LAURIESTON BOWLING CLUB

NO CARNEGIES IN ITS MIDST

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

In the spring of 2013, members of Laurieston Bowling Club, past and present, gathered to celebrate its centenary. But what centenary were they actually celebrating? The opening of the first clubhouse? No, that was erected in the spring of 1923. The throwing of the first bowl? No, the green wasn't ready for play until June of that year. The drafting of the first constitution? No, that occurred three years earlier in 1920.

So what centenary were they celebrating? Answer: the first minuted meeting at which the first office bearers and committee members were duly elected. Though it should be noted that public meetings for "the advisability of starting a local bowling club" were being advertised in the Falkirk Herald as far back as 1909, but as the following extract from a biography of the first President, Mr James H Mather, shows, the project was "allowed to mature" due to "the practical impossibility of raising money":

"Mr Mather takes a keen interest in sport. He is exceedingly fond of the game of bowls, and is a member of the Falkirk Bowling Club. He has felt since ever he came to Laurieston, that a bowling green is a public want in the village and while confident that when once established it would be financially successful, he states that the objection to the project at present is the want of sufficient means to meet the initial expense, and the practical impossibility of raising money by an appeal to the public generosity on account of the appropriation of so many dates in the near future for bazaars for other bodies.

"Mr Mather states that a number of persons in the village interested in the proposal to establish a bowling green in Laurieston have promised to subscribe amongst themselves about £100, but as it is recognised that nearly £600 would be required to have the green constructed and opened free of debt, the project has not been allowed to mature. It is anticipated that by another year, when the electric cars are running to the village, there will be a large addition to better-class property in the neighbourhood, and that the scheme will then be taken up with enthusiasm and carried through.”

Front page of the first Minute book.

Similarly, in 1973 and 2002, the Ladies Section gathered to celebrate their 21st and 50th anniversaries, respectively. And though it is true that on 4 March 1952 "approximately 20 Ladies had signified their intention of participating” that season, and that the first President Mrs Buchanan was elected later that year, they had previously been “admitted in club" in 1934 under the following conditions:

  1. Hours of play 2 to 5 pm daily except Saturday when home matches are played.
  2. All evenings when rinks are available.
  3. Every member shall have the privilege of bringing a friend to the green occasionally, from 2-5, but the committee shall have full power to put a stop to any abuse of this privilege.
  4. Lady members are not entitled to vote on any matters pertaining to the club.
  5. All players must wear heelless or rubber soled shows.

Pedants can argue over which event or anniversary is of greater significance, but this short history, based upon a century's worth of meticulously penned minutes and supported by extracts from both the Falkirk Herald and the now defunct Falkirk Mail, as well as recollections from past and current members, is more interested in objective facts than subjective opinions. For, to quote Shakespeare, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet".

Much-Desired Green

At 8.15 pm on Thursday 4 December 1913, a Public Meeting was held in Laurieston School with a view of “considering the question of having a bowling green for the village”. Chaired by Mr Charles Brown, a resident of Dundas Lodge and factor for the Marquis of Zetland, and supported by the Reverend James Hunter and schoolmaster Mr James H Mather, it was reported of the latter that: “in view of the number of remarks that had been made of late to him and others, by old and new residenters, as to the need for a bowling green, he thought the time had now arrived when the question of the long-looked-for and much-desired green should be taken in hand and carried to a successful issue.”

A feeling shared by the Reverend James Hunter who extolled the value of “helpful and invigorating exercise to be derived from bowling, especially by those who were confined indoors during the day” and expressed a hope that “expectations of the committee as to the securing of a suitable bowling green for the village would be realised.”

Afterwards, a General Committee of over twenty villagers was appointed, from which ten formed an Executive Committee including Mr James H Mather as Convener; Mr J M Mathie as Secretary; and Messrs William Reid and Charles Stevenson as Joint Treasurers.

At the following meeting on 8 December, the chairman read a Communication from a Bowling Green Maker by the name of Mr Devlin who having “noticed from the Press that the formation of a Bowling Green was being considered in Laurieston” requested an interview so that he might “see the proposed site and get full particulars with a view of quoting a price”.

An informal meeting had previously taken place between both parties, the proposed site “which lay on the north side of Graemesdyke [sic] Street, on the Marquis of Zetland’s estate” had been viewed and Mr Devlin was of the opinion that “this Site would be a Capital one and one which would be easily laid out.” The probable cost of which, together with a “small Bowl-House”, he confirmed as something in the region of £450.

The Village Be Divided

Thereafter, the meeting was thrown open to the Committee to “express their opinion as to the best means to be adopted to secure the necessary amount” and after some discussion a motion proposed by Mr T Bruce and seconded by Mr D Neilson was passed that: “the Village be divided into districts” and that two committee members be appointed to each district to canvass donations. The following eight areas were agreed upon:

  1. Square to Polmont Road, South Side
  2. Square to Polmont Road, North Side
  3. Graemesdyke [sic] Street, East from Square to Beancross
  4. Graemesdyke [sic] Street, West from Square
  5. James Street, both sides
  6. Boyd Street, The Knowe, Redding Road to Westquarter Gate
  7. Mary Street, both sides
  8. Thornbridge

Pass books with the heading “Proposed Bowling Green for Laurieston. Amount I promise to give should the project be gone on with.” were distributed to the appointed collectors. A General Meeting was called for Wednesday, 21 January 1914 by which time it was hoped that “all districts were to be canvassed and amounts reported”. And a second Public Meeting in the School was arranged for 8pm on Thursday, 22 January with a view to “consider whether the Proposal for a Local Bowling Green be adopted or not.” After a vote of thanks to the chairman, “a very enthusiastic meeting terminated.”

Invitation to a Public Meeting at Laurieston School.

Come the New Year, donations and declarations of support from the eight districts started to pour in. And the joint treasurer, Mr Charles Stevenson, said that as much as £62 10s had been promised to date; a larger sum had been offered should the scheme progress; and he was confident that “when they approached others outside the village, the sum mentioned would be greatly increased.”

In view of the general sympathy shown towards the movement, it was agreed that “they should now take the matter up and carry it to a successful issue”. A large committee was appointed, along with the previous office bearers and Robert Smart as Joint Secretary. After which discussion turned to the small matter of fundraising, for as a reporter in the Falkirk Mail dryly remarked: “A bowling green costs a bit of money, in fact a club can hardly be established at much less than £500 – a considerable sum for a place like Laurieston, which, unfortunately, can boast of having no Carnegies in its midst to lend a helping hand.”

A Three-Day Bazaar

Two ideas were agreed upon: a jumble sale in the Century Hall on Saturday, 28 March; and a three-day bazaar in Falkirk Town Hall during the spring of 1915. Regarding the latter, the secretary quoted a hire cost of £12 for 4 days (30s less if booked by a ratepayer) plus 5s for the removal of seats. And a suggestion was made by Mr W Robb that “the committee should first meet a number of ladies who were likely to take part at the Bazaar and hear their opinions on the subject before fixing definitely.”

As for the imminent Jumble Sale, which was to be advertised in both the Falkirk Herald and Falkirk Mail newspapers, numerous supplementary competitions were suggested, two of which were considered in detail. Namely, Shooting and Wall Quoits.

200 targets and 1000 pellets were to be ordered by Mr A Summers from The Knowe; the Secretary was instructed to purchase a rubber stamp bearing the words “Laurieston Bowling Club”; and the cost of Wall Quoits tickets were set at 1d for 6 rings and admission tickets at 2d. With no other business other than agreeing to ask several ladies to act as stallholders, “the meeting terminated with a vote of thanks to the chairman.”

In all, £9 2s was raised minus 19s for expenses, which according to the minutes of the following meeting on 1 April was “considered very satisfactory”. So much so that it was agreed to hold a similar fundraising event (a Cake and Candy Sale with a repeat of the popular Shooting and Wall Quoits competitions) on Saturday, 16 May.

Front page of a Perfume Card.
Back page of a Perfume Card.

Thereafter, a “considerable time” was spent in discussing a proposal to issue a Tramway Timetable in book form, filled with advertisements at the rate of 7s 6d a page, with proceeds to go to the funds. And it was agreed that a sub-committee comprising Messrs Mather, MacLaren, Dunn and Wilson (of Riley Dunn & Wilson bookbinders, formerly of Grahamsdyke Street) was to make enquiries and report its findings at a later date.

A notice of a General Meeting to discuss “important business” was then circulated which urged members to “endeavour to be present”. 23 appeared, including the joint treasurers William Reid and Charles Stevenson, who announced that the overall balance to date stood at £52 12s 6d. Further fundraising plans were discussed including the sale of 2000 “perfumed cards” at 1d a piece which bore the following inscription on the underside: "Every little helps, Many thanks for your penny, Remember the coming Bazaar, 1915". And it was agreed to lodge the money in the Clydesdale Bank in the name of the Convener, Treasurers and Secretaries (or their successors) under the condition that: “no money to be withdrawn without the signatures of at least two of the parties occupying the said offices.”

A Nice Display Of Cakes

At a meeting of the Executive Committee on 18 April, several ladies were invited to discuss the proposed Bazaar to be held in the spring of 1915 and more importantly the Cake and Candy sale scheduled for the following week. Mrs Harley was appointed in charge of the Cake Stall, Miss McLay the Candy Stall and the supplementary Class Stall was to be supervised by the convener Mr Mather. And judging by the following extract from the Falkirk Herald, it proved to be a resounding success:

"Mr J. H. Mather, convener, presided, and, in introducing Mrs Brown, spoke of her as a lady who was ever ready to help in any cause that was for the improvement of the village. Mrs Brown, who was accompanied by Mr Charles Brown, in declaring the sale open, referred to the pleasure it gave her in being present that afternoon and taking part in the furtherance of such a worthy object.

"She trusted that the nice display of cakes and other things would all be disposed of, and that the committee would find at the close of the sale that the fund for the project which they had in hand would be greatly increased. Parish Councillor McDougall proposed a hearty vote of thanks to Mrs Brown, and Mr Brown replied on her behalf. During the afternoon piano selections were given by Miss Robertson, and solos, recitations, and dances were given at intervals."

Air-gun, wall quoits and nail-driving competitions were also held, the last "proving a source of amusement". And at the close, Mr William Reid, treasurer, intimated that the drawings for the day amounted to £17 7s 4d, and that the fund was over £70 which, he thought, "was very satisfactory for the short time the scheme had been in existence."

A Band Concert In October

At a General Meeting on 13 May 1914, more fundraising initiatives were discussed including: the formation of a Work Party comprising the Committee and the ladies who assisted with the Cake and Candy sale; a Band Concert in October; and a Prize Draw of twelve prizes to the value of £10. 300 books of tickets were printed, tickets were issued to “the various Bowling Green Secretaries in the Shire” and the money along with duplicates and unsold tickets were to be returned before the date of the Concert.

On the subject of the Tramway Timetable venture, Mr Dunn gave a summary of his findings and it was proposed that 500 be printed as a timetable and 500 as a Football Fixture Card. By the following General Meeting on 27 May, 12 pages of advertisements had been secured. And it was suggested that the fixtures of both Falkirk and East Stirlingshire be added, provided that the consent of the Clubs be obtained. A proposition which Mr Mather said was “likely to be got for this being done”.

Newspaper advert for a Jumble Sale.

Meantime, the bank balance swelled by almost twenty percent overnight thanks to two generous donations: a letter from Mr Charles William Forbes of Callendar House intimating a subscription of £2; and a cheque from the Slamannan-born colliery owner Mr Adam Nimmo (who was knighted in 1918) to the value of £10. And on 15 June, the treasurer reported that “there was £80 in the bank and he had in hand £4 2s 6d”.

A State Of War Exists

Eight months after the initial Public Meeting, almost a fifth of the estimated £450 costs for “laying out the Green together with a small Bowl-House” on the “north side of Graemesdyke [sic] Street” had been raised.

But then events in Sarajevo put the kibosh on developments when Gavrilo Pincip, a member of the revolutionary nationalist group Young Bosnia, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which set off a chain of events that culminated in the following call to arms by British Prime Minster Henry Herbert Asquith:

"Owing to the summary rejection by the German Government of the request made by his Majesty's Government for assurances that the neutrality of Belgium will be respected, his Majesty's Ambassador to Berlin has received his passports, and his Majesty's Government declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11 p.m. on August 4, 1914."

Bar one entry in the minute book dated 15 April 1915, which recorded a donation of £5 5s from the Polmont and District Gas Company and combined takings of £4 9s 5d from the Scent Cards, Tramway Timetable and Prize Draw fundraising initiatives: “It was agreed to leave all further matters in hands of Executive Committee and when a suitable time arrived to call a meeting of General Committee to make arrangements for varying the work of providing a Bowling Green to a successful issue.”

That “suitable time” being four years later on 20 June 1919.

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1913 MINUTES

The first pages of the original minute book include an invitation from Mr James H. Mather to a public meeting at Laurieston School on 4 December 1913 and a clipping from a newspaper report of said meeting together with a list of 22 committee members. Some of whose addresses are no longer in existence such as “Kerse View”, "The Knowe Brae" and “Fortingale Place”.

The next meeting dated 8 December was held in Wardrope’s Hall, a popular pub at Laurieston Square which is now the Tam Bain, where discussion focussed on the proposed site and possible cost of a bowling green, as well as the canvassing of eight districts to begin to raise the necessary funds of £450.

Handwritten invitation to Public Meeting in 1913.

BACK TO BUSINESS

If at first you don't succeed, try again.

At a meeting on 20 June 1919, eight days before Germany and the Allied Nations signed the Treaty of Versailles, the names of committee members who had fallen in the Great War were read out by the Secretary and it was agreed that: “a minute of condolence be entered, but owing to the lapse of time, and with regard to the feelings of the grieved, no letter be sent to them as it would be but renewing their grief.”

Respects paid, it was back to business: minutes of several committee meetings held before the war were read out; the Treasurer reported that the funds had risen to over £132; and Mr Charles Stevenson replaced Mr J M Mathie as Joint Secretary after the latter moved away from the area. Thereafter, discussion turned to fundraising and the selection of a suitable site.

According to an article in the Falkirk Herald, the original plot of land “on the north side of Graemesdyke [sic] Street” was considered unfit for purpose due to the discovery of “underground workings”. A second site “on the Langton estate” was dismissed on account of cost. But a third site “on the Polmont Road, at the part known as Victoria Road” also referred to as "a field behind the cottages on Polmont Road, at the east end of the village" was not only available and affordable, but deemed to be “the best”.

The County Council, though, from whom Laurieston had provisionally agreed to rent ground, was only interested in buying the adjoining land in order to build houses on what was to become Dundas Crescent. But when the Marquis of Zetland “insisted on their taking this” additional strip as part of the property transaction, it was suggested that they sublet it to the bowling club for a nominal fee. On one condition: they became “a properly constituted club”.

And so, on 23 July 1920, at a public meeting in the Old School Room, it was moved by Mr Pinkerton and seconded by Mr McDougall that “The Laurieston Bowling Club” be “properly constituted”. An annual fee of 2s 6d was fixed, 29 members enrolled with a view of increasing numbers “up to at least 100” and the same office bearers were unanimously elected with the Marquis of Zetland appointed as Honorary President; and Charles William Forbes of Callendar House, Cyril Herbert Dunderdale of Westquarter and Captain A. W. Steven of Redding House as Honorary Vice-Presidents.

A Cockerel And A Razor

With a site agreed and a constituted club in place, thoughts turned once more to fundraising. A Christmas Draw raised £73 10s 6d. And the following year, a “remarkably large” Garden Fete and Carnival in the grounds of Callendar Park, which the Falkirk Herald said “represented the most ambitious of the efforts which have been made since the war towards the establishment of the pastime in the village”, swelled the club’s coffers to over £330. Some of the standout features being:

Even the weather “favoured the event”, although “the keen breeze which sprang up during the course of the afternoon”, described as “at times more forceful than pleasant”, was a fitting metaphor for the bumpy road which lay ahead.

Handwritten copy of the first page of the first constitution.

In October, “the Treasurer reported that a calf had been gifted by Mr Thomas Baird, Newlands Farm” and that this had been sold at Falkirk market for a “handsome” fee. And in 1922, a Midsummer Fair "in the pretty Langton glen" strengthened the club’s finances further. The highlight of which was "The Hall of Injustice" in which mock trials of "bigamy" and "furious driving" were executed after unsuspecting members of the public were arrested by two policemen "whose respective proportions and general appearances were extremely ludicrous". To escape punishment, one outlaw "took refuge in the Westquarter burn, but was gamely pursued, and only luck saved him from a 'ducking'."

Again, a "handsome sum" was banked. But still the club fell short of the required amount to “lay out the green”. And so it was agreed to “open an account in the Books of the Commercial Bank of Scotland Ltd in name of the Bowling Section of the Club, and to overdraw the same to the extent of Two Hundred and Sixty Pound (£260).”

A Very Gratifying Attendance

With “no Carnegies in its midst to lend a helping hand”, and almost a decade after a public meeting was held with a view of “considering the question of having a bowling green for the village”, sufficient funds were eventually raised to lease seven-tenths of an acre at £3 10s per annum from the County Council for what was later thought to be 30 years, but was in actual fact 21 years from "after the term of Martinmas nineteen hundred and twenty one". And on the evening of Thursday, 28 June 1923 “The Laurieston Bowling Club” was officially opened "under ideal weather conditions, and before a very gratifying attendance".

The first jack was thrown by Mrs Mather. A number of contractors and volunteers were congratulated, including: Mr A N Hunter of Camelon who, according to the Falkirk Mail, "had laid off the green to the plans drawn by one of the members, Mr David Porteous"; Mr Brodie of Bathgate who had provided the turf; Mr Aitken of Ballencrief Nursery, Bathgate, who had cut and laid it down; and “the voluntary labour provided by Mr Peter Bennie, Thomas McCartney and others in erecting the pavilion”. Thereafter, a five rink match between teams selected by the President and Vice-President ended with the former winning by 58 shots to 51. And later that evening, to round off what was not only a historic day in the history of the club but also the village, “an excellent tea was provided by the ladies committee."

B&W photograph from the Falkirk Archives of Laurieston Green, circa 1920-30.

On 4 August, the first match against a visiting team - albeit a friendly rather than competitive fixture - was played against local rivals Reddingmuir Institite resulting in defeat by the narrowest of margins: 73 shots to 74, with the away side winning three of the five rinks.

In recognition of all the hard work done by the ladies “in connection with raising money for the green”, a Ladies Night was arranged for Friday, 31 August. Six rinks of 48 players took part, including a deputation of six ladies from the Tennis Club, and “a large number of spectators” were said to have “grouped around the green” displaying “great interest throughout”. The final between Miss Jenkins and Miss Nicholson versus Mrs Marshall and Miss McNab ended in a tie, but rather than retire for tea or toss a coin, “on the replay the former couple led by one point”.

Two weeks later, and barely ten weeks after Mrs Mather threw the first jack, a rink tournament was arranged to mark the closing of the green. No gents championship had been contested, no ladies section had been constituted – and, still, “no Carnegies in its midst”. But judging by the following comment in the Falkirk Herald, it would appear that a good time was had by all and that the members might have left the clubhouse in the manner of the hit song of the day – Swingin' Down The Lane by Isham Edgar Jones:

“That extra hour’s sleep on Sunday morning was fully appreciated by all and sundry. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to put the clock back an hour every night – perhaps.”

Though it should be noted that, according to an article in the Falkirk Mail dated 28 July, "through the generosity of several prominent Lauriestonians and club members, a series of double-handed tournaments" were due to be "played off in the near future for valuable prizes." Though, for whatever reason, only one competition took place and even that was carried over to the following season when the minutes show that the inaugural winners were "Messrs William Brand and William Small".

Over Seventy Miners Entombed

With a successful season (or, rather, half season) under their belt, the committee once again focussed their attention on “the question of raising money to clear off the debt on green”. A number of suggestions were agreed including "a sale of works” the following spring and "a series of whist drives" during the winter, but the big-ticket fundraising initiative was "a New Year Draw" for which the following prizes were donated:

Keen to maximise income and minimise debt during the off-season, it was quickly agreed that 2000 books with five tickets per book were to be printed and sold at 1s per book or 3d per ticket. But then on 26 September, when "the tickets for Hogmanay draw were brought forward by Secretary”, it was decided that all fundraising activities would cease for a fortnight due to tragic events "up the braes".

“OVER SEVENTY MINERS ENTOMBED” screamed the third page of the Falkirk Herald earlier that day – closely followed by “Three Bodies Recovered: 43 Still Unaccounted For”, “Graphic Stories of Survivors and Rescuers”, “How Twenty-One Were Rescued” and “Pathetic Scenes At Pithead” – in what it described as “one of the most appalling disasters in local experience, if not in the history of Scottish coal mining” when “consequent upon an inrush of water from a disused pit" which had been full of water for several years and sat directly above Pit No. 23, "67 miners were trapped by the flooding”.

B&W photograph from the Falkirk Archives of the Redding Pit disaster.

In the face of such tragedy, the committee of Laurieston Bowling Club proposed that an immediate "letter of condolence be sent to the clubs who had lost members through the disaster", but after some discussion "it was agreed to delay same till the full extent of the disaster was known.”

The full extent being that 40 men lost their lives. 40 fathers, sons, brothers and husbands. The third victim of the disaster being David Porteous from 31 James Street, Laurieston, whose funeral on 28 September was described in the Falkirk Mail as a "distressing feauture" on account of the fact that "on the day of his burial [at Falkirk Cemetry] he had just completed the fourth week of his marriage."

Hence why, on the first Saturday of August, hundreds of men, women and children line the streets for the Annual Demonstration of the Sir William Wallace Grand Lodge of Scotland Free Colliers (aka the “Pinkie Parade”) during which the marchers file past the Bowling Club in pairs, pinkies linked, in memory of those who lost their lives and as a defiant gesture of solidarity: "That Man to Man the world o'er / Shall brothers be for a' that."

The 40th Man On The 40th Day

The proposed fortnight’s delay in issuing tickets for the Hogmanay Prize Draw was extended on 10 October, as was the proposed Sale of Work, as neither were considered “advisable under the present circumstances”. The series of Whist Drives were abandoned altogether. And only one further minuted meeting took place that year. No justification was recorded or required, for given that the body of “the 40th man on the 40th day” (James Cochrane) was not recovered until early December, priority must surely have been given to The Redding Disaster Relief Fund which was set up to support widows and children who had lost not just their main but in many cases sole breadwinner.

Nonetheless, come 15 February 1924, the Treasurer reported that: a “Free Gift Sale” and a "Candy Sale" had taken place and made a handsome profit of £58 5s 6d, the latter of which featured "a well-covered Christmas tree" which "attracted the interest of the young folk"; “all accounts to date rendered had been paid”; £28 had been deposited into the bank; and £10 had been retained as cash in hand. On a solemn note, he added that Messrs William Morrison and Robert Easton had been appointed to audit the books in place of Messrs Thomas MacLellan and William Allan after the latter having left the district and the former “having been killed in accident”. Though not, it should be noted, in the Redding Colliery disaster.

Wonderment And Admiration

After a difficult few months, Laurieston Bowling Club was back in business and the committee wasted no time in ensuring that their members’ patience, hard work and generosity was rewarded with a full season of competitive fixtures, both internally and externally.

On 13 March, a rather colourful fundraising concert organised by the local jeweller William Morrison took place in the far from colourfully-named "Hut". Namely, the now deeply offensive but then hugely popular "Black Squad Minstrels" who according to the Falkirk Mail "submitted a most entertaining programme" of soloists, instrumentalists and dancers. Each of whom was "warmly applauded", but none more so than the "corner man" - a showbiz term for a humorous entertainer who stands at the end of a line of performers and enages in witty banter with the master of ceremonies - whose "antics and jests" were described as "a source of great merriment."

Furthermore, another summer fete took place in Callendar Park which entertained a large crowd “numbering about 2000” with: a “varied musical programme” performed by the military band of H.M. 7th Queen’s Own Hussars and the Laurieston and Westquarter Silver Band; gymnastic displays by Camelon Gymnasium Club which kept the spectators “in a more or less continual state of wonderment and admiration for their strength and skill”; and an air-gun competition, the first prize for which was 10s won by a Mr G. Richardson. As the Falkirk Herald noted at the time: “the event had been a most enjoyable and successful one.”

Copy of the first clause of the first greenkeeper's contract.

On the bowling front, the previous year’s greenkeeper, Mr John Baird, was reappointed and given a raise of 5s which brought his annual weekly wage up to £2 5s; the duration of his contract running from early April till late September. Sponsorship was secured for a pairs tournament and three single-handed competitions; the generous donations of which were described by the Falkirk Mail as "little acts that encourage new members and keeps up the enthusiasm so essential to a young club." Membership with the Scottish Bowling and Eastern District Associations were confirmed in the spring. And it was agreed to accept an invitation to enter the Falkirk Burns Infirmary Bowling Trophy, during which they got their fingers well and truly burnt in a 52 shot thrashing.

Rome, they say, wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Laurieston. And judging by their first competitive home match on 8 May 1924 against the oldest club in the district, Falkirk, it was very much a case of "age before beauty" and “wisdom before wit” for the visitors won all four rinks by a combined majority of 33 shots. And to rub salt into the wounds, President Mather suffered the joint-heaviest defeat, losing by 19 shots to 10. A result which the Falkirk Mail kindly described as "beaten but not disgraced".

Three Hearty Cheers

Thankfully, the damage, like that endured during the Burns Trophy, was only skin-deep. For as the following report in the Falkirk Herald suggests, the match was played in a good spirit, friendships were forged and the seeds of mutual respect were sewn:

"On Thursday evening a bowling match was held for the first time in Laurieston when the local Bowling Club entertained the Falkirk Bowling Club. A very interesting match took place, and an excellent tea was served in the Pavilion.

"After the match Mr Mather, the President, thanked the Falkirk Club for coming out to Laurieston to play the first match on a Laurieston green. He said that it had always been the desire of the local club that it should be Falkirk Bowling Club who should play in the opening match in Laurieston, since the Falkirk club was by far the oldest in the surrounding district, having been established about 90 years ago. Falkirk Bowling Club was then accorded three hearty cheers.

"Mr Copland, Vice-President of Falkirk Bowling Club, replied on behalf of the visitors. He said that, although a Laurieston man himself, he had never thought that he would ever see a bowling club firmly established in the village. Far less did he think that he would be called upon to speak at the opening match on a Laurieston green. He esteemed it as a great honour. He wished the club a very successful career. The members of the Falkirk club then gave three hearty cheers for Laurieston Bowling Club and for its President."

As for the remainder of the season, the report card must have made difficult reading for schoolmaster Mather for out of the sixteen matches recorded in the minute book his star pupils only managed to shine on three occasions, drawing once at home to Stenhousemuir and losing a dirty dozen by a combined total of 445 shots. Their heaviest defeat being a 93 shot drubbing away to Linlithgow. Or as the Falkirk Mail condescendingly put it: "The 'Baby' of Stirlingshire, Laurieston, got rather a severe whacking". Though, by way of explanation, they went on to say that the visitors - teasingly referred to as "juveniles" in an previous report - had "rather a tall order last Saturday afternoon when they had to field 8 rinks, the other four rinks opposing the Bainsford Club." Alas, that ended in defeat too for Mather's overstretched and underperforming pupils, though by a narrower margin of 16 shots.

Thankfully, the season ended on a high with a 20 shot victory against the "oil" boys of Philpstoun (so-named because the village originated in the oil shale mining boom of the nineteenth century) whom they had beated earlier in the season to record their first away victory. A second successive annual ladies' night took place before a "gratifying turnout of bowlers and lady friends", the winners receiving "silver jelly dishes, manicure sets and butter forks" once again donated by the local jeweller William Morrison. And before the first full playing season drew to a close on 20 September, the first man to etch his name on what is now known as the Championship Trophy but was then called the President’s Prize was Mr Thomas McCartney who was also victorious in one of the two remaining single-handed competitions, the prize for which was a watch. As Leslie Phillips used to say in the Carry On films: ding dong!

A Bond Of Warm Friendship

For the record, it took Laurieston until the 1932 season before significant progress was made in competitive fixtures, as noted in the following extract from the Falkirk Herald dated 29 April 1933: "Last year, for the first time in their history, they ended up with more victories than defeats in their club matches."

Signs of progress, though, were evident in the preceding years. None more so than on Saturday, 30 August 1930 when they achieved a convincing victory over a club from West Dunbartonshire with whom it was said they shared “a bond of warm friendship”. A bond which may have cooled somewhat, judging by the triumphant match report which began:

“A dramatic pause is called for here to prepare your mind to absorb and assimilate the stupendous fact: on Saturday last, Laurieston Bowling Club whacked – yes, whacked (a colourless word like defeated is no use here) – Vale of Leven, their most redoubtable opponents, to the tune of 39 shots up.”

“A splendid redemption!”, ran the headline, for a poor season described as “a dismal tale of defeat succeeded by defeat” which ended with Laurieston inviting their visitors to the James Street Hall “where after an excellent tea, a pleasant hour or two was spent in song and story.” So perhaps the bond remained warm after all!

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JAMES H. MATHER

The first and longest-serving president, Mr James Hotson Mather, was headmaster of Laurieston School for 28 years from 1902 to 1930 after graduating from Glasgow University and working at several schools in Lanarkshire including Greenhill in Coatbridge where he also served as headmaster.

Described in the Falkirk Mail as being “an outstanding personality in the village, so much so that no movement of any kind having for its object the welfare of all resident in the district was complete unless Mr Mather was associated with it”, it was said that from one end of the village to the other, when his name was mentioned, one heard “nothing but remarks of the most eulogistic character”.

During his public career he held many and varied positions including Justice of the Peace, president of the local curling club, secretary of the Falkirk Natural History and Archaeological Society, Substitute Master of Lodge St John No 16 and founder of the Village Library which according to the Falkirk Mail was deemed to be “one of the leading village libraries in Scotland.”

But perhaps his most lasting legacy was his chairmanship of "a meeting of the subscribers to the Laurieston Village War Memorial" which secured the necessary funds to build a fitting monument to the 103 local men who "paid the price of their patriotism" during the Great War. Some of whom were members of the club.

At his retirement presentation in 1930 he was praised for having “many fine qualities, among which might be noted: loyalty to staff, and unfailing good humour, while his tact secured the highest cooperation of the staff and pupils”. Warm words which were echoed a quarter of a century later on the occasion of his golden wedding anniversary on 9 July 1955 when he was commended for his "qualities of scholarship in many fields" as well as his "alertness of mind" and "pawky humour".

As a token of thanks for the “immense amount of good work” that both he and his wife had carried out in the village, staff and pupils of Laurieston School presented them with two retirement gifts: a mahogany bureau and a necklace. And the residents showed their appreciation by presenting Mrs Mather (described as “a true gentlewoman” who supported her husband “in every phase of his career” and “had not a little to do with his success”) with a “handsome handbag” and Mr Mather with an equally “handsome easy chair and other articles of furniture”.

At the close of a "eulogistic address", the Reverend Mr Robb remarked that “had it been in the power of the village to have presented him with a civic chair, they would have done so.” Regardless, the "quiet and unobtrusive" Mr Mather rose to his feet, thanked all present most cordially for the beautiful gifts and concluded that: "The scene was one which would remain with him all his life and he trusted they would accept the united thanks of the pair from the bottom of their hearts."

Photograph of Mr and Mrs Mather.

HANDSOME STRUCTURE

There's no place like home.

Despite being inaugurated in 1913, it wasn't until the spring of 1923 that the first "Bowl House" was erected when in February of that year committee members made various enquiries about "huts" advertised for sale. One of them, belonging to a Mr Grant, was dryly dismissed as "not very suitable" on the grounds that it had previously been used as a "hen-house".

The following month, a "Plan of Pavilion" was submitted by a Mr Paterson, and it was agreed that "part of the building be erected meantime, and when in a financial position the remainder to be built." Members volunteered, work duly commenced and on 28 May 1923 a temporary wooden structure, described in the Falkirk Mail as "sufficiently large to allow the players room for changing and storing bowls", was utilised for a committee meeting.

Prior to that, a number of local venues including the Tennis Pavilion, Villa Hall, Zetland Hall, School Hall and Wardope's Hall had been hired. Al fresco gatherings had taken place on the Bowling Green, in Callendar Grounds and at Laurieston Square. And, at a meeting of the War Memorial Committee on 17 January 1920, it was "put forward that a bowling green would find favour with the ex-service men as a memorial" along with "the question of a hall". Neither of which came to fruition.

The Worst Condition Of Any Green

As the decade progressed, it became apparent that the green was not up to scratch, which is no surprise given that the site, along with the adjoining land at what is now the east end of Grahamsdyke Street and Sandyloan Crescent, was for a long time a field belonging to the Marquis of Zetland. As referenced in the minutes of 29 July 1921 which read: “No work could be done on Green till crops had been removed from ground.”

By the spring of 1925, conditions seemed to have improved somewhat. Though given that the greenkeeper was only employed from “two weeks before the formal opening” until “closing day”, and that instructions were issued to “have green scythed at an early date”, it is hardly surprising that the improvement was short-lived.

Copy of a letter from James & Daniel Provan, Bowling Green Makers, Barrhead.

Professional advice was sought from James & Daniel Provan, bowling green makers from Barrhead, who on 5 July 1926 issued a damning verdict: “In our Mr Provan’s estimation the Green is in about the worst condition of any Green he has ever inspected. The turf on same is of an exceptionally coarse, rough nature – entirely unsuited for Bowling Green purposes.”

The surface was described as “far from being level” with “ridges and hollows abounding throughout.” The green was dismissed as “incapable of being improved”. And in their professional opinion there was only one remedy: “to scrap the whole of the present turf and relay the Green with turf of a nature suited for Bowling Green purposes.” The cost of which, they estimated, was “the lump sum of £395.”

A Beautiful Symmetrical Pavilion

To quote Macbeth, “If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well / It were done quickly.” And judging by the following report in the Falkirk Herald dated 27 April 1929, it would appear that the reconstruction work was done both "quickly" and to the highest standard:

“Seriously, folks, the outstanding event in our village life during next week must surely be the opening of the Bowling Club’s season on Saturday. The members are all agog. And well they might be, for surely never before since the days of Drake and the Spanish Armada has such a transformation taken place in the condition of any bowling green in the space of one short year. Twelve short months ago it was the despair of its warmest friends, now, so successful has been the latest treatment, it is a thing of beauty and a joy to the heart of every lover of the game.”

But no sooner was the transformation from "worst condition of any Green" to what the Falkirk Mail described as "one of the best in the county" complete, but members were once again asked to dig deep. For with membership rising and the prospect of a ladies section on the horizon – at the opening of the green in 1929, Councillor George Smith observed that “the club had not yet opened its doors to lady members, but now that the worry about the green’s condition was a thing of the past, doubtless this innovation would not be long delayed” – bigger and better facilities were required, along with bigger and better fundraising schemes. One of which was a concert of “songs, glees and sailor shanties” performed by the Falkirk Octette Party in a local venue which went by the Ronseal-inspired name of “The Hut”.

No stone was left unturned and the man to extract blood out of said upturned stones was Alexander Wood – the fourth president after James H. Mather (1920-27), David Jenkins (1928-30) and Malcolm McDougall (1931) – who occupied the chair from 1932 to 1938 and, judging by the following extract from a Falkirk Herald article dated 29 April 1933, was the mastermind behind the construction of a “beautiful symmetrical pavilion” after the old clubhouse was sold to a Mr McLuckie of Wholequarter Avenue for £9:

"When we are told that the pavilion and it’s furnishings cost something little over £500; when we learn that the membership of the club is something under 70; when we are told that the green itself, over and above the upkeep, cost something in the region of £1000; when we add all these facts together, couple them with the hard times, and then realise that all this has been done with the aid of some £200 collected before the war, within the short period of ten years or so we begin to form some just appraisement of the bigness of the “something done”. Please don’t forget to add to all this the fact that everything has been paid for."

The "handsome structure" designed by Mr Alexander Miller and constructed by fellow Lauriestonians the Ramsay Brothers was built of brick with pebble roughcast and electrically lit throughout. The veranda in front was supported by reinforced concrete pillars. And the spacious interior comprised a main hall and a small committee room separated by sliding partitions, with a tool house at one end and a kitchen at the other "equipped with all the essentials". The final cost was £541 13s 4½d.

Colourful Dresses And Smiling Faces

The sun, they say, shines on the righteous. And to crown the glory of President Wood's "wonderful achievement" – a man "whose mind and energies" were described by David Ramsay as "devoted to the interests of the club" – the opening ceremony was favoured with "delightful weather".

About 100 people were reported to be in attendance, including 40 ladies, "who with their colourful dresses and smiling faces gave a pleasant note of festivity to the scene." Everything "passed off according to schedule". The general consensus being that "this auspicious beginning was a good augury for the remainder of the season."

Photograph of the opening of the 1933 season in front of the new pavilion.

The colourful and smiling ladies were "admitted in club" the following spring for an annual fee of 10s, reduced to 7s 6d and 5s over the next two seasons. 50 membership cards were printed. And apart from a single-handed ladies competition which was won by Miss M Ferguson later that year, no other mention is made in the minute books of ladies championship winners or presidents until the early 1950s. Though a brief article in the Falkirk Mail records that the 1935 winner of the "the Ladies competition (Mr J Campbell prize)" was Mrs J Grassom who was presented with a "magnificent rug".

The section, it would appear, disbanded in the late 1930s prior to the commencement of the Second World War. The final ladies night of 1939 reported as having "an exceptionally good attendance" which included a delegation from the ladies committee of Erskine Social Club who it was said took part in a "delightfully fine" match which was "fully enjoyed by players and spectators alike."

Though absent from the green, the members' wives and partners, together with ladies from the village, remained active in the clubhouse and were forever on hand to assist with fundraising events such as whist drives and jumble sales. And their help in preparing and serving teas was frequently singled out for praise at committee meetings and AGMs.

You Never Can Tell

At the prize-giving ceremony of 1937, President Wood noted that the club was “financially sound” and that “the social relationship of its members was a completely happy one”. And though he “complimented the club on the satisfactory results of the past season”, he expressed disappointment that no major trophies had come to Laurieston during the term of his presidency. But, in closing, added that he “hoped his successor would be more fortunate.”

Front elevation of new pavilion.
Top elevation of new pavilion.

Two years later, his hope became a reality for President James T Arthur. For six years after the “beautiful symmetrical pavilion” was erected, 16 years after the green “on the Polmont Road, at the part known as Victoria Road” was opened and 26 years after a Public Meeting was held in Laurieston School with a view of “considering the question of having a bowling green for the village”, Laurieston eventually claimed its first major honour when, on “a pleasant summer evening” at Comely Park on 18 August 1939, Harry Ferguson (lead) and David Hunter (skip) beat a team from Burnhead to win the County Pairs. A fortnight later, Britain declared war on Germany.

Their victory, however, like that of the Allied forces, was no walkover. Indeed, it would be fair to say that it was of the David v Goliath variety for at one stage they were getting well and truly “kippered”. Having lost a five at the first end, it took them a while to get a feel for the green which was described as "a little fast", and come the fourteenth end they were still ten shots off the pace at 19-9. As a reporter from the Falkirk Herald remarked: “things looked pretty black for Laurieston”.

Two shots down going into the last end and with one shot against him before he delivered his last bowl, the cry of "close but no cigar" must have been running through Mr Hunter's mind. But through a combination of luck, perseverance and skill, “he turned it out to score a three”. A heroic and historic achievement which sparked scenes of "enthusiastic" celebration in the village where – believe it or not – they were piped from one end of the main street to the other!

As the following report in the Falkirk Herald, dated 26 August 1939, concluded: “You never can tell with exact certitude what is going to happen till it actually does happen."

"You never can tell –

"The complete phrase we had in mind when we wrote these four words is: You never can tell with exact certitude what is going to happen till it actually does happen. This is true of personal affairs, of local affairs, of national affairs, of international affairs. It is this element of uncertainty that makes living worthwhile. It is well for us to bear this fact in mind in these days of international pacts and counter-pacts and threats of war.

"But, of course, as may be supposed, the things we have in mind to write about and to which the phrase we have quoted bears special applicability are neither national in character nor international. They are strictly local. One of these was the final of the county pairs which was played at Comely Park green on Friday evening of last week. Another was our own bowling club championship, played on our own green on Wednesday of this week. In neither event did the thing happen which at an advanced stage in each of the two games mentioned seemed certain to happen.

"In the case of the county pairs championship, H Ferguson and D Hunter scored a popular win from a seemingly hopeless position. In the case of our own club championship, G Learmonth snatched victory out of the fire, so to say, when his opponent, T McCartney, with a comfortable lead, required only one shot to win. So you see, as we have said, you never can tell.

"There is a trite but true saying that if you worry, you die; and if you don’t worry, you die; so why worry? That, however, is by the way and is meant only as a sort of make-weight.

"The winning of the county pairs championship was hailed with particular delight by our bowling club, and in no less exuberant way, perhaps, but no less sincere, by the whole village. We had waited for 16 years – that is, right from the inception of the club – for something of the sort to happen.

"The two victors, on their arrival in the village by bus, were met by an enthusiastic crowd and, late as was the hour, headed by Piper W McCartney, were marched in triumph to the club pavilion, where a congratulatory address was delivered by the president, Mr J Arthur. The skip, Mr D Hunter, made suitable reply."

Two Bottles Of Sherry

Almost twenty years to the day later, Laurieston won its first club honour – not singles, pairs, triples or rinks, but club honour – when the Ladies Section won the prestigious Christison Rose Bowl, an annual two-rink competition run by the Stirling and District Ladies Bowling Association in aid of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

Photograph of the Ladies Section celebrating their 21st anniversary in 1973.

A picture of the prize-giving ceremony which featured in the Falkirk Herald in September of that year showed one of the two winning skips, former president Mrs Huskie, receiving the trophy from the President of the Stirling and District Ladies Bowling Association, Mrs Osborne. And to mark the occasion, “It was confirmed by the committee that the men’s section would supply 2 bottles of sherry to fill celebrate the winning of the Christison Rose Bowl by the women’s section.”

For the record, they won it again in 1968. Though whether money was tight, the committee was stingy or the ladies in question were members of the Temperance Society, sherry was replaced by “a photo of group of winners and those who took part in that game.”

No mention is made of being "marched in triumph to the club pavilion" by an "enthusiastic crowd" headed by a piper!

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DAVID RAMSAY

Born and educated in the village, former vice-president David Ramsay, along with his brothers Daniel and former president Robert, was a founding director of Ramsay Brothers, builders and contractors, Laurieston, who in the New Year’s Honours List of 1944 received the British Empire Medal for outstanding service to his country in the fields of Housing and Construction.

At the outbreak of the Great War, he was appointed Master of Works at Inchinnan Aerodrome, Renfrew, where he directed constructions for the Admiralty before being transferred to the Ministry of Munitions as a supervisor and clerk of works "in connection with the erection of houses for munition workers".

In 1919, he was appointed to the first of several senior positions at the Housing Department of the Department of Health for Scotland at St Andrew's House in Edinburgh.

And in addition to bowls, at which he was described in the Falkirk Herald as “a bowler of no mean repute” who possessed “many trophies gained as a result of his skill at the game,” he was also a keen gardener and for many years a member of the Polmont Horticultural Society where it was said he “specialised in the growing of begonias”.

One other local point of note is that his Laurieston-based company designed the masonry work for the Falkirk War Memorial in Dollar Park which bears the inscription: "Over Eleven Hundred Bairns Died for their King and Country and in the Cause of Freedom, 1914-1919. They died that we might live."

Photograph of David Ramsay.

LEST WE FORGET

Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.

On the morning of 3 September 1939, following Hitler’s refusal to withdraw from Poland, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced “that consequently this country is at war with Germany.” 24 hours later, at a committee meeting within the clubhouse of Laurieston Bowling Club, “the question was raised relative to the closing or otherwise of the Green owing to the War”. After much discussion, it was agreed that “we cancel Rink Games” and that the Club Secretary write to the SBA “for a ruling on same”. The green closed as planned on 23 September.

Over the following years, several clubs in the area suspended play. Laurieston, on the other hand, remained open and played an active role in raising funds for both local and national charities. For example, it was unanimously agreed that part of the proceeds from rink games were to be donated to "deserving causes". Requests for games to be held in aid of the War Blinded Soldiers Fund and Laurieston Comforts Fund were granted. The latter of which, in 1944, "despatched about 300 Christmas gifts to local men and women on service". And previous games against the Air Raid Wardens continued, which according to the following report in the Falkirk Herald dated 14 June 1941 brought a welcome relief from the horror of war:

“'All work and no play,' etc., is a well-known phrase, and the A.R.P. wardens and 'Specials' are duly entitled to some relaxation. Next Thursday on Laurieston green a bowling match is booked, so 'ye boolers' of both sides will have to 'pit them up'.”

Regarding internal club matters, in the spring of 1941 fire-fighting appliances were purchased including “a nozzle for the hose with a jet and spray action”; the greenkeeper was awarded “a War Bonus of 2/6 per week”; “in view of the conditions prevailing” the design of the club’s annual fixture card was designated “plain”; and "owing to war-time conditions there was no official ceremony" for the opening of the green, though proceeds charged at 6d per person were donated to the Comforts Funds.

The following year, a delegation was sent to a meeting in the school to discuss Warship Week where they intimated that “the Bowling Club were willing to run a special Rink Game for this fund” and that Wardens and Special Police were to be invited to take part. Similarly, in 1944, a request for a game against the local Civil Defence was approved with proceeds to go to St Dunstan's YMCA. And it was agreed to hold a rink game in aid of the Salute The Soldier Fund which in Stirlingshire drew in £1,392,422, £274,216 of which was raised in Falkirk. A tremendous achievement which drew the following compliment from Sir George Home Murray Stirling, the Lord Lieutenant of Stirlingshire: "everywhere the target has been handsomely exceeded."

Two Minute Silence

On a solemn note, the sons of at least two members lost their lives while defending their country. On 31 July 1944 former president Robert Ramsay announced “that Mr Alex Todd, one of our members, had received word that his son who was well known to the members had been killed on active service”. And on 7 March 1945, the president Douglas Ferguson “referred to the loss Mr Archibald McGregor had sustained through the death of his son on service”. A two minute silence was observed for the former, a one minute silence for the latter, and on both occasions a letter of sympathy was sent to their families.

Photograph of the unveiling of the Laurieston War Memorial, 1921.

On 7 March 1945, exactly two months before Germany surrendered, and two months and one day before the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced Victory for Europe Day, the committee of Laurieston Bowling Club agreed to “hold 5 games for Charity outside of the Infirmary Game”, the proceeds of which were “to be pooled and allocated” at the annual presentation of prizes. The nominated charities being: the local Comforts Fund, the local Nursing Association, St Dunstan's YMCA, Red Cross and Prisoners of War.

But their philanthropy didn’t stop there, for on 23 June 1947 the committee received a request from the local branch of the British Legion asking “that the monies collected at the annual game with the Bowlers versus the Legion Members be donated to the fund for the provision of the plaques on the War Memorial as this fund was still short of the amount required.”

£5 15s was donated, the target was reached and on Sunday, 18 April 1948, with the Square "looking at its best, bedecked with tulips of different colours, wallflowers and forget-me-nots", two plaques "bearing the names of 40 local lads who made the supreme sacrifice" were unveiled by club patron Colonel Stein, who was introduced by former president and chairman of the Village Committee, Robert Ramsay, and followed by club member, the Rev. Marshall Smart, who "read a chapter of scripture and led the large audience in prayer" before a lone piper played The Lament.

"We will remember!" ran the headline of the Laurieston "jottings" in the Falkirk Herald the following week. Followed by praise to the local bus drivers who "as they passed, shut off their engines and slipped by, causing as little noise as possible during the ceremony." Praise which should be extended to members of Laurieston Bowling Club whose spirit of generosity, which continues to this day, calls to mind Lord Kitchener’s iconic army recruitment poster: “Your Country Needs You.” The country and the local community needed support from Laurieston Bowling Club and the members, in turn, stepped up to the plate, stepped onto the mat and delivered! Lest we forget!

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LADIES SECTION

On 4 March 1952, Mr R Stewart reported that "approximately 20 Ladies had signified their intention of participating” that season. The following month, three office bearers were elected: Mrs Buchanan as Chairwoman, Mrs Maxwell as Treasurer and Mrs Hunter as Secretary.

By the end of the season, a total of 47 ladies had paid the annual subscription of 10s. And Mrs Watt was crowned the first Champion after beating Mrs Taylor 21-20 in a 31 end nail-biter which the Falkirk Herald described as "one of the most thrilling matches played on the green".

The photo is of the section's 50th anniversary in 2002.

Photograph of Ladies Section celebrating their 21st anniversary in 1973.

THE SWINGING SIXTIES

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

On 13 September 1961, a special general meeting was held to discuss whether the club should apply for a licence to: a) sell beer and spirits and b) organise bingo sessions. Regarding the latter, a motion was carried on a vote of 10 to 6. A trial was set for Wednesday, 18 October at 7.30pm. And due to its obvious success, “two fat ladies” with “legs eleven” received the “key to the door” to “Downing Street” on a regular occurrence, particularly during the off season as this extract from the 1962 social calendar suggests:

As for whether the club should apply for a liquor licence, a motion proposed by Mr A Hunter and seconded by Mr W Hill was carried by a resounding 22 votes to 2. Discussion then turned on how best to fund alterations to the club to accommodate the sale of alcohol and expected increase in visitor numbers. Two ideas were raised: the first, “obtaining a loan repayable over several years” was dismissed in favour of “contracting to buy 90% of the sales from a brewing firm in which case they would do the necessary alterations for a nominal sum subject to certain conditions.”

Exctract of Minutes of 23 October 1962 showing new bar hours.

Aitken’s Brewery was selected. The “necessary alterations” (later described as “slight”) were made. Bye-laws of another licensed club were adopted. And on 26 March 1962 the newly appointed bar convener, ex-President James Hunter, was “authorised to go ahead and obtain the necessary stock and equipment.” To quote Father Jack: “Drink!”

Provided With Tea

However, after a gentlemanly opening period during which time it was agreed that “the bar attendant should be provided with tea on Saturday afternoons”, things began to turn sour. At a committee meeting on 3 September 1962, “Grant Hunter reported that the club premises had been broken into” and that the following had been taken: rink game money of £2 12s; bar cash of £1 19s 5d; donations of 5s; and 430 cigarettes with a value of £4 16s 9d. Total loss, “less 6d found”, £9 12s 8d.

Lightning struck again a couple of weeks before Christmas which led to a number of recommendations including the purchase of a safe and provisions to make the premises “burglar proof”. Both of which increased security and led the way to a number of changes which boosted the coffers of the club and made it a much more attractive and enjoyable place to visit.

A telegraph pole was erected at the entrance gate and electric lights were put in place by the end of 1962. In March 1964, it was agreed to “install a fruit machine in the club for a trial period” which proved such a success that by 1967 treasurer Mr McKendrick reported that “if the fruit machine had not been there the club would have been in a sorry state”. And in April 1965, it was decided that a juke box was to be installed on a 50-50 profit basis.

Drawings Up By £15,000

The club, like the 60s, was swinging. Unfortunately, so were some of its associate members. At a committee meeting on 11 January 1968, Mr J Rankine reported “2 people coming from bar in drunk state" who “collapsed in front” which prompted “talk of litigation being raised to close bar” by members of the local church. As a result, the bar convener was told to politely remind the barman about the “rules on Sunday drinking, non-members and people having too much drink”.

Four months later, however, another complaint and another threat of litigation after a “man coming from club had too much to drink over a week ago.” This time, firmer action was called for and the two vice presidents agreed to appear at the club the following Sunday morning to issue a stark warning to “associate members misbehaving or in intoxicated state on leaving the club.” As the resident bingo caller might have said: “unlucky for some” but “bullseye” for the club. And over the next couple of decades its vibrant social scene and rising membership went from strength to strength.

For example, at the half-yearly meeting in 1966, it was noted that "a probable increase of 20% of sales would be reached compared with profits of previous years". At the AGM ten years later, the minute secretary recorded that “sales were up on last year by £8000.” And in February 1981, the bar convener's report was succinct but spectacular:

"Not much to say. Drawings up by £15,000. Saturation point was supposed to have been reached last year, but this speaks for itself."

So members should raise a glass to Messrs A Hunter and W Hill who respectively proposed and seconded that the club should apply for a liquor licence; and to the inaugural and long-serving bar convener James Hunter and his bar committee and staff (particularly Isabel Logan) who saved the club from a fate made famous in song by the Australian country musician Slim Dusty: “But there's nothin' so lonesome, morbid or drear / Than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer.”

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WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS

Gents Champions

G. M. Johnston (aka "Jingling Geordie") won the Gents Championship a record eight times. The first in 1962, the last in 1990. He is also the only Gent to have won the title in four consecutive decades.

Two men have won the Championship on five occasions: John Anderson and Wattie Watt Jnr. who first picked up the trophy in 1993 and is one of only four members to successfully defend the title (2009-10). The others being Thomas Findlay (1952-53), G. M. Johnston (1967-68, 1972-73) and Jackie Taylor (1984-85).

Only three Gents have won the title in the year of their presidency: Crawford Gillies (2016), Roddy Morrison (1989) and James Hunter (1957).

The youngest winner was Ryan Taylor who in 2006 was 15 years of age.

And he along with his father Peter Taylor (2003) are one of only three father and sons to pick up the trophy. The others being: Peter Alexander (1992, 2017) and his father John Alexander (2001); and Grant Hunter (1960, 1965) and his father James Hunter (1957, 1964).

Ladies Champions

Irene Anderson holds the club record with twelve Championship titles, closely followed by Margaret McFarlane and Jenny Dougall who each won the trophy eight times.

The latter equalled the record set by G. M. Johnstone in the Gents Section by becoming the first (and, to date, only) bowler to have won the Ladies Championship in four consecutive decades. Her first coming in 1988, her last in 2012.

And in the 2012 season, she set another record by winning all four single-handed competitions.

Only two Ladies have won the title in the year of their presidency: Mrs Inglis (1955) and Margaret McFarlane (1958-1959).

The latter is also one of only five people to have successfully defended the title (1957-62). The others being: Mrs Inglis (1971-72), Mrs Main (1981-82), Irene Anderson on four separate occasions (1989-91, 1993-94, 1999-00, 2005-06) and Jenny Dougall twice (2007-09, 2011-12).

And the youngest winner was Erin Logan (daughter of former president Brian Logan and granddaughter of former president Jimmy Logan) who in 2010 was 17 years of age.

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JOHN ANDERSON

The most notable figure in the Gents Section was undoubtedly John Anderson who was Club President from 1971 to 1973 and Green Champion on five occasions. His first title coming in 1969, his last in 1983.

He won the Eastern District Champion of Champions in 1970 and became the first skip to represent the club at Queens Park, pipped at the post by Creetown in the final of the 1973 Fours.

In addition to his impressive playing credentials, he was President of both the County in 1982 and the SBA in 2002, and was National Team Manager when Scotland all but swept the board at the 1992 World Outdoor Championships in Worthing.

Photograph of John Anderson.

CARPET BOWLS

It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.

Not for the first time in the club’s history, Laurieston recently fielded two teams in the Falkirk & District Carpet Bowls League, the current secretary of which is former green champion Peter Alexander.

But "the wee carpet" like the indoor green at Camelon is a relatively new kid on the block. For it wasn’t until the winter of 1974 that the club formally took part in a game when their good friends from Bainsford Bowling Club invited them along to their clubhouse for a fixture. As the minute of 30 September succinctly states: “The invitation was accepted.”

No doubt a good time was had by all, but the subject never came up for discussion again until Valentine’s Day 1977 when a sub-committee was formed to “look into the possibility of purchasing the felt for carpet bowls and small bowls”. Said sub-committee was duly dispatched to the Carriden Club in Bo’ness to “go and see the carpet”. After which, the necessary equipment was purchased at an approximate cost of £265 with £69 plus VAT for the bowls.

Tight As A Hen's Face

On 5 September, Mr Paton put forward some rules: “15p per player for playing leagues and all money to go for prizes”. The motion was passed, but not after two amendments were discussed. The first by Mr G M Johnston who proposed that “the cost of other games would be 10p per player per hour”. The second by Mr A McFarlane who moved that “the cost be 5p”. To use an old bowling phrase, the result was “as tight as a hen’s face” and the lower entrance fee was carried by 6 votes to 4.

Rules confirmed, the carpet was rolled out for bounce matches, Bainsford Bowling Club was invited to “send 12 players to play on the carpet on 14 November” and ten days before Christmas it was proposed that “a meeting be held with those members who are really interested to find out how the games can best be run”. But come the New Year the January Blues must have kicked in for it was noted, rather forlornly, that: “Interest in carpet bowls seems to have lost interest. Mr Johnston to try other methods.”

Quite what these “other methods” were is open to conjecture. But they worked. For come the following winter “friendly fixtures” were sought from other clubs on a Wednesday night. And in the early eighties participation in the game grew to such an extent that Mr T Rankine raised the point that “some of the members complained about carpet bowls taking up too much room on a Friday night.” As a result it was decided that: “No carpet bowling to be allowed during bingo session.” "Doctor's Orders" prevailed.

An Almighty Thwack

Thankfully, those more interested in a full house on the carpet than a full house on a bingo book were undeterred and their appetite for the game grew even stronger. On 23 October 1981 a new set of carpet bowls from Taylor of Glasgow was purchased for £126.50. A competition proposed by Mr T Anderson to be run on Friday nights “for members of the carpet section only” was agreed in December 1982. And the familiar sound of click, click, clack followed by an almighty thwack as a bowl hit “the policeman” echoed throughout the club.

Photograph of Jordan Macfarlane and Billy Fullerton playing carpet bowls, November 2017.

Though the volume and intensity of the thwacking raised concern in the committee room for on 26 March 1984 it was reported that:

"Mr Ian Sandilands said that the copper pipes for the heating system require to be protected as they are likely to be damaged by bowls running off the indoor bowling carpet”.

The pipes were boxed in, concerns were allayed and over forty years since the idea was first mooted “the wee carpet” continues to make the long nights short and the short days long.

The Big Carpet

As does the big carpet. For when the outdoor season draws to a close, though most bowlers shut up shop, don their tartan slippers and pour themselves a generous half as they settle down in front of the television to watch I'm A Nonentity Get Me Out Of My Big Brother's Jungle On Ice. Others risk carpet burns.

First mention of an indoor club in the area was raised on 8 August 1958 when a circular from Falkirk Ice Rink Ltd asked for “support in a venture contemplated in the near future in providing an Indoor Bowling Green”. With prices per head quoted at “3/- a bowling session of 2 hrs”, it was agreed that the Secretary reply to this letter stating “the Club’s intentions of giving players support”.

According to Falkirk Council archives, on 23 February 1964 planning permission was granted to Kelvin Construction Ltd with regard to a “proposed indoor bowling rink at Grangemouth Road, Falkirk”. On 3 March 1965, Laurieston received a circular to that effect. And three years later, following a meeting in Burnhead clubhouse, it was agreed to run a league of six teams – involving Tulliallan, Larbert, Burnhead, British Aluminium, Callendar Miners’ Welfare and Laurieston – with each game lasting either 2 hours “on the bell” or 14 ends.

Didn't They Do Well

Judging by the minutes, Laurieston’s performance merited the old Bruce Forsyth catchphrase “didn’t they do well”. For on 22 April 1968 it was noted that “the Club won £16” and in the spring of the following year the Social Convener reported that “the club had won the indoor league last season and other successes had also come to the club”.

With interest on the rise, a bigger venue was discussed and in 1969 John Anderson “gave information re a proposed Indoor Bowling Club to be built in Stirlingshire or Clackmannan & that further details would follow”. Further details duly followed, but not until a decade later when a letter from Stirling Sports Council asked “for a rep to attend meeting in Stirling to discuss indoor bowling on 8th Dec 1979”.

Not one, not two, but three wise men from the east attended and the rest, as they say, is history. For a couple of years later Falkirk Indoor Bowling Club opened its doors with Mr G S Mutch and Mrs N Lapsley becoming the first Presidents in 1982; and Mr T Smith and Mrs N Lapsley the first Champions the following year.

As for those who opt for slippers and River Shitty over “hurry” and carpet burns: the nights are fair drawing in!

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KELLY DICKINSON

Kelly Dickinson (nee Wilson), a formal pupil of Laurieston Primary School and Graeme High School in Falkirk, was one of the most successful bowlers in the club.

She won the Ladies Championship in 2004. And prior to that was a junior internationalist, having achieved the highest honours in the country at that level.

First, by becoming the first person to win the Scottish Ladies Under-25 Championship twice in 1995 and 1997. And then by becoming the first Scot to win the British Ladies Under-25 Championship in 1998.

She is also a qualified coach.

Photograph of Kelly Wilson.

100 NOT OUT!

Courage, brother, do not stumble.

Over a century since the first public meeting was held to “consider the advisability of starting a local bowling club” in what was once known as the “sleepy hollow” of the district, Laurieston Bowling Club is still alive and kicking. The same, however, cannot be said about a number of its former rivals which, to paraphrase The Proclaimers, can best be described as: Castings, no more! ICI, no more! Callendar Miners’ Welfare, no more! To name but three.

Furthermore, many other sporting and recreational clubs in the village have, as Robert Burns’ wrote in Tam O’Shanter, disappeared “like the snow falls in the river / A moment white – then melts for ever”. Curling, cycling, shooting, football, drama, debating, allotment, no more. Not to mention several pubs and churches, and more recently the social club, which was once the beating heart of the community.

A similar fate may yet happen to the bowling club, unless members and villagers respond to the question of “use it or lose it” with haste. For a quick glance through the minutes of the last few decades makes uncomfortable reading. For example, in 1993 the gents’ membership stood at a record 160. Five years later, it had dropped to 130. Ten years later, 100. And twenty years later, 80. A 50% reduction over 20 years which resulted in an increase in fees of almost 300% from £30 in 1995 to £110 in 2010.

No Longer A Club But A Pub

To counteract such worrying trends, a number of measures were put in place. The most important of which was clarified at the 2010 AGM when Freddie Dougall asked Ian Waddell “for confirmation that we were no longer a club but a pub”. A question which led to a general discussion about “why the club had to take out that type of license to enable it to continue holding private functions”. The long and short of which is that anyone from the village and beyond, member or non-member, can attend the club without being signed in and that, in exchange, the club can hold as many functions as it wishes.

Photograph of the renovated function suite, 2017.

Another important measure was the extension to and ongoing refurbishment of the clubhouse financed by a series of investments, loans and grants. The most recent of which was through the Scottish Landfill Communities Fund as confirmed in the following parliamentary motion dated 29 November 2016 by Angus MacDonald, MSP, Falkirk East:

“That the Parliament congratulates the members of Laurieston Bowling Club on it being awarded £50,000 from the SUEZ Communities Trust through the Scottish Landfill Communities Fund for the renovation and upgrade of its facilities; notes that the trust distributes landfill tax credits donated through SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK to enhance communities; recognises the renovation and upgrading work to the club's building that will allow it to provide a modern community facility that will be appreciated by everyone in Laurieston and the surrounding areas, and wishes everyone at the club the very best with the new-look facility.”

Other proactive measures included “a 50% discount in fees” for new members which was proposed by Barry Main and seconded by Peter Taylor at an Extraordinary General Meeting on 7 March 2005; the replacement of full-time bar staff with a mixture of part-time bar staff and unpaid committee members who have undergone the necessary training as well as bringing the catering in-house; a marked increase in the number of open and invitation competitions sponsored by local businesses such as Tam Bain and Annfield Cleaning; and a raft of fundraising initiatives including raffles, spot-the-teams and one-off events such as race nights, sportsman’s dinners and concerts.

Run Out Of Cash

To understand why such a drastic change in the running of the club was necessary, you only have to look at the minutes of 18 October 2004 when Mr D Wheeler – a Financial Accountant who had been asked to check the club’s financial position, give a professional view of the situation and offer some advice – warned that “the Club would run out of cash in approximately thirty days’ time” unless “immediate decisions” were made to resolve the situation. A similar warning to the one which was issued at a more recent Extraordinary General Meeting in the summer of 2017.

Is Laurieston out of the woods? History and facts would suggest otherwise. Do the members have what it takes to face the facts and ensure that the club is not consigned to the long grass of history like Castings, ICI and Callendar Miners’ Welfare? Only time will tell.

But one thing’s for sure, there are green shoots of recovery: the social scene, though small, is as vibrant and welcoming as ever; there are now two carpet bowling teams raising additional revenue during the long winter months; several ladies have re-joined and occupy prominent positions within the committee; a couple of members have taken an active interest in encouraging a new generation of bowlers to take up the sport; and in 2017 Eck Wilson (lead) and Barry Main (skip) won the district pairs and represented the club at the national finals at Northfield.

Asset To The Village

Despite having “no Carnegies in its midst”, the villagers of Laurieston raised the suitable funds to purchase a “long-looked-for and much-desired green” as well as build a “beautiful symmetrical pavilion”. Through the trials and tribulations of the Great War and the Second World War, the club remained opened for business when others closed their doors. And recessions, depressions and periods of austerity have failed to dent progress both off and on the green.

Furthermore, in the face of rapid societal changes, marked by the rise of technology and the death of local industry which once supported an array of pubs, clubs and organisations, over 60,000 members from over 860 clubs continue to make the sport, what Bowls Scotland calls, “one of the great Scottish sporting success stories” of the past 150 years.

Or in Laurieston’s case, 100 years plus or minus VAT, depending on whether you go by the first meeting, committee, constitution, bowl or clubhouse.

Regardless of which, as long as they celebrate the first, rather than commiserate the last, of any of the above, they should raise a glass, “tak a cup o' kindness yet, / For auld lang syne” and toast what the former president James Paton wrote in the Falkirk Herald in 1979 to mark the purchase of the land from the District Council: “It seems appropriate at this time to pay tribute to the villagers of a previous generation who worked so hard and expected so little – and to say simply ‘Thank you’.”

A Quiet And Pleasant Game

At the retirement presentation of the inaugural president Mr James H Mather, Stirlingshire’s director of education, Mr J Coutts Morrison, said that Laurieston was to be congratulated for having kept their schoolmaster for the long period of twenty-eight years.

The reason being, he argued, was that with villagers throughout the county "getting restless and anxious and eager to go into town", it behoved them more and more to "cultivate the life of the village as it was in their forefathers time" because, in his opinion, "the backbone of the country did not lie in the people living in the big cities, but with the people who came from the villages such as Laurieston." And in closing, he warned that if Scotland lost its village life, it would lose "one of the greatest assets of the nation.”

A sentiment echoed by a Falkirk Mail journalist in 1914 when reporting on a public meeting to "ascertain whether the proposal for a local bowling green be adopted or not":

“Undoubtedly, a bowling green would be an invaluable asset to the village of Laurieston. In the beauty of the summer months, what better recreation can be imagined for both old and young than a quiet and pleasant game of bowls? Laurieston is hopeful of enjoying that luxury before many months have passed.”

A luxury which villagers from the “sleepy hollow” of Laurieston are hopeful of enjoying for many years to come and which will only be guaranteed, not with an injection of capital from a man like Carnegie, but through one of his guiding principles of teamwork which he defined as: “the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel,” he said, “that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

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