Leeds Bowling Stories – The Original Oak Bowling Club

The Shire Oak Tree, Headingley Lane
In October 2014, it was my privilege to meet Mr Brian Campleman to hear about his long association with crown green bowling in Leeds. Mr Campleman has had a long and varied career in the game, rising to be President of the Original Oak Bowling Club and then, from 1973 until 2001, General Secretary and Treasurer of the Leeds and District Amateur Crown Green Bowling Association.
He recently donated bowling memorabilia to Leeds Museums and Galleries, including trophies from both the Oak Bowling Club and the Leeds ABA, which we were delighted to receive. They are currently on display at Abbey House Museum on the ground floor.

The Original Oak, Headingley

As well as being keen to hear more about the history of the objects and about the man who donated them, I had some personal interest in hearing Mr Campleman’s recollections. My parents first met in the Original Oak in the late 1970s, and they both clearly remember the bowling green there, of which there is now no trace. I’m sure not every pub-goer realises the long history of the Bowling Club which was once where the Oak beer garden is now, a club which started as long ago as 1868 and only disappeared in the 1990s.
Mr Campleman recalled the irony of being born in Headingley and attending St Michael’s School, which was only a stone’s throw away from the Club he would later join. He vaguely remembers the Shire Oak tree that gave its name to the public house. This tree collapsed in 1941, while Brian was a small boy. He got into bowling by utter chance- another, older member of the Oak Bowling Club put his name forward, while he was serving in the RAF.
The Preston Challenge Shield (1900)

Trophy winners
After telling me about these chance beginnings in the sport, Brian moved on to talking about the trophies he had donated which relate to Leeds and District Amateur Bowling Association. The Leeds ABA was founded in 1897. The premier cup played for was the Preston Challenge Shield (1900), donated by one of the founders of the Association, a Mr. Preston. It was the prize for the 1st division. Coincidentally, the first club to win it was the Oak bowling club, though Mr Campleman pointed out that they had never done so since! 
The Elliott-Forrest Shield, presented by a Mr F. Elliott and Mr E.V. Forrest for annual competition, was the runner up to the Preston Shield. Two further trophies formed the prizes for the second division, the Movley Trophy presented by a Mr Oscar E. Movley in 1906, and the runner-up cup, the ornate Gipton Silver Bowl Trophy, Presented by E.P. Robson Esq. in 1959. In addition to these items, a Centenary Plaque was presented by Tetley’s Brewery to Leeds ABA in 1997 when there was a celebratory bowling match at Bramley Liberal Club.
The bulk of Brian’s recollections relate to the Oak Bowling Club. The top cup played for here was the Plymouth Cup. This was first presented in 1888 by the Armada Tercentenary Commemoration Committee. That year, the Leeds Bowling Club played a match against Torrington Bowling Club of Devon on Plymouth Hoe to commemorate a famous game of July 19th 1588, which had taken place on Plymouth Hoe with the armada in sight! The Don Wise trophy was a runner up trophy to this. 
Two further cups were played for on an annual basis; the Guinness Shield – for the pairs competition – and the Stephenson Cup, presented by the landlord of the Original Oak, Ted Stephenson, some time between 1967 and the late 1980s).Mr Campleman recalled that it was initially played for as a handicap, in one day – but as the older members of the club found they were flagging by 9pm on the Saturday, the final was moved to Sunday and a buffet put on by Ted, who also generally gave cash prizes.
The Oak Bowling Club celebrates its centenary (1968)
Memorable matches
Mr Campleman then recalled two memorable matches. The first was on 1st June 1968 (pictured above) when, on a red hot day, the Oak played against representatives from Tetley’s brewery , dressed as huntsmen in their finery. 
A line was drawn at allowing the accompanying horses on to the green; the head hunstman was permitted to bring his on, so long as it didn’t gallop about! Tetley’s Brewery presented the Club with a hunting horn on a plaque, and a photograph of the occasion shows a Miss Joan Parton of Headingley taking centre stage, in more contemporary garb.
The Armada Plate, presented to the
Oak Bowling Club in 1988
Yet perhaps most memorably was the year 1988, which saw the Oak invited once more to on Plymouth Hoe by Torrington Bowling Club, one hundred years on. The members asked to dress up for the occasion in Elizabethan garb – not something Mr Campleman does usually, he stressed to me, but having seen the photos, they did indeed look splendid as he said. 
After a Tetley’s dray horse and cart had grandly escorted the members as far as the city centre, they changed into normal attire for the journey down to Plymouth, where a hearty meal awaited them on the Saturday night. On Sunday 19th July the match on Plymouth Hoe took place, ‘packed on all four sides’ as Brian recalls. Afterwards, a civic reception and prize giving ceremony took place at the Town Hall.
The club were presented by a commemorative glass vase from Torrington Bowling Club and a commemorative plate from the Civic Trust bearing a picture of the Armada, both of which are now also in our collections. Mr Campleman fondly recalled that the sun shone for the entire duration of their time away – apart from on a visit to Torquay – and after several pleasant days the party got back to the Oak ‘just in time for tea’.
Members of the Oak Bowling Team in 1993

125 years of the Oak Bowling Club

By the early 1990s the membership of the Oak bowling club was sadly in decline however. In 1993, the 125th anniversary of Oak Bowling Club, the Leeds Weekly News were asked to run campaign for new members. It certainly put the Club in the limelight for a while, with a front page piece on the club, but sadly was not sufficient to arrest the waning interest at the time.
I greatly enjoyed my time chatting to Mr Campleman, and it is a real delight that Abbey House Museum have been able to display trophies and memorabilia with such fond personal associations. 

By Patrick Bourne, Assistant Community Curator

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