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. Some history about the previous club in TW can be seen here.
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 Royal, luckily this part includes the current location in Calverley Grounds! The Royal bit doesn’t include Hawkenbury.]
In 1991 the Abbey Challenge Cup at Southwick was won for the third successive year by a club 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. We enter 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 in the bottom left corner as another clubhouse, as are the tennis courts which we converted!), 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. We run the Kent Cup again, this time Alex Jardine triumphing 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). Ed: they didn’t actually, since they needed to be significantly extended.
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 were introduced on Wednesday afternoons.
Croquet is in the list of offerings for the local 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.
Our first website is launched!
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 was also held and our new signs unveiled. 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 18 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 a replacement Groundsman, Ray Kemp, early in the year. Still, a new competition that succeeded well was an internal Golf teams event 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 tournament, and promised to donate a cup for next year (the Montevideo Cup). 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.
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…
2017 Membership continued to increase, up to another record at 65, but sadly we lost Hazel Moss-Davis who donated our Club House in 1995.
Media coverage was great this year, with a visit from the new KMTV station who created a short video (now on our site) and Jon Diamond being featured in Waitrose Weekend.
Martin Lester won the Pegasus Plate and Jon Diamond the Honeygrove Cup. Paul Gamba and Nigel Barton won their sections in one of the one day GC events at Southwick.
Finally, after 13 years, our website has been revamped and is now on the WordPress platform.
2018 membership was slightly down, but still over 60, and we welcomed Nigel Barton as a new Committee Member.
Our SECF League results were mostly dismal, with the exception of the A league in which we won one match, and the team events weren’t much better. Alex Jardine came second in the Sussex B-level Challenge and Jon Diamond came third in the Southport Handicap event.
Barney Lewis won our heat of the CA One Ball event, but lost in the semi-final at Surbiton. Tom Carpenter won the Montevideo Cup with a full complement of 12 players, but we didn’t have enough entrants to run the Pegasus Plate. A visitor won the Honeygrove Cup again, but Jon Diamond reduced his handicap to scratch! Well done. We also ran two one-day AC events.
Finals Day had 4 matches, with Richard Clark sadly playing his last competitive game before retirement due to ill health and again sadly lost.
Wow, 2019 gives us 22 new members – as a result of us hosting part of the Simon Carter GC World Championship or just that we ran four Introduction Courses? So, obviously we’ve got a record number of members (72).
None of our members were playing in the GCWC, but we did provide some referees (Jon Diamond and Mike Gentry) as well hosting some of the Blocks and the Plate and providing many volunteers. Of course the weather intervened with the first half-day consumed with waterlogged lawns. Nevertheless play on the other days was fine. This was also filmed by Escape to the Perfect Town as well another couple of hours to provide a nice package as part of their programme about some people trying to move to Tunbridge Wells.
Thanks to our Sponsors – AV Trinity, Thomson, Snell & Passmore and Wells Associate as well as to a grant from Royal Tunbridge Wells Together (to help with the media costs), which made this a financial success in addition to the various media items – radio, TV and press.
Again our performance in SECF events was less than sterling: 10th in the Southern Challenge, 5th in the A and U leagues, 8th in the GC Level, 9th in the Restricted and 16th in the Handicap Leagues. Barney Lewis qualifies for the CA All England Handicap Final, but doesn’t win, Jonathan Lamb wins the Montevideo Cup again and Andy Dibben retains the Honeygrove Cup. At the end of the season not only do we have 7 matches on Finals Day but we also have new GC and AC tournaments for our new members.
Finally, we should mention that we introduced another 50 French students to croquet.
What can one say about 2020: Coronavirus takes over the whole world, so obviously we suffer too.
The year started well with Richard Clark and John Hobbs awarded Honorary Life Membership in recognition of their services to the club over many years.
But we had to close from the end of March to the middle of May as the first Lockdown takes effect, nevertheless raising a record amount for the CA One Ball charity while we’re closed. Our re-opening is somewhat limited, but we still manage to run our Introduction to Croquet courses and recruit many new members, so we’re only slightly down on last year’s membership.
We run our first AC 14-point event and all our internal competitions, but most of the Open tournaments were cancelled. Due to Covid all SECF leagues and events were cancelled too, so we did better than we have done for the last few years! John Greenwood produces a GC extra turns calculator for Apple iPhones. We closed for our Autumn Maintenance on 23rd September, but didn’t re-open due to Covid until early December, and then in very limited form from the 20th to the end of the year.
Financially, this was obviously a tough year with a significant loss, mainly due to the cancellation of all our private events, but this was covered by our reserves, so we didn’t need to take any special action. All in all the best that can be said is that we survived.
Covid-19 dominates 2021 also. In general our season proceeded relatively as normal with us re-opening on 29th March, with some limitations and without any indoor events until our Xmas supper.
Our Introduction to Croquet Courses have been especially successful with 25 new members and our membership increasing to a record 78.
The SECF Leagues operated as normal, but we couldn’t put together many teams as people were hesitant about travelling – we also performed badly. We didn’t do quite as badly in the SECF tournaments although they ran in a somewhat limited form to keep social distancing.
2022 closes with another record membership – a total of 85 with 27 new members. Social distancing for Covid is essentially over, so pub lunches are back and we had our first bring your own mid-summer picnic lunch.
Our programme of private events restarted successfully, with one group of travelling North Americans. Hopefully they’ll return in future years. Most SECF tournaments and leagues are fully back, but we can’t get enough players for the A league. Our best results were 4th/13 in the U league and a win on the GC Teams Day. The Croquet Academy starts successfully running some GC courses here.
We changed our maintenance programme, moving the Autumn Maintenance to the Spring (in 2023), so we don’t close at all, except because of some really bad weather in December!
In 2023 it is with sadness that we record the death of John Hobbs, our ex-chairman, renowned mallet maker and coach, at the age of 91.
We’ve managed to retain our record membership at 85 and our corporate member rejoins after a 3 year hiatus due to Covid. The Pegasus Plate runs again, after a hiatus of a number of years. We win the SECF A league for the first, and probably last time it’s run. The rest of our results are probably best buried. The lawns are in their best condition ever (probably).
Finally, Jon Diamond is awarded a CA Diploma for his contribution to the organisation of the club and the SECF.