A LITTLE BIT OF HARPERBURY BOWLS CLUB HISTORY
Harperbury Hospital, and as we shall see the bowls club, is built on the site of the former London Colney aerodrome, used for aircraft storage during World War One.
In 1924 Middlesex County Council purchased Porters Park Estate, totalling 420 acres (170 ha) to create both the Harperbury and Shenley hospitals.
On 25 October 1928, the new mental hospital opened as the ‘Hangers Certified Institution’ utilising the aerodrome’s hangers. Soon eighty-six male patients lived and worked on the site.
The first purpose built hospital buildings were constructed on the Harperbury site by John Laing & Son opening in February 1931 and over time additional buildings were added, including dormitories for patients, nurses accommodation, the De Salis Recreational Hall, able to seat 700 people, tennis courts and sporting facilities.
At its peak in the mid 60’s the hospital was home to over 1500 people.
The bowling green was prepared and laid with Cumberland Turf in 1949 for the use of Hospital staff and their families and several years later as the minute book records:
“Harperbury Bowls Club was formed on 4th July 1955 with a meeting held in the staff canteen. Mr. Gerald Scott, Secretary to the Herts County Bowls Association, and eleven members attended.”
It was also pointed out at the meeting
“… that before arranging fixtures with other clubs it would be necessary for the club to purchase some bowls ….. “!
The club as part of the Hertfordshire Bowls Association and St Albans and District Bowls Association thrived through the 50’s, 60’s and much of the 70’s as a recreational facility for staff and the local community.
The membership largely drawn from hospital staff as depicted on the club badge where the rose, shamrock, thistle and daffodil represent staff drawn from all quarters of the British Isles.
During the early part of the 1980’s Harperbury Hospital Bowls Club as the club was formally known, struggled with a steady decline in the number of hospital employees wanting to play bowls.
In 1989 the club’s pavilion was just one room, a shed with a narrow veranda. No running water or toilet facilities, these were in the Staff Sports & Social and its doors were often locked when bowlers need them. Men changed at one end of the shed whilst Ladies changed at the other. Privacy was by means of curtains hung from the steel rafters. The hospital management were also cutting back on hours spent maintaining the green, and had begun asking for funding for green materials. For the club to prosper, a new approach was needed.
Lady bowlers had been part of Harperbury Bowls Club for many years, albeit limited, as the fixtures list for 1967 shows, where provision was made for 1 rink of ladies in one game. However, by the middle of the 80’s more couples were becoming active members and in 1985 the club became, probably, the first bowls club in the area to be truly “mixed” with men and women having exactly the same rights and being managed by a “mixed” committee.
Over the next 10 or so years members of the club undertook fund raising and construction and slowly extensions were made to the ‘shed’ including the provision of toilets, kitchen, bar area and changing rooms. By the time the hospital closed it Sports & Social Club in 1997, the club was well on the way to be self-supporting. When the final extension was completed in time for the 2003 season the Pavilion as we now see it was complete and 4 times the size it was in 1989.
The growth of the club corresponded with increased success on the bowls green with both ladies and gents representing the club at numerous district and county finals and qualified to play for County and some have participated in the All England National Championships at Leamington Spa. Harperbury members have also gone on to be District President and in 2016/7 Harperbury won a Community Club of the Year award.
Over time, the number of patients in Harperbury Hospital reduced and a new smaller facility opened in 2009. The site was rebranded Kingsley Green (after Sir Kingsley Wood, Minister of Health, who had opened the original hospital), although the bowls club retains its original name. As the remainder of the site was demolished, rumours of the bowls club being evicted or closing down started to abound.
The site was finally sold to a housing developer and the plans approved by the local council including a bowling green. As other clubs in the area have closed, Harperbury’s number have grown and in 2019 Harperbury signed a long lease on their green which will enable the club to remain in the same home it has had for 70 years and embark on the next stage of its history.