Short History of the Essex C.B.A. - 1946-1996
A.M. Grant, Hon. President.
From the Spring 1997 ECBA County Newsletter
- On 21st November 1946 a group of 26 enthusiastic bridge players met at the Gidea Park Tennis Club to consider the founding of the Essex C.B.A., and 5 days later the first Committee Meeting was held. Among those present was Mrs. Tricia Fletcher, now a Vice-President of the Association, living in Worthing. Her late husband, Frank, the driving force behind the group became the first Secretary. Local newspapers reported on the first meeting of the Association at The Eagle Hotel, Snaresbrook in January 1947, and over 100 people flocked to the first county duplicate, which carried on until 1982. In the same month, the Essex Association was formally accepted as a member of the English Bridge Union, and the subscription for 1947/48 was set at 5/- (25p).
- In 1956 Frank and Tricia Fletcher resigned as Secretary and Assistant Secretary, but agreed to continue with the running of the competitions, and Tricia to stay on as Council delegate, which she did until 1972. Margaret Eve (now Curtis) took over as Secretary. In 1961, Mrs. Gwen Herga, who had been the Hon. Chairman from 1946, resigned, and Frank Fletcher was elected in her place, continuing in that office until 1972. In that year Frank and Tricia became Vice-Presidents of the Association, and Gwen Herga became Hon. President, holding this honour until her death in 1978, when Frank Fletcher accepted this position. After Frank Fletcher resigned as Chairman of the Association, Mac Grant was elected in his place, and he held this office until 1984 when Dick Green was elected. Mac Grant became Hon. President in 1989 when Frank Fletcher died.
- Gradually the county grew with a second duplicate section in Dunmow and a further one in Southend. This was organised by Maurice Schram and his wife Teddy, who is still a keen competitor and was part of the winning ladies' team a couple of years ago. Maurice and Teddy's enthusiasm created an enormous interest in competition bridge in the area, and was eventually responsible for the formation of both Southend & Leigh B.C. in 1968 and Thorpe Bay in 1977. Maurice was a Committee member and only retired in 1980.
- Efforts were made to start sections in Colchester and Ilford, and these started in 1952. While all these sections had small Committees running the day to day matters, all came under the county banner, and members all had to be full members of the Association. This increased the membership of the county to 370 in 1953, but this dropped to just under 300 in 1958. It reached 1,300 in 1975 and was over 1,400 in 1981, but after the formation of the Suffolk Association in 1980 many members on the Essex/Suffolk border transferred their allegiance and membership started to drop.
- A further duplicate section at Chigwell was started in 1966, only closing in 1979, and by then Dunmow and Colchester had changed into affiliated clubs. Loughton was added in 1972, but did not last long, and Hadleigh was the last new duplicate section opened in 1977, but that too closed in 1986. Today, only the Redbridge (Ilford) section survives, having had several moves over the years.
- The main area of growth has been the affiliated clubs. Only 3 clubs had affiliated in 1961, and members grew quite slowly, but now there are over 60 affiliated clubs. Many of these have begun through the teachers, who have started them to accommodate the newcomers to duplicate bridge, creating more social clubs. However, from these "starter" clubs, many players have progressed to competitive bridge in the county, often dipping their toes in the water in novice and newcomers events.
- Very soon after the formation of the county association, forms were circulated for the first county competitions, and 19 teams entered for the Teams of Four, and 52 pairs for the Pairs Championship, with heats at Westcliff, Snaresbrook and Romford. The first Pairs Final was held in June 1947 with 22 pairs competing, the same as today. The rest of the calendar was prepared around London events, and Essex, like most Home Counties, held heats of these competitions, players looking forward to the finals in London. Today, only the Daily Telegraph teams seems to have survived for the other counties, but Essex no longer holds a heat, it is not sponsored, and it no longer takes place at the Waldorf hotel. Other competitions were soon added, and one The Warboys Cup was a prestigious trophy, especially in size! The wife of the presenter, Mr. T. Warboys, now lives in Australia and wrote last year to hear what had happened to the trophy and bridge in Essex (it continued, with several changes, until 1987). A Handicap teams of four continued until 1967, when it was dropped and the Essex Switch Cup took its place.
- Another popular competition in the early days was an Individual for top players. The Fletcher Trophy was presented in 1959 in honour of Frank and Tricia Retcher, by members of a group playing at No. 2 The Drive, Snaresbrook - the home of Henry Greenberg, who is still winning Essex competitions. The Ladies' Pairs (The Gwen Herga) was introduced into the calendar in 1963, and in 1965 Mrs. Herga presented a further trophy for Men's Pairs. Many competitions have been started when a member has donated a special trophy - the Tony Kelvin Memorial Trophy (Neil and Lily Scott), the Seniors (John and Gladys Morley, who helped and worked very hard in the Southend area), the mixed Teams (Ruth Sopp), the Essex Pairs Goblets (George and Doreen Burrows - George being county captain for many years), the Hair & Son Trophy, the Essex Flitch (Frank and Tricia Fletcher), the Essex "Non-Expert" Teams (John Batchellor), and the George Curtis Salver. The Helliar Trophy (sponsored by our printers, J. Helliar & Son Ltd.) came into being after a competition was organised especially for National Bridge Week in 1987, and it now incorporates the Garden Cities Trophy. Several efforts were made to run this as a separate event, but no successful formula could be found. The Eve Goblets, originally for young players, became the Victor Ludorum trophies in 1980.
- Several competitions held in earlier years no longer exist due to lack of support and a very crowded calendar - S.E. Essex League Pairs and Teams, Crowstone Trophy, and in their place have come many, many club Swiss teams, originally held in aid of charity. In 1987 Essex held the first large Swiss teams in a county in aid of the European Championships, and in 1988 the first ever joint venture, E.B.U./E.C.B.A. Pairs. Essex has continued to run these events every two years. 1965 saw the start of the League. This began after a conversation on a commuter train, and the prime movers were Mr. Dowling and Ron Barber, who started the South-East League, unaware of the Essex Association. The following year it came under the county banner, and grew and grew. Eventually in 1981 there were 102 teams, playing in South-East Essex and West Essex Divisions. There was also a North Section (Colchester, Frinton, Suffolk) with three divisions. However, after a preliminary meeting in 1979, Suffolk formed its own county association in 1980, and in 1981 the North Section of the League was transferred completely to Suffolk.
- The idea of an Essex Congress was raised in Committee very early on, but shelved because of the lack of a suitable venue. However, in 1973 a group of enthusiastic players from Frinton decided to organise one, the profits to go to the 1975 European Championship Fund. The first meeting of the Organising Committee was held in London and the agreed programme is almost the same as today. Despite the miners' strike with electricity cuts in the early part of 1974, the Congress went ahead. Thus the Clacton Congress came into being, and has been a regular date in the calendar ever since. Unfortunately, the date has had to be changed recently, and members have been down for the first time. No longer can a "Full" notice be posted early in the preceding autumn. It has still maintained its friendly atmosphere, its generous prizes and a lovely floral display in the hall, and a very efficient Committee of Frinton members, with Claude Stokes as Organising Secretary.
- Inter-county competitions were part of the bridge scene right from the start. Essex played in the Tollemache Cup and in 1954 had two teams in the Metropolitan Cup, and played friendly matches with the London Business Houses, Surrey, the Civil Service and the London Banks. In 1958 a friendly match was started against Norfolk. All these friendly matches ceased when the Baby Tolly came into being, and later the Eastern Counties League got under way in 1966, first with two teams and fairly recently with a third. Past county captains have included George Burrows, Frank Fletcher and Mac Grant, and the Eastern Counties League captains have been George Curtis and Sid Prince.
- On the international scene, George Burrows played for England in 1952 in a Camrose match and in 1960 Henry Greenberg and Harry Rothschild also qualified to play for England in a Camrose match. Other players who have represented England/G.B. in international matches include: Gerard Faulkner (also a frequent non-playing captain), Keith Stanley, Brian Cowley, Tony Philpott, Paul Spencer, Marc Chawner, Roberta Trayman and Beryl Kerr.
- In 1983 Essex ran a Camrose match - England v Wales - at Brentwood, which was a great success.
- "Youth" bridge became a subject for discussion and promotion way back in 1960, but the age limit then was Under 35! Essex did not feel able to run a heat of that competition, though several pairs were interested. Schools bridge got under way in 1966, with a pairs competition for Under 25s launched in 1967 with an entry of 22 pairs. A flourishing Schools League started soon after, and a one day schools teams of four also added. Another competition tried at this time was "Play with a Master" for schools and juniors, along the lines of the present Harry Scully Trophy. Sadly, these have all been dropped due to a lack of support. Essex also started an Inter-county competition for junior teams, and in 1972 15 teams took part. Again, after some years entries fell, and Essex no longer holds this event, though later it was resurrected by London, with moderate success.
- Youth bridge is now a major part of the E.B.U.'s planning, but without a Schools' Liaison officer at present little progress is being made in Essex.
- Almost from the beginning the Essex Association became involved with E.B.U. and B.B.L. matters, and in 1949 put a resolution to the E.B.U. Council expressing their dissatisfaction with the method of selection of the pairs to play in the Camrose Trophy teams. Another major matter was the relationship of the E.B.U. and B.B.L. - a subject that still has not been resolved today. Lt. Col. Ernest Eve (Margaret Curtis's father) was the new E.B.U. delegate prepared to present the Essex case on Council and he was soon elected to the Rules & Ethics Committee as it was then. In 1965 Keith Stanley was appointed an Essex delegate, quickly followed by Margaret Curtis and Gerard Faulkner, all becoming members of various Committees and Board directors. Both Keith and Gerard became Chairman of the Union, Margaret Vice-Chairman to Keith, and at present Gerard is chairman of the Tournament Committee. Keith, now a Gloucestershire member, is Chairman of the Selection Committee, and Margaret is Chairman of the B.B.L. Toumament Committee.
- Another controversial matter has been the E.B.U. portion of the subscription, always considered too much and hotly debated at Council. In 1955 it was proposed to double it from 2/6 (12 ½p) to 5/- (25p) and this was strongly opposed by Essex who considered that such an increase would lose members. Payment by Direct Debit was mooted in 1983, but only came into force in 1995. In the 1980s, smoking became a major issue, being debated in Council and at local level. Now smoking at competitions is banned at all E.B.U. and county competitions and most clubs are non-smoking.
- In the early years of the Association, there was a considerable social side. There was a rubber bridge competition, and most competitions were home based. Essex held several Dinner/Dances at Southend and Woodford and a splendid 25th Anniversary Dinner/Dance was held at Epping attended by Reg Corwen, Hon. Chairman of the E.B.U. and his wife Rene. Unfortunately, the one planned for November 1996 had to be cancelled due to lack of interest, showing the change that has taken place. A small dinner was attended by Peter Stocken, present Chairman of the E.B.U.
- Essex has always tried to take part in all things relevant to its members, and held a Tournament Directors' course long before the present T.D. scheme came into being. Since then E.B.U. organised T.D. courses have been held in Essex, and many club directors have qualified. A coaching scheme for county players was held one year, but again a second one planned was not well supported. Three meetings for club secretaries have been held to discuss the competition calendar and such matters, but another planned in the early 90's was abandoned, once again due to lack of interest.
- Essex has been able to honour those who have worked so hard for the Association and its members. Dimmie Reming Awards have gone to Frank and Tricia Fletcher, Maurice and Teddy Schram, John and Gladys Morley, Bob Cuthbert, Ray Knight and George Curtis.
- In 1990 a further award was introduced by the E.C.B.A. - the Good Friend of Essex Awards, and a certificate has been awarded to 13 people so far.
- In addition, Essex honoured its long-standing Committee members with honorary membership, and currently Mac Grant, Tricia Fletcher, Teddy Schram and Margaret Curtis have this honour.
- Postscript: During the 40 years that Margaret Curtis has been our Secretary, the E.C.B.A. has become one of the most influential County Associations in the E.B.U. as well as the best run, not just my opinion but that of the late Dimmie Fleming, Secretary of the E.B.U. In the 12 years I spent as our Chairman I marvelled at the grasp she has of every aspect of Bridge, both in Essex and in the E.B.U., and at her capacity for work. Frank Fletcher lit the flame and Margaret has kept it burning brightly. We should all be most grateful she is happy to continue.