History Of The Cunliffe Arms Bowling Club

By Gwynne Belton

The Cunliffe Arms Bowling Club is a comparatively new club in the Wrexham area, having been formed only as recently as 1983. It is therefore a relative newcomer when compared with clubs such as The Gate Hangs High, Garden Village, Gresford Colliery and the like who have been competing in the local leagues for many years.  Despite its short history, however, the club has continued to go from strength to strength from the very first year it entered the Wrexham Saturday League in 1984, when it managed to win one match out of the 16 played. As the years went by the club grew and as more players were attracted by its position in Acton Park, so more teams were entered in different leagues.

In later years the Cunliffe joined the Wrexham Veterans league, the Flintshire Midweek League, the Malpas Veterans’ League, the Pairs League and more recently the Welsh Counties League. Despite only possessing the one green, the club now boasts twelve teams and encourages players of both sexes and of all ages to join. Some years ago the Wrexham County Borough Council requested that teams playing on council owned greens might want to consider running the greens themselves. This meant that instead of employing Pavilion Attendants to collect money from bowlers and tennis players throughout the summer, the Council could rely on the bowling club members to open and close the green each day and to share the responsibility for the cleanliness of the clubhouse and its surrounds. In return the Council agreed to mow the green three times a week and to maintain the pavilion when repairs were necessary. The plan seemed a good one but the idea was only to prove feasible if the local Acton Community Council agreed to make a payment to the WCBC annually.  We were fortunate to live in an area controlled by a far-seeing Community Council who realised the value of keeping open the amenities provided in the park when otherwise they may have been lost to the public, and so since about 2002 this arrangement has been in force.

From the club’s point of view we have the advantage of not having to worry about the cost of repairs and grounds maintenance. At the same time whilst we would like to provide a higher crown for the benefit of the bowling purists, we are at the behest of the council. Since they do not see the need to raise the crown we are stuck with what many describe as a very easy green for the visitors to master. So easy has it become for visitors that last season just as in previous seasons the number of home games lost by Cunliffe teams numbered no more than four out of 120 games played on the green.

The club may not have much of a history in bowling circles, but what we do possess is the experience of playing on a green which is not only as aesthetically attractive as any green in North Wales, but also it forms part of an area of Wrexham that is steeped in history. There is no way of knowing how many famous men and women might have walked over the spot where the green now stands when visiting the Jeffreys and the Cunliffe families. The chances are that because of their social standing in the locality a veritable ‘Who’s who’ of eminent persons of the time would have visited the site. We are told however that a headless horseman has been seen occasionally riding over the green towards the lake but fortunately no damage has been found the next day.

Acton Park

Acton Park In Its Heyday

For those interested in the history of the area we know that the bowling green stands in the old township of Acton (the name was possibly a corruption of Oak Town) and until 1236 the area was owned by the Cistercian monks of Valle Crucis Abbey in Llangollen. At some time after the Edwardian conquest of Wales, the township became part of the Lordship of Bromfield and Yale and by the late 16th Century much of Acton had ceased to belong to the Church and had become one estate, Acton Park, the property of the Jeffreys family. It was not until 1935 that the municipal boundary of the Borough of Wrexham was extended to meet the parish of Gresford, and so Acton became a part of the town of Wrexham, instead of a township in its own right.

In 1620 John Jeffreys, a judge, lived at Acton hall, the largest house in Wrexham at the time and it was there on 15 May 1648 that his grandson, George Jeffreys, was born. George Jeffreys, later to become known as the Hanging Judge, was educated at Shrewsbury School from 1652 to 1659, St Paul’s School in London from 1659 to 1661 and Westminster School until 1662. He then entered Trinity College, Cambridge to study law. He became a barrister in the city of London and was knighted in 1677 and a Baronet in 1681. In 1683 he was appointed Lord Chief Justice ( the youngest ever ) and Privy Councillor to King James II. In 1685 he was created Baron Wem and Lord Chancellor of England and it was rumoured at the time that he could have risen to Viscount Wrexham and Earl of Flint had he converted to Roman Catholicism.

Judge Jeffreys

The Hanging Judge

George Jeffreys, apart from having been born a stone’s throw from the present bowling green, is best remembered for the Assizes in 1685 in which he took part in the West Country following the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth. On the instructions of the king he dealt with the rebels with great severity earning himself the nickname ‘Bloody Jeffreys’ as well as the undying hatred of the ordinary people. Not only did he sentence 320 people to death but he also sentenced about 850 to transportation to the West Indies as slaves and ridiculed them in his court whilst passing sentence. Such was the storm of protest afterwards that Judge Jeffreys was taken to the Tower of London for his own protection and died there four years later.

Acton Park

Acton Park 1796

His family lived in Acton Hall between the 16th and 18th century and Jeffreys Road was named after them. In 1747 Acton Hall was sold by an Act of Parliament to Ellis Yonge of Hope and later in 1785 Sir Foster Cunliffe 3rd Baronet acquired the property for £27,000. The Cunliffe family had made their fortune by selling African slaves in America and importing Viginia tobacco to Britain. The family was well-known in Liverpool and Cheshire.  By this time the old house was in serious disrepair and Sir Foster spent another fortune making many alterations and extensions as well as purchasing several fields, which were later converted into parkland surrounding the house. A sandstone wall some 2.3 miles long was built surrounding the estate and part of this wall can still be seen around some areas of the park today. A lake much larger than the one that exists now was created and a Chinese footbridge crossed the lake at its narrowest point, near a point opposite Warrenwood Road. In 1787 Sir Foster Cunliffe introduced archery meetings to Acton Park and an organisation known as the Royal British Bowmen was formed. The society took part in archery competitions in most of the country houses in the Wrexham area.

Acton Hall

Acton Hall 1829

On 30 March 1878 the first ever Football Association of Wales Cup Final was played in Acton Park on the playing fields now owned by Acton Park Junior School alongside Box Lane. Wrexham beat Druids United 1 – 0 in front of 1500   spectators. It is also interesting to note that this was the first ever football match in which a team  (Wrexham) included a centre-half. Previously teams had played with two centre forwards and two half backs.  

On August 24 1889 Queen Victoria visited Acton Park and a temporary pavilion was erected somewhere between the present bowling green and the lake. A vast crowd turned out to greet her.

Acton Hall

A Front and Side View Of Acton Hall.

Notice How The Side Resembles The Front Of the Apartments That Have Been Recently Built

In 1905 the Cunliffe family vacated Acton Hall after 120 years and after a period during which time the house was rented it became a military training establishment in World War I. When Sir Foster Cunliffe died in 1917 the estate was bought by Belgian diamond merchant Sir Bernard Oppenheimer and he established a diamond polishing factory on the spot now occupied by the school. The factory was where disabled ex-servicemen were to be employed but after only a few years it was sold and transformed into the school. 23 acres were sold to local businessmen William Aston who opened the grounds to the public of Wrexham as one of the two parks now in existence.

Acton Hall

Acton Hall Pre-decline

During World War II the house and grounds were again used by the military and for a time the Indian Cavalry was billeted there. Later a detachment of Royal Marines trained in the grounds and it was they who blew up the Chinese bridge over the lake. In February 1944 ‘B’ Company 33rd Signal Corps Construction Battalion of the US Army arrived in Acton Hall and remained there until 26 June 1944. During their spell at the hall they were not particularly careful and were responsible for a great deal of damage to the building. It is also suggested that the Company were responsible for the disappearance of one of the wooden dogs that stood above the entrance gate to the estate on Chester Road. 

Acton Park

The Entrance Gates to Acton Hall That Still Stand Today

In 1977 the National Eisteddfod of Wales was held on Borras Airfield but the Proclamation ceremony of 1976 took place on 3 July in Acton Park just 100 yards from the green. The Gorsedd Stones still stand there today.

Acton Hall was demolished in 1956,and the site which was possibly the finest in Wrexham in terms of position was transformed into a Civic Amenity Centre (a euphemism for a rubbish tip). Much of Acton Park is now a public leisure area, a much needed and appreciated green oasis in the midst of an area that has been dramatically changed from the rural landscape of the time of the Jeffreys family to the urban sprawl of the past 50 years.

Acton Gardens

Acton Gardens Around 1960

In 1971 the Cunliffe Arms public house was opened on Jeffreys Road with the Borras Park Evangelical Church next door. The public house had been built at a cost of £45,000 by Border Breweries. The name was decided following a local competition and other names suggested had been The Whippet Lodge, Swinging Judge, Hanging Judge, The Scaffold, the Woolsack and Borderline Case. It is perhaps fortunate from the bowling club’s point of view that the name ‘Cunliffe Arms’ was the result. Despite considerable public opposition Wrexham Borough Council laid out a recreation area in 1972 at the rear of the Cunliffe Arms and in 1973 two tennis courts, a pavilion, a small car park and a bowling green were opened for use by the public.  

Whilst the bowling green was used only by the odd members of the public who fancied a game from time to time, in 1983 a meeting was held by interested bowlers in the area and it was decided to form a team. Application to the Wrexham League was made and a team was accepted for the 1984 season. And so the history of the Cunliffe Arms Bowling Club began from small beginnings until the present day with its 12 teams in six different leagues and some 80 members.

Acton Park

The Cunliffe Arms Bowling Green As It Is Today