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The Napier Bridge Club came into being on October 24th 1964 with fifty-nine members when the Hawkes Bay Bridge Club Split to form the Napier and Hastings clubs. Many of these names are remembered to this day through tournaments and their associated prizes such as the Farquhar Trays, the Lawson Jugs, the Finnigan Rosebowl and the Hetley Pairs.
First and foremost the possessions of the Hawke’s Bay Club had to be divided and the minutes of the Hastings Bridge Club detail the split:
“NAPIER: 1 kerosene heater, 18 chairs, 12 tables, 12 table covers, 30 boards, 24 cups, 24 saucers, 1 knife, 6 teaspoons, 1 tea towel, 12 rubber-bridge scorers, 1 black rule book, 36 match point bridge scorers, 1 timer, 1 teapot, 1 large plate, 1 plastic jug.
HASTINGS: 1 kerosene heater, 18 chairs, 12 tables, 12 table covers, 30 boards, 24 cups, 24 saucers, 1 knife, 6 teaspoons, 1 tea towel, 12 rubber-bridge scorers, 1 black rule book, 36 match point bridge scorers, 1 bell, 1 suitcase, 5 curtains, 12 small carpet squares and 1 Beynon
The new club first met in the Merchant Navy Clubrooms in Clive Square but six months later moved to the National Party rooms in Hastings Street. In 1965 a property was bought with money raised through debentures at 169 Wellesley Road and, following the Napier City Council’s conditional approval that the rooms “could not be used for other than the playing of bridge”, the club had a permanent base at last. As membership increased this venue became overcrowded and an approach was made to the Napier City Council for land. Initially the Council offered land in Napier’s industrial estate, but this was rejected because of security concerns at night. Eventually an area at the current Whitmore Park site was offered, the floor plans and specifications were drawn up by Terry Bolton and in 1968 the Napier Bridge Club was built. In between the sale of the McGrath Street rooms to fund the new building and the opening of the new club rooms, bridge was played in the Memorial Square building in Clive Square.
The new building initially comprised the main room with office at the back, bathrooms and a very small kitchen. Some years later approval was gained to increase the size of the clubrooms and the present day side wing (allowing 25 tables), office, bar, kitchen, bathroom and foyer extensions were added.
The club boasted many opportunities to play bridge throughout the week for all grades of player. In the early days there was Monday night (for juniors and beginners); Tuesday night (intermediates); Wednesday night (open); Thursday afternoon (which had up to 25 tables following the extensions) and Saturday afternoon when, after play finished, a flagon of sherry was produced!
Over time changes have occurred as each committee has sought to keep the best interests of the club uppermost although the changes haven’t always been met with approval by all members. The Wednesday Open night has changed to an A grade Thursday night, and a Monday afternoon Open session was begun in the early 1980’s. The Junior and Intermediate sessions are still run on Monday and Tuesday nights. The Thursday afternoon session ceased in 2013 due to the declining numbers of tables.
While the foundation members were automatically members of the new Napier Bridge Club, everyone else had to sit a test to become a member. That meant playing with senior members of the Club and playing bridge while the prospect’s competence was assessed.
Promotion from one grade to another, and therefore from one session to another, was a big event. The decisions as to those who were to be promoted was decided by a select committee and their names were announced once a year at the AGM. Once one was told to move sessions there was no choice about it!
Smoking was a bone of contention between smokers and non-smokers over the years. Smoking was allowed during play with two ashtrays on each table. Gradually as the health risks became better known and there was a national move to control it smoking was only allowed after 9.30 p.m. and eventually not allowed at all in the Clubrooms.
Changes in technology have wrought enormous change everywhere in the last 50 years and bridge is no exception.
When the Napier Bridge Club began, bidding was spoken and a thump on the table filled the role of the STOP card. Scoring was done on a score sheet which travelled on the back of its board around the tables. Calculating the match points was a huge task
Spoken bidding was replaced with written bidding on bidding pads as is done to this day, making the possibility of another table hearing the bidding of a hand much less likely.
The most recent innovations in technology have been the introduction of bridge pads at each table which calculate the score after the contract and result of each hand has been entered. The Napier Bridge Club website, and also the national Bridgenz website, mean that results are obtainable online virtually at the end of play. No more waiting until the next time at the bridge club to see one’s results.
The newest innovation for the Napier Bridge Club is the ability to compare one’s score not just with other players in the room but nationwide. By playing the same boards in the same time session as other clubs throughout New Zealand electronic sharing of the scores will provide a nationwide comparison.
Reflecting the changing fashions in society since the 1960’s Diana Lees describes the changes in dress at the Napier Bridge Club:
“When I joined the Bridge Club there was no dress code but certain standards were expected to be observed. I know that some members were sent letters from the Committee about their type of dress. For example if men wanted to wear shorts during the summer, they were meant to be dress shorts with knee length socks. I know of two women who were sent letters about the necklines on their sundresses being too low. Jandals were definitely frowned on. Most men wore shirts and ties.
Dress for open tournaments was very formal. In those days there were two sessions on Saturday – afternoon and evening, with a third session on Sunday morning. After the first session people went home and changed – the men into dinner suits and the women into long dresses with plenty of jewellery. In winter fur stoles were worn.
There was a stage when long skirts were fashionable, that nearly all the women wore them in winter. They were so comfortable and warm and stopped people complaining about the cold.
Today nearly anything goes!
In 2007 the inaugural New Zealand Club Championship was held in Hamilton. Napier qualified to be at the championship having won the Central Districts knockout competition. Six districts competed from around the country with Christchurch regarded as the favourites, followed by Wellington who were fielding a strong side. At the end of the first day Napier was sitting in fifth place out of the six teams. No one was ready for the dramatic turn of events on the morning of the second day when all three grades – junior, intermediate and open – achieved perfect scores catapulting the team to the lead and it was game on. The team worked hard in the last two rounds of the competition to maintain their lead and emerged as the winners of the inaugural NZ Bridge Club Championship. Napier Bridge Club was proudly New Zealand’s Top Club. The team members at the final were Matthew Bristow, Mairi Bristow, Gerry Palmer, Ross Vercoe, Jo Hayes, Ash Fitchett, Hayden Seal, Sylvia Brown, Sue Pike, Clodagh Norris, Ian Bannister and Bruce Robb with Susan Sykes as the non-playing captain. Others contributing in the lead-up knockout competitions were Francey Rolls, Jenny Peters and Sandra Coleman.
Over the last 50 years the Napier Bridge Club has seen huge changes in both the social and technical aspects of playing bridge. There are however two things which never change - the delight in playing the game itself, and the conviviality between the players. These remain as strong as ever and take us into the next 50 years in good heart.