I ended last week’s article with Cumbria having reached the quarter-final of the Middleton Cup for the first time since 1965. 

Northumberland provided the opposition on a neutral green, whether Hebburn can be described as truly neutral is debatable. 

However, geography always seems to be a problem for national associations and Cumbria just had to get on with it. There were a number of changes to the Cumbria side after having lost to Northumberland by 29 shots in the Muras Cup just a week earlier.

Despite that defeat, hopes were high the result could be reversed and those hopes came to fruition. It was a tight match with Cumbria just having the edge for most of the game. But, in the closing stages, Northumberland came back strongly.

With four of the six games completed, Cumbria led by five shots. David Taylor settled for one down on his last end and left Fred Taylor to defend a four-shot lead.

Northumberland had the better of the early bowls but Anthony Little got in for a second which was never moved. And when Jackie Knox’s final delivery sailed harmlessly past, there was great jubilation among the Cumbria contingent, they were going to the Middleton semi-final after a long, long wait.

The closeness of the game can be seen from the scores: John Bell and Fred Taylor won by six each, Tom Armstrong won by a shot, Ray Moore and David Taylor lost by two each, and Tot Ashworth went down by six.

On Monday, August 8, 1983, the National Championships commenced at Worthing and, while the first week was relatively quiet, the second-half of the fortnight was certainly much better. 

It got off to a great start on the Sunday when Cumbria’s Ian Reeves, David Taylor, Tom Armstrong and John Bell struggled through the EBA Top Four semi-final. But, in the final against a Berkshire four skipped by Julian Haynes, they really showed their true form to win the competition in great style and take a first prize of £1,200. 

The prize fund was shared 50/50 between the players and the County Association which was good for both, especially as the whole cost of the event was sponsored by Fred Taylor.

In the singles, which commenced on Thursday, John Bell who had beaten John Tremble in the county final, was Cumbria’s main hope and he did not disappoint. The field was a fair one but Bell certainly was in the stronger half and had to overcome fellow international Gary Smith of Kent and the up-and-coming Gary Harrington of Oxford on his way to the semi-final where he was too good for Ken Morrison of Middlesex. 

In the final, he always looked like the winner especially as his opponent Kevin Bone of Northumberland did not produce his best. John took full advantage and again showed that, in a final, he was always difficult to beat.

The following day was probably the biggest day in Cumbria’s history to date, for Somerset who were appearing in the Middleton semi-final for the fourth successive time, stood in the way of a Cumbria Middleton Cup final place for the first time since 1927. 

There is no doubt that Somerset were favourites but Cumbria began well and at one point they actually led by 17 shots. However, experience in bowls is a great asset and the Somerset side showed it, coming back from the brink of defeat to edge ahead in the closing stages and beat Cumbria by a mere three shots. It was disappointing but there would be other days for Cumbria later.

The Northern Counties Championships were particularly strongly contested in 1983 with three National Championship winners attempting to add a Northern Counties win to their CV. 

Today it may seem rather strange to speak of the Northern Counties in such terms but, at that time, it was regarded as the North of England Championships and the winners badges were a coveted item. John Bell, the national singles winner, met the beaten national finalist Kevin Bone.

Durham’s George Turley and Mal Hughes, the national pairs champions, met Keith and Mick Parker of Yorkshire who they had beaten in the national final, and Gordon Niven’s Lancashire four all travelled to Gateshead with high hopes of a badge. 

Despite all being the best in England, none of them managed to get a badge. John Bell never really settled on the Gateshead green and with Bone showing more like his true form it was the Northumberland man who went through. His hopes of consolation were dashed in the final by Yorkshire’s Tony Horobin. 

In the fours, Gordon Niven lost on an extra end to Harry Kinnersley of Northumberland but he was then beaten by Yorkshire’s Tony Frosdick.

In the pairs, Turley and Hughes had confirmed their superiority over the Yorkshire duo and were strong favourites to beat Reeves and Taylor but they went down to the Cumbria pair and Hughes did not take it too well. George Turley, a great character and a true gentleman, took it well , though, and was not at all sparing in his congratulations.

Success in the nationals created more and more interest in the county competitions and in the mid eighties the numbers participating increased markedly. There were year on year increases and the peak was reached in 1986 when there were 125 fours entries (30 this year), 177 triples entries (55 this year), 273 pairs (74 this year) and 269 singles (60 this year). 

Fortunately, the old play by dates and mutually agreed venues had been dispensed with and games were played on set dates and greens. Had this change not been made, there is no way the games could have been played.

Competitions were on the up but Middleton Cup performances were going in the opposite direction.

One year on from the semi-final appearance Cumbria finished second in the group and in the following year 1985 Cumbria took the wooden spoon having played three and lost three, one of which was against Lancashire. 

Things were only marginally better in the next four years, finishing second, third, third and second in the group and the Middleton Cup seemed as far away as ever.

It seems strange that Cumbria was doing so poorly in the Middleton when its players were performing well in both the county championships and the national championships in the eighties.

John Bell won the national singles and Ron Gass and David Taylor also reached the national final. Of the 20 singles qualifiers, 19 of them were in the Middleton side. However Cumbria’s second 24 the Alsop Cup side did not have a single success during this time which does suggest that competition for Middleton places was not as competitive as it might have been. Better news is on the way though.

West End was another of the County founder members. The club was formed in 1890 following meetings which were held in the school room in St James Road. The first meeting which was held on October 7th 1189 was to consider the formation of a bowling club for the west end of the City of Carlisle.

No time was lost as can be seen by the fact just over eight months later the green was opened by the Mayor of Carlisle Mr R Forster after which a game was played against Carlisle Subscription which was won by the visitors. The green itself cost £116.10.00 and the cost of the bower was £70.2.4d.

In the North Cumberland Reformer of June 7 it was referred to as pleasantly situated in Goschen Road and is 40 yards square, not sure if that was correct. The bower drew the comment that it was a small handsome brick building with all the requisites of a well appointed bowling club. 

In 1895, when the Border City Tournament began West End supplied the first President J Hurst, and nine subsequent Presidents the latest being Brian Rennison in 1990. Prize tournaments were held at the end of each season. All entrants had to give a prize which ranged from a hare, a canary and cage,two silk handkerchiefs, a walking stick and even seven yards of good shirting. As well as the prizes, entrants also had to pay the 3d levy for cheese and biscuits!

The bower was extended out to the present pavement line in 1928. There was a further extension to the west in 1969 and another in 1985 again at the west end which provided a changing room with lockers.

In 1976, Ladies were at lasted granted membership having first applied 45 years earlier. In 1990, the club celebrated its centenary and three years later the Church Commissioners granted permission for Sunday play. And, in 1998, the latest extension was provided with the help of a lottery grant.

At one time, the club had a very big membership though in more recent times there has been quite a drop in numbers. In the early days, the club was prominent in national competitions and won the national fours in 1907.  J Rogerson was in the national side from 1911-1914 incl. and J Wigston was also capped in 1908. 

At County level, there were singles successes in 1927, J Jenkins 1934 H Davidson and 1939 C Herring. West End won the pairs in 1948 and 1951 while the triples was won in 1962. There were also fours wins in 1928, 1929, 1930, 1946, 1948. J Pattinson and RD Bolton who won the pairs in 1951 also went on to success at the Northern Counties.

In more recent times there has been little success, although Alan Bell did well to win both the Under-18 Singles and the Under-25 singles in the same year, 1981. David Forster is the only other player to have achieved this double. 

Apart from that John Glover, John Dickinson and Fred Davidson in the 1975 triples and Charlie Stamper, Kevin Dobson, Eric Dobson and Brain Hetherington in the 1998 fours were the last to fly the flag for West End in a county final.