Exonia Bowls - Club House and Green, 63 Union Road, Exeter, Devon, EX4 6HT Tel: 01392 259819 | E-mail: exoniagensec@gmail.com
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The Club History of Exonia Bowls

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Flying screens The Club's first recorded win came in 1903, when Paignton was defeated (Away) by 113 99. And this year, we learn, the club played Tamworth, presumably its first touring team. The Club was "now on the map", as evidenced by a letter from Dr. W. G. Grace received in 1904, inviting entries to a Tournament at the Crystal Palace B.C. in June that year.

In October 1905, after three seasons in our new home, we paid the County Cricket Club £25 to have a fresh plot of the cricket field levelled and prepared as a bowling green. One suspects some displeasure still existed among the membership, for in 1907 despite the green being re-laid with "fine old turf from Knightley's" the Club Secretary amongst others, resigned and left for the greener pastures of a new City Club in the Barnfleld and another newly opened one at Heavitree. Yet let it be noted, in July 1907 the Exonian B.C. sent "a team of 12 players to give an exhibition of play" at the latter!

On the formation of the Devon County B.A. in 1908 our club became affiliated. From that year we played according to E.B.A. rules, in rinks of four. Our first match under these new rules was against Taunton, Exonian winning 72 58. Four years later in 1912 we decided to further affiliate to the E.B.A. and were greatly honoured to provide a Devon team with one of our county bowlers (J. Oliphant) to compete against an Australian team touring England that summer. What an outstanding event this must have been in those early days.

Continuing quietly upon its way, the Club resolved in 1922 to amend it's title from Exonian to Exonia (Exeter, as derived from the Exon Domesday). Our numbers had steadily increased. We were by now able to run two teams A & B out of a membership of 45 players. Each week the 'A' Captain would pick his team and 'B' Captain made the best of the rest. But when Friday came and the 'A' Captain poached on 'B's players, sometimes the sparks would really fly!

By 1926 our players were pressing for better amenities. We had grown into a club of some importance 75 members, yet restrictions on the County Ground were numerous. For one thing, we couldn't play until after 7.00.p.m. should there be any County, Dumplings, or Devon Regiment cricket match. There were no ditches on two sides of the green. By E.B.A. standards it could by no means be called a regulation green. Access to the cricket field was sometimes made across our bowling rinks.It was nothing when measuring a wood to find a cricket ball just missing your head. Finally in 1923 when Mills Bombs — discharged from the Devon Regiment Barracks, had left four deep holes in our green, (and with only a summary apology coming from their Adjutant) we evidently felt enough was enough. It was agreed we should move by 1927 when we would lease Culverlands in Union Road, then just a sloping field, for a period of 21 years. In fact, we were destined to remain here for the rest of the century, thanks due in no small part to the foresight of our predecessors.

Wisely a Company the Exonia Bowling Club Limited was formed and registered for the purpose of acquiring this land at an annual rent of £45. The lease was vested in this private company, with a small nominal capital. The first directors, all conditional shareholders, were appointed. Debentures and Shares were issued and a Sinking Fund created for the repayment of monies raised by those debentures. Thus we settled into our third and present home. The Company supervised the conversion of the field into a Bowling Green and five tennis courts. (The latter became the car park we value so highly today). The Architects then were Messrs Ellis, Son and Bowden. The green was laid by Mr Andrew Rae of Cardiff, to be officially opened on 27th April 1929 with a match between Exonia and the E.B.A. President's team (following lunch at Deller's Cafe in Bedford St.).
In 1930 Exonia changed its old monogrammed 'E.B.C'. Badge to the one we wear today. Several designs were submitted by members from which we fittingly selected the reproduction of the distaff side of Exeter City Arms Pegasus the flying horse, symbol of 'Soaring Ambitions'. What better indication of the Club's resolution! Oddly it seems, the Ladies Section, when officially affiliated to County and E.WB.A. in 1938, chose to retain the old monogram for both blazer badge and hatband, only adopting the Pegasus pocket badge in 1986, and a hatband in club colours of red, green, navy and white in 1992.

The limbo years of a Second World War behind us and with the D.C.B.A. deciding to resume full activities in 1945, bowling really continued in earnest. To mark this great year of resurgence Exonia introduced it's "Victory Cup" a Challenge Trophy still competed for annually amongst invited clubs of this section. Our collective membership now comprised 66 Men and 22 Ladies (more comment on these later).

Competitions attracted record entries, fixtures were eagerly supported, and despite the rationing difficulties still prevailing into the 1950's, our successive Ladies Committees continued to provide refreshments. Our Golden Jubilee Year 1951 was celebrated in grand style. A week long programme of special events was opened on the Monday by the Mayor and the Sheriff of Exeter, when a match was played against the E.B.A President's team. On following days we played the local clubs, the County and City Police, the D.C.B.A. and the D.C.L.B.A. in Anniversary Matches, all culminating in a Gala Bowls Drive for the members on the Saturday. Flying screens

The next two decades were a period of consolidation. Under the administration of the Company the club continued to flourish, deriving income from its green, its tennis courts, and its winter social activities. The green was maintained to a high standard and the members enjoyed most amenities. The purchase of our grounds was argued at length when in 1955 the Company was able to secure the property for the price of £1,500 plus £425, the outstanding balance of our mortgage. Ownership established we forged ahead with our next plans. We dispensed with the tennis courts and in 1959 sold part of that area for four building plots. By 1962 we had also sold the outside strip of land to the City Council, in exchange for a new wall and wrought iron gates, and moreover received compensation on our rates, (all negotiated by the late Hugh Bayley).

By 1967 we were exploring the idea of a new Pavilion to incorporate two Indoor bowling rinks of E.I.B.A. standard. Encouraged by the promise of a grant of some £2,500 from the Ministry of Education and Science, plus a like amount from our own funds, the membership resolved to raise a further sum of £2,500 by £5 shares and to proceed with more adventurous plans for THREE full size rinks hailed by the press as "a wonderful and ambitious scheme". The City Council endorsed the project, approving a loan of £6,000 towards costs and when the new building opened in October 1970, praised Exonia for succeeding where they themselves had failed. An Indoor green was undoubtedly something that Exeter really wanted for its success was immediate. It was built to accommodate 350 members and with its 3 rinks was, at that time, the largest indoor club in the South West outside Bristol. It became a magnet for winter bowls players, its members coming from as far as lifracombe and Seaton. Six years planning had gone into the new building which ultimately cost £18,000. Even so, the extra money needed to build it was raised by the members in just 12 months. Separate Indoor and Outdoor Committees were formed at an inaugural meeting, and the Club Bye-laws re-drafted accordingly. Section Subscriptions for 1971 were agreed. Outdoor (Men) £6.50, Indoor (all members) £3, with an annual subscription of 5Op payable by all. Modest sums indeed to pay for such year long pleasure.
The 1970's were truly progressive years for the entire club as Outdoor and Indoor Sections flourished. Membership Waiting Lists were always in operation. By the 1980's new ideas for a fourth Indoor rink had been continually explored by successive Steering Committees. Architects had been engaged, applications for planning permission submitted but all to no avail. Building costs meanwhile had been escalating. Flying screens Slowly yet inevitably, our long held hopes of further indoor expansion and a new Pavilion were effectively eclipsed by the building of an Exeter City Sports Arena in 1994. Funded by a national supermarket chain in exchange for land and development rights nearby, the complex incorporated a Council owned 8 rink Indoor Stadium of World Bowls standard the ultimate answer to the indoor bowler's dream.

As we enter the new millennium, we remain a private club, still under Company and Management Committees' control. Nowadays we afford the indoor player all year-round bowling. And we still maintain a superb outdoor green of Middleton Cup standards with first class facilities for our outdoor bowlers. We are resolved to continue updating our buildings and amenities for the benefit of future members. Exonia today is a club to be proud of, in retrospect, a living testimony to the forethought of its founders and the loyalties of generations of members.