We talk a lot about the history of Warley Woods - but there is a third of the site which doesn't get much historical focus.  I'd like to share with you a bit of what I have learnt over the years at Warley Woods and also why we are grateful that Warley Woods has a golf course within its boundaries.  I hope some of it will be of interest to you too.

Early history

There has been a golf course at Warley for longer than there has been a public park.  The golf course was originally a private one - the first for the newly formed Edgbaston Golf Club.  It was created in 1896 on farmland that belonged to Lightwoods Farm and Warley Hall estate.  It opened on 21st March.  Membership was limited to 75 men and 35 women and subscription costs were £2.2s/£1.1s.  A donkey was used to graze the course.

From the reading of the Club Committee Minutes it looks as if Sir Hugh Gilzean Reid, tenant at the Abbey at time, may have been a member.  Later owners of the Abbey, the Tangye Family were made honorary members.  Alexander Chance and his wife and daughter were original members.  However just a year into the Club's history there was an issue about whether to allow the playing of golf on a Sunday and when this was agreed, Chance and his family resigned.

Chance then went on to lead the campaign to save Warley Park from being built on and to create a public park (1906).  Throughout this campaign he was very clear that he did not want golf to continue on the site.  Publicly this was stated because he felt the whole site should be open to the many and not the few, but I do wonder if he also found a small personal satisfaction in disrupting the pleasure of those who had not felt the same way about Sunday play.  I had always assumed he didn't like golf at all, so to find out that he was a player himself was surprising.  I'm probably being unfair to a man who did so much to provide amazing public facilities and he did so much good for so many - but I do think it adds some spice to the story of one of the covenants on the land which has caused more angst than any other.

Edgbaston Moves On and the beginnings of "Municipal" golf

Once the Edgbaston Club's lease expired in 1910 this part of the site became a public park and was called "The New Part".  There is evidence that Birmingham would have liked to use part of the site for golf again, but Alexander Chance led a public campaign to make this just more trouble than it was worth and then the First World War brought other priorities.  After the war proposals resurfaced but public protests continued about the idea whenever it was raised and there are even stories about fences protecting the planned golf course being pulled down.  Sounds very familiar to those of us involved in the last year, trying to maintain the new fence around the course.

In 1921, after Chance's death in 1917, the Council prevailed and opened a public course "Warley Municipal Links" "enclosed on two sides by picturesque woodland" (Parks and Leisure Department Year Book).  It was from the outset incredibly popular as it was the first truly public course in "Birmingham".  It remains one of the longest standing continually operating golf course in the area.  330 people played one bank holiday weekend - making it very different to the exclusive use of the 110 members of Edgbaston.

The Padghams

The most famous characters to be part of the Warley Golf scene were definitely the Padghams.  Both father and son were Alfred Padgham, which causes some identification problems in documents and reports.  Alfred John (Jack) Padgham Senior, was appointed as the first golf professional at Warley in 1921.  He stayed until his retirement in 1946.  He died two years later (1948) while living at Katherine Road.  His funeral was held at St Hilda's Church.  He custom made clubs as part of his role and these are often found on eBay with his name and "Warley" stamped on it.  We have a "Padgham Special" in the office.  His wife was Annie Padgham and she looked after the catering at the club at the Abbey for many years.  We know his daughter Lillian but called by her middle name, Gladys lived at the Abbey as one of our oral history interviewees was friends with her.

Alfred Harry Padgham, his son, was Open Champion of 1936 (and came 2nd and 3rd in other years)  and so there must have been real celebrations at Warley in 1936 as many players would know him personally.  He also played for Great Britain in the Ryder Cup three times. There are some claims in the press he went to Abbey Road School, but he would have been 14/15 by the time his father was at Warley and so this is unlikely.  AJ as you would expect kept making new course records, but it was his son AH who got the first hole in one in 1922.  We have pictures of "Padgham"  standing in front of the Abbey, but of course with the passage of time, we don't know which Padgham is in the picture, maybe this is both of them?

Warley Golf Club

A golf club was formed at Warley in that opening year as well (1921) - which is the same club we have now.  They still present The Gelling Cup - named after a chairman of the Birmingham Parks Department. Gelling was clearly a golf fan, as he hoped the course would be extended to 18 holes and made promises to the club at their first annual dinner.  We don't know yet which land he planned to convert - but maybe future reading of the Parks Committee Minutes will tell us. There are press stories about the golf course being enlarged and conflicts between picnickers and kite flyers and golfers - but we have never heard any other oral history stories about the golf course being extended into the park and loss of parkland.

 It was 1928 before the Golf Club had any place to call its own at Warley - when a room in the Abbey was made over to them.  We have pictures of this room and of lockers in the hallways in our archives.

While many would have felt the loss of the Abbey as a home base, we have reports from members of plaster falling from the ceiling during Club Committee meetings, so maybe they enjoyed their move to the new "Pavilion" in 1956.  I bet they never imagined this "temporary" move would last over 60 years.

The demolishing of the Abbey (1956) brought a strange benefit to the golf course, as rubble and soil were "acquired" by the head green keeper, Bill Mason, to make improvements to the golf course.  So we may have windows and walls of the Abbey still buried at Warley.

The Trust and the Infamous Covenant

When the Community Trust was planning to take over the management of Warley Woods, their business plan involved the income from the golf course being used to pay for the maintenance of the rest of the site as well.  They had been told that the course generated a profit, and they hoped to build on this basis, but this was slightly disingenuous on Birmingham Council's part.  Their Council Business Management Committee minutes (June 2001) show that the golf course was making a surplus but nowhere near enough to cover the park maintenance costs.  Council officers saw getting someone else to take it over would removing a liability rather than depriving them of an income, saving them £20-£30,000 a year. 

During the discussions about leasing the land to the Trust it was discovered that there was a covenant on part of the land that formed the first tee of the golf course and part of the Pavilion's location which prohibiting the playing of golf.  The covenant didn't potentially restrict golf on the whole of the golf course, but just this crucial  3.48 acres. 

Such was the belief in the need for the golf course income for the fledgling Trust that it was absolutely imperative that the issue covenant issue was dealt with before the lease on the land was signed.  The Trust couldn't risk legal action which might result in the golf course closing and its only income stream disappearing overnight.  

The issue was seen to be legally resolved by agreeing a legal land scheme swap, so the "charity land" is now completely within the woodland rather being part of both and golf course.  This transfer was agreed by the Charity Commission and the Trust felt able to sign the lease.  

Just to bring the story up to date, in case this is the first you have heard about it, when the Trust was taking the new site byelaws through the courts, there was a public challenge to the byelaws by a member of the public, citing the covenant.  The Judge overseeing the case did not set aside the covenant and said he could not do so.  But he recognised the Trust was operating a golf course and needed to be able to ensure public safety and so the byelaw barring anyone who had not paid to play golf being on the part of the site was put into law at that time and remains legally enforceable. 

And today - why we continue to love the Golf Course?

The Trust is very happy that one third of the site is a golf course.  It has been a challenge to learn how to manage it and how to make it work financially in a competitive world.  Only a few of the current Trustees play golf, but everyone of them takes pride in managing a quality course, in the same way they take pride in a quality park.  We have over 5,000 registered customers which means the golf course is very far from being an exclusive facility.

The golf course has never been the income stream to end all financial problems at Warley Woods.  It does not, and is unlikely to ever fund the running costs of the rest of the park. The days when Warley Woods sees 330 players over a bank holiday weekend is in the very dim and distant past.  However the income from the golf course does provide towards many of our costs including groundstaff, shop staff and the running costs of the Pavilion.

Without the golf course we would be unlikely to have a shop at all and would miss all those opportunities for the charity to come into contact with the public  While we have office staff, the cover we have would never be full time during a working week, let alone 7 days a week and into the evening in summer.  It is only managing the golf course that makes this staffing important and financially possible.

With the golf course, we have a  steady stream of visitors too - making the cafe viable and attractive to a contractor and to a golf professional which adds to our income. It also means we can afford to run the Pavilion and offer public toilets.  Then finally if we just closed the golf course and has it as just as parkland , we would still have to find the funds to mow and care for it - even if it didn't need the intense management focus required by golf course maintenance - it would still need work - and where would the funds for that come from?

 

Warley Woods is a large public park by most standards and 66 acres is a luxury many urban residents do not have access to.  The Trust is very happy to manage the other 33 acres for golfers - for their pleasure, for the sport, for our connection with history.  It's been part of Warley Woods for longer than the park has been a public park and we will do our best to keep it as place welcoming to as many golfers as possible and part of what our charity offers - not just as a business or a place just for a privileged few.

Warley Woods is managed by Warley Woods Community Trust for the benefit of anyone who wants to find peace and tranquillity  in an urban area.  It needs to raise £800 a day to help provide this urban oasis and maintain it to Green Flag Award Winning status.  If you can help towards this with a donation small or great - we would be incredibly grateful.  The Trust is sustained by supporters like you and together we will be able to keep Warley Woods a special space for today and future generations. 

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