Blackhall Bowling Club began in 1898 according to the photograph on the left taken on the opening day, 17th May 1898. Alexander C.Kerr, secretary of the club when records began in 1903, claimed that the first game was actually played at the end of August 1897, although the club was not properly established until the following year. This may well be true as the only existing known share certificate of the Blackhall Bowling Club Limited is dated 22nd April 1897 and signed by John Sturrock and Robert Nisbet directors, the former the club’s first president, and by A Balfour Gray, as secretary and treasurer. The certificate, in the name of Miss Anne Georgina Murray Gartshore of Ravelston estate has been preserved in the archives of the present club.
Research in the Register House and the record of companies shows that a Blackhall Bowling Club Company Limited was registered on 3rd December 1896. It was incorporated under the then existing Company Acts with a registered office in Blackhall. Its objects were to “acquire ground in feu within the parish of Corstorphine or any other parish in the county of Midlothian to make or form thereon a green or greens for the purpose of the playing the games of bowls, croquet, tennis or other such sports or recreation kindred thereto, or which may, in the opinion of the members of the company be associated therewith and also to build premises for a clubhouse and to provide necessaries thereto as may be necessary.”
It was an ambitious scheme. The capital of the company was to have been £500 sterling, divided into 50 ordinary shares of £10 each. There were nine subscribers listed on the initial schedule of the company, eight of whom owned one share. By the 1st April 1897 when a return was required under the Companies Act there were 22 subscribers and when the green officially opened there were 26 shareholders so that the capital was £260. It never had more than £280 capital, representing 28 of the proposed 50 in the prospectus.
On 2nd August 1897, Robert Forbes desired to feu a piece of land at the south-west end of Keith Terrace, where the Blackhall Tennis Club is presently located, to the ‘Blackhall Bowling Club Ltd.’ In order to accomplish this he conveyed that particular portion of land in favour of Miss Gartshore. Among the specifications in the disposition were that the Bowling Club Company would become responsible for connecting the drains to the common sewer at their expense and to pay a portion of the upkeep, and to take over from Robert Forbes the obligations about the walls and fences, in connection with the new street when built. It was also laid down in the disposition that the land would be used exclusively for “a bowling green or other recreation but on no account as a skating or curling pond.”
There was a membership of 37 in 1903 and the general opinion was that the clubhouse was unsuitable and should be levelled to the ground and more substantial and commodious accommodation erected. The limited company was prepared to forgo a half year’s rental in order to assist the club financially with the suggested alterations. There were financial difficulties regarding a bank overdraft involving the limited company and the club. The bank agent refused to accept the sum offered and Miss Gartshore threatened to take over the green failing an immediate settlement.
The arrangement between the limited company and the club was never satisfactory. There was difficulty about whose reponsibility it was for the upkeep of the green and clubhouse. The club members did not wish to spend money on what was not their property and the company did not have the money to spend on the club. When in 1906 the agents indicated they required 12s.6d per member (an increase from 10s) efforts were increased to get the green into the club’s own hands. The agents had no funds to improve the green which was deteriorating and reported that there was no profit annually. On the 30th October 1906 the Edinburgh Gazette reported the Blackhall Bowling Club Limited was officially “dissolved under the Companies Act of 1880”.
Matters were coming to a head by 1910, at the approach of the expiry of the lease, when a committee was appointed to look into the possibility of a new green and to enquire about the likely cost of running it. It was however, three years later, at a special general meeting on 17th July 1913, the motion was carried that “the members of Blackhall Bowling Club resolve to look out for a new site for a green on Miss Gartshore’s estate.” At first Miss Gartshore could offer nothing. Then, in November 1913 it was announced that, “Miss Gartshore is prepared to grant a feu of that piece of ground situated behind Keith Row to the executive committee of Blackhall Bowling Club at a feu-duty of £2 annually.” A specialist from Glasgow called Robert Provan was consulted as to the cost of providing a green on the land. He concluded that the price would be £400 and that the present green was sinking in certain parts and would never be satisfactory.
Two months later the arrangements for the new green were agreed. An estimate of £300 from Thomas Lamb, a member of the club was accepted and projects were discussed to raise the money. By June the treasurer George Nisbet reported that £50 had been raised by means of subscription sheets and £130 by loans from members.
At the beginning of August the question of a pavilion was discussed. Plans indicated a cost of £120 and several members offered their services in the building and joinery work free. Thomas Lamb was prepared to supply the stone free of charge.
The contractors and associates were all members of the club. Thomas Lamb, builder and Peter Laurie, joiner, were assisted by James Drysdale, Robert Forbes, Alexander Forbes, Peter Campbell and William Clark. Daniel Clark was responsible for the plumbing and made a gift of materials; AC Phillips gifted paint and carried out the painting work; J Douglas Watson the flagpole, ashtrays and curtains and JR Moyes the chandelier. By the generosity of these men the new premises were opened at a considerably less cost to the club.
The Edinburgh Evening News reported the opening of the new green in 1915. The President Thomas Lamb said that the club had been very fortunate in securing the site from the late Miss Murray Gartshore of Ravelston. With regard to the pavilion, he stated that it had been built and finished almost entirely by the members and their friends, who had given their services gratuitously. While, on account of the war, they had been unable to open the green free of debt, they were optimistic enough to hope in a short time they would raise sufficient funds for that purpose. The Rev. Cecil T. Thornton, one of the honourary presidents declared the green and pavilion open and Thomas Lamb presented Mrs Thornton with a silver jack which she threw across the green to signal the beginning of the season. This tradition has existed ever since.