Bowburn Colliery Welfare Scheme

Nowadays, many may have forgotten that Bowburn Park, including what used to be known as “the Rec” (the recreation ground), which now has an impressive children’s playground, as well as the football fields etc., was first created from farmland as part of an impressive colliery welfare scheme.

The following article about the Bowburn Colliery Welfare Scheme was published in the Durham County Advertiser on 20th May 1966.


BOWBURN Colliery Welfare Scheme has been in operation since 1930. In the boom days the village could boast football, cricket, tennis, and women’s and men’s bowls teams. Now only tennis and bowls survive.

In the past five years,1,000 men have been forced to leave the colliery because of redundancy. With them has gone the life-blood of the scheme – the money received from levies and the interest and enthusiasm necessary for continued success.

Even the newly opened £73,000 Community Centre, with its luxurious fittings, provision for indoor games, and a spacious dance hall, has not proved as successful as the old Institute which preceded it.

Bowburn Colliery Welfare Committee in 1966

With a further reduction in manpower at the colliery expected at the end of next month, this will be the big question facing the Welfare Committee at their annual meeting. Will the scheme continue as such, or will it be placed in the hands of the Parish Council or the Education Authority? Can a miners’ scheme exist as such without miners and miners’ families?


The success of the Bowburn over the years has been the understanding and co-operation between the management and the men (writes staff reporter Eddie Brown). Eight years of exploratory work were spent by the Welfare Committee before the eight-acre area was officially opened in 1930 by Mr. P. Harle, the colliery manager and committee chairman.


The early success was due mainly to the work of Mr. Joe James the first groundsman. Mr James was responsible for the installation of all the swings in the playground area, the relaying of the cricket square, the planting of trees, hedges and flower beds, and the supervision of improvements to the football pitch. He also laid the putting green, from almost a bare field.

Joe James

Mr. James said: “I had practically no help at all, but it was my life and I enjoyed it.

“Like everything else, the scheme has had its ups and downs. People were not interested at first, but once the housing estates got under way the people looked about to see what there was in the way of amenities. There was a big demand in the first year and a half but gradually interest slackened.

“Tennis then was only two-pence for half an hour, but I have sat on some summer nights from 6.30 to 10p.m. and seen only four games played.”

After 22 years of efficient and conscientious service, Mr. James was forced to retire In October, 1952, due to ill-health. He is now treasurer of Bowburn Over-60 Club. He was succeeded by the present groundsman, Mr. W. Pragnell.

Bill Pragnell


Another of the scheme’s pioneers was Mr. James Halliday, the first caretaker of Bowburn Welfare Institute which opened in 1923[?]. This was demolished two years ago and in its place a £74,000 community centre was built.

“The old place was built of wood and various pieces were added on but it served a grand purpose”, said Mr. Halliday. “With billiards for only twopence for 20 minutes and snooker threepence for 20 minutes there was 100 per cent more young men interested in the old Institute. Of course the Community Centre is better for the village as a whole, but I think it came too late. It should have been built 20 years ago.”

James Halliday

However, if interest is flagging in the indoor scheme, tennis enthusiasts are still holding their own.


When the Miners’ Welfare Scheme began, the village found itself with outdoor tennis facilities better than those in many resorts. Bowburn people responded with great enthusiasm, and it was almost impossible to book a court twice in one night. Those too old to play came to watch.

On court the best known player was Walter Harrison, now secretary of the scheme and still playing match tennis. It was due to him that a men’s team was playing in the Chester-le-Street League.

Social tennis was in vogue at that time and members of the “fair sex” began to make their presence felt. Familiar names on court were Hannah Moore, still a good team supporter, and a good player in her younger days; Eva Witham, another very active player, and Ethel Anderson, a reliable doubles partner.

Prominent among the men were George Egglestone, Tom Harrison, Jim Griffiths, a fine one-armed player, the late Mo Lilley, Dick Witham and Jim Scott (both professional footballers), Ralph Garner, Billy Chatt and Matt Lawson.

Later in the 1930’s young players Tommy Stokoe, John Waugh, and in particular John Waugh began to make their mark.

Bowburn Colliery Welfare Tennis Team, about 1956


The 1939-45 war interrupted progress, but in the late 1940s the courts were re-laid and people once more took an interest in the game.

Again Mr. Harrison was the man responsible, and in 1949 he became the first and only chairman of Spennymoor Teams’ League. Naturally Bowburn were members. The social side of tennis was still very much in evidence at this time with only mixed doubles matches being played.

Notable players at this time among the ladies were Olive Lawson, Joy Sweeting, Doreen Smith, Olive Ayton, Lilian Knox, Ann Malkin, Ann Winter, Paddy Scott, Audrey Thompson and Maureen Rowcroft.

Prominent men members were Matt Lawson, John Willey, Bill Edwards, Bill Scott, Vernon Campbell, Arnie Ward, Doug Haugh and “Binky” Miller. At this time Mr. Campbell became secretary.

The club joined the Spennymoor Men’s league in 1955 and carried off the title two years in succession, and again in 1960, 1963 and 1965. A team was also entered in the Sunderland Men’s League. It reached the premier division within two seasons.


At this time the best man ever to play for Bowburn began to show his skill by beating most of the established players in the county. Peter Scott has been County NCB champion for six years and winner of the Burnmoor tournament. He and his partner Harry Drake are difficult to beat in a doubles match by any players in the county.

Another successful pair were Vernon Campbell and Bill Scott, who reached the semi-finals of the County Doubles Championships. Mr. Scott’s death two years ago was a tremendous shock to his tennis friends.

In the late 1950s, Doug Haigh became secretary and under him the club consolidated its success, for at this time young Bowburn players were making their mark in county tennis.


P. Harrison won the county junior male title, and Pam Smith the Durham County and Northumberland ladies’ titles. Pam is the Club’s most outstanding player and the only one to play at Wimbledon. She has represented the county many times and is now county ladies’ secretary.

Pam Smith

Recently Mr. Peter Scott became secretary, and while the playing strength is not the same as it was in the early days the club showed its power by reaching the final of the County Cup last year.

Commented local schoolteacher and stalwart of the tennis club, Mr. Vernon Campbell: “Those men who 35 years ago launched the Welfare Scheme built better than they knew. It is impossible to ascertain the total happiness they have given to the hundreds of people who have played at Bowburn. Certainly the Welfare Committee can be proud of their efforts.”

Bowls has flourished in the village over the years. The men’s team, founded in 1936, is one of the most successful in Mid and South-West Durham.

Bowburn made its mark by winning the Durham and District League on a number of occasions, including a “hat-trick” in seasons 1959-60-61.

The team achieved an outstanding feat in the 1959 season, winning all 16 matches played. Their biggest win was against Addison Park (42-6) and their narrowest against the same club (three points). Representing Bowburn were Alf Harrison, John Hughes and Fred Jones.

Not to be outdone the ladies of the village decided that they, too, would form a bowls section and they did so in 1952. The following year, with a membership of 12, the club joined the Darlington League.

In 1959 the club joined the newly-formed Central Ladies’ League. They have won the title four times and been runners-up twice in the six years since its inauguration.


The team has appeared on several occasions at the English Bowling Association finals held at Wimbledon. Mrs. V. Corner and Mrs. F. Bulmer have played in the singles competition a number of times.

Other members to appear in the finals are Mrs. H. Akenhead and Mrs. M. Baker in the pairs competition, Mesdames Baker, Akenhead and E. Humphries (triples), and Mesdames Bulmer, Corner and E. Truby (triples).

Commenting on the present bowls situation, Mr. Fred Jones, the men’s team captain, said: “Like many other Welfares our fortunes are on the wane. Members are retiring and two of our outstanding players, men that any club can ill-afford to lose, have died recently. Our star is dimmed but not our enthusiasm. Bowburn Welfare Bowls Club will come again.”

Bowburn Ladies Bowls Team in about 1966


Football in the village has had its moments of glory, although there is now no team in existence.

Many sides have carried the banner of Bowburn Welfare over the years, but probably the best remembered and most successful was the team in the early 1950’s, under the generalship of Bill Arnold, secretary, and Les Young, trainer.

The team operated in the Durham and District League from season 1950–51 and finished fourth. The next season was the team’s best. In winning league championship honours the side collected 56 points out of a possible 60.

They drew away to Coxhoe and Witton Gilbert, then ironically, on the very last night of the season, ruined a 100 per cent home record and an unbeaten league record by losing by a lone goal to Sacriston.

In the same season they qualified for the competition of the County Amateur Cup, beating en-route such good sides as Darlington Rolling Mills, Stockton Amateurs, and Billingham Synthonia Reserves.

In that season they also reached the final of the Thornley Aged Miners’ Cup, losing 3-2 after having both their wing halves carried off injured.


At this time Easington Lane United were riding high in the league, and the cup-tie between this team and Bowburn was a never-to-be-forgotten epic. The resulting 4-4 draw so enthralled Mr. Charles Grey, M.P. for Durham, that he made a special journey from London to Bowburn for the replay – another great game which Bowburn won 4-2.

The greatest achievement of the 1952-53 season was winning of the Ferryhill Nursing Cup, but this was to prove the swan song of a great club. Owing to a £5,000 face lift being carried out on the ground, and no alternative playing facilities being available, the club was forced to disband.

This benefited clubs in higher spheres as the players immediately commanded places in the Northern and Wearside Leagues.


Players of note were goal-scoring centre forward Joe Davies, inside forward Ernie Woods and goalkeeper Don Cowan, all of whom saw service with Darlington, and Ron Knox, who had one of the hardest left-foot shots in local football.

Brothers Eric and Ray Pallister, of Tudhoe, Wilf Gatenby and Jack Chitty, assets to the football club, made names for themselves on the cricket field too.

Off the field, clubmen like Bill Patterson and Alex Carruthers were the backbone of the side. Jack Hughes, Johnny Snooks and Alan Nevison also served the club well.

Two of the keenest supporters must surely have been Mrs. Mary Young, who proudly boasted, “No Bowburn player ever wore a dirty shirt,” and her three-year-old son, Leslie, who as club mascot never missed a game.

A footballer who turned professional, Dick Witham was born in the village and played for Bowburn School. Later he played for Durham City. He was spotted by Huddersfield and played for them for 41/2 years then was transferred to Blackpool. He Is still beside the seaside and has a fish and chip business.


Bowburn also claimed two extremely efficient and successful football referees for some years – Messrs Tom Davison and Bill Freeman. Both were leading officials in the county and Mr. Davison reached the Football League list

Mr. Freeman had the distinction of operating as linesman in an FA Amateur Cup final, the first to go to Wembley since Mr Harry Nattrass refereed in the FA Cup final there.

Both men have now retired from active participation in the winter game but like all former officials retain a keen interest.


Cricket at Bowburn has had its ups and downs. The first games played by the Welfare Club were in 1927, the year the club joined the Coxhoe and District League. Success eluded them for seven years until in 1934 they carried off the league title.

The following season the club decided to try its luck in the Mid-Durham League. After a moderate start they had their most successful season ever in 1936, winning the League Challenge Cup, beating Coundon by 12 runs. Bowburn were represented by R. Dunn (capt.), J. Brewis, E. Oversby, T. Laverick, G. Allison, C. Mulgrew, E. Taylor, T. Hedley, T. Yarrow, J. Bowman and A. Wilkinson.

The story goes that when Bowburn’s score of 76 all out was heard in Coundon, the tables were laid for the victory supper. But this was not to be. Their team could only manage 64.

Cricket was carried on with limited success until the war years. It did not re-start until 1951 when the club again joined the Mid-Durham League. They had to wait until the 1959 season before they once more gained honours. This time it was the League Cup they won.

Secretary George Malkin, an ex-Hartlepool professional, then decided that as interest in the game was growing a second and junior team should be formed.

They operated without really making very much impression in their respective Leagues, although the junior team did win the Welsh Cup. But interest declined to such an extent that the club was forced to disband at the end of last season.


With the gradual decrease of workers at the local colliery, the future of the Welfare Scheme is in the balance. The original levy of twopence per week was raised to fourpence in 1950, and to sixpence in February of last year, but still this has not been enough to maintain grounds even with the grant aid from the County Council.

On the face of things it looks as if the scheme will cease to exist as such after this year. But this is one of the many questions – and perhaps the most important – which will be asked when the annual general meeting takes place at the end of next month.

Present secretary of the Welfare Committee, Mr. Walter Harrison, said: “We may have to turn the scheme over to the Parish Council or the Education Authority. We just don’t know at the moment.”