Earlham Park Golf Club, Norwich.
In the 1700s Earlham Park was the home of the Gurney family, who helped found Barclays Bank. Elizabeth Gurney became famous after her marriage as Elizabeth Fry, the well known prison reform campaigner.
In the late 1920s, as part of a scheme to provide employment following the war, Norwich City Council purchased Earlham Hall and its 365 acres for £20,000, and 120 acres of the land was used for the golf course. There was considerable opposition to the building of the course in the early stages but, despite this, the 18 hole course (completed in March 1931) eventually opened in April 1932. The opening ceremony was conducted by the Lord Mayor, Mr G E White who played the opening stroke. The ball was retrieved, mounted, inscribed and presented to the Mayor as a memento. The cost of the course was £13,027 and was originally intended as an artisans course, providing golf at a lower cost than at courses which were not subsidised by the local authority. Sunday play was allowed. Local hotels were the Maid’s Head and Royal.
In 1935 visitors’ fees were 1/6d a round, 2/6d a day and 15/- a month.
Prior to and just following WW2 the course was known as Norwich Municipal Golf Club. Membership in 1940 was 140 and had surprisingly risen to 220 by 1947. This is unusual as, following the War, membership at many clubs was drastically reduced. The SSS was 78. Visitors’ fees in 1940 were 1/6d a round, 2/6d a day and 15/- per month, rising in 1947 to 2/6d a round and 4/- a day during the week, and 3/6d a round and 5/- a day at weekend.
During WWII part of the course was used for agriculture, but this land was reclaimed following the conflict, and the course restored to eighteen-holes. The council were constantly concerned about the running costs of the course, and there were plans to close the club in the 1940s, but there was a reprieve.
In 1952 finances were again a major concern and the club was given five years to prove its viability. Despite this, and because of sound management, the club managed to reach its Silver Jubilee in 1955.
Earlham in 1957 was 6,124 in length and had a par of 72, 35 out and 37 in. There was only one par 5 out compared with four par fives on the back nine. Many famous players visited Earlham including Max Faulkner, Bobby Locke and John Jacobs. Dai Rees also played there and returned a score of 65.
|1935||Captain A Sandys Winsch, Park Superintendant, 22 Giles Street, Norwich.|
|1930s/40s||A S Chesterton, Guildhall, Norwich.|
|1950s (mid)||E W Everitt, 45 Clarendon Road, Norwich.|
|1960s||S J Cheetleburgh|
|1935/40||E A Massey (pro) H T Sunderland (gk)|
|1947/50s||Leslie Ball (pro)|
|1960s||Leslie Ball (pro) W R Brunt (gk)|
|1960s (mid)||G Warnes (gk)|
In the mid 1950s the SSS and Par was 71. The course was reduced to nine holes in the 1960s and the club’s future looked bleak. The revised 9 hole course had a total yardage of 6,060 with a SSS of 68 and Par of 72 and a membership of 150. Visitors’ fees were 6/- a round and 7/6d a day, and at weekends and Bank Holidays 7/6d a round and 10/- a day. The station at Thorpe was 3 miles away and there was a bus service available on routes 79,80 and 86.
Despite valiant attempts by both members and outsiders to save the club they failed. In January 1966 a last get together was arranged, defeat was accepted, and Earlham Golf Club closed its doors for the final time.
Thanks to Christopher Weston who runs his own Norfolk archive. Christopher has carried out research on Earlham Golf Club and has shared his findings with us below:-
"Following Bluebell Road from the Eaton end towards Earlham Road, pass South Park Avenue and on the next bend, is North Park Avenue. At that spot - to the left - is what looks like a tree belt beyond which is a long grassy area. Before the University of East Anglia, the Broad didn't exist, but that long stretch of grass is where (at the furthest end from the road) was the 17th green and nearby, the 18th Tee. The long grass heading back towards Bluebell Road was the Fairway to the 18th green. On arrival, a short walk led back to the Clubhouse complex and shop. I was interested to find this "inter-hole" stretch still looks just as it did when the course was open.
On most Saturday mornings during the 1950s, I was my father's 'trolley puller' and recall one of the green-keepers telling us of aircraft parts once found on parts of the course, after a wartime incident.
On a slightly amusing note, you may be interested in something relating to the 'Interchange' between Holes 10 and 11. Difficult from current pictures to identify precise location as it's now probably under buildings, but the transfer between these holes led through a copse of trees. This was also known as "Woodpeckers Corner" as being well away from the road, that's where these birds nested and hatched. My lasting memory of that was Leslie Ball (club professional) once explaining that if a golfer made a duff shot either on the 10th green or from the 11th tee with their ball going into the 'rough' or straight into a bunker, the familiar laughing sound these birds make was immediately heard in amusement, after looking down on the course from the trees above and witnessing what had just happened!
And separately, copy of a map published by Norwich City Council. This was one of a series on Earlham Park they produced, showing how it changed between 1797 and fairly recently. I was interested to see that the buildings near which my father parked when playing golf there and which included the clubhouse and shop etc, had previously been Earlham Hall Farm.
Many famous golfers visited Earlham, including Max Faulkner, Bobby Locke and John Jacobs. Dai Rees also played there and returned a score of 65. Another regular player was the former Swedish speedway ace and several times world champion, Ove Fundin, who lived in the Norwich area when riding for the local 'Stars' speedway team at the now demolished Firs Stadium. This would have been in the 1950's and early 1960's.
Unknown to many people the Earlham Course also had a secret World War II Underground Bunker. This was used by members of the British Secret Underground Movement. It was one of over 500 similar sites around Britain, created by the UK wartime Government and considered to be highly secret Operational Base units. Formed in 1940 and organised as part of the local Home Guard, each Auxiliary Patrol Unit was occupied by men who had been specially trained in warfare. Their bases were part of an underground movement of volunteers, equipped with some of the most dangerous and advanced weaponry available to any infantry, during the War. In the event of the Germans invading Britain, they were to melt away from their civilian jobs to sabotage enemy installations for as long as possible before detection or possible death. At Earlham, the patrol’s Operational Base was on the north-eastern edge of the golf course, in an area situated near the present-day university campus, to the north of the UEA Broad (a lake created by gravel quarrying) west of Bluebell Road. After several decades of construction work and landscaping it must be considered unrealistic to find the former OB intact, as it has most likely been hidden away in an unexplored corner or has been filled in, destroyed or lies buried under beneath soil or concrete. When active, the structure was a chamber of 3.70 x 2.50 metres and buried 3.70m deep. It contained a central area for bunks, and an explosives store."
The University of East Anglia now stands on the site of the former course.