Most members today will have little idea of the clubs heritage; its beginnings, the organisers, the characters, the generosity, the dedication, all of which created the club we take for granted today. So here is the story of the club as recorded for the 50th anniversary.
"The Ebbisham Sports Club has its origins in the Ebbisham Badminton Club, which was founded in 1919 and, until 1937, played at the Territorial Army Drill Hall off East Street, long since pulled down.
In the autumn of 1936 information reached us that the regiment, a battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, was to be mechanised and the Drill Hall re-built as what the Permanent Sergeant Instructor called "a glorified garage"; there would be no height or room for badminton. Attempts by members of the Club Committee to find alternative accommodation were wholly unsuccessful and it became clear that if the Club were to continue, it must build its own hall.
It was felt that a hall for badminton alone would not be viable and that other sports must be included in the complex. In particular, there was an essential need for a summer tennis club, since in those days both badminton and squash were considered to be winter games and no organised summer play existed. Only tennis could keep the Club going during the summer months. The concept therefore came into being of having 3 badminton courts, 2 squash courts and some hard tennis courts plus, of course, changing rooms, a bar and lounge, and perhaps a shop, office and a committee room.
The search then began for a suitable site. Ultimately, our site was found, a defunct lawn tennis club owned by St. Barnabas Church. There was, however, one snag - there was no vehicular access to the ground, only a pedestrian one from the Pound Lane footpath by the Court Recreation Ground to the bottom left hand corner of the present car park. The front garden of Mr. Sydney Smith's house tapered to a point adjoining the footpath from Eastway to West Hill. Fortunately, Mr. Smith was sympathetic to the idea of a club and conveyed to us the piece of land needed for a 22ft. wide vehicle access.
Matters could now proceed and in the summer and autumn of 1937 work went ahead in building the Club premises on the lines agreed by the Committee, including 4 hard tennis courts. Badminton and squash play effectively started in about the middle of November 1937, but the tennis courts were not completed until later. The Club was formally opened by the Lord Ebbisham, G.B.E., (formerly Sir Rowland Blades, M.P. for the Epsom constituency) the Club's President, on 1st February 1938.
The cost of the project, down to the last cup and saucer, was £7,048 - remarkable by to-day's standards, but this was possible because our Chairman, Mr. Walter Bridgwater ("Wally") of Bridgwater Bros., the public works contractors, had all the building work (except the specialist work such as the badminton hall structure, the squash court wall plastering, etc.), and the car park laid at cost. The late William Wiltshire gave his services free as architect and the legal work was also done free except for disbursements.
The money required was raised by forming a private limited company, necessary in case the project failed, with a resultant personal liability on the individual club members and, of course, a convenient means of raising funds.
The company issued £1,000 in £1 shares and also £10 and £25 debentures carrying interest at 5 ½ %. The Equity & Law Life Assurance Co. lent to the Club £3,250 on mortgage and on the personal guarantees of the directors. The limited company continued to exist until 1966, when the ownership of the Club was conveyed to 3 trustees acting for the members. This transaction enabled the Club to receive grants of £8,000 from the Dept. of Education & Science and £2,000 from the Surrey County Council, made under the terms of the Physical Recreation Act, 1937.
The reason for the Club's then desperate need of funds was that parts of the Club had fallen into serious disrepair. The badminton floor had become quite dangerous and needed re-laying and the roof of the badminton hall was leaking in a number of places, some of the roof sheets having deteriorated badly. Other important items also required renewal. Members' subscriptions had not been enough to build up a reserve fund and the Club had worked on a hand-to-mouth basis which inevitably led to a crisis. The work was carried out in 1967.
It would now seem desirable to return to other aspects of the Club's history. 1938 and 1939 saw a booming in all the 3 activities, badminton, squash and tennis and there seemed to be a rosy future ahead. But the shadows of war became increasingly threatening during the summer of 1939. During that summer, some 75 to 80 Club members attended a course of lectures in the badminton hall on air raid precautions, first aid, etc. The directors of the Company appreciated that the Club could not hope to continue during a war and the writer went to see the Secretary of the Territorial Association to enquire whether the Club might be requisitioned in the event of war. He took with him the plans of the Club and was told that the Club was eminently suitable for military use. This relieved us of the possibility of having to face mortgage interest charges, upkeep and other expenses with the prospect of very little income.
At 3 p.m. on Sunday, 3rd September 1939, four hours after the declaration of war, an advance party of a Territorial Army A.A. regiment requisitioned the Club in the name of the King. In the event it was nearly 8 years before we regained possession.
This A.A. regiment was based on Epsom. One battery was quartered at the Club, one battery in the Racecourse Grandstand and the third in the Ebbisham Hall in Ashley Road, now part of the Ashley Centre. Neither of the other two places had bathing facilities and the men were marched down to the Club for showers. The Club Steward had been kept on and, according to him, shovelled more coke into the boiler during the period when the regiment was in Epsom than he had done since the Club opened!
The Army occupation was however short, the regiment, we gathered, being ordered to France in the late autumn of 1939. Thereafter we have no knowledge of them; it is to be hoped that they were successfully evacuated through Dunkirk or one of the other Channel ports.
For a time, the Club premises were hardly used, but then came the Government scheme for British Restaurants, open to the public and offering reasonably adequate though hardly luxurious meals. The Club was converted to this use with one squash court a kitchen and the other used for storage. The Ebbisham British Restaurant continued as such until the end of the War. It was then used for school meals, serving the Pound Lane schoolchildren at the Club and sending hot meals in containers to other schools. This continued until 1947, when the Club was de-requisitioned and returned to us in a condition which reduced us nearly to tears (for instance rosebay willowherb was growing on the tennis courts higher than the net posts). However, hard work brought the Club once again into use.
It would not be right to leave the wartime history of the Club without some reference to its members. Sadly, there were losses. John Palmer, the pre-War Squash Captain, a fine sportsman, was killed at Arnhem and another member, John Roll, remembered pre-War as a very likeable young chap in his late teens or early twenties, was killed in Normandy. There may have been others. But there were happier stories. Wally Bridgwater offered his services to the War Office at the beginning of the War and was commissioned a major in the Royal Engineers and given the task of raising a company of construction engineers, which he accomplished, a number of his recruits being his own men from Bridgwater Bros. They served with him in Egypt and Italy. His elder brother, Eric, kept the firm going in his absence. (The writer had occasion to salute him from time to time as a major in the Home Guard!)
Returning to chronological order. Post-War, there were two additions to the Club premises. First, a flat was built in about 1948 for the accommodation of the Steward. Then in about 1961, a third squash court was added.
Interest in the games available at the Club fluctuated surprisingly. In the early 1950's the squash almost folded up, whilst the tennis flourished. There was then a sudden boom in squash, leading to a demand for a third court. In the 1970's the tennis club membership waned alarmingly; tennis seemed to have become a spectator sport, concentrated on the Wimbledon Championships. The opportunity was taken to convert the end tennis court into an extension of the car park.
The badminton however seemed immune to these fluctuations, fortunately, and thrived both in winter and summer. In the hot summer of 1976 it was a little curious to see badminton players come out of doors after their games indoors, to cool off in the open air, whilst the tennis courts were hardly being used. Fortunately, the tennis position has been reversed and the splendid new tennis courts have become a real asset to the Club. We should not see again the sight when a cloudburst during 1977 washed tons of the top dressing off the tennis courts into the car park. The squash club have also provided themselves with an added dimension, in the spectator facilities for the third court.
The social facilities at the Club have also been vastly improved over the years. First, the lounge was extended to take in a little used viewing area behind a badminton court and viewing windows were provided in the lounge. About the same time, the watching area to the right of the badminton courts was glassed in. Then the small and inadequate bar and even less adequate kitchen were converted to the present layout in 1981.
As to the personal aspects of the Club, it has been interesting over the years to see many second generation members grow up to full membership. Maybe, there are even grandsons and grand-daughters of bygone members, carrying on a family tradition. Quite a number, too, of the honorary officers of the Clubs have given many years of service. Perhaps consideration might be given to the award of long service medals; or a suitable device to wear on ties or cardigans! The Club owes them a lot.
This history of the Club cannot be concluded without reference to the loyal staff who have served it for many years. Chief among these is, of course, our Club Manager, Tom Nash. He first came to us in 1957 with his then wife, but left us in 1963 to run a Barnardo's Home in Stepney. But evidently his heart was still with the Club and in 1967 an invitation to him to rejoin us met with an immediate response. Happily, he is still with us. Then there was David Boyle. It is true that he left us, following disagreements with the Management Committee, but it would be wrong not to remember the years of able service he had given to the Club. It was his misfortune to suffer a severe accident in the City, being knocked down on a pedestrian crossing. Whilst in hospital for this, he was diagnosed as having diabetes. It is my belief that he was never the same again. He is living in Newhaven, having recently married Mary Westley, some years after his first wife, Joyce, had died. We wish them well. Joan Atkinson has been with us for nearly 25 years and Nan Peddy for 12 years. Mike Peareth has been our Secretary since 1978.
The Club owes much to all of them. Mick and Sue Lloyd have been with us since 1980. Our thanks to them.
Two idle thoughts to conclude. I wonder how many thousands of people have played at our Club during its 50 years, and I wonder how many marriages have originated there:
And now all aboard for the next 50 years."