THE EARLY YEARS by Harry Warde
The earliest organised table tennis in Braintree occurred at the Bocking Village Hall in the 1930s. Here a team of lawn tennis players from the Courtauld club in Bocking formed a table tennis club that played in the winter in the Chelmsford Table Tennis League. This club was organised by ‘Shrimp’ Lawrence and consisted of other notable tennis players such as ‘Bam’ Saunders.
I was lucky enough as a teenager to be occasionally invited to an evening session and it was this that undoubtedly led to my later (much later, after the war) attempts to set up a table tennis league in Braintree.
Formation of the league
One Tuesday in June 1948 a meeting was held at the Victory Club in Bradford Street, Bocking (the Georgian house, now an Abbeyfield home). Unfortunately no record remains of the full business of that meeting but as far as memory goes, representatives of several teams from the Recreation Ground in Braintree, the Victory Club, Coggeshall, Crittall, Lake and Elliot, Hick Bros, the Police and the National Assistance Board (NABS) attended.
The Recreation Ground in Braintree had become a hotspot for table tennis among the younger players for which many thanks must go to Mr A V Young, the secretary of the Trust responsible for looking after the Recreation Centre, who was very helpful in encouraging youngsters to play the game.
The first five years
The outcome of the meeting at the Victory Club was the formation of a league of ten teams which started in the winter 1948-49. There were teams from the Recreation Ground (Reccers, Aces, Gnomes and Makers) and one each from Crittall, Lake and Elliot, Coggeshall, NABS, Victory Club and St Michael’s Hospital. The matches involved five players all playing each other: a total of 25 sets of one game up to 21.
At the end of the season an individual competition was held, thus setting the pattern for a finals night still held in a modified form to the present day. The first champion was Ronnie Wood, who won his title at the Crittall Social Club on April 9, 1949, before a crowd of more than 100.
The 1949-50 season saw an increase in teams of sufficient numbers to form two divisions and at the same time the composition of teams was changed to four players and doubles were introduced. Finals night was again successful and the men’s champion was George Thorpe of St Michael’s who beat Thomas Hunnable in the final.
Further teams joined up in the 1950-51 season and a ladies’ league was formed. Owing to difficulties in getting ladies to join up this was a fairly temporary arrangement that terminated in 1955. Finals night 1951 produced yet another new champion in Charlie French who beat the 1950 champion George Thorpe in the final. Ena Cocker won the first of her many ladies’ titles.
The 1951-52 season produced yet another newcomer as champion in Maurice Overall who defeated Frank Reading in the final.
In 1952-53 there was a sufficient increase in teams to allow the formation of three divisions with a total of 32 teams. It also saw the first of Peter Ogilvie’s championships when he defeated Ivan Palmer in the final in front of a record crowd of more than 300 at the Crittall club.
Harry Warde was the founder of the Braintree League. It was he who organised the meeting that brought the league into being in 1948. He took on the role of general secretary then moved over to become chairman in 1951. He served in that post for a total of 16 years in two spells and was made a life member shortly after he retired from the post.