The mid 1850s to the early 1900s was a popular time for various clubs and societies within the Bitton Parish – some sadly not as active now as then.
West Gloucestershire Farmers Club in May 1872 held their annual sheep-shearing contest in a large tent on grounds owned by J B Stanley, the 104 sheep supplied by Mr John Godfrey of Barrs Court Farm.
Competition rules were very precise: Class 1: open to farmers sons residing in the district of the society, under 25 and shearing 4 sheep in the best workman-like fashion. After the competition Mr W Parsons of The White Hart Bitton supplied a splendid dinner and cheers were raised to The Duke Of Beaufort and Lord Fitzhardinge both patrons of the club. Others among a good attendance at the occasion were J Gerrish, J Mathews, T Waters and I Shellard.
A report on Bitton’s Hockey Team for January 7th 1892 advises a 3-1 defeat away at Weston and adds perhaps more interestingly that the small crowd had the “…ever welcome section of the fair sex”. Playing on The Bristol Downs December 1894 the Hockey Team had to persuade five walkers to join the depleted team but still lost 7-0 nil to Redland and February that same year playing at Bitton the team lost 3-1 to West Gloucestershire.
Hockey on ice was also played on the regularly flooded and frozen fields around Bitton the skaters reportedly paying one penny each. Evidence of the then very harsh winters is an advert in the January 1892 Bath Chronicle: ‘Skating at Bitton. Large sheet of ice at Bitton Meadows. In good condition. Accommodation for 3000. NO DANGER’.
The annual Bitton Cricket Club supper in 1875 was perhaps surprisingly the beginning of the Rifle club when it was resolved by the diners to form such a club but only if it was commanded by local gentlemen. The club was formed and flourished well into the next century. Reverend Canon Parker , the club’s president and Mr Veal arranged the site at Pipley for the August 1900 opening meeting of the Bitton Rifle Club. Mr(Major) Ollis, club captain, Dr F W Stone, vice captain and club secretary ,and their wives joined Sergeant J Hazel, Mrs Bradfield and Mr J R Torrance(treasurer) to see Canon Parker take the first shot at the 100 yard target scoring an inner.
After both the ladies and gentlemen had completed their 100 yard shots, tea was served, supplied by Mrs Stone and Mr J Torrance. Tea was followed by the 200 yard competition and the day was completed by demonstrations and Mr Ollis explained the attributes of the rifle. Club members were reminded that practice was on Saturdays and Wednesdays.
This turn of the century period was a busy time for Bitton and Oldland Cycle Club. The Bristol Mercury for Oct 6th 1888 tells us 50 members and friends enjoyed tea in the Bitton parish rooms after the 5 mile race from Brislington to Bitton. First place went to E Jefferies followed by J Hall and E H Jennings.
The Lantern Ride was a very popular event in the cycle clubs year. The 1892 event starting from The British School, Oldland and stopping at the Grange the home of Mr W Sommerville whose wife judged the cycles, each decorated in flowers and lanterns. A small concert followed including songs from Miss Sommerville, Miss Shellard, Mrs Jefferies ,Syline Jefferies and Miss Whitford; on piano Mr F Lear.
July 7th 1896 riders cycled from Bitton to Castle Combe and joined other members and friends for the annual club picnic and they all sat to a reported ‘VERY FINE TEA’. Non cyclists had arrived by wagonette and traps.
W H Stone took the Patrons cup in 1901 presented at the annual dinner held at the Crown and Horse Shoe, Oldland December 16th. Club Captain W H Stone and T Churchill among others received awards from Chairman Mr J E Morgan. The previous year at the same location 40 members attended the dinner, where medals were awarded to Luther May, H Gerrish and E Jefferies among others. The 25 mile race that year disappointingly had only 8 competitors.
The cycle club remained popular leading up to WW1 and in September 1907 the 100 mile race from Warmley to The Halfway House, 5 miles past Hungerford and back , took place. The riders started at 9.30 and left at 2 minute intervals. A large crowd was at Warmley Station to see the finish, the winner being W H Stone completing the 100 miles in 6hrs. 20min. 20sec. A musical concert supplied by Mr Gerrish, Mr Fussell, J Ashley and others rounded off the event.
Athletic meetings also lent their interest to cycling events and the recreation ground and other sites in the parish were host to such events. The August 1887 3rd annual athletic meeting included a 1 and 2 mile cycle race.T he races were described as locomotion very difficult especially for the dwarf machines and in the 1 mile race of the six riders, two rode “Safeties”” and the winners “had the race at their mercy”. Some of the cyclist included a Mr Milsom. Mr Willcox and Mr Harrison.
On the cricket ground on the same day the athletics included events 120 yrds, 120 yrds handicap,120 yrd and 220 yrd hurdle handicap and the 440 yrd all raced on a very rough course. The event was organised by the Band of Hope, the judge was Mr Joiner, the clerks of course misters Davis, Vowles and Bush. Mr Torrance and some of the athletes H Vowles, E Jefferies and W Hawkins. There was entertainment for spectators from the high trapeze act Brothers Leistere.
Similar athletic meetings were popular with the community. A site was lent for an event called A Temperance Party by Mr T Ollis ,which took place in August 1887 and organised by The Band of Hope. At 12 o’clock a procession led by The Warmley Tower Military Band started the proceedings. A list of some of the events and prizes makes interesting reading: 100 yrds female only-silver locket, female only 80 yrds-ladies work box, for married women only flat race -12yrds of print material. The winners of these races were in order M Davey,F Vowles and Mrs Hicks. It is interesting to note for the last of these races 2nd place went to Mrs Cole and the prize was 1lb of “best tea”.
More recognized races on the same day included the obstacle race, 200 yrd hurdles and 100 yrd flat. Runners included H Brewer, R Short and W Jefferies, with such prizes as a sliver plated inkstand, gold scarf pin and carving knife and fork. After speeches by Mr Sommerville and his wife there were amusements for the children and dancing on the green.
On a beautiful day in 1879, on land lent by Mr Vowles, Bitton Cricket club held its sportsday. Committe members including W Cryer, W Shipp and various members of the Bush family joined event judge Mr S B Miles and time keeper Mr Melhuish to enjoy the races and a Reed and Brass Band.
The day also included cycling races .A description states that in the 3 mile race Mr Reed was thrown from his bike after hitting the boundary rope while leading the race. Second placed Mr Brock crashed into the fallen race leader but recovered quicker and went on to win the race. Mr Reed came second. Athletic and cycling prizes were presented by Mrs Cryer.
After the WW1 hostilities in July 1921 the opening of The Red Triangle (Y.M.C.A.) ground and building was welcomed and well supported. On the land presented by Mr C King Smith other than the playing fields a building including a meeting area for up to 500, a pavilion, kitchen and reading room was now available. Apart from the playing fields two snooker tables were also for the use of the villagers. In his speech Mr King Smith applauded the residents donations of £583, although the eventual cost would now be 2 or 3 times as much.
by Peter Davies from information taken from local newspaper archives