Brockham Bowls Club

Brockham Bowls Club


This story is far from complete - and not simply because it is on going. The reason for its incompleteness is that a bowls club - like a village - is not simply a place on the map, an environment. What makes a bowls club or a village is people, the ever-changing population and the contribution that each person makes to its life.

Hundreds of people have belonged to Brockham Bowls Club over the years. They have learnt and competed in the game under its auspices. They have worked to improve its facilities and administration, to win honours for the club and achieve their personal goals. They have had fun and frustrations, made firm friendships of swept off in huffs never to step on its green again.

The part played by many of these people is remembered here, but most go unrecorded, not just in this account but in club records too; often where we do have a name that is all that we have. There's no one around to tell of his or her part in the story, however significant or fleeting it may have been. Also while records have been kept of discussions of what could be done and agreement on what will be done, they fail to explain how things are at the time. Well, everyone knows, don't they? They did then, of course.

So I begin with an apology for all the omissions and quickly move on to write about Sidney Michael Poland without whom the club might never have existed.

Ann Clinch
Spring 2001  
Sidney Michael Poland

The Poland family arrived in Brockham at the end of the 19th century. Sidney Michael Poland and his wife Edith, together with Mr Poland's sister Miss Rosina Poland, lived in The Manor, formerly called Brockham Lodge. This stood back behind a high wall in its own extensive grounds at the Brockham Lane end of Kiln Lane.

A lodge (now Waverley Lodge) stood at the entrance to the property from where a drive swept round to the house door. The northern boundary of their estate ran along Kiln Lane and along the footpath that leads to Mill Hill Lane. The estate's southern boundary was the bank of the River Mole. There were extensive pleasure grounds and, about where Poland House is today, they had a small farm and a farm pond.

Mr Poland was a London businessman who made his money through dealing in furs, but was happy to deal in other commodities too, judging by the goods he had sent to Brockham.

In those days, of course, Brockham had only a small fraction of the population that it has today and most of the land - its houses, farms and cottages - belonged to the Hope family's Deepdene Estate. The Manor was one of the exceptions.

Mr and Mrs Poland became village benefactors and their largesse took many forms. "Mrs Poland used to go round the village at Christmastime giving away lengths of red flannel for poor women to make petticoats, and children received oranges, apples and nuts," says Alex Street, who lives in The Borough and was one of the child recipients.

Christmas Eve carol singing at Christmas corner was a village tradition that they established and which continues today, thanks to their benevolence. Originally children went inside the grounds to find Christmas Corner and be rewarded for singing carols there. Nowadays it is members of village organisations who gather at the entrance to Waverley Lodge - sometimes called Poland's Corner and sometimes Christmas Corner - to sing carols for an hour and earn money for their groups' funds.

Mr Poland and his wife were particularly generous with their support for "The Home Girls", the young residents of Way House, Wheelers Lane, a children's home founded by Lady Way who intended that the young residents be trained for domestic service - employment that would ensure that also had somewhere to live as young adults.

They were also very kind to the village children. They built a paddling-cum-boating pool in their grounds - beside the river and just beyond the Bowling Green - and invited the local children to play there. They also arranged for London children to come and play too "And when both parties met war could break out," remembers Alex with a smile.

And they treated school children to trips to the seaside. Syd Budd, a former bowls club stalwart, remembers going to Bognor Regis on one of the coach trips that they funded.

Later, when he worked at Betchworth Station (with Holman and Budd, coal and coke merchants), Syd was aware of the strange consignments that arrived there addressed to S M Poland, fishmonger, or S M Poland, boot-maker.

The former contained fresh herrings and families were given one for each member of the household, recalls Alex Street. The latter contained footwear for every child in the village. "All the boys had a pair of boots and all the girls had a pair of shoes," says Alex who was among the children who were trooped along to The Manor to be fitted with boots. Mr Poland and his sister Rosina sat on a platform in the corner of their spacious hall, he recalls, and watched as their staff tried boots and shoes on small feet and fitted each child out with an appropriate pair.

"Old Poland looked a bit like Edward VII and Miss Poland like Queen Victoria," says Alex.

Mr Poland was also a strong supporter of village cricket and was president of the club. He provided the material to make blazers and caps, "And I think he had the caps made," says Syd Budd. Matches were played on the village green in those days and Mr Poland would have a pink and white tent pitched somewhere near Vicarage Cottage in order to entertain the village elite to tea.

He also had an interest in bowls and had his own two-rink green and his own club comprising staff and villagers. Accounts of matches played by Brockham Manor Bowls Club can be found in the local papers of that time.

Len Jordan, father of the Len Jordan who currently lives in Wheelers Lane, was among the players. Len Jordan senior was one of Mr Poland's gardeners and worked for the estate for 49 years, retiring after Miss Poland died.

"They only had one tournament in those days," says Len junior. "My father would win it two years out of three. The prize would be a clock. We had a houseful of clocks. They never went but they looked nice."

Edith Poland died in 1926. Her husband Sidney Michael died ten years later in April 1936, and Alex Street was among the choirboys who sang at his funeral. The battered remains of Mr and Mrs Poland's tombstone can be seen beside the path in Betchworth churchyard.

Mr Poland's bequests to the village included money to pay for a carillon of bells for the church and the church lych gate, and money to treat village children. Miss Poland had lifetime use of The Manor after which he intended that the house should be turned into a home for aged villagers. In the event that proved not to be a practical proposition and so the house was demolished, the land sold off for the development of four substantial homes, and Poland House, a sheltered housing development, was built to fulfil his wish to provide somewhere for elderly village people to live.

His sister Rosina Poland lived on for more than a decade and continued to support their bowls club. It was only after her death that the players had to take on the responsibility of running the club themselves and on April 25, 1951, they met to inaugurate an independent Brockham Bowls Club. The minutes of that meeting are recorded in what remained of one of Miss Poland's exercise books after her own religious writings had been chopped out.