang (student).
Mason Cup: This is the main competition in the club and is rightly named after the founder of the club. It is a handicap competition played throughout the season.
Improvers Cup: This trophy is awarded to the player who the committee deem to have made most progress in the year. It is designed to encourage players, particularly beginners, to strive for improvement.
Hermitage Short Croquet Competition: This is an enjoyable one-day event played at the Hermitage lawns, our original home. It takes the form of short croquet and usually forms part of Chester’s Week of Sport, and is designed to publicise the game. Originally it was sponsored by the Lord Daresbury Hotel with small prizes, and later by Shell. It is no longer sponsored, but we still retain and award the two original trophies.
High Bisquers’ Tournament: This is a one-day, end of season competition open to players with high handicaps. It is designed to give beginners a chance to play in a competition with players of a similar standard. It was started in 1992, but was held for only one year. It was revived in 1999 when Malcolm Fletton designed and made a unique trophy, which was named the Hibiscus Trophy – the pun was intended!
Winners of Club Competitions: