Blackburn Subscription Bowling Green Club
Although the exact origin of the Blackburn Subscription Bowling Green Club may be 'lost in antiquity', much of its history can be traced for nearly 100 years; and this, the Coronation year of 1937, is considered fitting to place on record a concise history of what is by far the oldest institution of its kind, not only in Blackburn but in East Lancashire. While there is no evidence extant of the year of its formation, Abram, in his history of Blackburn compiled in 1877 discloses that the club existed ‘so long ago as 1734 and most of the Blackburn gentry from that date onward have been members’. If that is true, and there is no reason to doubt the historian, the club has already passed its bicentenary. What is irrefutable thanks to some well-preserved minute books in the club’s possession is that it was well established in 1753.
Picture Blackburn at that period. A small town, with a compact portion covering not more than ten acres, and a population of five to six thousand people, included landed gentry, and men of industry, who were, among other things, laying the foundation of Blackburn’s future as a famous cotton centre.
There was no railway or canal, much of what is now the town’s centre was truly rural, and the notable institutions were limited to the age-old parish church, now the Cathedral, and the old Grammar School. Near where the station now stands, was ‘Cicely Hole’ farm, and here the club green, surrounded by a thorn hedge, was situated. Its exact location, probably, was on the site of the present wholesale fish market, for there is a reference to a bowling green being there in the early nineteenth century. That it was a popular rendezvous of most of the gentry of that time is evident from the prominent families represented in its membership of not more than a score. Among them were such well-known names as Joseph Feilden, John Feilden, John Sudell, Henry Sudell (Woodfold Park), and John Hemkinson Cardwell. Others which followed belonged to the families of Hindle, Birley, Hornby, Walmsley, Thwaites, Chippindale, Freckleton, Heaton, Alston, Livesey, Osbaldeston, Hopwood, Dodgson, Hutchinson, Stanley, Thompson, Rodgett, Pilkington, Ainsworth and Turner. Some of these men helped to make Blackburn history, and, the while, disported themselves amid pleasant surroundings at the ancient game of bowls.
The privilege was enjoyed without disturbance for over a century but the advance of industry and the growth of the town brought its inexorable demands and the club had to leave its original home in 1846, to make way for the new railway station on the site of which the green stood.
For that reason the East Lancashire Railway Company paid £150 in compensation and a new site for the green was found on a plot of land near what was the old Free Grammar School, adjacent St. Peter’s Church. The entrance to the green was in a street now known as St. Peter Street.