This Sporting Chiswick – The Masonian Bowls Club

Chiswick’s bowls club is taking part in Bowls England’s ‘Big Weekend’ on Sunday 28 May and invites you to come along

Guest blog by James Thellusson

Behind the busy food stalls at the Chiswick Farmers Market is a low-slung green building. On Sundays, when the market is humming, the people and the stalls almost obscure it. You’d be forgiven for not noticing it.

Take a closer look through the pyracantha arch and you’ll see an open door, a couple of tables and two glass cabinets stuffed with cups and plaques peeping out at you. You’re looking into the clubroom of Chiswick’s only bowls club, a quiet oasis in Dukes Meadows.

The Masonian Bowls Club (to give the club it’s full name) is nothing to do with the Freemasons. Funny handshakes aren’t part of the rituals here, all you’ll get is a warm welcome and a seat away from the madding crowd at the Sunday market. You can even buy a tea or coffee while you’re there at a bargain price compared to the hi-falutin’ barristas outside.

“We’re here every Sunday to answer questions about the club or the game for anyone who wants to pop in,” says club captain Andy Tucker, who also runs a stall at the market selling Somerset Ciders. “We welcome people of all ages, backgrounds, creeds and colour.”

Not those Masons

The club’s name is actually a homage to Dan & Charles Mason, the owners of the Cherry Blossom Polish factory, which used to operate near the Hogarth Roundabout and originally operated on land leased from Chiswick Urban Council. It moved to its current location in 1983 after the land was sold to developers.

The club has regular ‘roll-up and try-out’ evenings on Thursdays from 6pm. There’s no formal dress code for these events (though you will need flat shoes such as plimsoles) and the club will loan you a ‘wood’ (as the bowls are called) and then give you a gentle lesson on how to play.

Right now, however, Andy and the club’s executive team are gearing up their big recruitment day on the bank holiday weekend when the club is open from 10am till late.

“May 28 is our big annual try out day. We’re part of Bowls England’s ‘Big Weekend’ and will have a team here all day, and we’d love to see you there. Come with your kids, friends and family. Or come alone. Either way we’ll give you a welcome and free tuition.”

The club has 50 members (which probably makes it Chiswick’s most exclusive club) and plays competitively in the Middlesex, Richmond & Barnes, Thames Valley,  & South Middlesex Leagues. But the season, which runs from May to October, is equally full of friendly games against teams from Putney to Springfield. Annual membership is value for money at £35 and sponsorships of competitions can be had from £500.

“The club has some good players and has won competitions. But we’re as much about the fun and social side of the game as the winning,” says Andy.

Quintessentially English

Bowls has been played in England since the 12th century and the oldest playing green in the country is still being used in Southampton. The game has had its ups and downs though. It was banned by Edward III because it distracted the yeomen of England from archery, which seems like a good call because it’s hard to imagine that Edward would have won his victory at Crecy by rolling bowls down the hill at the charging French cavalry.

England is the top country for bowls. We’ve won more medals at it at the Commonwealth Games than any other country. Which is not surprising in some ways, because so many players are here. But I think there’s more to it than this. There’s something quintessentially English about bowls – its well-loved lawns, its washed whites, its patient play and its manners. Not for bowls, the huffing and puffing of tennis, the vulgar disputations of football or the sweat of the scrum.

Sir Francis Drake ignored the imminent threat of the Spanish Armada long enough to finish his game of bowls, so bowls could claim to have invented English sang froid .

“Bowls is a great for men and women (or couples) to play together because it’s more about skill than strength. It’s easy to learn and the capital cost of equipment is very low, especially compared to games like golf or cricket.”

Chiswick’s best kept secret

Years ago when the Chiswick Farmers Market first opened we used to go there with my daughter. She was intrigued by the fifteen foot privet hedge which hides the bowling lawn.

“What’s behind the hedge?” she used to ask.

“The Secret Garden,” I replied. Frances Burnett’s novel about a young girl discovering a hidden garden was one of her favourite books.

It turns out that wasn’t such a lie after all. The Masonian Club is one of Chiswick’s hidden secrets, the lawn is beautifully kept and the game is a delight. Pop along on Sunday 28 May and see for yourself.

Masonian Bowls Club is at Market Drive, Dukes Meadow, W4 2RX

Telephone: 07394 362064

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