For more than 700 years, men have gathered together to play bowls on its ancient green.
But now what is claimed to be the world’s oldest bowling club has been accused of sexism after refusing to change its rules and admit women.
Members of Chesterfield Bowling Club – which is reputed to date back to the 13th century – have never budged from the stance of their medieval predecessors.
Now, however, a member of the Derbyshire club has quit after failing in his attempt to overturn the policy, branding it openly discriminatory.
The Chesterfield Bowling Club, pictured, is refusing to overturn the male-only membership policy. A former member has branded this as discriminatory, adding that female members are needed because the club is financially in trouble
‘I suggested that women be allowed to come along and play but I got drowned out,’ said the former member, who does not want to be named.
‘I was always told it was a male-only club – that there should be no women involved.’
He said his attempts were blocked by a two-thirds majority and that the club’s 50 paying members have pledged to fight to maintain its strict male-only policy.
The former member says the club needs to let in female players to secure its future, claiming it is struggling financially.
The game of bowls is said to have been played on the same site in Chesterfield, pictured, since 1294 but the club is by no means the only one in Britain to claim to be the longest-established
The club pays £2,000 a year to Chesterfield Borough Council for the lease of its site – a deal which the ex-member claims means the authority is subsidising an organisation with an openly discriminatory membership policy, something it denies.
The game of bowls is said to have been played on the same site in Chesterfield since 1294, although the club is by no means the only one in Britain to claim to be the longest-established.
Men are still the only ones allowed to roll round stones along open grassland, pictured, at the Chesterfield Bowls Club, which claims to be one of the oldest ones in Britain
In its early centuries, players would have rolled round stones along open grassland, with wooden balls, enclosed greens and the invention of mowers transforming the pastime.
The club is not part of Chesterfield and District Bowling Association, which has a thriving ladies fixture list, and members are instead understood to compete against one another.
A spokesman for Chesterfield Bowls Club said: ‘We have traditionally been a male-only club for many years.
‘The subject of female members was discussed recently and members were happy with the current situation.’
Ladies at the Bowling Club, New Beetwell Street, Chesterfield, c 1900, pictured. The subject of female members was discussed recently and members were happy with the current situation
He said claims made by the source that the club was struggling financially were ‘not true’.
A spokesman for Chesterfield Borough Council insisted it did not subsidise the club, and unlike the town’s other bowling clubs it did not maintain the green.
‘The club has a 20-year lease on land we own, for which they pay a commercial rate for land of this type and which is higher than all the other bowling greens we own,’ a spokesman added.
While Muirfield Golf Course – founded in 1744 – famously voted to overturn its ban on women members earlier this year after losing the right to hold the Open championship, several other golf clubs continue to hold out.
Discrimination on the grounds of gender is illegal, but private clubs are allowed to restrict membership to men or women provided they don’t also reject people on other ‘protected’ grounds, such as race.