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Fifty years of friendly bridge club in town

Liz Muir and Ali Ritz.
Liz Muir and Ali Ritz.

MORPETH BRIDGE CLUB

On September 9 Morpeth Bridge Club celebrated its 50th anniversary with a buffet lunch at Stannington Village Hall.

Among the guests were Liz Muir, Chairman of the North East Bridge Association, Mike Craig, Chairman of Castle Morpeth Bridge Club, and many players, past and present, some of whom had played at the club right at the beginning in 1968.

Chairman Ali Ritz told guests about the beginnings of the club and how it developed.

The club has Bill Skelton to thank for its origins. Bill was a bridge teacher, ran classes in the town and promoted bridge throughout the area. He devoted all his time to the game and it is widely accepted that without Bill it would not be as popular in the area as it is today. In 1986 Bill Skelton was awarded the Dimmie Flemming Award from the English Bridge Union for his services to bridge.

Back in 1968 20 members of the Chantry Bridge class, run by Bill, met on September 9 at Morpeth Cricket Club in Stobhill and decided unanimously to form a bridge club to meet on Mondays and Fridays at the cricket club. They would take a summer break and Bill would be their chairman. The subs for the first year were 30/- to buy equipment. By September 25 there were 26 members.

Duplicate and rubber bridge were played on alternate weeks to provide variety, and a bridge drive would be held every month. The cost of tea and biscuits was 6d.

By September 1972 attendance on Mondays was very good, but poor on Fridays. In 1976 it was thought that membership would increase to 40 or 50 and that new premises should be explored. Lancaster Park school and the Methodist Hall were tried.

In 1977 there was discussion in the committee as to whether the club should join the governing body, the English Bridge Union (EBU), and the North East Bridge Association (NEBA). It was decided to put the matter to members, together with a constitution.

It was about this time that we were allowed to enter three teams in the Inter-Club Teams of 8 Bridge League, which is something we have continued. Play was moved to the Methodist Hall and by November, 28 members out of 48 had affiliated to the EBU.

In 1979 Friday sessions were stopped due to lack of support and Bill Skelton was made Life President.

By 1985 the club was thriving and was playing at St James’s Hall. As well as playing in the Inter Club Teams of 8, we were taking part in the Charity Challenge, the Friendly League Teams of 4, the Ladder competition, the Business Houses League and a locally-run, knock-out competition.

In 1990 smoking became an issue. We tried various methods to reduce it, but all failed and we finally banned all smoking. This was met with huge outcry and threats of resignations, but in time everything settled down.

We have always celebrated our anniversaries — our 20th was held at Gosforth Park Hotel, 21st at Embleton Hall, 30th at the Cook & Barker, and 40th at Embleton Hall.

By 1997 we were getting 22-plus tables, almost maximum capacity, so we started a second night on a Friday, but this was not well attended and was dropped a year later.

We decided to explore getting our own premises to provide a centre for bridge. Two other clubs had done that so we increased our table money and set up a reserve fund. St James’s Hall was run by Northumberland County Council, was in need of refurbishment and there were rumours it might be demolished for a car park.

By 2000 we had £10,000 in the reserve fund, but the idea of our own club faded when we considered mortgage payments, electricity, insurance, caretaking and cleaning. Also, St James’s Hall became more secure as Morpeth Town Council had taken it over and was refurbishing the building.

We stayed where we were and reduced our reserve fund by using the money for the benefit of bridge. We cut the table money to £1, subsidised entries to NEBA events and made a donation to bridge teachers in the area.

Over the next few years we instigated pre-dealt hands, created a web page and obtained a duplicate dealing machine. We also won the NEBA John Clark trophy for the club with the most points for team events, and were granted County Status, which allowed us to award double master points once a month; this continued for eight years.

Morpeth Bridge Club has always been friendly and sociable, and we always hold a Christmas party. We have enjoyed many weekends away and travelled to Amsterdam, Bruges, Barcelona and Dublin, playing bridge with the locals.

Now there is lots of bridge in the area, thanks to our army of teachers, and it is probably possible to play seven nights a week.

We are very proud that the Morpeth club is still thriving, with many people having formed firm friendships. It is for everyone and all levels of experience. Several members have won and featured in the top results of EBU, NEBA, national and international competitions. Others come to enjoy a good night’s bridge played against like-minded opposition.

Ali referred to the rolling photographic display of weekends away and social occasions. Many people featured are no longer with us and a toast was proposed to absent friends.

The afternoon was concluded by Liz Muir cutting the anniversary cake, while Peter Rodgerson spoke about the early days, and Mike Craig spoke on behalf of Castle Morpeth Bridge Club.