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Island and Club History

Medieval History -

The Trial by Combat of Henry de Essex.


Trial by combat was a Common Law method for an aggrieved party to seek retribution for a serious crime, such as murder or treachery, for which the offender would normally lose his life and lands.

Essex, Henry II’s constable and standard-bearer, was charged by Robert de Montfort with cowardice during the Battle of Coleshill in 1157. In the confusion of the battle Essex had fled thinking that the king was dead. The King was not dead but was almost defeated because of Essex’s flight. To clear his name of cowardice Essex decided to stand trial by combat.

During the fight, in 1163, he had a vision of St. Edmund and Gilbert de Cereville. He had contested the privileges of the Abbey of St. Edmund and had wrongly cast Gilbert into chains and tortured him to death. Essex was defeated by Montfort and was thought to be dead. His body was taken to the Abbey for burial. However, he recovered and became a monk at the Abbey.

The Island Bohemian Bowls Club gratefully acknowledges the help and support received from staff of the Reading Museum.

Trial by combat, in 1163, on Fry's Island - painting

The painting shows the trial by combat on a small island in the Thames at Reading. The small island near the Abbey’s North Gate is now known both as De Montfort Island and Fry’s Island. The Abbey can be seen in the background. A crowd of spectators is held back by the Thames and in the foreground men watch from a boat. A scene from this event is depicted on the current Club badge.

Essex’s vision is clearly seen in the sky between the Abbey on the left and the King’s seat to the right. Essex has fallen to the ground dazzled by the vision of the two men. The victorious Montfort pauses, leaning on his sword, to regain his breath.

The Caversham Road in Flood (1894)


It would seem that parts of Reading and Lower Caversham have always been threatened by flooding. This photo clearly shows the flooding of the Caversham Road.
Judging from the size of the cart wheels it appears to have been several inches deep.

Picture courtesy of Reading Forum


Picture courtesy of Reading Forum

The Old Codgers and the establishment of the Island Bohemian Club


Prior to 1909, the Island Bohemian Bowls Club was known as The Old Codgers.
In 1908 The Annual General Meeting of The Old Codgers Club was held, so the Club had been in existence for at least the previous year. Sadly, there are no records prior to 1908. Fees for membership were 3/- per annum. There was then the option to pay another 2/- per season for all games, the alternative being to pay 2 old pennies for a game of bowls or 4 old pennies for a game of tennis (6 old pennies for doubles).
Bowls matches were arranged with Suttons and Mortimer.
At the Annual General Meeting in March 1909, held at The Tudor Hotel, a proposition was put forward that the Club should be changed to The Island Bohemian Club. At a Special Meeting a couple of weeks later this name change was formally proposed, seconded and carried: The Island Bohemian Club was born.
In the early days the Club catered as much (or possibly more) for tennis as for bowls. In 1909 the Club affiliated to The Amateur Swimming Association as there was even a flourishing swimming section.
Back in 1908 the green was smaller than at present. In 1913 it was extended to 105ft by 100ft but the landlord would not permit ditches or banks. 

In 1926 the Club took the decision to apply for affiliation to Berkshire Bowling Association. 

Lower Caversham in Flood (1947)


Lower Caversham certainly had a really bad flooding experience in 1947, as has been
recorded by the following pictures. More research is required to complete this page.
This view is of George Street, Caversham suffering after a very bad winter. Quite what The Island looked like then the present membership cannot recall, as none were “Islanders” at that time.
Picture courtesy of Reading Forum


Army surplus equipment became very useful again down in Lower Caversham.
This wee beastie is tackling the flood waters in Gosbrook Road/Star Road. 


Bowling in the Late 1950's


This photo of bowlers playing in front of the Island Club House
shows how things looked way back in the dim distant past of the late 1950's.
Have you noticed there is one of the tennis courts available to members at that time?

In 1958 the green was extended to have 6 rinks in both directions.


Picture courtesy of Mrs Audrey Primmer

The 1960s and Beyond


In 1961 The Club considered (and subsequently bought) buying the part of The Island known as Lewis garden and orchard, the area down towards Bridge Boats. At the time this purchase was viewed as a hedge against increasing rents.


Over the years they have produced Men’s County Champions and in 1965 Eric Marsh became County President. Eric went on to be President of The E.B.A. and to manage the Commonwealth Bowls team in New Zealand in 1974. The ladies have played their part too and have produced County Champions, three County Presidents and a County Treasurer who served her County for many years.


In 1967/8 The Club grasped the opportunity to buy the part of The Island from what had been Lewis boundary to the point, the area that included the 2 tennis courts, the bowling green and Club buildings. A decision for which present and future Islanders should be eternally grateful.


There was also some flooding in 2001, which necessitated re-carpeting of the outside changing room but that paled into insignificance in 2003, (starting just after the IBC annual New Year Eve celebrations had ended).


On January the 1st 2003 by mid-morning it was found that a lake had formed around the scoreboard and water was lapping over the landing stage. Between then and January 8th it would have been foolish to even think of taking the ferryboat over.
We are therefore indebted to Bridge Boats for photos taken on the Island during that period. It was observed from a distance that the river was lapping around the Clubhouse door.
The outside changing room and engineering shed were flooded to the depth of about 2 feet and the water level had reached the height of the decking around the Pavilion.
There was no sign of the green, indeed it looked more like a swimming pool!

On the 8th of January there was still about 4 inches of water in front of the Clubhouse but it had fortunately escaped damage. What had looked, from the banks, like frost on the green was in fact a light sprinkling of snow over a half inch covering of ice on top of the two or three inches of water still lying on the green.
All kinds of odd things had been flushed down river and had kept going until they became wedged in a corner. There were dustbins, umpteen bottles of various kinds, beer barrels, a Calor gas cylinder and even a rowing boat. The receding water had also left a goodly covering of filthy silt over everything.

By the time the season opened photographic evidence was all that remained as proof of the terrible devastation and what the floods had left behind. Only those few heroes that had involved themselves with the clearing up were truly aware of the effort required.

A small plaque may be seen on the outside changing room showing “high tide level”.

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