Committee Minutes of Bournemouth Borough Council from 1886 onwards provide a detailed and fascinating account of the origins and growth of the three bowling clubs that have at one time or another existed on the West Cliff and at Alum Chine. Their close personal links and shared local interests, together with the limited council funds available for the development of the whole area, made it inevitable that the clubs would merge; this was hastened by several costly cliff-falls at the Pleasure Grounds fronting the cliffs at Alum Chine.
In the late 19th century the Council were already involved in negotiations with the Alum Chine Estate and Mr. Clapcott Dean’s agent with a view to acquiring control of parcels of land in the two areas. The latter estate was soon to become part of the Cooper-Dean Estate through the marriage of Miss Elizabeth Dean to James Edward Cooper. Agreement was reached with both estates and the Pleasure Grounds at Alum Chine passed to the Council in 1898 and a lease of 999 years obtained on an area that included the West Cliffs Pleasure Grounds which, in 1901, the Council decided to rename “The Argyll Pleasure Grounds, West Cliff”.
Alum Chine Bridge c. 1906
Research has failed to disclose exactly why the name "Argyll" was chosen, but a town hall reference to "The Leisure Book of British Place Names" suggests a connection between the coastlines at Bournemouth West Cliff and Argyll (Scotland) together with their links to the writer and local resident, R.L. Stevenson. At the end of April 1885 he and his family had moved to a house at the top of Alum Chine not far from Middle (later R.L. Stevenson) Road. He was to live there for the remainder of his time in Bournemouth. He named the House "Skerryvore" after the Skerryvore lighthouse built by his family firm off the rocky coast of Argyll. In 1954 a short-lived replica of the lighthouse was built on the site of the house following it's destruction during an air raid on the night of 15th-16th November 1940.
Westbourne (Alum Chine Bowling Club) c. 1918. The original bowling club can be seen on the cliff top with a small pavilion and flag pole.
On 16th April 1903, Mr J. Snell Spooner, the Hon. Secretary of the Westbourne Bowling Club,wrote to the council asking permission for the “paid-up members of the club” to play on other greens until the Argyll green was completed. The Council agreed that the club could play at Meyrick Park; a few months later the Westbourne Bowling Club started its new life as the Argyll Bowling Club at the Argyll Pleasure Gardens – which shortly became the Argyll Pleasure Gardens. Mr J. Snell Spooner was to become President of the Argyll Bowling Club in 1909.
Meanwhile, in 1900, the Borough Committee had suggested improvements to the Alum Chine Pleasure Gardens, including the provision of a bowling green. This was agreed “at an estimated cost of £40”! Five months later, on 12th June 1901, the council agreed to meet “on the following Saturday at 3pm to informally open the gardens by playing friendly games of bowls and croquet”.
Alum Chine c. 1925
In the following years the Alum Chine Bowling Club was plagued by cliff-falls and a constant need for additional council funding for green and sea defences. The council was unable to meet the ongoing costs and finally, on 12th October 1933, the borough engineer was instructed to consider another nearby site for an additional bowling green. This gave rise to a general review of all bowling green locations and in particular, resulted in the addition of a second bowling green at Argyll Gardens together with it's pavilion - the latter to cost no more than £68.00. Forty years later, a tender of £45,000 for a new pavilion was rejected by the council but only 5 years after that, in 1979, this requirement was met at a cost of some £80,000.
So despite its modest beginnings, and although it had no green to play on, the initiative and persistence of the Westbourne Bowling Club at the very start of the 20th century led to the birth of today’s Argyll Bowling Club. Even though the Alum Chine Bowling Club was not to survive, its traditions and aims were maintained with the amalgamation of the Argyll Bowling Club and Argyll Women’s Bowling Club into one club.
It seems appropriate that all this should happen as the Argyll Bowling Club was about to celebrate its centenary in 2005.