The Aylsham & District Bridge Club
“Aylsham & District Bridge Club” was officially formed on 13th June 1986 by Ann & David Melville. There were approximately seventy members and DuplicateBridge was played in Aylsham Town Hall on the first Friday of each month and Chicago on the third Friday. The following article (slightly amended) entitled “The Unusual Club” was first published in the Norfolk Contract Bridge Association Newsletter Number 12 in October 1986 and explains some of the history of the group.
“It was in January 1981 that a small group of people including Jackie & Brian Watson, Esme Dain, Graeme Johnson and ourselves (Ann & David Melville) decided to try a new form of bridge, namely ‘Duplicate Bridge’. Brian hired a small room above the Black Boys Hotel and twelve people were invited to attend, we went along to this first session with some apprehension. The room was very pleasant, clean and warm with comfortable chairs but the space was cramped, the lighting was dim and the tables were at least five foot long. We didn’t care as we continued to play there for five years. Our knowledge of Duplicate Bridge was limited and we did not question that the cards were passed from table to table in brown envelopes. Nobody seemed to mind that they sometimes played the same cards again – in fact we wonder if they even noticed!
Very few rules were imposed - we didn’t really know many – but as time went on we wanted to know more. There were duplicate bridge clubs in North Walsham and Norwich and our Sunday paper advised us on the best way to bid and play hands, so we decided to buy a book – “Duplicate Bridge” by ‘G.C.H.Fox’. This gave us a distinct advantage over our local friends, but how could we tell them they hadn’t got it quite right! We started by making some boards from cardboard and sticking the brown envelopes firmly to each side. There was a picture of a duplicate board in ‘G.C.H.Fox’ but it did not give the dimensions so we made them twelve inches square! This was a great improvement on the brown envelopes but they had to be transported with care or the cards fell out. A phone call to the local library led us to Arthur Brown the classics teacher at Paston Grammar School in North Walsham and a Norfolk County Bridge Player. He gave us lot of encouragement, a lot of advice and an old set of wooden duplicate boards. I still have these boards and use them for teaching.
Our confidence grew and in 1982 (aged just forty) David and I decided to join the “North Walsham Bridge Club”. We were amazed at the speed at which they played. Twenty four boards in three hours! At Aylsham we were lucky to complete eighteen boards in three and a half hours. Looking back we wonder how we survived those first weeks at North Walsham. We soon became aware of the rules and procedures, thanks particularly to the “Tournament Director” Gordon Bailey. We also became very aware of how little we knew about the running of a bridge club. Duplicate bridge continued to be played in the Black Boys on the first Friday of every month. More people were invited as the original twelve were not always available. This presented different problems as sometimes they all turned up! Our three table Howell movement had to be extended to cover four or even five tables. Some of our new friends from the North Walsham Bridge Club came along to help us (Gwen & John Allport and Jane Duncanson). Their support was greatly appreciated as it was still a case of the blind leading the blind – except that we did have ‘G.C.H.Fox’. We now regularly had five tables and some players from Norwich had joined our group (Dennis Ellis & Pat Wraighte). They were affectionately known as the “Norwich Knockers” as they played either Precision Club or Mattich. The local people were confused as their modified form of basic Acol did not include alerting. We wondered why experienced players from Norwich came to our ‘unusual’ club. It certainly wasn’t the Bridge!
By 1983 we had progressed to moving the boards around the room. The problem was that the five table Howell we used required four relay points and sometimes we played the wrong boards,. In an effort to prevent this we made a large diagram with red arrows to show the movement of the boards and black arrows to show the movement of the pairs. Scoring was completed at the end of the evening by our accountant friends from Norwich. It was based on “tops, middles & bottoms” which looked impressive to our inexperienced eyes and worked well when there were only three tables but…….........................…………when we had more pairs what happened to all the pairs in the middle? We tactfully suggested ‘Match Points’ and with the help of Joyce & Tony Klein from North Walsham & ‘G.C.H.Fox’ we personally learnt to score. For five years (1981-1986) this very select group continued to meet once a month in the Black Boys enjoying their own form of duplicate bridge. During 1984 we decided we were ready for some competition so we invited a team of bridge players from Wymondham. We played in the Town Hall, it was a very pleasant afternoon but possibly our food was more memorable than our bridge. We did though learn how to play ‘Teams’ thanks to help from Bobby and Dave Dinsdale and of course ‘G.C.H.Fox’.
Despite our inadequacies (or was it because of them) we had numerous enquiries from people wishing to join us. Our waiting list grew due to our shortage of space and players could only come by invitation as twenty players was the maximum we could accommodate in the room at the top of the Black Boys Hotel. We introduced various home bridge competitions (The Aylsham Cup & The Aylsham Plate) for the people who could not come. This proved to be very popular and it gave us a good nucleus of people when we did eventually move to larger premises. It also mixed people socially and allowed more bridge to be played in the area. One elderly local gentleman, Arthur Simpson who regularly went to the Bahamas for the winter chose to stay in Aylsham all the year because of his very full social calendar.
It was with considerable doubt and some opposition that we moved to the Town Hall in January 1986. We introduced a coffee break so that players could still pop across to the Black Boys for their liquid refreshment but they soon forgot and preferred to stay in the town hall for coffee going across the road for a social drink at the end of the evening! David was the Parish Clerk at the time so we were able to persuade the Parish Council to allow us to use the town hall on Friday evenings which was traditionally left free for Saturday hirers wishing to set up the room for the following day. We played on small whist tables which seemed minute after our large tables in the Black Boys but we had no funds for new equipment so we appealed to our friends for their regular support and an annual subscription of £3.00. We held a Bridge Drive and raised enough money to buy some new tables. We drove to Nottingham in our Austin Maxi and collected six tables for approximately £120.00 from a man who made them in his garage behind his house. These tables continued to be used by the club for many years.
As support grew we decided to have two meetings each month. Our regular Duplicate sessions on the first Friday of the month and a ” Chicago session on the third Friday which was intended to accommodate beginners from Eric Richardson’s local Adult Education classes who could not perhaps cope with our now more sophisticated duplicate sessions! It did in fact prove to be a very popular evening with a regular ten tables. By January 1989 we were playing every Friday evening but we still continued to play Chicago on the third Friday of each month until 1993……..DuplicateBridge continued to be played in Aylsham Town Hall every Friday evening until March 2012 (a total of twenty six years) when the club moved to it’s present venue the ACT Centre in Aylsham
On the 13th June 1986 we decided to make Aylsham and District Bridge Club official. We held our first AGM; we wrote a constitution, elected a committee and provided a membership card. The first Committee was David Melville (Chairman), Graeme Johnston (Vice Chairman), Bridget Collins (Secretary), Treasurer (Geoff Platt), Tournament Directors (Ann Melville & Stan Ireland) Competitions Secretary (Maggie Mitchell), Partners Secretary (Vera Padgham), Catering (Mary Groves), NCBA Rep (Tony Watson) Bridge Ladder (Stephen Cramp)
Other names from the first 1986 membership booklet that you may remember include………Janet Bartram, Kath Bayne, Ralph Bozeat, Eileen Bright, Rusty Collins, Roy Cox, Esme Dain, Dorothy Downes, Wendy Drummond, Jane Duncanson, Dennis Ellis, Grace Ewing, Billy Hammond, Esther Harrison, Eric Heard, Ann Howard, Joyce Ireland, Nan Jordan, Yvonne & Ray Knott, Roma Laurance, Liz Morgan, Ann & Tony Northgraves, Daphne Read, Edna Sanders, John Smith, Jan Wells, Grania Ward-Brown, Brenda Whale, Joy Woodrow…………..plus many others.
Friday 12th May 2017............The following notice was posted on the "Aylsham Bridge Club" website.........
"Following the Annual General Meeting, held on Friday, 12th May 2017, it was with sadness that the decision was taken that Aylsham & District Bridge Club would be wound up due to continuing falling support and financial viability.
The existing Committee will be meeting again during the next few weeks to determine the disposal of the Club's assests."
We (David and Ann Melville) are very sad that the "Aylsham Bridge Club" closed on Friday 12th May 2017. From the small group of us who started to play duplicate bridge in the upstairs room of The Black Boys Hotel in January 1981 a very successful club was formed and bridge was played at the "Aylsham Bridge Club" for more than thirty six years.
In 2000 Ann formed the "Aylsham and North Walsham Bridge Circle" for her Adult Education students who were not yet ready to join a bridge club. Some have stayed but many moved on to play in more competitive clubs......It now has over 100 members and caters for players of all abilities meeting on Monday and Thursday mornings at Aylsham Lodge Hotel.......Read about the "Aylsham & North Walsham Bridge Circle" by following the link in the purple "General Information" link.
Many bridge players, as they get older prefer to play in the daytime rather than in the dark winter evenings. We welcome players of all abilities at the "Aylsham Bridge Circle" but they must be considerate to "Beginners" !!
May Bridge continue to be played in Aylsham for many more years!........... We will hopefully celibrate 40 years of Aylsham Bridge in January 2021!!