ONE day, six or seven years ago now, a student living in Hands Road, Crookesmoor, decided to find the answer to something which had puzzled him for months.
Why, the youngster wondered, did chaps of a certain age keep disappearing through a door in a wall at the top of the street.
Determined to solve the riddle, he got a friend and knocked at the entrance.
What he found, when invited in, was something which many people, including neighbours, never realise is there. Tucked away in a slight dip, behind high walls and higher greenery, stands the oldest crown green bowls club in Sheffield.
“We asked him in, showed him round the club house and took him for a game on the green,” recalls Paul Harvey. “After that he became a member. He’d come and play the older guys, or to get a drink before going to town. We nicknamed him Flip Flop because he’d turn up wearing flip-flops.”
The morale of the tale? It might be out of sight but, if you like your jacks and woods, you’ll always have friends at Hallamshire Proprietary Bowls Club.
It is a rule of thumb which has helped the club thrive for exactly 150 years this month. On Saturday the club will toast its landmark anniversary with a night of celebrations at that hidden club house.
“It’s a long time,” says Paul, current president and a member since 1985. “But it shouldn’t surprise anyone. Bowls is incredibly popular here. It’s a lovely game. Good exercise, great socialising. It’s lovely to be part of. I would imagine we must be one of the oldest sport clubs in Sheffield.”
Certainly it’s the oldest bowls club.
Nether Edge has a sign outside their club house proclaiming the title but that was only formed in 1869. Hallamshire opened a full six years earlier in 1863.
Gentlemen who gathered weekly in the nearby Hallamshire House pub (then The Hallamshire Hotel) decided to form the club after deciding they wanted a summertime activity.
To start with they simply hired the patch of land at the top of the hill and played informally.
But after 10 years of doing that - and, legend has it, after falling out with the landlord of the Hallamshire - they decided to officially establish themselves and build a clubhouse.
“This is the same building we use today,” says Michael Carlton, trustee and member since 1983. “Unfortunately the beer prices aren’t the same. Back then it was 1.5d per pint.”
There were 139 members to start with. Each paid a £5 stake - a tradition that continues to this day. Each member must pay an initial £5 as well as a yearly subscription.
There are currently about 120 members.
They range in age from 21 - a local lad whose grandfather and father are both members - to 88, a chap called Albert Binney who first joined the club in 1956.
Only men are allowed to join but women are welcome to go along and play.
“Why is it so popular?” ponders Paul again. “It’s addictive. You always want to get better. It can be frustrating but then when you play well, there’s no better feeling.
“It’s also great exercise. We play between April and September, and when you start playing again after the winter off you’re really aching the first few weeks. A nice ache.”
The club has teams playing in four leagues - on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. Until this season, they had won the Sheffield Parks Veterans League six times on the trot.
“We were the Man United of that league,” says Paul.
Among the club’s prouder moments is hosting county games and every time they beat local rivals Crookes.
“Don’t go thinking that it’s always a genteel game,” says Brian Vickers. “It can get competitive. I’ve never seen a match come to fists but there was one time against Stannington it got pretty close. I think there was a suggestion of impropriety. A few tempers had to be calmed down.”
Tempers also rose when the club roof collapsed - because the steward’s husband, living above the bar, had left his bath running and fallen asleep.
“I said I can’t leave you alone for two minutes,” says said steward Andrea Grey. “In the end, though, it was almost a blessing in disguise. The place needed a refurb.”
Indeed, the refurb means the club house is, in its 150th year, looking in fine shape.
“What for the future?” ponders Paul. “I think to just keep ticking along. The club’s in great shape. We have lots of members. We’re financially stable.
“I see no reason why we won’t still be here in another 150 years.”