Glasgow West End: Willow Bank Bowling Club
When I was invited along to the Willow Bank Bowling Club in Dowanside Road I was not quite prepared for the impression it would make upon me. The Club is of exceptional historical interest with lots of interesting things to see, and hear about, and it is situated in a lovely spot. The beautifully kept greens and the quaint little building, with its wonderful stained glass “Drake” window (the work of Norman MacDougall - the first teacher of stained glass art at Glasgow Art School). sit tranquilly in the heart of Dowanhill making a wonderful contribution to the ambience and interest of the area. It is hard to believe that you are only a stone's throw away from the buzz of Byres Road. The greens are overlooked by the stately town houses of Victoria Crescent Road whose residents must appreciate their view of Willow Bank. Not surprisingly Club officials are very alert to any development plans for their ‘prime’ site.
The Club’s History
Willow Bank Bowling Club was established in 1835 and is reputedly Glasgow’s first Bowling Club
. Robert Johnston McKellar, who was President of Willow Bank in 1972 and again in 1985 has compiled a painstaking history of the club, which fully backs up this claim. He explains that although the name Willow Bank was associated with bowling long before 1835 it was in this year that the Clubs Constitution and Rules were established.
The club derives it name from the Willowbank Estate part of ‘the lands of Blythswood’ in the Charing Cross area and R.J. McKellar points to the existence of the first Willowbank Bowling Green from 1816. He explains that in 1832 it moved to Elmbank Street, when a new bowling green was laid and remained here until 1859 Willowbank Crescent Green opened in Woodlands. Amongst the many items of historical interest held by the Club are the Treasurer’s Records showing the cost of purchasing the ground at Willowbank - costing £ 2,002 and eighteen shillings. This site is now Willowbank School (Hillhead School Annexe) and the Club was situated there until 1896 when it moved to its present location in Dowanside Road in Dowanhill.
Our visit to Willow Bank
Duncan Smith and Jim Kennedy, both ex presidents made myself, my husband Jim and my brother Liam very welcome when we went along to Willow Bank. They had lots of stories to tell and we enjoyed hearing all about the Club and having a good look round. The Roll of Honours of Club Presidents and Prize Winners makes very interesting reading and I am sure local people would recognise some of the names. Certainly their new president, Alec Monteath, television celebrity is “a well kent face”.
On the walls you can see some great photographs depicting the historical journey of the Club and reminders of happy occassions and various triumphs - in its time the Club has produced two World Champions. The “Drake” window is really beautiful and you can also have a look at some of the original silver mounted bowls which were given to the Club Champions in years gone by. However, what they don’t have is the Club’s Gold Medal, which disappeared to America in 1861 when the champion at that time failed to return his medal prior to emigrating. Do any of you recognise this amongst your family heirlooms?
New Members are Welcome
Whilst the Club attracts members both from the local community and further afield they are very keen to build up their membership. They are particularly proud of their progressive attitude towards women bowlers
at Willow Bank, where the Ladies Section was introduced in 1972 (the idea of Ladies Membership was first raised in 1912). Although it took a long time to establish the Ladies Section - the women at Willow Bank are very much valued and unlike some Bowling Clubs equal opportunities applies. Or as Jim Kennedy calls it “equal opporchancities” -apparently at Willow Bank ‘the Ladies’ are particularly gifted at organising social events.
The Club would love to welcome new members
- male, female and any age group. Also if you are a local person wondering what lies behind those trim hedges I am sure you would enjoy finding out a bit more about Willow Bank. It would be a good place to include in the Open Doors Day in Glasgow which allows the public to have a look inside interesting buildings.
Given the historical and architectural interest attached to Willow Bank it would be good to see “A Friends of Willow Bank Society” in place - this would also help shield it from being lost to would be property developers.
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