Percy played hard and worked hard. Born in Portslade in 1886, he was one of Worthing's most prominent businessmen. His interests included the licensing trade, market gardening, property companies and two hotels in the town. The gardens of his house in Bulkington Avenue were often opened to raise money for charity, specifically the children's ward at Worthing Hospital.
When the Second World War ended, he decided to turn a disbanded tennis centre in Pavilion Road into a bowls club. Two greens were laid out on the old courts, the pavilion was converted into a clubhouse and on January 19, 1948, Percy arranged an inaugural meeting at Mitchell's restaurant in the town.
Thirty-two potential members attended. The new organisation was named Worthing Sports Ground Bowling Club Ltd. Less than four months later, on Saturday, May 1, the greens were opened and Percy, as club president, bowled the first wood of the first match. Membership had already grown to 54. After the game, 82 players and friends took tea with the president in the clubhouse.
Percy was an established international bowler (he gained 20 caps in all) and in that first season his clubmate Arthur Knowling was also selected to play for England against South Africa. The club's official opening on May 4, 1949, was marked by a match between a strong host team and representatives of the English Bowling Association, Sussex County Bowling Association (now Sussex County Bowls), the London & Southern Counties BA, the Banks BA, the Dennyside Association and Worthing Town Council.
Everything seemed set fair but in 1950 a shortage of members caused a crisis. In common with many sports and social clubs in those days, only men were allowed to join. Percy resigned as president, the limited company was liquidated and a new organisation, Worthing Pavilion Bowling Club, was formed. This took over the assets of the old club, becoming tenants of the new landlords, Worthing Estates Ltd (a Brazier company).
Percy agreed to return as president of Worthing Pavilion, a position he held until his death, aged 67, on May 11, 1954. Only 10 days earlier he had led the president's team against the captain's team, winning by 132-100. The Brazier family continued to support the club. By 1960 there were 166 playing members and 34 social members, enough to buy the freehold of the property and become a limited company, its status today.
Two momentous decisions were taken in 1962. The club opened a three-rink indoor green that cost about £14,000, helped by donations from members. And women were permitted to form a section for the first time. The Worthing Pavilion Bowling Club Ladies Indoor Section held its inaugural meeting on June 26, with 49 founding members. On October 1, Maud Keele, mayor of Worthing, officially opened the indoor green and bowled the first wood. "Now you can snap your fingers at the English weather," she announced.
A team from Sussex County Bowling Association, led by George Lane, deputy president, played Pavilion in the first indoor match. "This club will keep Worthing and Sussex on the bowling map," he said. The management committee made clear further improvements were planned. An extension was added to the clubhouse but on Monday, May 16, 1966, weeks before it was due to open, an arsonist struck. Two passers-by raised the alarm at 2am.
Twenty firemen with four tenders fought the blaze for six hours, to no avail. The clubhouse and extension were destroyed, the indoor rinks severely damaged. Bowls left in lockers were lost, as were most of the club records. Coins in the safe were reduced to a molten mass. Fortunately, the treasurer had removed the bank notes and ledgers the previous evening, as normal on Sundays.
The club flag was retrieved from the ashes and taken home by Tom Ramshaw, assistant treasurer. Within 48 hours it was again flying triumphantly, thanks to a lot of mending by his wife and mother-in-law. The outdoor greens were unaffected, meaning fixtures could continue as scheduled. The adjoining Worthing Football Club made their dressing rooms and kitchen available unconditionally and removed part of the fence to ease access.
On April 29, 1967, a new clubhouse costing £25,000 was opened. Worthing Pavilion marked the event with a match against rinks from the English Bowling Association and the past presidents' associations of Middlesex, Kent, Surrey and Sussex. A Ladies Outdoor Section was formed in 1968, with membership open only to wives of full members. It merged with the Indoor Section in 1976 but the female members had to wait until 1995 to be granted equal standing and voting rights.
By 1988 the playing membership was nearing 400, an expansion that led to the formation of Worthing Pavilion Bowls Touring Club. The first tour, to Bournemouth, involved 61 members. There has been at least one tour a year ever since, except for the Covid-enforced halt, to destinations across the country and overseas. As well as spreading the club's name, these events have raised thousands of pounds for charity through a stringently applied system of fines. What goes on tour stays on tour…
National Lottery funding of £101,500 contributed half the cost of a second indoor rink, which was officially opened on September 18, 1997, by Geraldine Lissenberg, mayor of Worthing, who bowled the first wood on the new carpet. Among the guests were Richard Corsie and Margaret Johnston, England internationals, as well as representatives of national and county bowls bodies.
One of the biggest cheers was reserved for Clarrie Woodhouse, who had attended the inaugural meeting in 1948 and was the only remaining founder member. His distinguished playing career included six years as an indoor international and 19 seasons with Sussex in the Middleton Cup from 1950-68 continuously.
Worthing Pavilion has long been proud of its reputation for high-quality greens, which since 1979 have been nurtured by Vince Ruttledge. When the club marked its golden jubilee in 1998 with a booklet written by John Holliman, Vince was rightly praised for his work as greenkeeper and gently parodied in a cartoon depicting his attitude to those who commit the cardinal sin of bouncing rather than rolling their woods.
The past 25 years have brought further changes to Worthing Pavilion, including solar panels on the indoor rinks roof and a modern heating and air conditioning system. Blazers and ties for the men, skirts for the women, are now the exception rather than the rule.
Covid-19 dealt the club a severe blow, especially in 2020 with the national lockdown, but membership is increasing again, albeit not as quickly as the honorary treasurer would like. Worthing Pavilion welcomes newcomers and bowlers of all abilities, who take part in national and county championships, local leagues and friendly fixtures.
Last year a group of sight-impaired bowlers, led by Les Fryer, started playing on the indoor rinks every Friday afternoon, aided by members with walkie-talkies. A closer relationship is being built with Worthing FC, the neighbour that provided invaluable help immediately after the 1966 fire.
New caterers, led by Jonathan Nulty from The Dining Room in Worthing, took over the kitchen and bar last month. There is a concerted campaign to raise awareness of the club among the wider public. Bowling is a sport that can be picked up in a few minutes but which takes years to master. The benefits to physical and mental health, the camaraderie and the sheer enjoyment cannot be overstated. With year-round bowling on offer, why not visit Worthing Pavilion? Continued support from people and organisations in the town will guarantee the club can celebrate its centenary in 2048.