Historic Temple Bowling Club shield

HISTORIC TEMPLE BADGE: the Temple insignia worn with pride by every member over the decades

A HISTORY OF TEMPLE BOWLING CLUB

WELCOME TO THE MECCA OF BOWLS, TEMPLE SE5. TAKE A STROLL UP DENMARK HILL UNTIL YOU REACH THE TOP, TURN ONTO SUNSET ROAD AND TAKE THE FIRST TURNING ON THE LEFT HAND SIDE DOWN AN ALLEYWAY THAT IF IT WASN’T FOR THE SIGN WOULD APPEAR TO BE TAKING YOU TO A GARAGE AND YOU REACH TEMPLE BOWLING CLUB. THE TWO-STOREY BUILDING HOUSES THE CHANGING ROOMS, BAR, FUNCTION ROOM, THREE INDOOR RINKS AND A PRETTY VERANDA THAT OVERLOOKS THE OUTDOOR GREEN. AND DESPITE A HOST OF HONOUR BOARDS ADORNING THE WALLS IT IS ALL VERY UNASSUMING.

Golden Lion pub Denmark Hill

GOLDEN LION: original architects drawing of the front facade (c.1896)

Denmark Hill map 1877

LION YARD: OS map of Camberwell (c.1877) showing the plot of land behind the pub where it all began

British Pathe Empire Games 1934
Temple Bowling Club Empire Games 1934

BRITISH PATHÉ: news reel of the 1934 Empire Games action at Temple. Click on an image to see the complete video on YouTube (Temple @ 39 & 124 sec)

There are no marble busts or bronze statues dotted around the premises and the only trophy cabinets are small glass encased cupboards above the bar, this has all the hallmarks of a normal bowls club that could be located anywhere in Britain. However, you could not be further from the truth as you have arrived at a Club that was a true trailblazer of the game and so steeped in important history it courses through its veins. Read on and discover why indeed there should be monuments in every corner and a trophy room to rival that of Real Madrid because this is TEMPLE.

The Club was founded by local businessmen and patrons of the “Golden Lion” public house on Denmark Hill (architects drawing <), Camberwell, where they played a form of the game bowls on a small plot of land behind the pub itself (OS map <). Taking its name from the landlord William Temple the club was officially formed in 1881 as Temple Bowls Club before fourteen years later and with a growing membership moving across the road to a larger plot of land where they built their own pavilion.


The bowls world was finally beginning to expand and for the first time organise itself into competitive regional leagues and associations and Temple would be at the very forefront of this expansion. In 1895 the Club became involved in the creation of the London & Southern Counties Bowling Association (L&SCBA) before then becoming founding members of the Imperial Bowling Association in 1903. Two years later and despite one failed attempt to create a national body the Club would once again become founding members as the English Bowling Association (EBA) was formed under the guidance of recently retired cricketing hero and bowls convert W.G. Grace.

The reputation of the club, its players and the management began to spread to such an extent that in 1911 Temple was again at the forefront of the creation of Surrey County Bowling Association (SCBA) and duly provided the Hon Treasurer & Secretary in W.H. Graham. The following season SCBA held its inaugural competitive tournaments with Temple winning the Pairs title courtesy of F. MacGregor & J. Elmes this being the first of the 37 major County honours the men have brought back to Sunset Road to date.

In 1913 the Club grounds were sold to property developers forcing Temple to acquire a mansion off Denmark Hill which had grounds large enough to lay two full sized Cumberland greens which were opened at the beginning of the 1914 season. The new home provided champions a plenty for the next twenty years as Temple won significant District, County, Regional & National titles. The Club was also producing a regular supply of England caps by now and in 1921 hosted its first international as New Zealand played Surrey who were captained by our own William Emmett.

The Club had once again outgrown its environment and in 1931 managed to acquire a new home at the current location in Sunset Road & work began immediately on the construction of a new pavilion with 4 indoor rinks. Whilst the building work was taking place in SE5 we established an international foothold as Fred Goodliffe returned from his American adventures in 1932 as US Open Singles Champion & plans were afoot for the following year to be a year to celebrate.

1933 saw the opening of the new Pavilion with the largest indoor rinks in the country and fittingly coincided with Temple being one of only a dozen clubs to setup and form the English Indoor Bowling Association (EIBA). The Club also appointed its previous landlord Lord Bayford as President whilst expansion both on-and-off the greens continued apace.

Twelve months later (1934) and the eyes of the world are on Temple as the Club jointly plays host to the Empire Games (Commonwealth Games) Bowling Tournament. The Games were due to be held in South Africa but with growing political unrest and the beginnings of movement towards Apartheid they were switched to London. The three bowling competitions were played at Temple & Paddington Clubs in August with our own “Legend” Fred Biggin skipping the England Rinks Team. A week of intense bowling and nine games later, against the cream of world bowls, Fred & his triumphant England side were Gold medal winners. A special occasion for a special player at a special club (video link <).

In 1936 Richard Harding was selected to play for England in the first ever indoor international match gaining his first of many caps during an international career that would span a fifteen-year period. Meanwhile the Temple outdoor greens were now considered to be amongst the very-best in the land and were chosen that year to host the EBA National Finals. The EBA were so impressed with the experience that they returned two more times before the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

The post war years were to be difficult for bowls in general and the club were certainly not immune from the side effects of conflict. However, the 1948 indoor triumph in the National Denny Cup was the fillip Temple needed and it was not long before the titles started to roll in once again. Indeed, the ten years that followed the end of WWII saw Temple produce no less than six international players of which five were capped playing the indoor version of the game.

Another significant occurrence in the club’s history took place in 1958 when despite a little resistance the men formally voted to allow women to play on the hallowed turf and Temples Ladies Bowls Club was officially formed. With an initial membership of fourteen players the ladies section elected the formidable Mrs Kay Randall to become President, a position she would go on to hold for 25 years.

The 1960’s began relatively quietly for the club but despite picking up a smattering of significant titles it was apparent that a new crop of players were being readied to take centre stage. This development can be best seen in the SCBA Unbadged Singles competition which was won by H. Bending in 1966 for Temples first such victory which was quickly followed by members of the club winning it a further four times in ten years. Arguably of more importance was the blossoming of the ladies’ section of the club with a group of bowlers coming to the fore that would soon become multiple winners. Temple Ladies began to pick up titles on a frequent basis, but the true vanguard was V. Bence who having won her first major trophy in 1967 would go on to win most of the District, Regional & County prizes available.

Having managed to successfully fight off an attempt to buy out the Club by a newspaper organisation during the 1970’s its future was secured in 1976 when the Club became owner of its own freehold. With behind the scenes troubles seemingly resolved Temple won 42 titles in the decade. Both the men’s and women’s sides of the club maintained their recent progress and prospered in all forms of the game and as the eighties approached a new & younger generation of exciting bowlers were becoming prominent. In 1980 Graham Spencer became the first of this youthful group to gain national recognition as he triumphed 21-15 in the finals of the EBA Under 25’s Championship.

The Club then spent 1981 celebrating its centenary as a bowls club and half-century as an indoor club a feat which is unique in the bowls world. A year of dinners, dignitaries and display matches paid due homage to the Club’s illustrious history.

The 80's continued where the 70’s had finished and as another 50 titles arrived it soon became clear that the Ladies were now winning as many trophies as the men. The decade was also notable for ending on a similar note to its youthful beginning as 21-year-old Stuart Maxted wins the televised Thames Cockney Classic by beating the current British Pairs champion on route to the title. The win also gives Stuart a tilt at World Champion Tony Allcock for a winner takes all £1000 prize, which unfortunately he lost.

The following two decades of the nineties & noughties saw the ladies take centre stage as a group that included the likes of C. Double, D. Vincent, C. McGrail & Sheila Absolon dominated. Ladies County, Regional & National titles arrived aplenty with a couple of prestigious “Victrix Ludorum” trophies won by C. McGrail also added to the collection.

This brings us to the Club’s most recent exploits, and it must be said that despite a couple of County titles it has been a barren period in Temple’s history. However, like any sporting organisation regeneration is essential and whilst the green roots of recovery are there for all to see its imperative that more work is undertaken to ensure its future history is as rich as its past.

It was stated in the opening paragraph that “there should be monuments in every corner and a trophy room to rival that of Real Madrid” but thankfully the research for this report has helped resolve both these puzzles – quite simply there isn’t the space for a trophy room big enough & there aren’t enough corners to do justice to each and every past player that merits immortalising.

This history section was a delight to research, but the overriding feeling is one of immense pride to be associated with a club that is a bastion of our great sport.

[NB It should be noted that there are far too many important people in the Clubs history to name check more than a small percentage in this report so please head over to the Honours section for further information.]

Temple Bowling Club 140th Anniversary patch