The Bowling Club at 34 Gilmour Road owes its existence to landowner Sir Robert Gordon Gilmour, whose antecedents lived in Craigmillar Castle in the C17. The Club’s name reflects Colonel Gilmour’s close links with this area of South Edinburgh: the various homes which his family occupied over the years were all in the former parklands associated with the Castle. In the late 1880’s many affluent families were tempted to purchase the attractive and substantial houses being built in the area. The site of the present Green had been left by Sir Robert as an open space when the houses in Gilmour Road were built, and in 1903, in response to a request by a group of business and professional men living in the area, who had realized that it was an ideal size for a bowling green, Colonel Gilmour granted a 29 year lease of the ground at a rent of £20 per annum, and at the first meeting of the newly formed Club Management Committee he accepted the office of Honorary President, a post he held until his death in 1939. He was succeeded by his son Sir John Little Gilmour, who held office until 1958, during which time, on the 28th May 1942, the Committee accepted his offer and that of Liberton and Craigmillar Estates that, by way of feu, it should acquire and thus become owners of the ground used by the Club and on lease, for a feu duty of £20 per annum, thus giving the Club the great advantage of security of tenure for all time. Because of the conditions laid down in its feu charter, Craigmillar Park is not allowed to sell intoxicating liquor on the premises, although licences may be obtained for special occasions. From its foundation the Club has therefore been largely dependent upon the generosity of its members and the ingenuity they have shown in devising ways of raising money and enjoying themselves in the process. The lack of a bar licence has never posed any real problems for he Club, and in fact relieves it of the worry of potential break-ins and the expense of insuring licensed premises.
At the committee meeting in April 1904, held in the house of Secretary Isaac Connell in Lygon Road, it was announced that such good progress had been made in the preparation of the ground and the building of the Clubhouse that it would be possible to have the opening ceremony of the Green on Saturday 11th June 1904. A silver jack, still used today, was thrown by the wife of the President, and the play was between rinks chosen by the President and the Vice-President, resulting on this occasion in a win for the President. Tea was provided by the President, but thereafter the ladies of the Club took on the catering responsibilities, providing the tea for the closing of the Green on Saturday 14th September, when the President was able to refer to the progress and prosperous condition of the Club. Ladies have been associated with the Club since its inception, not only as providers of afternoon tea but also as playing members. Numbers were small initially and most of the early ladies were the wives of the founding members, but nevertheless they prepared the way for what is today a flourishing and active part of the bowling community.
The first weekly competition for the men on Wednesday evenings was held on 29th April 1905. Championship and Handicap Competitions were also introduced, the prizes in each case being a pair of bowls presented by Mr. Daniel Leslie (the Bowling Green Contractor) for the Championship and by Mr. Thomas Taylor (the Glasgow Bowls supplier) for the Handicap Competition. There was also to be a Ladies’ Competition, with two prizes awarded. The first Hat Game was played on the Green on Saturday 17th September 1906, the charge being 3d. per person. It is possible that no ladies were playing on this occasion – all three prizewinners were men, who received 10/-, 7/6 and 5/- respectively for their efforts. The ladies were, however, involved in the arrangements for providing tea on the Closing Day, Saturday 6th October. At the end of the 1906 Season membership stood at 70 men and 6 ladies.
As membership increased and contact was made with other nearby bowling clubs, it was not long before the Club had settled into a pleasant round of home competitions and friendly matches. The first ever friendly took place on 8th June 1905 at Mayfield, with a return match played at Craigmillar Park on Thursday 29th June. In 1907 matches were arranged with Mayfield, Edinburgh Corporation, Whitehouse & Grange and for the first time, West Linton, the latter played on Saturday 29th June 1907, with three rinks competing. The number of competitions held during the 1907 season was increased to five – the Championship, Handicap, Pairs, weekly Rink Competitions and a Ladies Competition. Play was becoming a little more serious, and skips were urged to arrange for regular practice sessions.
In 1908 the Braid Bowling Club joined Mayfield and Whitehouse & Grange in the round of friendly competitions, the first ever game with Braid being played on Thursday 16th June 1908 on the Home Green, four rinks a side. Special Licences for “refreshments” were obtained for the Braid match and also for the Mayfield match arranged for 23rd June. In 1913 the Merchiston Club was added to the list for playing friendly matches, the Edinburgh Club at Archers Hall following in 1919 and Liberton in 1920.
Along with West Linton one other long-standing association with a club outside Edinburgh still remains on our fixture list, that of Dunfermline which was played on 7th July 1962. In 1999 ladies were included in the teams for the first time. Because of the sad decline in numbers experienced nowadays by most bowling clubs it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep these events going, but every effort is made to encourage members to take part and continue these worthwhile traditions for as long as possible.
A more recent addition to the prizes competed for annually was instigated by one of our former Lady Presidents, Mrs. Margaret E. Robertson. In 1996 during a chance encounter with the Manager of the Molly Maid Cleaning Service she discovered that he was interested in sport and bowling in particular. She persuaded him that the best thing he could do to promote the game – and his firm – was to donate a prize for a competition which she offered to arrange. And so we have the Molly Maid Trophy for a 3-way Mixed Rink competition, with Craigmillar Park, Braid and Whitehouse & Grange taking part. It is held on Sundays towards the end of the season at a time when the greens are underused, each Club taking a turn in hosting the Finals. Informal dress is worn, indicating the relaxed nature of the occasion. The Club with the highest overall score is the recipient of the Trophy. A free session of house cleaning by Molly Maid is given to the winner of a prize draw of all entrants.
Social Events and Fundraising
Bowling Greens are costly things to run and heavy expenses are incurred annually in the upkeep of the Green and the maintenance of the premises. The first recorded social event to raise funds was a Smoking Concert on Thursday 23rd February 1905, for which the venue was the North British Station Hotel (now the Balmoral), a fairly recent newcomer to the Edinburgh scene, completed in 1902. Such an occasion would be unthinkable nowadays, but in the early C20 it was quite a usual and acceptable way of spending an evening among friends.
Intimation of a “Strawberry Feast” to be held on Saturday 15th July 1905 was made in the Minutes of the Committee Meeting of 26th June – the first of many such occasions which were to become a regular feature in the social life of the Club. In the following year a similar event was held on Saturday 14th July, and we are fortunate enough to have a wonderful photograph of the whole company taken in front of our charming little Pavilion which remains today the central part of our extended premises. The Strawberry Feast became an annual institution which continued every year until the austerities of the Second World War put a stop to such delights. The custom was resurrected in 1953, the Club’s Golden Jubilee Year, and since our Centenary year in 2003 it has remained a regular feature of our mid-July calendar – without alas the beautiful dresses and gorgeous hats worn by the ladies as displayed in our photograph of 1906!
By the end of 1905 the Club’s money reserves were insufficient to cover all the expenses incurred in its establishment. It was decided to have a Bazaar in November 1906 and a motley assortment of items for Prize Draws were promised by the members, including Ten Guineas to purchase a pony, and a harness to go with it. There was no information given in subsequent Minutes on the fate of the pony, nor on how much money was raised by the Bazaar, only stating that the debt on the Club, after crediting the results of the Bazaar, amounted to about £70. Lack of money was always a problem, and the Committee relied on the generosity of members to present prizes for the various Club Competitions. In April 1908 the Club was still in debt by over £122, but the financial position was improving, helped to some extent by an increase in membership; 76 men and 8 ladies at the end of the 1908 Season.
Several social events were held in the winter months. The first Club Dinner was held in the Carlton Hotel on Friday 11th October 1912, at a charge of 15/- per ticket. Another Smoking Concert was held the following October in the Carlton Hotel, the last year of peace before the outbreak of the 1914 – 1918 War
The War Years; 1914-1918 and 1939.
There was no indication at the beginning of the 1914 Season that the trouble brewing in Europe would cause such a drastic change in our daily lives. The usual arrangements were made for matches against Mayfield, Braid, Whitehouse & Grange and Merchiston. The annual Strawberry Feast was fixed for Saturday 11th July and a Points match for 18th July.
When war was declared against Germany on the 4th August, the Committee arranged for a collection to be made for the Belgian Relief Fund, the first country to be invaded. The Club continued its War Effort by having an extra weekly Rink Match, in addition to the usual competitions, sending the money raised, and all the amounts from the five competitions played during the Season, for the relief of the distressed Belgian refugees who had fled to Britain. Other fundraising events were Bridge Drives played in members’ houses, and the losers in all games of bowls played during the Season were asked to contribute one penny each to the War Relief Funds. Thus began years of fund-raising in the Club for good causes, which survive to this day.
Members of the Regular or Territorial Forces stationed in Edinburgh were invited to play on the Green on any nights not reserved for Club activities, and in 1916 it was also suggested that games might be played on the Green in which wounded soldiers could take part. A competition was held on Saturday 22nd July between soldiers from two nearby hospitals, Marchhall and St. Leonard’s. (the latter, now on the Pollock Halls of Residence site, was a Red Cross hospital during the Great War, later becoming the girls’ school named St. Trinnean’s, the inspiration for the cartoonist Ronald Searle to create his series of precocious schoolgirls). In the summer of 1916 between 16 and 30 recuperating soldiers from these two hospitals were entertained weekly on the Green. Lady members and several of the men always took part, the whole company having tea together after the game. The same procedures were adopted in 1917, proving very popular with the participants. Despite generous donations of goods and money for these events, the expense of it all put a considerable strain on the Club’s financial resources, and mainly because of difficulties with regard to rationing no steps were taken to entertain the wounded soldiers during the 1918 Season.
The Inter-War years brought a time of expansion to the Club. Dispensing with entry money in the 1919 Season enticed 37 new members to join by the end of the Season. The declaration of peace was signed with Germany on 28th June 1919 and life began to resume its normal course. A Whist Drive with Music was arranged for the end of November. A Second XVI was formed and matches were resumed with our neighbouring bowling clubs.
By this time the Club had become quite expert in the art of fundraising, a habit which members were glad to continue through its years of expansion and development. A Points Match was held over two days in September 1920, the proceeds going to the Funds of the Royal Blind Asylum and School. 1939 saw the death of the Honorary President Sir Robert Gordon Gilmour and in September the outbreak of the second great conflict of the C20. This time no provision had been made for entertaining wounded soldiers on the Green, but at the request of the Scottish Bowling Association, Service Men who were experienced bowlers were given permission to play between the hours of 3 and 6 pm.
No Strawberry Feast was held in 1940 but despite the austerity conditions some essential roof repairs and alterations to the green were carried out. Levelling and relaying of the Green cost approximately £100 and the bank in front of the Clubhouse was raised to meet the requirements of the Scottish Bowling Association.
As in the time of the 1914 – 1918 War, Craigmillar Park set to work with a will to raise funds. The entry money of all Club competitions was given to War Charities selected by the Committee, the proceeds of the Friday evening competitions going to the Red Cross War Fund. The Blood Transfusion Society also benefited greatly from collections made by the members during the War Years, their efforts being recognized by the eminent surgeon Sir John Fraser, Principal of Edinburgh University, who attended Closing Day on 30th September 1944 and presented prizes for the competitions held in aid of the Blood Transfusion Fund.
After the War the Club again set about the business of raising funds, for worthy causes such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the Royal Blind Asylum, and also this time for its own use. (It is worth noting here that the Ladies have two annual fundraising events; a Wednesday Hat Game devoted to the RNLI and a Spring Lunch which raises a considerable sum for the Marie Curie Hospice in South Edinburgh). The Green was needing attention and the ditches had to be lowered to 6” below the level of the Green, in accordance with the requirements of the Scottish Bowling Association. The Club was fortunate in having amongst its members skilled joiners, painters and plumbers who willingly offered their services.
In March 1953, the Club’s Golden Jubilee Year, many useful things were achieved, including the installation of electric light in the Clubhouse, the erection of a toolshed, construction of a bowl rack for the ladies, provision of lockers, new plants for the borders and alterations to the kitchen premises. The Jubilee was also marked by several social events, including a Dinner held in the Roxburghe Hotel, a 6-Rink Inter-Club Competition and our traditional Strawberry Feast.
The interior of the Clubhouse was redecorated in 1960, and as the ladies made a substantial grant towards the project, a new washhand basin and toilet bowl were also installed for them. They were allowed to fix a lock on the door of their toilet and to put a “Private” notice on the door leading from the main Clubhouse to the ladies section, to prevent its use by the gentlemen, whose lavatory at that time was in such a disreputable state that it was little wonder that they tried whenever possible to avoid using it.
In 1962 work was started on a long awaited extension to the Clubhouse accommodation; a 30 foot long cedarwood building to be used as a tearoom and social venue. The project was mainly funded by a Fair and Bring and Buy Sale on 25th August, which together with donations by Club members raised £841 against the estimated cost of £900. A Grand Fair was also held in August 1963 as part of the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations of the Club. A credit balance of over £206 held in 1964 was swallowed up by repairs to the roof of the original Clubhouse which, although picturesque, was continually springing leaks. There was, however, an increase in membership to 80 men and 30 ladies, whose subscriptions helped to swell the coffers.
In 1969 the practice of a Mixed Hat Game on Saturday afternoons was finally established and in 1970 the Men’s Hat Night was fixed for Mondays, establishing a pattern which continues to the present day. The Summer Fair became an annual event at this time, as it was recognized as an excellent way of raising funds and providing an enjoyable experience for members, friends and people living in the neighbourhood – exactly what Sir Robert Gilmour had in mind when he thoughtfully laid aside the land for leisure purposes all those years ago.
Present times and future hopes
It will not have escaped the attention of readers that our members over the years have become expert fundraisers. Their skills were also extended to extracting money from potential grant-awarders, starting in1970 with a grant from the Scottish Education Department which provided changing room space for the lady members, and an interest-free loan of £500, to be repaid over 5 years, from the Scottish Playing Fields Association, facilitating the transfer of the kitchen area to the south end of the tearoom built in 1962. In the 1970’s other welcome grants came from Edinburgh Corporation Civic Amenities Committee and the City of Edinburgh District Recreation Committee, and a generous legacy of £1000 received by the ladies, all of which helped to pay for improvements to the grounds and within the Clubhouse.
In February 1975 a Social Committee was formed of men and ladies to organize fundraising activities for future developments. The new Committee played a large part in organizing a Buffet Supper held in the Minto Hotel with a ticket price of £2. A small profit was made and thus encouraged, they planned to use the tearoom in the winter for Whist and Bridge Drives, and a Coffee Morning for associate members and friends. To this day a Coffee Morning is held on the first Saturday of every month throughout the year.
In 1977 there were 64 men and a full complement of 32 ladies, the permitted number being increased to 40 for the ladies when an amendment was made to the Constitution. In 1978 the membership rose to 76 men and 40 ladies. The annual subscription was raised to £12 for men and £10 for ladies. At the end of 1979 for the first time the Club had a waiting list for the men’s section. The Constitution was changed to permit the limit for male membership to be increased from 100 to 110. Would that we had this problem nowadays! Last Season (2013-14) we had a playing membership of 41 men and 48 ladies.
In 1978 a grant of £700 was awarded by the City of Edinburgh District Recreation Committee, to be used for completion of the pathways and provision of a new enlarged toolshed. More recently £1500 was provided in 1988 by the Scottish Sports Council, to help pay for a new automatic green watering system. The crowning glory of our fund-raising efforts came in 1995, when the Club applied for and received a grant of £22,000 from the Lottery Sports Fund of the Scottish Sports Council. In order to qualify for such a large amount the Club had to raise an equivalent sum, which we duly managed to do. A Grand Opening Ceremony of the new viewing room, toilets and improvements to the Pavilion was held on Saturday 10th August 1996. In more recent years smart new kitchen units were installed by two of our Thursday Gang members, Sandy MacLean and Ron Blane, and Bette Macdonald kindly donated a dishwasher to relieve the burden of washing up after Wednesday and Saturday Hat Games.
Our first Secretary , Sir Isaac Connell, was knighted in 1919 for his services as Secretary of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture. The Club celebrated the event by having a Dinner in the Caledonian Hotel on 26th June. He died in August 1935 having given unstinted service to the Club, never missing a committee meeting, usually held every week, during all his time in office. I wonder what he would have thought of his beloved Club if he were alive today. He would have been surprised at the huge rise in the subscription – now £100 for both ladies and gentlemen, compared to a mere 25/- in 1912. He would find the Green in excellent condition and the little original Pavilion flanked on either side by attractive additions to the premises. Dinners in grand hotels are now a thing of the past, but he would have been glad to come to the fine meals now served in the Club tearoom and provided by our own professional chef, Vice-President Walter Vassie and his team. Self help has always been our aim, and he would have been delighted to find that there is now a well established band of Club members who meet on Thursdays to look after the Green and tend the surrounding borders and hanging baskets. The formidable task of pruning the two large hedges has also been bravely taken on by two of our younger Thursday stalwarts. We hope that they will have the energy to continue this much appreciated and valuable work for many years to come.
Nothing has been said in this brief history about the Club’s performance on the Green. In fact, Craigmillar Park is better known for its well-kept Green and friendly atmosphere than for its success in competitive bowling. However, it comes as a pleasant surprise to discover that in more than one hundred years of action it has after all done quite well in both the ladies and the men’s sections, and has even on some occasions covered itself with a fair amount of glory.
The problem of falling membership affects most bowling clubs nowadays, including our own Craigmillar Park. So far we have managed to keep the numbers viable and we hope every year to increase them by every possible means – publicity, flattery, cajoling, word of mouth, without so far resorting to violence. May we continue to flourish!