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Cricket and Bowling

William Gilbert Grace a doctor by profession, was arguably England’s greatest batsman. However, “WG” had interests in many sports and towards the end of his cricketing career in the late 1890s, he began to take a keen interest in bowls. WG's impact upon the sport began in 1899, the year he made his last cricketing appearance for England, when he accepted an invitation from the Crystal Palace Company in London to help them form the London County Cricket Club at the Great Crystal Palace Exhibition complex. He became the club's secretary, manager and captain. With his strong leadership skills he was pivotal in establishing the London County Bowling Club in 1901 after gaining approval to convert the Crystal Palace tennis courts into bowling greens.

On 8 June 1903 in Crystal Palace's cricket pavilion, a group headed by WG, formed the English Bowling Association with himself as President. A month later, the EBA invited the Scottish Bowling Association and bowlers from Ireland and Wales, to contest the first international series. These inaugural international matches were held on greens at Crystal Palace and the surrounding district. Grace captained the winning English team, retaining the captaincy through to1908. Victory for the home nation increased the popularity of the game in England and also led to the formation in 1904 of national bowling associations in Ireland and Wales. Grace recognised that the popularity of the game was such that bowling in the winter was a viable proposition. Through his contacts with Scottish bowlers he had become aware of the formation of the Edinburgh Winter Bowling Association where play took place at the Synod Hall. In 1905 Crystal Palace Indoor Bowling Club (CPIBC) was formed, playing within the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition centre’s main gallery, thereby establishing England’s first indoor bowling club. Here the club stayed until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 when the premises were taken over by the Admiralty as a recruiting and training centre. Just a year later on 23rd October 1915, the nation mourned the passing of Grace, recognising him as a truly great all round sports man. He was laid to rest in the family grave at Beckenham Cemetery - just a long jack away from CPIBC.

After the first World War CPIBC returned to playing at the Great Exhibition centre and flourished there - winning the inaugural Denny Cup in 1934/35 and retaining the cup in 1935/36. Then came the catastrophic great fire of 1936 that destroyed the whole exhibition centre. Despite suffering this monumental calamity, CPIBC, playing at Cyphers, triumphed against Paddington to win the 1936/37 Denny Cup, thus completing a remarkable hat trick of wins. As a result of a whirlwind rebuilding programme, in 1937 the CPIBC was once again up and bowling in its present home, in Anerley, just down the hill from its original location. Here, 10 years ago in 2005, the club celebrated its centenary .

Grace proved to be a true visionary and his impact on the English bowls scene can not be over stated.

• Formed London County Bowling Club in 1901

• Founded the English Bowling Association in 1903

• President of the EBA from 1903 to 1905

• Captained the England bowls team from 1903 to 1908

• Instrumental in the formation of the Irish and Welsh Bowling Associations in 1904

• Established Crystal Palace Indoor Bowling Club, the first in England, in 1905

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