by Neil Chippendale
Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 6 (1997)
During 1995 a new golf club opened in Duke’s Meadows, Chiswick. This was not, however, the first golf course to have been built in Chiswick.
In September 1892 a 12-hole course was opened on the site of Chiswick Park Farm, near Chiswick House, with a membership of 100 men. It had an “undulating course, with many natural advantages.” On Wednesdays and Saturdays play was originally “restricted to 6 holes on account of football and cricket.”
The 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows the extent of the course, bordered by Barrowgate Road, Sutton Court Road, Sutton Lane, Burlington Lane and Chiswick Park, with the entrance at the junction of Sutton Court Road and Sutton Lane. Although the course had already opened when the map was published, the site is still marked as Chiswick Park Farm.
The land was at first leased from Mr Kemp Welch and it is described in the rate books as building land. By the late 1890s the land was owned by a property developer called H.T. Tubbs who had offices in the City. During 1894 the Club took possession of the farmhouse and converted it into a clubhouse. The Club’s cellar book shows that members liked to play the ’19th hole’; the well-stocked cellar included 20 gallons of Scotch whisky, 7 of Highland Whisky and 4 of cider, 6 dozen bottles of sherry and some stranger tipples, such as Peach Bitter, Swedish Punch and Sloe Gin.
Advertisements were placed in newspapers to attract members and eventually the Club had a membership of 200 men with a separate ladies’ club founded in 1893 and re-constituted in 1902. The membership was made up from the professions; many members lived beyond Chiswick. Members included Leopold and Maria De Rothschild, Henry Whitehead, Director of the Royal Brewery at Brentford and George Jupp, Maltster of Strand on the Green.
Guests included the Duke of Argyle and Lord Battersea, after whom a club trophy was named. The first Honorary Secretary was John W Price of Barrowgate Road and the annual subscription was £1.11.6d (£1.57½p). Only limited use was made of the course during early 1893; full time use was not granted until September 1894, when the Club was given a renewable yearly lease and sole tenancy of the land.
The years 1895 and 1896 saw a period of consolidation with the course and facilities being improved to attract new members. A highlight of the Club’s year during this period was the dinner and dance at the Cafe Royal which was attended by golfers from all around West London. During 1897 a number of thefts of golf clubs took place, although no culprits were caught. Other incidents that year included balls landing in properties along Barrowgate Road. One resident complained to the secretary that “My wife would most certainly been killed if she had been hit”.
The Club also had a continuing problem of claims for broken windows from houses bordering the course. This led to one owner threatening the Club with legal action if members trespassed onto his land because of its “refusal to make good damage done by some person connected to the Club”. As housing began to encroach upon the course these problems came in increasing numbers.
Threatened by bricks and mortar
In 1899 H.T. Tubbs sold two plots of land, one along Sutton Court Road and the other along Burlington Lane. This was land “not included in the letting or rent paid”, but land Mr Tubbs had allowed the Club to use temporarily “for their further enjoyment of the links”. As soon as the land was sold it was enclosed and access only granted for the recovery of balls.
In 1900 the Club realised that its future at Chiswick was uncertain as the pressure for new building increased. During September it opened negotiations to move the Club to the Spring Grove estate in Isleworth but these were short-lived and the club stayed at Chiswick. 1900 was also the year in which the club engaged the services of a full-time professional, E Risebro, through the Professional Golfers’ Association, and the year the course record was set when international golfer, John Braid, shot a 34.
Another opportunity to move occurred in 1902. John Strachey-Clitherow offered the club the chance to purchase Boston Manor House and park for the purpose of establishing a club for “polo, tennis, croquet and fishing as well as golf”. Chiswick Golf Club offered an undisclosed sum to Strachey-Clitherow which was declined. Strachey-Clitherow wrote “I am afraid there is nothing that you can have at the sum you mention for many reasons”.
The situation worsened during 1903 when Tubbs issued the Club with notice to quit. A letter sent on 28 April required the Club “To quit and deliver up possession of said land and premises on 28 May 1903”. This was not enforced and an agreement was reached whereby part of Park Road was cut through the course and sewers were laid.
Although no new houses were built the course was reduced to nine holes. In recognition of this H.T. Tubbs was made an honorary member. But all the uncertainty caused a number of members to resign from the Club because “the future was so doubtful”. Other members asked for the return of their joining fees as they felt the Club wouldn’t last another year. But it did.
During 1904 the Club allowed skating for a fee on the Duke’s Lake. The proceeds went to the poor of the parish of St Mary Magdalene. The Vicar, G.E. Oldfield, wrote saying that his parish was “the poorest in Chiswick and the severe weather is causing great distress”.
More land was lost in 1905 along Burlington Lane. The land was immediately enclosed and houses built. Also during this year the steward of the Club wrote to the Honorary Secretary, Henry Ellington, complaining about late night gambling sessions, with cards being played until 5.30am. This appears to have been a continuing problem as references are made to it as early as 1903 and the steward again raised the issue in 1906. The committee tried to fine the offending members but the rules did not allow for this.
Gambling continued and some members of the committee resigned, saying that they did not want to appear “in a police court on account of selfish behaviour of some of the members of the Club”. The situation seemed to have reached a head when the steward complained that one of the regular gamblers had run up a bill for drinks and provisions of £32 2s.Id (£32.11p). On Saturday 21 April the Club voted to close the clubhouse at midnight, with expulsion the penalty against members who broke the rules.
1906 was to be the Club’s last full year. On January 1 H.T. Tubbs issued another notice to quit. He agreed that the Club could continue for the immediate future but the lease would not be renewed. The Club also faced the problem of houses being built along Park Road, which meant the loss of two tees. Members began to resign in ever increasing numbers so the surviving members wrote to Tubbs asking for a reduction in rent. They reached agreement on a monthly rent of £20.
The Club lasted until 1907 but the pressure from developers became too great. H.T. Tubbs eventually wrote “The time is at hand when golf must cease at Chiswick”. The last ladies’ match played there was a qualifying round of the Ladies’ Senior Challenge Cup on 20 January. The final men’s match took place a week later. The Golfing Magazine of 7 February 1907 reported “The builder, after casting greedy eyes for a long tune upon Chiswick club’s pretty course, has at last made his swoop, and golf will be played there no more”.
This was not quite the end of the story, though. Towards the end of 1907 some former members formed themselves into the Old Chiswick Golf Association, with Leopold De Rothschild as their president. The Association was still in existence in 1913 but seems to have ceased by 1914-15. In 1906 the Club had been given the opportunity to merge with the Fulwell Golf Club and this offer was accepted in 1907. Members of that club today still play for trophies which were originally won at Chiswick.
The Suggestions Book
Since Neil Chippendale wrote this article, the Golf Club’s Suggestions Book has turned up in a local resident’s attic. It contains members’ suggestions for improvements, together with the committee’s decisions, and it runs from 1894 to 1902. The members’ moans vary little from the complaints received by golf clubs today, though couched in different language. As might be expected they are concerned about the condition of the greens, handicaps and competition rules. More interesting are the suggestions for improvements in the club’s facilities. The condition of the washrooms particularly comes in for a lot of complaints. One asks “that the hair brushes should be occasionally washed as one or two members still have a little hair left..” Others asked “that the bath be enamelled”, “that the bath be put in good working order and a bath sponge provided”, “that the nail brushes be not used for scrubbing balls”. To this suggestion the committee responded “the nail brushes were purchased for the purpose complained of.”
Getting the catering right for a fussy crowd of curmudgeonly golfers is always tricky and there were many suggestions about food. One member asked “that loaves and butter be provided for tea instead of the repulsive looking, dried up, fly blown, bread and butter in slices now supplied”. Asked if marmalade could be provided for tea the committee said this was “not considered desirable at present”. In 1900 a member suggested “that the club goes on the general telephone”. The committee did not approve.
The old farmhouse which contained the Club House still retained redundant farm buildings. A member suggested “that the farm buildings at the rear of the club house should be utilised for a skittle alley”. The committee was sympathetic but thought the cost would be prohibitive unless members paid a subscription in advance. Confirmation of the western boundary of the golf club’s land comes with the suggestion that the fences round by Sutton Court Road should be repaired to keep trespassers off the links.
The caddies come in for criticism; they appear to have been a rowdy, ill-disciplined bunch, judging from the Suggestions Book. “I would submit that the weak spot in the club is the absence of any supervision over the caddies – I can never get one worth his salt and consequently go without as a rule.”
Another member complained “that if caddies are allowed to bathe in the pond, it is suggested that the club supply bathing costumes as several caddies were bathing in nature’s garb on Wednesday”. The committee replied that caddies were not allowed to bathe in the pond.
In 1902 there was an acrimonious exchange about the handicaps of committee members with the committee responding that “members were seeking to dictate to the committee how to do its work”. The committee was obviously annoyed and the next and final entry in the book, dated 6 December 1902 reads “As many well known golf clubs find a suggestion book quite unnecessary, the thought prompts me to suggest that Chiswick Golf Club adopts the idea and that members write to the Hon Sec on all subjects.”