Wickersley CI Bowls Club at the turn of the 1980s
Although I’m probably younger than most current Wickersley CI members, I thought it might be interesting for you to read some of my childhood memories of Gillott Lane, as they will almost certainly predate your own recollections of the Institute. My sister Debbie and I grew up spending our summer holidays at gran and grandad’s house up Gillott Lane and, as both grandparents were heavily involved in the ‘Stute, we spent many hours there too.
Grandad was Cyril Pearce, who worked most of his life on the surface at Silverwood and Thurcroft collieries. My sister, being slightly older and also the family’s genealogist, will have more facts to hand but, if I remember correctly, Cyril was one of the three founders of Wickersley CI Bowls Club and indeed one of the three men who built the green. He was a gentle and patient man, also a good servant to the club and local associations, acting as WCI Treasurer for many years as well as undertaking administrative duties for local leagues.
Gran was Mary Pearce. Whereas you won’t find Cyril’s name on too many of your club trophies (apart from his own Memorial Cup!), I’d wager Mary’s name might crop up more frequently. If grandad wasn’t a cut-throat competitive player, gran certainly was! She was also a formidable character, the kind of straight-speaking Yorkshire woman that you wouldn’t wish to cross. Whatever you do, don’t try to chuck her in the corners or you’ll feel the full force of her wrath!
Gran and Grandad’s back garden featured a long, thin piece of lawn, lovingly kept by Cyril with his petrol lawnmower, cut down to bowling green level and in pristine stripes. Half way down, just before the sweet peas on the left flank and the shed on the right, there was a significant dip. It was on this stretch of grass that grandad taught me how to play bowls when I was probably 6 or 7 years old. To this day I still love greens on a slope and I also still often play for the top of a dip.
Talking of greens with a big uphill/downhill pace difference, I eventually made it onto the Wickersley CI green for the first time with my dad, Bernard Carroll, who played for Wickersley Social Club at the time. The Club amicably shared the green with the ‘Stute for many years, to the point where the club competitions for which you still compete were open to members of both clubs. In fact, the ‘Turkey Trot’ originated from Wickersley Club, but allowed entry from Wickersley CI members too. The club competitions’ finals were all played on the same day (apart from the ‘Turkey Trot’, which was a last gasp, end of season event) and were usually well attended, with a big spread in the main room inside the Institute.
The green won’t have changed much over the years, I guess. It probably isn’t shaved down like it was in the old days, but the marks won’t have changed much. Looking at Wickersley CI now though, it’s a very different place. Back then, the area now accommodating your pavilion was a tennis court, where my sister and her pals used to knock balls about with their wooden racquets. Never mind the racquets though, think about the racket suffered by the poor residents in the stone houses backing onto the court, particularly during Wimbledon fortnight!
There was no pavilion in those days. The ground floor of the Institute was used by members and was also a great place to play ‘hide and seek’. Going in through the main entrance there were lots of wooden chairs and a piano in the far left hand corner, ivories that Don Dixon or someone else might tinkle if heavy rain interrupted the bowls. Through a door to the left was the kitchen (and the biscuits!) and through a corridor leading to the back of the building (facing Gillott lane) were the toilets and a curiously underused snooker room with full-sized snooker table. From the main room, out to the right was a little office and steps up to the spire, which were very much out of bounds to children. In fact, the first floor of the building was in a crumbling state and it was regularly explained that the floorboards wouldn’t take our weight…..so don’t go up there!
In the early 80s a hexagonal wooden pavilion was erected next to the top right hand corner of the green, if looking from Morthen Road, using reclaimed timber from the old Tanyard Bus Shelter. I still have a grainy clipping from the Rotherham Advertiser, showing Councillor Keith Billington shaking hands with grandad on the proud opening day and can name most of the people on the picture (not least six members of my family).
There were big changes afoot in Crown Green Bowls at the turn of the 1980s. My first jobs on Wickersley CI match days would have been putting out the flags in the corners of the green. Most bowlers will at this point wonder what the heck I’m talking about. Well, a flag was placed several yards either side of each corner in ready-made holes. One of the laws of the game at that time prevented a player stood on a mat in a corner within the flags sending their jack to rest within the flagged area in the adjacent corner. Phew! That’s a complicated way of explaining that it was then impossible under the laws of the game to pinch a few points along a tricky edge. Oh and if you’ve ever wondered why the crown is often referred to as ‘the button’, there was also a marker preventing players from resting their jack within a certain distance of the crown too. Thank goodness they changed those laws before I started playing properly; that would have scuppered my entire game! In those days, mats were also huge, allowing players to use them by standing at a particular point, and players played mainly with wooden bowls and matching jacks, often with a different bias to the normal 2 Full. So the player with the jack could have a huge advantage…..as long as they didn’t fancy playing the edge along the road or popping the block just over the crown. With the turn of the 1980s, however, regularly tested Standard Jacks were made the norm, which gradually forced players to send away their strong bowls to be turned down to standard 2 Full bias. Mats were also reduced to the size we know today and, of course, the flags were made redundant.
Crown Green Bowls was an unusual sport for a schoolboy to take up. I remember playing in the Rotherham Evening League for the ‘Stute in my early teens, with half the boys from my class sitting on the Morthen Road wall or crawling onto the top of the bus shelter to jeer at their classmate playing the ‘old man’s game’. I suppose that staying calm and keeping concentration in those conditions stood me in good stead for future hostile crowds, my most challenging (but still enjoyable) crowd experience being away at Warwick & Worcester for Yorkshire in the County Championship Final, with a couple of hundred inebriated brummies spilling out of the pub onto a terrace to ridicule your every move!
Back to grandad, well he lived for Wickersley CI in his retirement from the pit. He had a weak heart, sadly, and it was very apt that he died whilst doing what he loved. It was the summer of 1983. Cyril was up a ladder decorating in the mysterious, out-of-bounds upstairs rooms of the Institute when his heart decided that his time had come. My sister and I lost a great friend and companion, a kind and gentle man. Gran continued to play at the Institute for years to come and her clubmates’ support and friendship will have been a huge comfort to her. We are very proud that you still honour our grandad, Cyril Pearce, by playing for his memorial trophy, and we hope this will continue for years to come.