“Brunton Bridge Club is a continuation of West Northumberland-” writes Rene Golding, but while this statement is undoubtedly correct it obscures the difference between the two organisations. West Northumberland, although very successful, winning the Inter Area Shield in 1971-72 and 1973-74, was not a club in the modern sense of the word. It had no permanent venue, no fee paying membership or table money, and recruited members by invitation. This point was noted by Newcastle Bridge Club, which questioned its eligibility to enter competitions. Sometime about 1973 a club was formed for anybody who wished to join, playing on Monday nights at Brunton Park Community Centre. At first, apart from persons from Roy Hurst’s class which had just ceased to function, most of the members lived within walking distance. Numbers of tables were usually in single figures. Roy, and to some extent his wife Barbara, did all the work involved in running the club, i.e. directing, scoring and looking after the financing, but eventually became tired of this and insisted that the club should be properly organised with a committee formed of all necessary officers. Ian Spoors and Len Wood drew up a constitution which has survived virtually untouched until the present day. One unusual clause in this constitution made it necessary for all members to join both the North East Bridge Association (NEBA) and the English Bridge Association (EBU). An Emergency General Meeting was called in December 1975 and the following officers elected :- Chairman- Tom Smith, Secretary- Donald Reid, Treasurer- Roy Hurst, Committee- Rene Golding, Shirley Beck, Ian Spoors and Alan Walton. Ian has said that “One of the things Brunton Club has always stood for is doing things properly” and this reputation stands until the present time even though Ian, due to pressure of other bridge matters, particularly by becoming one of only eight class A national tournament directors, is no longer on the Committee.
Heats of the Charity Challenge Competition took place in members' private houses, and in March 1975 this was won by Ian Spoors and Len Wood with 75%. Since then this international simultaneous has also been won by Gill Gold and Ray Green.
There was a reshuffle of committee members in 1978 and 1980 when Alf Bergman became Chairman (very useful because of his position on the Community Centre Management Team : later on Monica Van Miert also became Chairman for the same reason), Tom Smith became Secretary and Ben Lutwidge Treasurer, the committee consisting of Gill Gold, Rene Golding, Ray Green and Chris Benneworth. All through the club’s first spell at the Brunton Community Centre the Towns Women’s Guild (TWG) held meetings in the main hall on the third Monday of every month, thus forcing the Bridge Club to use the “Youth” Room and the Committee Room, which is quite small. At this time most clubs were gradually becoming non smoking with the result that smoking was only allowed in the Committee Room, the atmosphere in which soon became disgusting. Representations were made to the TWG to use the “Youth” room, as their numbers were much fewer than the Bridge Club, but they would not cooperate; the TWG is now extinct. Numbers of tables increased quite quickly and it soon became necessary for a shared Mitchell movement to be used, based first on 11 tables and later 13; however sharing tables caused the proceedings to be spoiled by some very slow players and so boards were duplicated at the table. By 1978 attendances greater than 22 tables were expected and suitable arrangements made.
For some time there had been a desire amongst serious bridge players for premises to be made available, either owned or rented, by a number of clubs acting in partnership, as a permanent base for bridge in the Newcastle area. Steve Ray and Ian Spoors took steps to raise money for such an enterprise by attracting sponsorship from Berger Paints and organising tournaments; as a means to this end it was felt by some members that Brunton Club should assist either by arranging special events or increasing the table money. The matter was discussed in committee meetings in 1978 and 1979 and a Special General Meeting was held in June 1979 which, while considering several possibilities, came to no definite conclusions. Meanwhile Steve Ray had arranged for money made for this purpose to be held in an account separate from Brunton Club’s with two signatories, himself and the club treasurer. However at the Annual General Meeting in April 1981 the project to “raise money for new premises was formally abandoned”. As a result of this a meeting was arranged by the club’s solicitor (David Gold) and a Trust Fund was set up containing the money already raised, with two trustees, Steve Ray and Tom Smith (in his capacity as the club’s secretary). In fact most of this money was eventually used to buy new tables, essential in two of the moves necessary in the not too distant future.
In 1981 Steve Ray became the only north eastern player since the second world war to play for England; he also played in 1982, 1983 and, more recently in 1999, with Brian Senior, another early member of Brunton Club. The club decided to provide a trophy for an annual mixed pairs event to celebrate the first of these achievements.
In 1983 scoring by computer was inaugurated by Ray Green, who wrote scoring and membership programs, and appropriate equipment was purchased. Although Ian Muir had been scoring bridge on a Sinclair, Brunton was the first club in the north east to develop and use such facilities now regarded as standard. This was a great advance on hand scoring, then usually done by the tournament director. Since these early days, Gill Gold has and continues to be our scorer-in-chief.
In 1986 serious financial problems were experienced by the management of the Community Centre and the club offered to pay an extra £100 per year for the next four years if the main hall was made available on every Monday night; this offer was not accepted. Early in 1988 a letter was received from the Community Centre’s management complaining that the club did not always stack the chairs properly after play on Monday nights and threatening “withdrawal of facilities” should this continue. Brunton was now one of the largest clubs, and certainly the most influential, in the north east and this threat, combined with the absurd situation every third Monday, caused a search “for pastures new”. Northern Rugby Club was able to let the bridge club use its large function room every Monday night and this was put to the AGM in April 1988 and approved “nem con”. The location, near to Brunton Park, was good, the shape of the room suitable, storage space for tables etc, adjoining, tea making facilities adequate, and the only weakness was the dim lighting and the necessity to purchase tables. However an agreement was signed between the two clubs and Brunton played at Northern Rugby Club from May 1988. In November 1992 bidding boxes were purchased for use in all club matches and other special events. This was because their use was becoming general in county and national events and club members would have been disadvantaged with no experience of them. However, once tried, most players wanted to continue using them and in April 1993 sufficient boxes had been acquired for them to be placed on all tables. Contrary to some members' expectations there were no objections at all.
After many discussions and the introduction of some half measures, a resolution making Brunton a completely “no smoking” club was passed by 45 votes to 21 at the AGM held in April 1993. Rene Golding, founder member, president of Brunton Club and “Friend of North Eastern Bridge”, became seriously ill and too blind to play bridge, and died in October 1995. A Memorial Service was held in St. Aidan’s Church on 13th of November. Arnold Deane, the Doyen of North East Bridge who played regularly at Brunton Club, accepted an invitation to become president saying he considered it a great honour, although it was generally thought that it was the club that was honoured.
In January 1993 the club was notified by Northern F.C. that the premises would not be available from April to mid October because of rebuilding. After a good deal of research it was found that Gosforth Rugby Club, which had recently moved to new premises in Kingston Park, had a function room that was in every way suitable, and would be happy to take Brunton Club for the relevant six months. We moved on a temporary basis as Northern had indicated that it expected Brunton back in their new clubhouse when completed. However, the facilities in Northern’s new building, with regard to the storage of tables and other equipment, proved to be much less convenient than those at Kingston Park, so it seemed prudent to remain there providing a satisfactory agreement could be reached, which it was. At an Extraordinary General Meeting in February 1995, in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee, Gosforth Rugby Club became the new permanent venue of Brunton Bridge Club. This turned out to be the only really disastrous decision yet made by the club because in only a few months Gosforth Rugby Club was bought by John Hall to become part of Newcastle United Football Club. The Agreement was effectively torn up : the new management obviously looked on the bridge club as an unimportant nuisance and played fast and loose with the bridge club’s facilities. For example, in November 1996, the bridge club was told that the premises would not be available for the first six weeks of the new year because of “refurbishment”. Thanks to the influence of Elspeth Pyman, Northumberland Golf Club’s premises were able to be used so no bridge nights were lost. On returning to Kinston Park it was found that no refurbishment whatever had been effected. The disgraceful behaviour of Gosforth Rugby Club’s new management culminated in a letter received by Arnold Deane on Friday, 7th of August 1998, terminating the use of their function room forthwith. Arnold managed to get this put back until the following Monday and, after a flurry of activity, the club obtained an option to use the new Northern Rugby Club premises. This was, inevitably as there was no other possibility, accepted at an Emergency General Meeting held at Kingston Park on Monday August 10th. The consequences of this abrupt change of venue were greatly improved by the club’s solicitor, David Gold, who obtained refunds of monies paid to Gosforth Rugby Club and financial compensation for the loss of some twenty tables.
In April 2000 an Agreement was made between Brunton Bridge Club and Northern Rugby Club which included six months notice of termination by either side. However conditions at Northern were not really satisfactory in that on several occasions the function room was, admittedly after prior notice, used by the Rugby Club, and the arrangements for serving tea and coffee were haphazard and unsatisfactory. The storage facilities were difficult to use and caused damage to bridge tables. Also, there was a strong rumour at large that Northern had sold their grounds and premises to a developer in order to pay for debts incurred when rugby turned professional. Of course no action could be taken without planning permission which would not be easy to obtain, but the bridge club’s tenure was felt by the committee to be insecure. Under these circumstances the committee looked hard and long at various alternatives including, as a last resort, returning to Brunton Park Community Centre, then not in use on any Monday nights. A telephone call to the chairman from the Community Centre telling the club that it was now or never as another organisation was asking for Monday nights caused the decision to be made, and in October 2000 Brunton Bridge Club returned to its birthplace. The main disadvantage was, of course, that the Committee had to arrange for all refreshments on club nights, but this has been done very efficiently by Elspeth Pyman and Marlene Davison. In the spring of 2003 the club started to use predealt, truly random, boards from the NEBA’s Duplimate machine, kept and operated in Gosforth by Ian Spoors. The time saved by not having to duplicate at the table enabled an extra round to be played , 24 boards instead of 22.
In January 2003 the President, Arnold Deane, died after a short illness; his daughter Avril generously presenting the club with a suitable trophy, played for in a special Sunday event which will be included in all future programmes. September 2004 saw the death of another member of the committee, Ben Lutwidge, who had been the club’s treasurer for 24 years, a much longer time in office than any other committee member. An engraved collecting box for table monies has been purchased , to commemorate Ben’s lengthy, conscientious service.
by Tom Smith