Note: The early part of this history, up to 2004, is taken from the Club Archives. The quote from the Croquet Association Gazette is taken from the “50 years ago” section in the September 2016 issue! More detail about our activities since 2002 is available in our News Archive.
The current club, originally called the Tunbridge Wells Croquet Club, was founded in the 1965 by Gerald Williams, a croquet enthusiast and member of the Croquet Association, in the grounds of his mansion at Shernfold Park, Frant, East Sussex. He established two lawns and a clubhouse for the enjoyment of relations and friends, at a cost of £1,000 paid by by Mrs Phyllis West. The setting was delightful. Fringed by magnificent fir trees, the lawns overlooked the surrounding Sussex countryside. Tunbridge Wells, being the nearest town, seemed a logical choice for the naming of the club.
The Croquet Association Gazette reported: “The Tunbridge Wells Club was formally constituted and opened on Monday May 2nd at Shernfold Park, Frant. It was a most lovely day and the grounds were at their best. The two croquet lawns, with extensive views for miles, looked gay with their new equipment and an excellent pavilion erected under the trees proved not only useful but an attractive addition. There were about 30-35 people present most of whom played some time in the afternoon – and 18 members were enrolled. There was a good attendance of the press and the Croquet Association were represented by the Chairman, Hon. Treasurer and the Secretary.”
When Gerald Williams sold the mansion house to a property developer to be converted into apartments, he stipulated that the croquet club was to continue. This verbal agreement, although not legally binding, was honoured, the club paying a peppercorn rent to the Residents’ Association of Shernfold Park and the club, affiliated to the Croquet Association, continued to operate with a modest membership for many years. Gordon Drake was Chairman for many years during this time, finally retiring in 1985.
Elaine Dell, a founder member, took over as President from Gerald in 1982 – she became an Honorary Life Member in 1985. In 1985 Peter Howell took over the chairmanship, striving to maintain and improve the membership. The number of members reached 32!
In 1986 the post of President seems to cease (without comment in the official records). We participate in the first year of the Southern League (now a SECF competition?), starting with a home match against Ramsgate on 4th May. The new concept of a green fee (at £1) is introduced.
In 1987 the AGM Minutes notes that 70 ladies from the WI had had an introduction to the game at the club. With only modest club funds available, the clubhouse roof was renewed. One week later, during the night of the 16th October, an infamous hurricane devastated South East England. Forty trees in Shernfold Park were uprooted, many falling across the croquet lawns. One fell across the new clubhouse roof rendering the building a ‘write-off’. Despite this, we became one of the founder members of the South East Croquet Federation.
During the next two seasons, the club struggled to survive, repairing the lawns as finances would allow; but in February 1989, a further storm brought down two additional fir trees across the lawns and neither the club nor the Residents’ Association had sufficient funds to repair the damage.
Peter Howell approached Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to request a venue for croquet within the borough. For the 1989 season, the Council allowed a corner of grass at Hawkenbury Recreation Ground to be set aside for croquet, with the use of a room in the communal clubhouse. Although the lawns were far below standard, the club was able to survive but it was difficult to attract new members, due to the poor facilities.
At this time the word Royal was added to the title as the club was sited in the Royal Borough. [Ed: technically this is incorrect – the Borough is not Royal, but part of central Tunbridge Wells is, luckily this part includes the current location in Calverley Grounds!]
In 1991 the Abbey Challenge Cup at Southwick was won for the third successive year by a RTWCC player – this time John Hobbs. Peter Howell became National Veteran Champion. Elaine Dell, Hon. President and one of the club’s founder members, dies.
1992 was another good year for competitive play for both the club and club’s members. RTWCC enters the SECF Association Team Doubles event for the first time and wins! Representing the club were Peter and Audrey Howell, Clive Horton and John Hobbs. Clive Horton won three individual events (at Southwick, Ramsgate and Compton) and was runner up in the All-England Area Final. Mick Belcham, John Hobbs and Audrey Howell all win individual events.
In 1994, the Council offered the under-used tennis courts in Calverley Grounds and the club took over three lawns as from 1st May 1994, paying a peppercorn rent and thereafter taking on the responsibility of building a clubhouse and maintaining the lawns.
Work on the clubhouse commenced on 17th August 1994 and was opened by TV personality Jilly Goolden on 3rd June 1995, in the presence of the Mayor and Mayoress, heralding a new era for the club.
[The cost of the club-house was donated by Hazel Moss-Davis (some £30,000!) and the carpets provided/laid by Calverley Carpets. The Minutes for the AGM also note that bureaucracy, building and planning regulations had resulted in a cost increase of £4,000.]
Incidentally, here’s what Calverley Grounds looked like in 1930 (our club house looks almost in the same place, as are the tennis courts which we used!), courtesy of http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk
With the new facilities the club enters the SECF U league for the first time in 1995 (but loses all matches) and runs a SECF One Ball Tournament. Membership reaches 40 for the first time, together with much publicity due to the opening of the club house. Also the Lustau Sherry company donates a trophy, but sadly not their products in subsequent years. We also receive the Apps Heley award by the Croquet Association for the most improved club in the country.
In September 1996 a party of French tourists visit the club. The club wins the SECF Association Doubles Tournament for the second time and we run the Kent Championship Tournament.
1997 sees two visits by French tourists, together with our first one by Headway, and also our first two-day tournament. The club runs the Kent Cup again, this time triumphing with Alex Jardine as the winner and Peter Howell as runner-up.
The club enters both the SECF B and U leagues for the first time in 1998, coming runners-up in the B league. We host a visit by the Rotary Club, but not by the French sadly. Honour Boards are erected by John Hobbs (and should last 30 years).
1999 shows many wins by club members at external tournaments, including Miriam Reader and Peter Howell as runners-up in the National Veterans Doubles. Golf Croquet sessions introduced on Wednesday afternoons.
Croquet is in the list of offerings for the Adult Education Programme for 2000. The Advanced and Handicap tournaments are included in the CA Fixture Book for the first time and are over-subscribed. The club enters its first Golf Croquet event at Compton and Brian Kitching donates the Rose Bowl for a Club Golf competition. Membership reaches a new high at 42.
A Newsletter appears for the first time (for some years) in 2002 and both Peter and Audrey Howell are made Life Honorary members. The peak attendance at a Club afternoon is 26, with an average of 22 throughout August!
A second Club afternoon was added in 2003, PPP join as corporate members and this web-site appears! Clive Horton retires as Treasurer after serving since 1992. The club becomes a CASC and Pegasus Retirement Homes donates a silver plate for the Open Handicap tournament.
2004 showed further development of the club with the first Golf Croquet competition team and an increase in membership to over 50 for the first time. At the end of the year Richard Clark took over as Chairman. Hazel Moss-Davis was made the third Life Honorary member on her retirement from the club. We also win the SECF Golf Croquet Doubles Tournament.
And then there was the Lawn project! 2005 saw the initiation AND completion of the project to relay all 3 lawns, mostly handled by our able Project Manager Roger Morris. Much work by Richard Clark was undertaken to ensure that grants were obtained from as many people as possible – the Lottery (Awards for All), Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Kent County Council, Gatwick Airport Trust, the South East Croquet Association and the Croquet Association all contributed. In all £26,000 of the cost came from grants with £14,000 raised from the members also. The actual relaying took place from 1st September, necessitating a Finals Day for the first time for years. The Equipment Store was built over the winter, during which the club obtained access to the lawns of the old Bowls Club and this allowed play when the main lawns were closed.
Apart from that the club was as active as usual in all competitions (3rd in Golf League, 2nd equal in B League) and added a third club session – for Association Croquet. One of our members, Aaron Westerby, represented New Zealand at the World Championships. A Summer and Winter social programme was instituted. Press coverage was much increased and we had some radio coverage for the first time.
2006 saw the new lawns and Equipment Store opened by the Mayor. The lawns were rather slow and with tramlines, but were used for external matches and tournaments – a Golf Croquet event, with 16 players, was held for the first time. With the Bowling Green vacated 2 x 70% sized lawns were available all summer and even into November. The truncated facilities for internal use meant that the croquet wasn’t of the best however.
The main publicity effort was our Croquet in the Park event, with an inaugural Corporate Challenge (albeit with only 6 teams) and Open Day with costumes. This raised our profile significantly in TW with much press coverage, especially in the Courier. Richard Clark retired as Chairman and was replaced by Jon Diamond.
2007 started with the Croquet Association giving us the Apps Heley award for the second time and we launch a new logo. Opening Day was an innovation, with 40 people attending, a One Ball tournament and unveiling of our new signs. Our new lawns are really fine this second year and the Kent Cup tournament was a good indication, unfortunately the final was contested by people from other clubs. The second Corporate Challenge is up from 6 to 11 teams, with 4 new members (3 from Lovat Insurance Brokers) as a result.
Aaron Westerby provides some excellent Advanced coaching. Miriam Reader wins our second Golf Handicap Tournament. We go to Batemans NT for the first time, but are drenched by rain. The Houslops host our Summer Barbeque, with 37 crowding their house. We came second of 19 in the SECF B League. The final pub lunch is attended by a record 23 people. By the end of the season we’re up to 62 members – also a new record!
2008 is our third year with the new lawns and they’re really good. We employ a part-time Lawn Supervisor, Norman Croasdale, who is proving invaluable. The compliments after we host the CA Golf Second Eights are fantastic! The Corporate Challenge is now fully fledged and full with a total of 20 teams and we run an Introduction to Croquet for non-members for the first time. After filming in 2007 we show up well in ITV’s By Royal Appointment. New for this year is a demonstration day at Penshurst Place, for which we get paid.
Notable playing successes are Alex Jardine winning all 7 games at the Ramsgate Advanced and Jon Diamond coming 5th in the German Golf Open and being part of the Kent team that came 3rd at the Golf Inter Counties. We come 3rd in the SECF U league and also at the Golf Team’s Day. Dan Long and Alex Jardine join the Committee, with John Hobbs retiring after 15 years! Selwyn Ward replaces John Timmis as Treasurer.
In 2009 We win the SECF Golf Singles and Doubles Tournament, but generally have a poor run in the SECF Leagues. However, we get to the semi-final of the CA Mary Rose tournament for the first time.
Richard Mann replaces Selwyn Ward as Treasurer, with Jeff Chapman and John Moore replacing Alex Jardine and Dan Long on the Committee.
In 2010 our teams have a little more success than in 2009, but nothing too exciting. However, some individual notable successes in 2010 are Mick Greagsby winning the Pat Apple trophy in California, Aaron Westerby captaining New Zealand at the MacRobertson Shield, Alex Jardine “victor of the seeds’ graveyard quarter” in the Southwick Salver and winning Ramsgate Advanced Weekend, Jon Diamond being second in Southwick Midsummer and winning our Open Golf Handicap Tournament. Alex Jardine and Jon Diamond represent Kent at the InterCounties.
David Evans joins as our new Lawn Manager and we’re upgrading our Club House facilities with lockers and electric hand dryers. We run the first Finals Day for some years, which is declared a success. Carolyn Gunstone and Kate Sander joined the Committee, replacing Elaine Houslop and Roger Morris.
Miriam Reader, a long standing member and sometime Committee member, dies in December and leaves us a significant bequest, part of which we spend on a dishwasher (which she used to do!).
2011 was nothing special, with our SECF teams having even less success (despite one of our away opponent’s being Ryde, Isle of Wight, and having to visit us!). The lawns are still in good condition as we acquire yet another Groundsman, Ray Kemp, early in the year. Still, a new competition that succeeded well was an internal Golf teams held on a Tuesday evening, won by Mick Greagsby’s team.
None of our players won any of our external tournaments, but notable was a player from Uruguay who won our Open Golf, and promised to donate a cup for next year. John Hobbs won the Over 75 class at the National Veterans, so now holds the Pidcock mallet trophy!
Our new flag and banner got a paid outing to Hever – hopefully some new members in future (and a return visit in 2012), and we can report that two of our members, Richard Smith and Jo Wadman, got married.
2012: Mick Belcham retires as Secretary, after 10 years! Sadly, we also have to report the death of Peter Howell. He was our Chairman for 16 years and had retired to Budleigh Salterton in 2001.
Our teams have a bit more success again, with the Golf Handicap team winning more than 50%. [The Association Advanced team again failed to win a match…] However, we have a stonking result at the inaugural SECF Southern Challenge, coming 4th. Individual external success was achieved by Jon Diamond, winning our own Golf Open tournament and also the Compton Open Championship.
The weather is so awful that, despite retaining our groundsman, the lawns are not as good as we’d like and even worse – we don’t manage to get any Autumn maintenance done, so the prospects for 2013 aren’t good either. Our Winter programme prospers though, with the One Ball now a firm favourite with 16 players on one occasion.
Well, despite our fears, the lawns in 2013 were in quite good condition during the year. We’re still without a Secretary, but in this electronic age this isn’t so much of a handicap as it used to be, and Bob Bruce volunteers part-way through the year.
We didn’t enter the GC top Level Play League, as we looked like being outclassed. (We were in the Advanced League, coming bottom again.) However, our other teams did quite well – we won the GC Restricted League and also the SECF GC Team Doubles event. Our Southern Challenge team didn’t quite succeed as well as in 2012, coming 7th of 10 teams in the top division.
2014 saw some members returning after a significant time and the membership up to 55, with a succesful new Introduction to Croquet course.
We finally achieve our first win in the AC Advanced League after 4 years and actually make it 2/4! We don’t do well in the other leagues, but at least win games in each of them. Alex Jardine wins the Honeygrove Cup and Martin Lester a Handicap event at Cheltenham.
The Finals Day ran successfully again and we managed One Ball throughout the Winter.
The 2015 season started with a bang and 25 players on Opening Day. It continued well and saw a new record for membership, now up to 62 with a good number of AC beginners, thanks to a new Coaching plan and Saturday AC sessions.
Our performance in the SECF Leagues wasn’t brilliant with only our Golf Handicap team scoring more than 50%, finishing 5th out of 16, and we came 7th again in the Southern Challenge. Barney Lewis came 3rd in the Regional Final for the CA All England Handicap, narrowing missing out on getting to the National Final. Jon Diamond won our own Golf Open tournament again, with Martin Lester winning the Pegasus Plate.
The season ended with a very busy Finals Day, with only a couple of matches not played on the day and Mark Houslop being specially busy. Unfortunately the weather interfered with our Autumn Maintenance and with almost continuous rains the lawns barely re-opened. However, a Bonfire’s Night party at Kate Sanders was fantastic with lots of bangs!
2016 was another good season (our 50th as it subsequently transpires). Our efforts for National Croquet Day produced 35 visitors and even one member. Membership continued to increase, up to another record at 66.
Jon Diamond won the Pegasus Plate, but didn’t perform well in the other external tournaments he entered and neither did anyone else. We probably ought to draw veil over over performance in SECF events and leagues too.
Richard Mann chickened out on Finals Day, he had some excuse about playing in the CA All England Regional Final, but the rest of the matches were almost all played in front of a decent crowd of spectators. The only one that didn’t complete was the Hunter Plate, which ran out of time as Jon Diamond was in three other finals…