From the good old days to the present

How did a badminton club get started in the 1950’s? What were playing conditions like?  Did it cost much? What were match suppers? Do you know any of the people who made things happen?  If you want the answers, read the following history of Whitley Chapel Badminton Club.

Whitley Chapel Badminton Club

Still Going Strong at 60!

 Sixty years ago, the 30th September 1957 saw the inaugural meeting of Whitley Chapel Badminton Club.  For the next 37 years badminton was played in Whitley Chapel Parish Hall every Monday night from September to Easter.

Founding members included, among others, the local publican from the then Click’em Inn, and the school’s Headteacher.  Local farmers Brian and Roy Walker from Newbiggin Hill Farm were at the first night but their younger brother Alan didn’t join them until 1960.  Sonia Pickworth from Dotland Park started to play in 1962.  Mel Stobbs from High Dalton Farm and Hector Rutherford from Low Eshells both started playing in 1964.

Doris Henderson from Stotsfold Farm later Mrs Gray from Viewley was another founder member.  For 40 plus years she was the very efficient club’s treasurer.  Her Treasurers Book started in 1957 and continued until 1999 (when computerisation took over) gives an interesting insight as to how the fledgling club from ‘out in the sticks’ developed to where it is today – playing against the big boys from the cities e.g. Elmfield, Newcastle and Hendon, Sunderland, etc.

From the beginning the club was an almost instant success with 26 local Shire folks joining in the first month. The annual subscription in the first year was 15/- (75p).   Set up costs were £9 19s 6d (£9.99) for a dozen shuttles, 4 rackets and a net purchased from Messrs R&R Phipps.  Other essentials included a Kettle plus a 13a plug £3 16 6d (£3.83) from J Swanson and most important, ½ box biscuits from Wm Robb & Son Biscuits 12/- (60p).

In a bid to keep folks active between games of badminton, card games were played on the stage, and a table tennis table was soon purchased for use in the supper room.   Years later, Whitley Chapel had its own standalone table tennis club under the successful leadership of Stefan Sobell, from Turf House.

From the badminton club’s inception to his death in 1997 John Pickworth, from Channel Well, was officially the Club Secretary responsible for organising and confirming all fixtures, but in reality he did much, much more.  Even when he became older John was still one of the club’s best tactical players. He was a rather eccentric character both on and off the court but his dedication and tireless support of the club, and indeed of many other Shire organisations, is still remembered with respectful appreciation. His son Paul, from Whalley Thorn, followed in his shoes, to become a feared first team player in both the Men’s and Mixed Northumberland Leagues. John’s wife Pat was a member for a short time and his daughter Gillian was a team member.

The shape of the main hall at Whitley has changed considerably during the club’s lifetime.  Originally a small entrance porch protruded into the hall and therefore encroached onto the badminton court, making for a court with a ‘missing’ corner.  This unique feature proved to be a definite home advantage when it came to playing matches, however it also was the cause of many an enthusiast’s smashed racket.

In the mid 60’s the hall floor became worn and dangerous and was eventually replaced which was a big improvement for badminton players, however the infamous ‘missing’ corner was still there. It took until the most recent hall improvements for there to be a full sized court.

For years dances were held in the parish hall more or less every Friday night during the winter months.  Each Shire organisation took its turn to hold their money-making Whist Drive and Dance.  The evening started with whist being played at small tables for 4 in the main hall. Halfway through the Whist Drive there would be the traditional, delicious, Shire supper. At the Whist Drives conclusion, after the presentation of prizes, the Dance would start.  The dances included such favourites as ’The Gay Gordons’, ‘Quick Step’, ‘Pride of Erin’, ‘Dashing White Sergeant’, ‘Drops of Brandy’, etc.  Over the years various different bands provided the music e.g., ‘Redewater Rhythm Boys’,  ‘The Gay Gordons Band’,  ‘North Tyne Melody Makers’.  ‘The Avon Dance Band’ who played in December 1959 charged £8.  The badminton club held Whist Drive and Dances 2, sometimes 3 times during the winter months until 1975 when Disco’s took over and Whist Drive popularity waned. ‘The Orange Disco’ played when the club held its final disco at Whitley in November 1978.

It is worth noting that in their heyday Shire dances were very popular, with folks flocking from near and far. Unfortunately for the badminton club, the dancers liked to glide across the floor, and so ballroom chalk was scattered on the floor prior to the start of dancing to make it slippery.   Good for dancing on a Friday night, not so good for badminton on a Monday night.  So Sunday’s often saw club members washing the floor with washing soda to remove the chalk, making it less slippery and therefore safer for badminton the next night.

Some of the more unusual items recorded in the early club accounts include in 18/2d (88p) spent on the tobacco for the helpers at the dance. Also, a tin of white paint (presumably to mark the court) purchased from Woolworths for 15/- (75p). An entry in May 1967 reads ‘Consolation prizes for the whist drives – 2 x packets of cigs. @ 5/3d (26p) each.  In February 1959 the club sent a telegram to Ann and Brian Walker on the occasion of their marriage.  Years later, in March 1976, their son Trevor paid his first subscription.

The first badminton club matches Whitley Chapel played were against teams that, like Whitley Chapel, played in one court halls e.g., Newton, Edmondbyers and Stocksfield. As the standard of the players improved, aided by coaching from Bobby Wood, matches were played against better opposition and further afield.  During the season 1965-66 away matches included Jesmond Coxlodge, Morpeth Newminster, North Shields Triangle, all in the Northumberland and Durham League. Supper was always provided by the ‘home’ team and was taken half way through the match.  Whitley suppers were always renowned.  Season after season homemade delicacies were served up e.g. scones, quiches, sausage rolls, cream cakes, apple tarts, lemon meringue pies, etc.  One theory being it was all a tactical ploy to slow down the opposition!

Club nights, Tynedale League matches, and friendlies continued at Whitley but the hall, with the ‘missing’ corner, was not up to Northumberland League standard.  Alternative venues had to be found for home matches.  These included Stocksfield Institute Association, and Corbridge Parish Hall.  For one season only, matches were also played at the Trinity Church Hall, Beaumont Street, Hexham but only for the one season, as it transpired that the court was the wrong size, just a bit short!

For a small club from the sticks, Whitley has had a good deal of success, and win or lose, they always enjoyed the social side nearly as much as the badminton. The men’s team in particular enjoyed analysing were the match was won or lost, usually over a curry. These would often be late night affairs, especially if a match was in a single court hall, where it wouldn’t finish until nearer midnight. There are many tales from the men’s team of the 1970’s. One was when they travelled to play Ashington Miners Welfare only to discover the opposition included 3 England International players!  Unfazed, the Shire lads decided that England players they may be, but tonight, in this match, they were just names on the team sheet.  Needless to say Ashington won the match.  Easily!

Season 1984-85 saw Jillian Rutherford from Low Eshells start coaching juniors at Whitley Chapel.  These proved very popular and a number of Shire children eventually became members of the Tynedale District Squad, with some progressing on to the Northumberland Junior Squad. In February ‘86 a tournament was held at Haydon Bridge High School in which senior players partnered juniors.  Rachael Rutherford from Low Eshells (daughter of Jillian and Hector) played with David Woodman from Shaw House Farm.  They each won an Easter egg!  Junior coaching continued at Whitley Chapel for a while but they soon followed the seniors to Wentworth Leisure Centre, Hexham when it opened in the 1986.  Years later Niels Kristensen from Gair Shield took over coaching juniors at Wentworth.

The opening of Wentworth transformed badminton in Tynedale.  What a change – a high roof, a good floor, showers and a Bar!  From the negative point of view though, some of the social side to matches was unfortunately lost, no more suppers, no more friendly banter between games. When the club started playing at Wentworth in the 1986, an annual club subscription was £10, a match fee was £1 and Wentworth charged £2.20 an hour per court.

Throughout the club’s 60 year history there have been many people who have played badminton as a senior or junior member. The vast majority being from the Shire.  Rachael Rutherford from Low Eshells started as a junior and paid her first sub February 1985. Thirty Two years later, and Rachael, now Mrs Nixon from New House, is still a member and playing matches for the club. As are all the following.  1985 saw Niels Kristensen join the club.  Julie Weeks has been a regular team member since 1987, likewise Alison Aldred who joined during the 1991-92 season and Helen Manns who joined the following season.  Christine Venus joined in the 1994-95 season, followed by Jacki Burn, now Mrs Thirlwell, the following season, John Maude joined during the season 1998-99. Benn Horncastle joined the club first as a junior during the 1998-99 season. He soon progressed to the seniors and is a regular team player.

Over the past 60 years since those 26 members joined in September 1957 many well-known Shire surnames have appeared in the Treasurer’s Book. Quite often there were more than 1 player from a family.  Some surnames that have been registered over the years include: – Henderson, Hornsby, Swanson, Hutchinson, Dinning, Nichol, Hetherington, Robson, Craig, Reed, Chalmers, Robson, Lowery, Pickering, Gardner, Patrick, Lee, Simpson, Swallow, Short and Hudspith.

Whitley Chapel Badminton Club continues to play at Wentworth every Thursday night September to Easter.  Coaching is provided for an enthusiastic junior section which meets on a Thursday evening before the main club night, and a “satellite” club meets on a Monday at Queen Elizabeth High School, introducing people to the game of badminton. Our enthusiastic secretary Alison Aldred has successfully attracted grants to develop badminton in the area, and we have achieved Premier Club status through Badminton England. The annual subscription is now £160!

It is worth noting that Trevor Golightly was instrumental in reviving badminton at Whitley Chapel not so long ago.  He and other players had great fun and what they possibly lacked in skill they more than made up for with playful banter and lots of laughs.  After 2 or 3 winters numbers fell off, people had other commitments and the group was no longer viable.

Perhaps now is the time for a second revival of badminton at Whitley Chapel??

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Produced for the 60th anniversary of Whitley Chapel Badminton Club, celebrated by a ceilidh at Whitley Chapel Parish Hall on Saturday 30th September 2017, 60 years to the day from the club’s first meeting.

With many thanks to Hector Rutherford and Rachael Nixon (in particular) for putting this history of the club together. For more information please contact Rachael on 07950 920 420.

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