Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Bowling in the Backlands

Tucked away near Notting Hill are the backlands, green spaces of different kinds, created for the St Quintin Estate, built between 1880 and 1900.  One of the backlands has been a bowling club since its foundation in 1903, and despite its ups and downs, residents have kept the flag flying for this charming recreational space ever since.

The West London Bowling Club employs a professional greenkeeper to maintain the grass to a good standard for the 40 or so bowlers who use it regularly, but it is volunteers who have been beavering away since 2014 to reclaim the roses which surround it.

Roses have been given pride of place in the restoration of the garden.  Along the side of the green a red rose lives happily next to a berberis, the colours of each complementing one another, while
around the corner, alongside the scoring board for games, a genista was in full yellow bloom when I visited.  Since local people brought back life to the bowling club in 2014, there has been a lot of
propagation of roses with a view to not only maintaining and restoring those around the green, but also reclaiming a wilderness on the east side.  This work is led by Dennis and his merry band of
volunteers from a local allotment site, St Quintin Avenue Community Kitchen Garden, who turn up every Sunday afternoon to restore the garden here, once the eighth rink, where children used to learn to bowl.  Albertine and Seagull roses have been planted, new peach and pink roses grafted to replace those strangled by ivy, brambles restrained, hops trained to climb high with the new roses, and all adorned by beautiful bird songs in the background.  A treat to enjoy on Open Garden Squares weekend.

The bowling green was formally opened in 1920 and bowling has taken place here ever since, pretty much.  Although other backlands on the St Quintin Estate became allotments when war started, here they continued bowling, and fortunately dodged falling bombs.  The beauty of the garden was recognised in successive years from 1968 to 1978, when it was an annual prize winner of the Kensington and Chelsea Gardens Competitions, as well as producing many bowls champions.  In the 1970s the ownership of the estate moved to the Legard family and the club is now one of the three remaining backlands of the area, with the Nursery Road site fighting creeping property development, and the Kelfield sports ground also remaining.  The bowling club boasts a degree of protected status, but supports the other remaining backlands in their attempts to retain green space in the area, as well as improving its own.

Ruth Hillary, Chair of the Association, with the help of the St Helens Residents' Association, has been leading a successful make-over of the club since its re-opening in 2014.  Up with all the new trends, barefoot bowling is possible here, and the clubhouse has an inviting bar and free wifi.  Benches and tables have been sanded and scrubbed, new planters constructed, and there are
good relations with neighbours, with fairs and events for local people in the summer and at Christmas.   There is an emphasis on attracting and engaging local families, with a new orchard
and pleasure ground for picnics and teas planned, not forgetting the local hedgehogs, who will still find shelter here in a wild corner, when the garden is completed.

Information on visiting West London Bowling Club on Open Garden Squares Weekend »

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