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In the Beginning….

In the 1940s, keen Oxford bridge players would meet weekly sometimes in the Roebuck pub and at other times in a room above the Agripola restaurant in Queen Street. Then, thanks to the drive and energy of Rene Beck, the wife of a local dentist, the Bridge Club acquired a more permanent base, a room in premises in Bevington Road which her husband had leased from the University for his dental practice. Some years later, Mr Beck moved his surgery to Beaumont Street and 11 Bevington Road was leased directly by Oxford Bridge Club. At this stage, duplicate bridge was played regularly once a week on the ground floor of the house and the Bridge Club bar was situated in the basement.

Later the Oxford Bridge Club was formally established. According to an article in the Oxford Times (12 October 1967) the Club was founded in 1951 and therefore various events were arranged during 2001 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Club.
The Oxfordshire Bridge Association

The drive to form a county organisation, the Oxfordshire Bridge Association (OBA) sprang from the Club in Bevington Road, the original impetus being the desire to compete in the Dawes League. Since then the activities and remit of the OBA have increased substantially. However, the link between the two organisations remains strong and regular county duplicates still take place every Tuesday at the Oxford Bridge Club.

Move to Banbury Road

In the mid-sixties the Oxford Bridge Club was forced to vacate 11 Bevington Road when the University decided to re-acquire the house on the expiry of the lease. Through the good offices of Norman Chester, then Warden of Nuffield College, contact was made with University College who agreed to lease to the Bridge Club our current premises at 147 Banbury Road.

The new premises required substantial alteration and refurbishment before the Bridge Club could move in. Many members gave freely of their time; others gave loans of £50 each to the Club, money that was repaid within two years because of the Club’s success. These loans enabled the Club to complete essential work in time for the President’s opening party on Wednesday 11 October 1967. The Management Committee at this time included Micky Beck, President, Freddie and Lilly Beckett (Freddie Beckett was then Chairman), Eva Chester (Chairman of the House Committee) and Sandy Constable whose skills as a surveyor had been invaluable in planning the building alterations. Sandy Constable is now the President of Oxford Bridge Club.
Improvement and Modernisation

Since then the Management Committee has continued to improve the premises and the facilities offered, the latest major development being the substantial extension to the back of the property which was built in 1994. This was financed mainly from the Club’s contingency fund but also with a grant of £10,000 from the County Association. Later, in 1996, the kitchen was modernised and the previously decrepit back yard transformed. Thanks to Eileen Martensen, there is now a flourishing back garden, an inviting spot on a summer’s evening.

Improvements continue to be made. In 2000, Rita Todd developed a website for the Club and the subsequent purchase of a new computer enabled Club and County results to be posted on the Internet as soon as they are scored each evening. Also in 2000, the Club was redecorated throughout.
In 2004 the lease was due for renewal.  University College, the owners of the property, indicated their willingness to sell the freehold of the whole building, including the two flats on the first and second floors.  The Club decided to purchase the freehold and then sell the flats.  Thanks to the generosity of many members who made donations or loans, it was possible to secure a mortgage, purchase the freehold and sell off the two flats.  Peter Stevenson, the then Chairman, skilfully guided the Club through the lengthy process of securing finance and completing the transactions.
Eminent Players

Many prominent bridge players have been members of the Club or have been closely associated with it. Stuart and Anne Staveley who were members of the Club in Bevington Road were instrumental in setting up the EBU which they ran initially from a room in their house in Thame.

Moreover players such as Keith Bennett, Jonathan Cansino, Paul and Alex Fearnhead, Lynne Hayes, Sandra Landy, Rob Sheehan, Alan Truscott, and Abbey Walker, all of whom played at the Club at some time in their careers were chosen to represent their country in international events at senior or junior levels.
Services to Bridge

Four members of the Club, Eric Bowtell, Morrie Marsh, Winnie Ling and Sandy Constable have been honoured with the Dimmie Fleming award in recognition of their services to Bridge.

Honorary Life Members

Within Oxford Bridge Club itself, there have been nine Honorary Life Members: Eric Bowtell, Winnie Ling, Esme Alden, Peter Garner, Sandy Constable, Owen Baker, Cyril Wilsdon, John Simpson and Peggy Manuell each gaining the distinction in recognition of their years of service and dedication to the Club.

Esme Alden has worked tirelessly for many years as the Catering Officer for the Club, organising food and refreshments for all parties and major events, as well as ensuring a steady supply of tea and coffee on Club and County evenings.
Peter Garner joined the Club about 1985 when he came to live in Oxford. He has always been especially interested in the Rubber Bridge Section and it was not long before he was elected Chairman of the Rubber Bridge Committee. He carried out his duties here most conscientiously ever since, to the pleasure of the Rubber Bridge players. He was also House Officer for a number of years, a post which he undertook with his usual efficiency.  In 2004 he played a significant role in enabling the Club to purchase the premises in Banbury Road. 
Owen Baker joined the club in the 1970s, and soon became a Tournament Director, running the Wednesday duplicates on a regular basis.  Together with Jeffrey Luck, he started the Friday duplicate sessions, and continued directing on Wednesdays and Fridays for about 25 years.  He also had a spell as Treasurer, and later audited the Club accounts.  His contributions to the premises included work in the garden and the regular purchase of catering supplies.  In 2004 he played a significant role in enabling the Club to purchase the premises in Banbury Road.
Peggy Manuell started playing in the 1960s.  In the mid 1990s she joined the committee and discharged the role of House Officer and Safety Officer with distinction for about 15 years.  She played for many years in Wessex League teams.  She joined the team of OBC teachers, offering lessons to bridge learners, in the late 1990s, and has taught bridge for over 10 years.
Memories of Former Members
Eric Bowtell became public relations officer of the Oxfordshire Bridge Association in the seventies and from then on, for 27 years, he wrote a regular column, Bridge Notes, for the Oxford Times reporting on Club and County Bridge events.  He was an Honorary life member.
Sandy Constable played a major role in getting the plans drawn up and the building works carried out to make the Banbury Road premises a suitable venue for the Oxford Bridge Club. He was a committee member for several years and Chairman of the Club from 1977 to 1980. He has been President for the last two decades and remains a ready source of help and advice to the Management Committee and the Club. He was an Honorary life member.
Winnie Ling was the indefatigable secretary and chief organiser of the Bridge Club for many years. Before becoming secretary, she served on the committee in other roles, collaborating with others on the planning of the move from Bevington Road. Together with Esme Alden, John Simpson and Morrie Marsh, Winnie also acted for many years as an unpaid tutor at the Thursday Bridge classes organised at the Club. These classes have introduced many people to the joys (and frustrations) of bridge and have been a means of introducing new members to the Club.  On her eventual retirement in 2002 from the post of secretary, Winnie was honoured with the title of Honorary Vice-President, in recognition of her huge contribution to the development of the Club. She was an Honorary life member.
Hilde McIlvenna 1925-2016 An only child of doctors, Hilde (Maiden Name Overlack) was born at Durren in the Rhineland. The family moved East to Genthin, Saxony, where Hilde, a bright attractive girl completed her schooling entering Strasbourg University aged 17 in 1941 to study medicine. In 1945 she made a perilous journey of 335 kms. alone across war torn Germany on her bike to join an Aunt in Bonn. A job as a translator with the British army followed where she met and later married a young officer Tony McIlvenna. Later completing her medical training she followed her husband and worked all over the world. After his death in 1997 she moved to Oxford to be near her children Michael and Dotty, joining Oxford Bridge Club. A bold bidder her partners came to dread the comment 'Not a great deal I'm afraid'  as she laid out the dummy. She took huge pleasure in winning the Mixed Pairs Championship at the age of 85 partnering Aleksandar Lishkov. Her wide interests included music opera the theatre and until a few weeks ago a daily swim. Extended family was a source of pride and joy not least the recent arrival of two great-great grandchildren. She will be much missed.
John Simpson joined the Club with his wife in 1957.  He ran the Club duplicates and, in the pre-computer days, scored them by hand.  He served as Chairman of the Club for three years.  For many years he ran the bar and continued to direct duplicate sessions.  He devoted a great deal of time to the teaching of bridge and to running supervised duplicates, and many players graduated from his classes to participation in Club duplicates and membership of Wessex League teams. He was an Honorary life member.
Cyril Wilsdon was a regular supporter of both duplicate and rubber bridge at the Club for over 40 years.  He had a spell as Club Treasurer, and helped with the development of the garden at 147 Banbury Road.  In 2004 he played a significant role in enabling the Club to purchase the premises in Banbury Road. He was an Honorary life member.