The early years – In the 2010 issue of the NYSMBA Handbook a general article about the history of Short Mat was published. This was based mainly on the recollections of John Ward, one of the founders of the NYSMBA.
See – The Early Years
In 2019 another article was put together by Elaine Gathercole of Welburn SMBC. See – History2
Pre 1993 – There is precious little documentation from the early years of Short Mat Bowling in our county and one has to rely on the recollections of several of the original “short-matters” (see above). They seem to be in accord that sometime in the mid 1980’s there was an initiative to promote the game as an ideal one for village halls across our predominantly rural county. Initially this involved Jim Rose of mat makers Regalgrene and the local Parish Council Associations who organised several demonstrations of the game in various locations across a wide area of the county.
As a result of this initiative several clubs came into being. Ampleforth in the north (on the edge of the North York Moors), Darley in the west (the lower Dales) and Escrick in the flat lands to the south are among several clubs that can all trace their origins to around this time. Each of these clubs subsequently generated further interest in the game in their own vicinity and the formation of more clubs soon followed. These early clubs soon felt the need for regular competition and in 1987 the Selby League (fours) was formed to the south of York. Three years later in 1990 the Ryedale League (triples) took off with four of the clubs to the north of York.
These were also the early years of the English Short Mat Bowling Association and the idea of dividing the country into regions or zones was being tried. In the north this resulted in the setting up of the Northern Zone (renamed the Northern England Short Mat Bowling Association – NESMBA in 2004) which held its inaugural meeting in 1990. This Northern Zone immediately started organising a local inter-county league for its member Associations and it was probably a desire to enter this league that led to a meeting of several keen Ryedale League bowlers early in 1991 at the Feathers Hotel in Helmsley. At this meeting it was decided to launch our own county Association under the Chairmanship of John Colley (Ampleforth) with Jill Leckenby (Helmsley) as Secretary and John Ward (Ampleforth) as the counties representative at the Northern Zone. In that first year there were just 6 clubs with 161 registered members. For the first couple of years the affairs of the Association continued to be managed alongside those of the Ryedale League by a single committee.
1993 to the present – Expansion continued steadily with 16 clubs and nearly 400 members by 1993. Due to our physical size (the largest county in the country) it was soon necessary for two new leagues to be formed so that these newer clubs could enjoy regular competitive bowling without excessive travelling. These were the Scarborough League in the east and the Kyle Valley League in the west, both founded in 1993 and both of which continued the popular triples format. 1993 also sadly saw the premature death of John Colley and in 1994 a new hierarchy was elected with Fred Wood (Easingwold) as Chairman, Gordon Hanson (Easingwold) as Secretary and Ivan Topping (Easingwold) taking over from John Ward as our Northern Zone representative. In 1995 a county wide league was introduced that grouped all clubs into six regions. This Yorkshire (North) League thus enabled competition between all members in the county (now up to 600 from 24 clubs). In 1997, several clubs, already playing in the existing triples leagues but eager for even more competition, got together to form a pairs league – the Vale of York League. In 2000, a small league initially involving just four of our western most clubs started up playing a mixture of pairs and singles – the Dales League (renamed as Nidderdale League in 2004/05) However this league ceased to exist shortly thereafter. In 2003 the White Rose League – a summer only league which plays between April and September got going. Our most recent league, the Dales League was set up in 2016 as an offshoot of the Scarborough league.
As we complete our 28th year (2018/19) we now find ourselves with 41 clubs, 822 members and 8 leagues. Most of these clubs are based in village halls allowing 2 or 3 mats whilst a few of the larger clubs meet in leisure centres that allow 4-6 mats. Individual club membership varies from 6 to 46.