History

Honours - click on link to for a list of major achievements by Abington names of years past, including those whose talent was recognised and utilised beyond club level. Plus, the lists of club champions.

This history was written by original Abington web editor, and former local sports journalist, Brian Barron, with considerable help from long-time groundsman Martin Trasler, dug out old pictures, minute books with virtually illegible handwriting and annual general meeting (AGM) agendas. Much background material is missing so some parts of the club's 90 years are lacking substance. Most disappointingly of all is the absence of images of the outstanding players of the 1950s when Abington reigned supreme. If anyone has any in their possession - from any era - donations would be gratefully received.



*The mystery of the club badge has been resolved thanks to Alan Ward. He was told by an old member Fred Chambers that the badge represented the Thursby Lion - and Fred was right. William Thursby (1630-1701), a prosperous lawyer, bought Abington Abbey (now the museum in Abington Park) for £13,750 in 1669. His original family crest was three lions. He died without an heir so the family fortune passed to a distant relative as long as he changed his name to Thursby. He changed the crest to the rampant lion holding a battle-axe with the family motto, Fortitude in Silence. It is assumed the lion (with a sword replacing the axe) was adopted by ABC in 1922 but nothing has been found in the minutes. We will keep looking.

OPENING DAY: July 18, 1922 in front of the old pavilion
*This montage of pictures was presented to the infant club in 1922. It shows founder members of Abington BC playing at Abington Park, the County Ground and Kingsthorpe, some against a visiting New Zealand side. Note the large crowd at the park. The player delivering a bowl in jacket tie and hat is William Toms, one of the original eight directors of the club.





DRESSED FOR BOWLS OLD SCHOOL STYLE
Taken in 1921, this photo is believed to be a group shot of the main players in the club's foundation. It currently hangs in the clubhouse dining room. Sadly there are no names to put to the faces but one man on the back row (second right) looks like a future club champion.
FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES: ABINGTON BC'S EARLY YEARS

SUCCESS in the Manfield Cup of 1920 was probably the trigger for Abington Bowling Club to come into being two years later.

A team called Abington Park Rangers played in the Abington Park League but were good enough to win the prestigious cup named after the Mayor of Northampton James Manfield and his brother Harry, Liberal Member of Parliament for mid-Northamptonshire.

Since its first year in 1906 the cup had been dominated by clubs like County Ground and West End but between the Great War years of 1915 and 1918 the competition was suspended.

At a committee meeting in 1919 the Rangers resolved to enter a team if the cup was resumed. It was and they showed they were a force to be reckoned with by winning it and soon after a ‘special private ground meeting’ was held. The Rangers had only been formed in 1917 but five years later they took out a £1,000 loan and players bought £1 shares to get Abington Park Bowling Club Limited off the ground.

The land for the bowling club, which in those days was on the outskirts of Northampton, was bought for £808 and the green, laid with expensive Cumberland turf, was built for £875.

It was bought from the great Victorian philanthropist Alfred Cockerill, who arrived penniless in Northampton from the Leicestershire village of Shawell and made a fortune, first through farming and market gardening before acquiring hundreds of acres in the Abington area.

His men built the County Ground, which opened with a two-day cricket match against Surrey in 1886 when the bowling green was already in use.

Cockerill, standing extreme rght with his fellow bowlers at the CounyGround, lived and farmed in what is now Abington Park, donated to the town by his landlady, Lady Wantage, in 1897. Cockerill then moved to a large house in Billing Road opposite the Grammar School (now Northampton School for Boys), which became the headmaster’s residence and is now an apartment block for the elderly.

Cockerill, a confirmed bachelor, was a County Ground bowler along with his friends, and hopefully did Abington’s founder members a good deal on the land purchase. In Cockerill’s will, money still owed to him by Abington BC was written off.

Before his death he bequeathed the County Ground to the cricket club after obtaining all the shares - with provision for football, tennis and bowls - for 1,000 years under the terms of the Cockerill Trust. Strange then that only cricket is now played there.

He is buried almost half way between Abington BC and the County Ground in Abington Church in the park.

Apart from the land and development of the green, the original pavilion cost £165 17s 9d and President Fred Tyler was applauded for his efforts in raising £70 towards paying for it. Tyler was yet another connection with the County Ground as he was the 1892 captain of Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, the fifth in the club’s history.

A renowned slip fielder, Tyler accepted the invitation to be president on condition that a new one was voted in every year. He did it for two years. In 1924 he succeeded James Manfield and Sir James Crockett as president of the Northamptonshire Bowling Association, Manfield had been president for the NBA's first 16 years from 1906 to 1921 and Crockett had the title in 1922 and 1923.

The new club was incredibly well connected and among the first vice presidents was Sir Henry Randall, shoemaker to royalty, whose son Herbert was a leading jockey.

Herbert Randall rode one of the greatest racehorses of all time, Sceptre, the only thoroughbred to win four Classics in one year. In 1902 the filly won the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St Leger. Randall rode it in the first three but fell out with the owner after finishing only fourth in the Derby. Randall rode five Classic winners in all.

Another vice president was the Rev CC Aldred, who was presented with a pair of bowls for his work in marking out the Abington Park green.

Eighteen rules for the new club were drawn up and Rule 3 contained the sentence ‘To provide all necessary refreshments, food, beverages and tobacco and cigars...’ and a ladies committee was set up among players’ wives to provide tea for the opposition at 1/6 a head.

The official opening of the green and pavilion was at 7pm on Tuesday, July 18, 1922, at which the Mayor, Alderman George Smith Whiting, presented an inscribed silver jack to President Tyler.

Again the club showed it had friends in high places as the guest list included the aforementioned Sir James Crockett, founder of shoe manufacturers, Crockett and Jones, in 1879, twice mayor of Northampton, a former president of the Northamptonshire Natural History Society and a substantial financial supporter of Northampton General Hospital. He also gave his name to the Parks Bowls League competition, the Crockett Cup.

No wonder Abington BC got a reputation for snobbery. The members probably revelled in it. But they did not forget their roots as every club from the Abington Park League was invited to send two representatives to the opening.

CHAMPION: AE Throssell (left) receives the county singles trophy
from NBA vice president C Bull in front of an admiring crowd just days
after Abington's opening. Throssell, representing Whyte Melville
at the time, beat F Swindall (West End) 21-19. He later moved to ABC
and was part of the successful 1931 Manfield Cup team. The headline
refers to the trophy being paid for by clubs from Kettering
In researching whether the opening made the newspapers (which it does not appear to have done), I discovered that A E Throssell, of Whyte Melville, won the county singles title and was presented with a trophy donated by Kettering bowling clubs in the same week. It turns out to be the first singles championship, according to NBA records, and some time after Throssell joined ABC, playing three to F J Wiggs in the Manfield Cup triumph of 1931.

In scrawled handwriting the first fixture list is recorded in the minutes book, or at least what matches had been arranged by February 1922.

It read:

May
25 Kettering Conservatives (A)
27 Wellingborough Swanspool (A)

June
  3 Kettering Conservatives (H)
17 Newport Pagnell (A)
22 West End (H)
24 Wellingborough Swanspool (H)

July
13 West End (H)
15 Earls Barton (A)
22 Newport Pagnell (H)
29 Wolverton (A)
31 Kettering Conservatives (A)

September
  2 Wolverton (H)
  9 Earls Barton (H)
16 Kettering Conservatives (A)

The Wolverton fixtures were only written in pencil so were perhaps still to be confirmed!

Six more games must have been arranged as it was reported the following year that 11 matches had been won and nine lost. I cannot believe the fixture list did not contain games against established clubs like Kingsthorpe and, of course, the County Ground.

Furniture and fittings for the clubhouse came to just over £46 and another £41 was spent on tools. Wages accounted for £76 8s 4d, which suggests the club had a full time greenkeeper from day one. The average weekly wage for a farm labourer at that time was £1 8s 0d. In all probability the first greenkeeper was one of Cockerill’s employees.

The main source of revenue came from a 1500 £1 share issue. Initially just 537 had been taken up but that had risen to 889 by March 1923 with another 189 in the pipeline. The surge in buying shares came after a rule was passed to allow them to be bought by instalment - any amount could be paid over at any interval to make it as painless as possible.

Less than two years after the club opened the clock tower (minus clock) and function room were added with £750 borrowed from their great benefactor Alfred Cockerill.

The club also rented land for tennis courts on a seven year lease with an option to buy. That option was taken up in 1927 and  most of it then sold off to builders, Glenn & Son, who put up at least some of the houses that run down to the Billing Road-Rushmere Road traffic lights. This action was taken instead of purchasing the cottage behind the current function room that had been agreed on Cockerill's death.

It looks likely that there may have been a falling-out between the tennis club and the Limited company as there were originally six courts, three being sacrificed in the land sale. That would account for the dramatic drop in tennis club membership.

The balance sheet for the annual meeting on March 14, 1923, showed a loss for the first year of £127.0s.5d.

By 1927 the club had 26 life members, 51 playing members (shareholders) and seven playing members (non shareholders), who between them paid out £78 9s in subscriptions.

The original eight directors lived fairly close to Park Avenue South in an age when few if any of the members had a car. Indeed there was no Park Avenue South in 1922. In 1927 the club initially refused to pay their share of making up the road - but it was a fight they lost.

Chairman Frank Brigstock Trasler, a ‘certificated teacher’, lived at 36 King Edward Road, Frank Thomas Knight and William Alfred Toms both lived in Allen Road, Ernest Thomas Abell (the first club champion) in Stimpson Avenue, Harry Davis in Lea Road, William Stimpson in Connaught Street, James Hobson Sykes in Wellingborough Road and Edward Arthur Tebbutt in Ardington Road.

Trasler, whose family connection if any to greenkeeper Martin Trasler is not known, was clearly the guiding force in the club’s early years. He had a sporfting pedigree, having played four times in the pack for Northampton Saints (scoring one try) in the 1895/96 season and was a cricketer with St James.

His teaching career spanned 42 years at Kettering Road School and Campbell Square School. He was in the Foresters Friendly Society for more than 40 years and was also president of the local branch of the National Union of Teachers. His death in 1947 at the age of 75 warranted an obituary in the Northampton Independent.

COMMITMENT: Frank Trasler applies for £20
worth of debentures in 1928
He was one of the first trustees of ABC, led the negotiations to buy the land, was president from 1924 to 1935 inclusive, Saturday captain in 1924 and 1932, and secretary for ten years.

No wonder there is a large, framed portrait picture of him, although that has not seen the light of day in the clubhouse for many years.

Of the ladies committee, Hon Sec HT Pinner commented in the 1927 agm agenda: ‘The whole-hearted efforts of the Ladies Committee to provide for our wants are greatly appreciated by all the members and we again tender our very best thanks to them for their efforts over the past year.'

It would be more than 60 years before women could actually bowl at the club.


ONWARDS AND UPWARDS: 1931 TO THE PRESENT DAY

In 1931 Abington claimed its first major honour, the Manfield Cup, with a record of 104-56 across the four rinks with founder members Abell, Knight and Tebbutt in the winning team.

It was the first of five Manfield Cup successes, the last in 1991 (full details in the ‘Honours’ section).

It appears that some members now considered ABC to be a cut above the rest and that a name change should reflect that. Why else would a committee meeting prior to the 1933 agm agree by nine votes to five to recommend the name be changed to Northampton Town Bowling Club?

However, by ‘a large show of hands’ members kicked out the idea, but they did agree on another change ‘without a dissenting voice’. The club colours were changed from green and gold to blue and gold. Nearly 80 years on I’d say they got both decisions spot on.

A year later the whiff of financial crisis was in the air. Rule changes were proposed to allow an increase in social members and to generate more revenue from subscriptions. It was proposed that playing members’ (shareholders) subs would be 35 shillings a year, non-shareholders two guineas, non playing members shareholders (men) 2/6, ladies 1/-, non shareholders (men) 5/- and ladies 2/6.

Mr Pinner stated ‘...it behoves every member during the coming year to try and revive the former prosperity’. This could be done, he said, by greater support of social events in the winter and attracting new members.

The surplus for the year was just £1 14s 7d. It was a sad note on which to end Mr Pinner’s term of office as he died before the next agm. But his words had not been in vain as the surplus for the year went up to £16 2s 5d.

Information has been sketchy in writing this history because many agm agendas and minutes are missing. Nothing can be found out about when the function room was built nor the clocktower, the most striking piece of architecture at ABC. The grainy picture at the top of this history clearly shows they were built before the current clubhouse.

Neither can anything be discovered about the design of the club badge or when it was introduced. Hopefully the mysteries will be cleared up in due course.

Later in the 1930s as storms clouds gathered over Europe, Abington bowlers had more parochial concerns - the need of a ‘new pavilion’.

A gift of £200 from the president WB Harris got the ball rolling and by the time of an Extraordinary General Meeting on March 22, 1939, £1,200 had been promised towards the total cost of the building of £1,500.

It opened on October 19, 1939, just seven weeks after the outbreak of World War Two but ill health prevented Mr Harris being present to conduct the ceremony.

The last balance sheet before it was built showed ‘Beverage’ sales of £643 7s 11d, which rose by more than a third in the 12 months after it opened to £883 7s 10d. Two years later that had soared to £1,308 15s.

TOURIST ATTRACTION: A party from Down Under
pose in front of the new clubhouse that opened in 1939,
the same year that this match was played. Were the two
events connected?
In 1947 a second green was contemplated at the expense of the tennis courts and croquet lawn but this idea was dropped and new Cumberland turf replaced the old green at a cost of £650.

The immediate post-War years brought an unprecedented period of success for the club, which is never likely to be surpassed.

Abington provided the county singles champion five times between 1949 and 1956, the pairs winners four times (1949-58), triples winners five times (1947-58) and rinks winners five times (1951-59).

This generation featured Abington’s two most successful bowlers, Albert Knight and Ron Gargate.

Knight, nine times club champion between 1934 and 1966 and an England triallist four times, won 12 county titles. According to club folklore he had a strange delivery which is thought to have cost him an England place.

Martin Trasler remembers Knight, who joined Abington in 1932, in his final years having afternoon roll-ups with friends, who would put a handkerchief over the jack to help combat his failing sight. The bowls, apparently, still got remarkably close to the jack.

Gargate, Midland Counties champion in 1971, comes closest to matching that record with seven county titles to go with his six club cups (1954-75).

Of the modern generation Jonathan Brown has surpassed all previous records with 11 club cup successes between 1981 and 2010. His nearest rival John Freeman has won the title five times between 1990 and 2009. Both are likely to claim many more before they are finished. Neither, however, have county records that come remotely close to their predecessors.

The link between Abington and County Ground was cemented in 1975 when Jack Richard Crawshay Partridge presented a trophy to be played for annually between the two clubs - thus the Rose Bowl was born.

Born in Wales, Partridge and his family family moved to Finedon and he joined Northampton Borough police force in 1932. He retired in 1962 having reached the rank of uniform inspector. To mark his presidency of County Ground BC in 1975 he decided to donate a rose bowl, that adorned a sideboard in a bungalow he shared with his sister Jessie, to further relations between the two clubs.

Sadly he died before the first game in 1976 so it was left to Jessie to present the bowl, complete with roses, a part of the rules that got overlooked as the years went by, to Abington.

Abington went on to claim the prize 21 times to County Ground’s 11 until its premature end in 2007.

Rival captains Don Harris and Ollie Kirkwood, now of Abington, resolved to keep the competition going in some form. It was resurrected in 2009 and is now contested on the first Friday in September.

In 1979 the club hosted one of several matches with  the English Bowling Association on Sunday July 29.

Five rinks were pretty soundly beaten but there was glory for skip Bill Hewitt and his team of Fred Langdon, Vic Wilkins and Bryn Harris (father of Old Grey Whistle Test presenter ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris), who won 23-18. Wilkins was a character, turning up at his own wake because he didn’t want to miss it...

Don Harris had the formidable challenge of skipping against the world’s most famous bowler, David Bryant. His rink of Edgar Hakes, Harold Hill and Harold Brown were not disgraced, going down 22-13.
The great man, David Bryant,
in action on rink one
Also skipping for the England side was Mal Hughes, the former national team manager, who died in 2008. The Abington players paid £10 each to provide a pre-match meal for their illustrious opponents, who included Abington men Max Engel and Norman Trasler. The final score was 140-90.

Northampton solicitor Engel became an important figure in the EBA, starting the Association’s Charity Trust in 1980. Engel hatched the idea with the aptly-named Bob Jack and was the first chairman of the Trustees, one of whom was Wellingborough’s influential Bob Stenhouse.

For a number of years Engel and Jack, the charity’s secretary since its inception, used to support the EBA President on his ‘home tour’ – usually a week-long in the president’s choice of county, playing a match every day against a club, County or Association celebrating an anniversary.

Both were pipe smokers and would sit together at the back of the coach doing the Times/Telegraph crosswords, while puffing away. During these journeys the idea was formulated.

Engel, as chairman of The Sudborough Foundation (another charity), made the EBACT its first ‘endowment’ of £10,000 to enable it to ‘commence trading’.

Over the years well in excess of £200,000 has been paid out, the recipients always remaining anonymous. In the early years donations were made to organisations such as Cancer Research, Macmillan Nurses and Guide Dogs for the Blind as well as to individuals. Now the charity confines itself to helping bowlers and their families.

Engel introduced the idea of signing-up ‘Patrons’ (Counties, Clubs, Associations and Individuals) and of staging ‘charity matches’ to generate income. Engel stayed as chairman until December 1998 and David Bryant is now honorary president.

In 1981 the outstanding Abington player of the modern era announced his arrival at the club, Jonathan Brown. In his first season a fresh-faced Brown won the club championship, a resounding 21-6 triumph over Fred Langdon and the Toms Knight Cup, 21-8 against Geoff Cox.

Brown has gone on to appear in 12 more club cup finals, losing just two, to Reg Johnson and John Freeman, who joined a few years later to begin an intense rivalry.

Brown gives a rueful smile at the memory of the Johnson defeat. 'I was talked out of it. We stopped for tea and he kept giving me sweets. It was difficult to concentrate fully.'

His spectacular entry soon came to the notice of the county selectors and the following year he played in the last Midlands Counties match at Worcestershire. He can even remember the rink: Sam Wade, Brown, Gordon Richards and Tony Thurland (skip).

The following year he played in the first three Middleton Cup matches on George Wills' rink and over the next 30 years has played in every position.

In 1985 he teamed up with his father Harold to win the club pairs but sadly they were unable to defend their title as tragedy struck when Harold was killed in a car accident.

Father and son, Jonathan and Harold Brown, prepare to meet
Jim Batchelor and John Parsonson in the 1985 pairs final..
Less than a year later tragedy struck when Harold was killed
If the decade started in reflected glory, it ended in controversy with two issues splitting the membership.

The club was dragged kicking and screaming into the politically correct era with the emergence of a ladies playing section...but only just.

On Monday, October 12, 1987, the men agreed by a mere six votes to give women equal playing rights, after years of limited access on the green to wives of playing members.

Seventy five members attended but 16 bowlers could not or did not want to be there. In a secret built, 39 voted in favour, 33 against, two abstained and there was one spoiled paper.

Ron Gargate said women should not become bowling members until a second green was built (so they would still be waiting) and he was supported by Alan Ward, who argued that men’s time on the green would be restricted, particularly in the afternoon.

Greenkeeper Martin Trasler declined to attend but, according to secretary Peter Cook, had said that he could not guarantee the green would be maintained to the same high standard because of the extra traffic, a view echoed by his father Norman.

Jim Batchelor is given the credit or blame, depending on your viewpoint, for championing this change.

Despite the discontent from almost half the playing membership, women bowlers started club competitions in 1988 and Mary Parkes wrote herself into the club’s history books by becoming their first singles champion, a feat she repeated the following year.

The decision led some disgruntled members to take their bowls elsewhere, mostly to the County Ground. In the same way that aggrieved Northampton and Bedford rugby players have gone back and forth along the A427, so Abington and County Ground bowlers cross-pollinated over the years.

The County Ground steadfastly stuck to its anti-female stance up until the time of its untimely demise in 2007.

One person to benefit from this change was Wellingborough bowler Pam Wills, who wrote to the club to say that if the rules were ever relaxed she would like to join. She was accepted and has gone on to win the singles four times, more than anyone else, and started the gala day in her captain’s year of 2000 that raises the bulk of the money the women donate to club funds each year.

Years later the decision enabled the club to apply, unsuccessfully, for lottery money when much-needed dressing rooms were built in 2003.

They cost £32,000 but it was money well spent, bringing an end to opposition teams changing upstairs in the skittles room and home players behind screens at the end of the function room.

To help towards the cost a £500 Membership for Life scheme was introduced in 2001. At the time 21 members contributed (17 men and four women). Although exempt from ever paying subs again, ten of those 21 donated money to the club this season.

There is regret that the figure was set at what is now considered to be much too low.

The other issue that had emotions running high was a proposal to sell off the Park Avenue site and relocate to a three-acre plot in Booth Lane.

It developed from an initial idea to rebuild the clubhouse to include a three-rink indoor green on the first floor proposed by Peter Cook and Don Harris.

At the 1987 agm Phil Boseley and Bill Beesley floated the idea of relocation. As the idea gathered momentum a special meeting was held which voted 93-7 to press on.

The proposal put to the meeting was for an indoor green, two outdoor greens on a site that represented part of Weston Favell Upper and belonged to Northamptonshire County Council.

The scheme got the oxygen of publicity through secretary Bob Shaw, who was then on the editorial staff at the Chronicle & Echo. The stories read like a done deal but that was far from the case.

Details are sketchy as to why the enthusiasm waned but it seems one of the key factors was that ownership of the new site would continue to be with the county council. Financing the move would mean selling off the prime Park Avenue site and this started to rest uneasily with members.

The C&E story said that the aim was to increase outdoor membership from 160 to 250, while attracting 500 indoor bowlers. At the time that was a viable goal, especially as Northampton Indoor, which opened in 1985, was a huge success with a waiting list to equal that of any golf club. It is a much different story now as many town clubs try to find new ways of boosting numbers - Abington included.

The feeling among Abington bowlers now one is of relief - that it would have been a financial disaster doomed to failure.

Had the club ploughed on they would at least have been able to call on the assistance of Eric Ward, who was a major player in Northampton Indoor BC being built. In recognition of his work, the Arthur Askey lookalike, who had played tennis at Abington until he was 60, was made the first Northampton IBC chairman.

Back on the green, Don Harris, Pete Cook and Robin Brown won the county triples in 1993 - the last Abington bowlers to go to the national finals as champions.

Since then Jonathan Brown, Terry Brown and Tony O’Leary have the most Worthing appearances - three each.

'BELLY FLUFF': So called because of their respective nicknames, the Tony O'Leary/John Freeman double act
have jointly won a stack of club honours and are both regulars for the Northamptonshire representative team

The 2002 season was the last with a ‘full’ two team programme. Only a few double Saturdays were retained, the main ones being the Rose Bowl against County Ground and the Bell’s Trophy against Bedford Borough. Now only the Bell’s Trophy remains as a double-header.

Ten years later a floodlight competition was started, making use of the security lights installed by six-times Saturday captain Reg Jones, the 2011 president.

Northampton Triples League chairman Harvey Fruish, who became the club’s fifth county president in 2008 following Fred Tyler (1924), B D Harries (1947), H W Dawson (1962) and Vic Cooper (1998), dreamed up the idea and in its early years was well supported.

The first winners were St Crispin A in 2003 followed by: 2004 PSL Roade, 2005 Kingsthorpe A, 2006 Abington A, 2007 Byfield, 2008 Northampton Express A and 2009 Abington A again.

But interest in the competition declined, reflecting the general state of affairs with the sport, and with numbers dropping to an all-time low the future is uncertain for ABC as it prepares to celebrate its 90th birthday in 2012.

The club has faced crises in the past but always managed to bounce back and, hopefully, will do so again.


TWO FOR THE FUTURE: Abington's youngest members, Adam Brown (left) and Adam Hawkings.
Brown has progressed from Northamptonshire's youth team to the senior reps, while Hawkings is a former Northants junior singles champion