ELTHAM WARREN GOLF CLUB 1890 – 1990 By F.H. SEELEY
An extract from our Centenary Book by Past President Frank Seeley (by kind permission).
The information in this booklet has been gleaned from a study of club minute books, from old maps, from various leaflets about the Eltham area and from personal memories.
The story is intentionally about the Club rather than its members. To do full justice to the many people who, over the years, have done so much for the Club and for golf in general would require another, and longer book. This short history is dedicated to them.
Eltham Warren Golf Club
1890 - 1990
Towards the end of the 19th century Eltham was little more than a large village, although it had a long history and several claims to fame.
There is evidence of Roman occupation and proof (The Domesday Book) that it was a thriving Saxon community at the time of William the Conqueror. The whole area was a mixture of forest and farmland: good hunting country. From very early times a Royal hunting lodge had been established and this grew into Eltham Palace, its crowning glory, the Great Hall, being built in 1479. Many Kings of England, including Henry VIll, stayed at the Palace and because of this a number of magnificent houses were built and many are still to be seen including Eltham Lodge - the former Manor House which is now The Clubhouse of The Royal Blackheath Golf Club.
Because of its being in the nature of a Royal playground most of Eltham and the surrounding countryside was Crown property. It is only since World War 2 that residents have to any great extent, been able to purchase the freeholds of their properties.
By 1880 Eltham had grown considerably. It had a high street with a variety of useful shops and quite a lot of inns! Nevertheless its eastern boundary was more or less the top of Westmount Road where the mini town hall now stands. Beyond that a country lane led to Bexley and half a mile or so to the east a branch on the left - Gravel Pit Lane - meandered round the edges of sundry fields and woods, past what is now Falconwood, to Welling. To the left of the junction of the two lanes was a large worked out gravel pit; to the right some sand pits, the site of the present nature study centre. Across Bexley Road (or lane) from here was an old historic well. Lemonwell and quite a large mansion which after World War 2 was derelict for many years, eventually being demolished to make way for apartment blocks.
Between the gravel pit and the eastern end of the village was a large irregular field, part of an area leased from the Crown by a Mr Edwards. It was called the Warren field, and the implication is that it was not suitable for much except sheep or cattle grazing. In 1890 a group of friends who, for some time, had had permission to practice golf on this land decided to form a club. They met on 7th May 1890 in the house of Mr Walter Richardson and formed Eltham Golf Club with a membership of eight. (Appendix I)
The club became sub tenants of Mr Edwards at an annual rental of £10 and a 6-hole course was laid out on the 17 acres supposedly available. The exact boundaries of the original course are difficult to establish, but the eastern edge was certainly on a line from the present entrance drive to the 9th tee and the playing area certainly included the land right up to the edge of Bexley Road, where newish house now stand, which was club property used as allotments, until 1955.
At the time the Club was formed, Westmount Road as we know it, did not exist There was a lane leaving Bexley Road at the present junction by the mini Town Hall which meandered down, partly on the line of Glenhouse Road, past the western edge of Eltham Park estate, with a (presumably private) driveway branching off in a north easterly direction to provide access from the South to the large mansion which then stood in the centre of the Park. Old maps show a large uncultivated field stretching west to east from this driveway to the edge of The Old Gravel Pit and south to north from Bexley Road to the boundary of the garden of Eltham Park House. This appears to have been the field rented from Mr Edwards. (Appendix II) The area around the old pit and the low flat area which now contains the third green and the practice ground was completely derelict but north east of the embankment beyond the pond was fertile agricultural land stretching to Coalpits Wood (sic) in the east to the line of the Bexleyheath Railway (opened in 1895) to the north with a small farmhouse just above the pond.
When the railway was first opened there were no stops between Well Hall and Welling, but a rather grand station was built at Eltham Park in 1908 to meet growing commuter demand. The area around Westmount Road and Glenesk Road was developed and the farm began to wither and disappear. As this happened the Golf Course was pushed further east and extended until, by 1910 or so, it occupied more or less its present site.
The Club must have found life rather difficult in those early days. The lease of the land passed from Mr Edwards to Mr Hunt, a local baker, (who at one time wanted to use his field as a general recreation park) and then to a Mr Grace who seems to have negotiated a Crown Lease through Messrs. Clutton for the whole area from the Warren Field to Gravel Pit Lane and the line of the proposed railway.
Once this was done the Club was able to rent from Mr Grace a further field, the present practice ground etc., extending the playing area to a more generous 17 acres and in 1894 a very cramped 9 hole course was laid out. Not surprisingly this soon proved to be a dangerous experiment and the course went back to 6 holes.
Prospects of a more satisfactory extension of the course must have seemed slim, particularly as rent was negotiated on an annual basis with no guarantee of long term tenure. As early as 1894 the possibility of direct lease from the Crown was being discussed but it was not until 1905 that this came to pass, the Club, now Eltham Warren taking over from Mr Grace the lease of the whole site.
It is of interest that the exact dates and reasons for changing the name of the Club are not recorded in any minutes. The AGM of 1896 is reported – minutes of The Warren Golf Club. Presumably by friendly agreement the newly formed 18 hole club based on Eltham Lodge (which became the home of The Royal Blackheath Golf Club in 1922) was allowed to take the Eltham Title. In 1901 the AGM, again without explanation, refers to Eltham Warren Golf Club.
In spite of doubts about the future - particularly with regard to tenure of the land – the infant club grew rapidly. By early 1894 the agreed membership had been increased to 30. Some of the newcomers lived as far away as Lewisham, quite a long journey in those days, and needed somewhere to change but it was not until the middle of 1896 that a satisfactory solution was found: then a room was rented from Mr Hands at 2 Elm Villas (Southend Crescent) at a rent of £5/5/0 per quarter and it was soon further arranged that tea and light refreshments should be made available.
Further expansion of membership and the formation of a Ladies Club rendered this room quite inadequate: the next move was to 14 The Broadway where it seems that at least three rooms, one large enough to form a changing room with thirty lockers, must have been rented and meals and drinks were available. This in turn was rapidly outgrown and the next move was to a whole house, Montrose in Eltham High Street, which was rented at £45 per annum. This, then referred to in minutes as The Club House, was the home of the Club until the first club house on the present site was built in 1912.
By the end of the first fifteen years or so of formation and growth the Club had acquired the character we are all familiar with today. It had been started with the men and then ladies were admitted; they became Lady Associates in 1905. By this time some of the earlier members had left the district so a class of Country Membership was created for their benefit; then, in spite of membership numbers having an authorised increase to 100 (later 120 in about 1910) there were more applicants than vacancies. Those on the waiting list were granted provisional membership on payment of a small fee which entitled them to play at quiet times during the week: in no time at all they were referred to as mid-week members. Next, there was a demand for the offspring of members to be allowed on the course - a class of junior membership was born. All this before World War I.
During the first few years the founder members of the club and those who joined them soon after seem to have made and tended the course themselves, using their own shovels, scythes, sickles and lawn mowers, but expansion from the original small 6-hole layout to the later 9-hole course made this impracticable. At one time a horse and a farm grass or hay cutting machine were hired from a local farmer, but in the early 1900s the club bought a 36-inch greens cutter and a fairways mower with horse (the horse cost £10). They had to be housed. Machinery sheds and a stable were built on the (now) practice ground to the left of the path from the Ladies' second tee, just clear of the depression which tends to flood in very wet weather. The sheds, finally housing a mechanised horse in the form of an old Morris truck instead of a four-legged one, were still in use until after World War 2 and were still visible until about 1960 when the present car park and garage block came into being.
Serious discussion about the building of an on-site Club House started in 1910. Then as now, members knew useful people! As a result plans were prepared and estimates received for a very nice building at a cost of about £1150, it was hoped to raise the money, by voluntary donations and once £740 had been promised it was decided to go ahead. In the event the cost rose to some £1400 through the need to provide a connection to the sewer in Glenesk Road and because the need for fuel and liquor stores and some internal fittings had not been allowed for. Nevertheless the House was built and apparently opened in 1912 although there is no record of the exact date.
The shortfall in finance was covered mainly by £50 per head loans at 5% interest from a number of more affluent members and partly by a bank overdraft. Because of The War the outstanding debts were not fully repaid until about 1920.
An impression of this first proper Club House reproduced from a water colour by Mr D. Warrey, in 1920, when he was a mid-week member, is in the front of this booklet.
The period of World War I was naturally one of stagnation. Mr E.J. Brown who had joined the Club in January 1900 and was very quickly elected Hon. Treasurer in 1901 and in addition Hon. Sec. in 1904 was Captain from 1914 to 1919, running everything almost single-handed. He continued to serve on committee until 1925 and made many contributions to the welfare of the Club. Among other things he presented to the Club the Captains Board. In recognition of his many years of service a book of signatures (which we have) was compiled and he was elected first President in 1931, an office he held until his death in September 1947. Being succeeded by Mr R.N.R. Blaker.
During the Second World War. 1939-45, formal activities were again largely suspended and again one man, Mr A.G. Tomkins served as Captain throughout the war years. He had some support notably from Mr T.G. (later Sir Thomas) Spencer and Leslie Nightingale and the professional Stanley Mason: between them they managed to keep the course fit for play.
Between the wars membership was rather low; for example in 1929 there were less than 130 full members and about 60 each mid-week and Lady Associate. Nevertheless this was a considerable increase on the figures for two or three years earlier and the committee at that time expressed the view - "that we were very full!"
In the early days of the Club annual subscriptions varied between 1½ and 2 guineas, with a similar entrance fee but the subscription was raised to a regular 3 guineas in 1902 because of increased costs associated with renting "Montrose"
Twenty five years later, in 1927, these amounts were raised to "£5 • 5 • 0 or such sum as the Committee may hereafter direct." The annual subscription remained at 5 guineas for nearly twenty years but in the nineteen thirties the entrance fee was waived because of falling membership and was not re-introduced until well after World War 2: the subscription rose to £7 • 7 • 0 just after the 1939-45 war (and green fees were 1/6 per round – 7 ½ p).
From the earliest days the management of the Club was on a sound basis. As soon as the membership started to increase a small committee was formed with the hon, sec. / treasurer acting as chairman at meetings. In 1896 membership had risen to 60 and at the A.G.M. in October of that year the first Captain, Mr H. Simson, was elected. By that time a formal set of rules and bye laws had been established, similar in most essentials to those in force today. Fixture lists, mainly monthly medals and holiday competitions, were drawn up and inter-club matches against Sidcup were inaugurated. In 1900 a monthly medal winners' competition for the Gold Medal was played for the first time. Very soon trophies were presented by past captains such as W. Scott, H. Homfray and A.W.D. Moore and by Viscount Exmouth who was never a member but a close friend of E.J. Brown and other members. Other inter-club matches, for example against Eltham, Sundridge Park and Royal Blackheath became a regular feature of the programme and more trophies such as the Blaker and Parkside Cups, were presented so that the fixture list became quite a substantial affair.
Eltham Warren always took a keen interest in the promotion of golf. In 1911 it was one of twenty six London clubs which met at Sundridge Park with the aim of arranging annual competitive meetings. This informal gathering became the Society of London Golf Captains in 1922. Similarly in 1967 Eltham Warren was one of the nine clubs which founded the Society of Kent Golf Captains, and the Ladies were among the founder members of the Society of London Lady Golf Captains. At various times the Club has provided Captains of all three Societies. The club also joined the Kent County Golf Union when it was founded in 1925 and the English Golf Union.
Soon after World War 1 inter-club team competitions were founded: a group of eight clubs, including Eltham Warren formed an association to play annually for a scratch trophy, the Perman Shield; a little later handicap competitions for the Wilding Cole Cup (lower limit 7) and the Gray Cup (lower limit 13) were added. Much later, in fact after World War 2, the same association added the Royal Blackheath Trophy and then the West Kent Cup and the Sundridge Park Trophy to the list. The aim of these additions was to allow players of all handicap levels an opportunity to play serious team golf; to do this the Gray Cup lower limit was raised to 17 and the others were fitted in at appropriate lower levels. On different circuits the North Kent Trophy. The Yeomans and the Jack Hicks (for 9-hole clubs in Kent) were also introduced. A Ladies tournament - the Pearson Trophy - also came on the scene in the early 1920s, open to all clubs in the Home Counties. Eltham Warren won this in its very early days. The Club has had its fair share of successes in both team and open individual events over the years, including more recent Veterans and Juniors inter club competitions.
The first few years after 1945 were a period of restoration. The Club House had suffered no serious harm during the ware but a certain amount of war damage had to be made good and at the same time a few modest improvements, particularly to the bar area, were undertaken. The machinery sheds were repaired, a new wire fence with access gates was erected along the Gravel Pit Lane boundary and the course as a whole was restored to its pre-war condition. Membership gradually increased and so, to a small extent, did costs. Subscriptions were raised to £7 • 7 • 0 and then £8 • 8 • 0 per annum, but still no entrance fee.
By 1951 the existing Crown lease had only another ten years or so to run. To ensure future continuity it was therefore decided to try to negotiate a new long term lease. At first Cluttons expressed willingness to grant a sixty year lease at a rent of $204 a year providing a replacement Club House costing at least £5,000 was built. After a lot of argument this condition was relaxed and the club was required, instead, to spend at least £2,000 on improvements to the existing house.
Several different schemes were prepared, including one for a detached accommodation block, comprising two or three staff flats, near the western boundary of the course. This was felt to be far too expensive, although in retrospect it would have been a very sound investment.
Eventually it was decided to extend both wings of the existing house to make room for a billiard room between the entrance hall and the men's locker room and a new kitchen and additional bedroom for the steward. The cost of this was about £4.000. All necessary permissions and agreements were reached in the summer of 1954 and the work was completed by the end of that year.
Enjoyment of the new accommodation was short-lived: during the night of Saturday lune 2nd 1956 fire broke out in the stewards' sitting room resulting in complete destruction of the whole of the centre of the building and some damage, mainly from smoke and water to the approaches to the wings, especially the dining room. For a time the billiard room was turned into a makeshift lounge bar while the ladies held their Lady Captain's Day supper that year by candle-light in the blackened shell of the dining room.
The next move was the erection, at the bottom of the car park, of a large wooden contractors' hut - provided by a group of generous members - which served as a temporary club house while re-building was in progress. The new house included a billiard room and Ladies' room upstairs, as they are today, and incorporated the old covered patio and the card room in the much larger lounge which has changed very little since it was built. Open fires were discontinued in favour of central heating and the bar extended to its present size using the bar counter from Walton Heath G.C when their club house was rebuilt. The stewards flat was extended to provide a sitting room allowing the space behind the bar to be used for improved storage of stock and the present men's stud-room.
The cost of the new club house, which was built by Tom MacFarlane, a member, was some £14,000. This sum was appreciably more than the £12,000 or so received in sum of settlement of the insurance claim; the balance was covered by a bank overdraft.
The new club house was occupied in September 1957. It was viewed with mixed feelings by the members; the larger lounge and improved facilities were appreciated but the old intimate atmosphere, particularly the ability to sit round the open fire on cold evenings had been lost forever. At one time a dummy chimney breast housing a large electric fire was erected against the outside wall, but it was no real substitute for the original fireplace and was soon dismantled.
The wooden hut was retained for a few years for use as a trolley shed and general store for greens equipment and materials, all previous sheds having by that time disintegrated. It was eventually demolished to be replaced by the present row of lock- up garages and a professional's shop was erected in its present position.
During the first few years after the fire inflation began to rise and all costs increased.
Fees were raised by small amounts in most years but there was nothing very dramatic until 1967. When the long-serving steward and stewardess (Mr and Mrs Schofield) retired it was felt necessary, in order to attract suitable staff, to improve the accommodation. At the same time a ladies' trolley shed was added and the men's locker room etc. extended. As a result the Club was faced with a bank overdraft of at least £10.000. After a lot of discussion it was agreed at the A.G.M. in January 1968 to increase fees substantially to £21 for full members plus a £12 levy. It may be said that part of the reason for the increase was that bar profits had fallen considerably due io the introduction of the breathalyser!
Since that time, little more than twenty years of inflation, wage settlements, legislation etc. have forced a tenfold increase in fees and in spite of that it proved necessary to impose levies to cover major capital costs such as a sprinkler system for the course and a vandal-proof fence along Gravel Pit Lane.
The most recent major problems on the course arose from the building of The Rochester Way Relief Road, finally opened in the spring of 1988. The north eastern tip of the course was lost together with a pond and a belt of trees which had been attractive features of that area. A new 5th green and new 6th tee had to be constructed and bad workmanship created many problems. Not only that, the curtain wall erected on the south side of the new road cut several natural drainage channels (at one time they fed a small brook which ran across the edge of Eltham Cemetery, down the side of what became Fairoak Drive to a large pond near the bottom of Crown Woods Way) Much work had to be done to create new effective drainage. To make matters worse, at one stage the road contractors poured a large amount of waste bentonite on that end of the course leading to the poisoning of quite large areas of fairway which had to be closed to play for several months. Satisfactory restoration of the course after these setbacks was not completed until 1989. By then there was a serious likelihood of further minor or even major disruption arising from the creation of the proposed East London River Crossing. One can only hope that disturbance to the course will not prove too serious.
It may be of some comfort to present and future members to recall that the Club has survived many threats in the past. Loss of the area west of Glenesk Road was offset by the leasing of the present playing area. In 1905 it was proposed to create Eltham cemetery on the far end of the course, but in the event its present site north of Coalpits Wood was selected. Later in 1932, a green near the junction of Bexley Road and Glenesk Road had to be moved because of road widening and re-alignment; there was room to do that without spoiling the course. Since the end of World War 2 there have, from time to time, been other road building proposals, which would have been disastrous if pursued but fortunately they were not - although the possibility of future encroachment to meet road traffic demands cannot be totally ignored.
In recent years the Club, in common with most other sports and social clubs has had to face considerable expense in efforts to combat theft and vandalism. Alarm systems have had to be installed in the Club House and the Professional's shop, together with steel doors and a grill in the bar area, double locks etc. Such are the times we live in now.
This brief history covers the first hundred years in the life of Eltham Warren Golf Club and we shall soon be taking the first steps forward into the next hundred.
What does the future hold? Inevitably there will be changes, but may the spirit of friendship which has always been a feature of the Club never be lost - and may Eltham Warren Golf Club live on for another 100 years.