On the 9th September Morpeth Bridge Club celebrated its 50th anniversary with a buffet lunch at Stannington Village Hall.
Among the guests who attended were Liz Muir - Chairman of the North East Bridge Association, Mike Craig - chairman of Castle Morpeth Bridge Club and many other bridge players both past and present - some of whom had played at the club right at the beginning in 1968.
Ali Ritz - the present chairman - told guests about the beginnings of the club and how it developed over the years.
The club has Bill Skelton to thank for its origins. Bill was a bridge teacher and ran classes in the town and promoted the playing of bridge throughout the area. He devoted all his time to the game and it is widely accepted that without Bill the game of bridge 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 which was run by Bill met on Monday 9th September at the premises of the Morpeth Cricket Club at Stobhill and after discussion 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 would be 30/- in order to buy the necessary equipment and by the 25th September that year there were 26 members Duplicate and rubber bridge would be played on alternate weeks to provide variety and a bridge drive would be held every month. There would be a tea break during the evening and the cost of tea and biscuits would be 6d. By September 1972 attendance on Mondays was very good but poor on Fridays - duplicate bridge proving more popular. In 1976 it was thought that the membership would increase to 40/50 members and that new premises should be explored. Lancaster Park school and the Methodist Hall were tried.
In 1977 there was a lot of discussion amongst the committee as to whether or not the club should join the bridge governing body - the English Bridge Union (EBU) and the North East Bridge Association(NEBA). It was decided to put the matter to the club members together with a constitution. It was about this time that we were allowed to enter 3 teams in the Inter-Club teams of 8 Bridge League which is something that we have continued to do up to the present day. Play was moved to the Methodist Hall later this year and by November 28 members out of 48 had affiliated to the EBU.
In 1979 the Friday night sessions were stopped due to lack of support and Bill Skelton who had been chairman from the beginning was made Life President.
By 1985 the club was thriving and we were now playing at St. James Hall. As well as playing in the Inter Club Teams of 8 we were also taking part in the Charity Challenge, the Friendly League Teams of 4 taking place in members homes, the Ladder competition, the Business Houses League and a locally run knock out competition.
In 1990 smoking became an issue as with everywhere else in the country. We tried various methods to reduce smoking but all failed and we finally banned all smoking during the evening. This was met with a huge outcry and threats of resignations but in time of course everything settled down again.
We have always celebrated our anniversaries - our 20th was held at Gosforth Park Hotel, 21st at Embleton Hall, 30th at the Cook & Barker and our 40th at Embleton Hall.
By 1997 we were getting 22+ tables which was almost our maximum capacity so we started a second night on a Friday but this was not well attended and was dropped a year later.
It was about this time that we decided to explore getting our own premises to provide a centre for bridge in the area. Two other clubs in the area had done just that and were proving very successful. So we increased our table money
and set up a reserve fund. Another reason for looking for our own premises was that St. James Hall which at that time was run by Northumberland County Council was in need of refurbishment and there were rumours that the building might be demolished in favour of a car park. By the year 2000 we had £10,000 in the reserve fund but our idea of our own bridge club had somewhat faded when we considered on going bills of mortgage repayments, electricity, insurance, caretaking and cleaning. Also the venue of St. James hall became more secure as the Morpeth Town Council had taken over the running of the hall and were spending money to refurbish and repair the building. So we stayed where we were and reduced our reserve fund by using the money for the benefit of bridge at the club. We also cut by the table money to £1, subsidised entries to NEBA events and made a donation to the 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 became winners of the NEBA John Clark trophy which was given to the club with the most points in the area for team events. We were also granted County Status which allowed us to award double master points once a month and this continued for 8 years.
The Morpeth Bridge Club has always been a very friendly and social club and we always hold a Christmas party and have enjoyed many bridge weekends away in the area and also abroad. We travelled to Amsterdam, Bruges, Barcelona and Dublin playing bridge with the locals and enjoying their hospitality.
Nowadays there is lots of bridge in the area thanks to our army of bridge teachers and it is probably possible to play 7 nights a week for those who are totally addicted.
We are very proud that the Morpeth Bridge Club, started by Bill Skelton all those 50 years ago, is still thriving with many people having formed good and firm friendships over the years. Our club is for everyone and all levels of experience. Several of our members have gone on to win and feature in the top results of numerous EBU, NEBA, national and international competitions. Other people come along each week to enjoy a good night's bridge played against friendly and like minded opposition. Its always a challenge to do better each week and even though players have had a bad night one week they keep returning in the sure knowledge that the next week will be better.
Ali Ritz then referred to the rolling photographic display of past weekends away and social occasions. Many people featured in these photographic records are no longer with us today and a toast was proposed to absent friends.
The afternoon was concluded by Liz Muir cutting the anniversary cake and saying a few words on behalf of the NEBA, Peter Rodgerson who was a founder member spoke about the early days and his partner Bill Skelton and Mike Craig said a few words on behalf of Castle Morpeth Bridge Club.