• Surbiton Postal Rifle Club

The History of Surbiton Postal Rifle Club

So, how did the club get its name when it isn’t in Surbiton and the only postal link is the type of competitions it enters?
A prime mover in the formation of the club was the present Secretary, Bill Baptie, a well-known figure in Home Counties shooting circles. He enlisted the aid of his father, Alex, also then a familiar name in the shooting world – at that time being Chief Ranger Officer for Surrey, as well as Range Officer for many a national meeting. They started the club in 1966 as part of the Kingston District Postal Sports and Social Club (“Postal”, in this context, describes its allegiance to the Post Office; it has no relevance to the kind of competitions undertaken.) The Post Office bought the first three rifles and the Bapties, along with half a dozen postmen, began shooting, one night a week, at the Steadfast Sea Cadets Old Boys.

Shortly afterwards, the local Post Office acquired the old TA (Territorial Army) building adjacent to Kingston Post Office in Orchard Road. The building had been used as a drill hall and contained a 3 point rifle range. Bill Baptie wasted no time in lobbying for the Club to be allowed to use range and the Head Postmaster agreed until such time as the structure was needed for Post Office purposes. Although the postal area was called Kingston, the head office was in Surbiton (which had been merged with Kingston in only 1965), so it seemed right to the members, to call the club Surbiton Postal Rifle Club. Bill Baptie became Club Secretary.

Club members set to enthusiastically and the range, complete with its own small club room, was soon in working order and being used for regular shooting. Membership was growing and extending beyond the ranks of Post Office employees at which point the club became an independent entity from the Post Office Sports and Social Club. Jerry Jellinek was one of those who joined. He had returned from America where he had been in the army but did not relish the prospect of going to Vietnam. He retuned to the UK as his family had a factory in Molesey and became Chairman in 1969.

In fact, everything was thriving – when, at Christmas, 1969, disaster struck. The range was destroyed by a fire which also took the roof of the entire drill hall. The fire was put down to the club’s coconut matting resting on the hot spot lights. It looked like the end of the road for the Rifle Club until, as so often happens at such times of adversity, another local club, Decca, offered hospitality at their nearby Tolworth range.
Surbiton members spent a number of anxious months waiting for the Post Office to decide whether to rebuild. As luck would have it, the club won the Post Office Championship that year, which probably counted in their favour. When the rebuilding plans were finally drawn up, they were elated to discover that not only would they regain their range; they would additionally get their own front door and a private loo! Within twelve months, they were back on their old range, shooting six days a week, with ever increasing membership in both senior and junior sections.
Then, in 1978, came rumours of a ring road development which would cut right through the drill hall and the range itself. During the next two years, when the Post Office were in negotiation with the local council for the purchase of the hall, the Head Postmaster undertook to do all he could to see that the Rifle Club were found alternative accommodation.

It was in 1980, shortly after the ring road rumours were translated into reality, that there appeared in the local press an invitation from Kingston Council for suggestions as to what use could be made of the underground car parks on a council estate in the district. Despite being only some twelve years old, the car parks beneath the estate had fallen into disuse because of extensive vandalism. The fire brigade was growing tired of extinguishing maliciously started fires in parked vehicles and the council was receptive to suggestions for alternative uses for the area.

The receptive attitude waned somewhat, initially, when Bill Baptie wrote to suggest that the Rifle Club should convert one of the car parks into a clubhouse and range. The council discussed the matter and, as no one else has any suggestion to put forward, the project was given tentative approval.
The police were also initially less than enthusiastic, but after some discussion, they agreed to endorse the scheme on condition that their security stipulations were complied with. These included a twenty-four hour monitored security system, to which the club agreed. As the club did not plan to use all of the car park, the Council split the use between the club and a car hire company on initial 30 year leases. The rifle club had the section at the back and the hire car company the part at the front the two being divided by a fence. However, the Petroleum Officer for the area wouldn’t let the hire car company store cars there, so the rifle club took over the lease for the whole of the car park at £50 per annum for the first five years. The 30 year term was then reset to start from when the club took over the whole of the car park.
Planning permission was the next hurdle. The car park was completely enclosed on three sides and above with only the entrance on the fourth side allowing ventilation. Creating the range meant building dividing walls between the concrete support piers. There were consequently a number of problems to face, among them being the concern of the local Borough Health Officer over the possibility of lead pollution. This objection was met by the installation of a rather expensive ventilation system in which air was blown in under the firing points and then drawn out through filters into the outside air.
During the period in which they awaited the outcome of their planning application, the club began to consider how to raise the anticipated capital cost of some £10,000. After being shown the site and the plans, the Sports Council representative for the area, Mr Andy Sutch made recommendations to the Council which resulted in a grant of £5,000. A local lottery contributed another £1,500, and the rest came from the Club’s own resources.
Surbiton were not the first club to learn that necessity is the mother of invention when embarking on club and range construction. An interesting array of materials was assembled by some judicious “scouting around” by members. For instance, one member heard that a local factory was in the process of refurbishing its washrooms. They were asked what was to become of the old sinks and were told that they would be dumped. Following appropriate representations, those sinks were “dumped” – legitimately and gratuitously – on the site of the new range. With them came complementary electric hand driers.
Planning permission duly granted and, all formalities finally completed, work on the new range commenced in March, 1981. The first job was security: they had to find a way to prevent the raw materials disappearing from the site! As usual, the building work had to be done by the members themselves and there then began a period of dedicated involvement and frequent Sunday dinners of sandwiches and crisps.
The towns of Kingston-upon-Thames and Delft, in the Netherlands, had had close links since 1946. In early 1982, the Club formed a link with the SV DoelTreffend club. This resulted in an invitation being issued to the Dutch shooters to visit the Club for a week’s shooting in the May of that year. The planned visit provided an incentive to get the range finished and, although the work was not complete, it was possible to get permission to use the range in time for the Dutch party to fire the inaugural shot. Despite a successful week’s competitive shooting with both rifle and pistol, there was still much to do, after the visitors had left, to put the finishing touches to the facility.
This visit developed into an annual exchange to each other’s range. The Dutch club members primarily shot kneeling rifle at 12½ metre, so, SPRC started doing kneeling and Delft started doing prone by shooting from platforms. This exchange continued until the early 2000s, by which time the original participants were all getting older and there were no younger members wishing to participate. The twinning of Kingston and Delft also finished at about the same time, for much the same reasons. Club members still have friends in Delft and find time to visit, but on an informal basis.
Another period of intensive effort saw all the work finally completed in time for the official opening and inaugural shoot on October 16th, 1982. Invited to compete at that meeting against the Surbiton A and B teams plus their Juniors, were teams from the Metropolitan Police, Riversdale R.C., the 41st City of London H.G., Surrey County Officials, and Twickenham R.C.
Following the shoot (which resulted in a win for Andrew Tucker’s Twickenham team), the Mayor of Kingston, Councillor Kenneth Gooding, unveiled a plaque to commemorate the opening. He paid tribute to all who had worked to “turn a black hole into a first class range”. And a first class range it is. Fourteen small-bore, 25 yard rifle points, a separate five point, 20 yard pistol range licensed for .22, .38 and .44 calibres, workshop, stats office and armoury, plus club room with kitchen and tea bar. At that time, there was no air gun range. There was a ramp for wheelchair access and a toilet for the disabled. Club membership was about 120, with the majority shooting pistol
The members did then consider changing the name, but it would have meant a lot of red-tape and re-registration with the police and various organisations and authorities so they kept the original name. Despite the fact that there was no longer any direct link between the Club and the Post Office, the debt owed by the one to the other was recognised in the practise of appointing the Head Postmaster as Club President, which continued until 1994 when the Royal Mail abolished the position of Head Postmaster. Andrew Tucker then took over as club president, until his death in 2003 since when there has not been a president
The club also had strong links with the Dittons club. The Secretary, Jim Dixon, eventually became Rifle Captain at Surbiton and did a lot of work to support both clubs. When the Dutch contingent came over, he would organise outdoor shoots, barbeques and clay pigeon at the Dittons range in Oxshot. The Dittons club eventually became part of a golf course and closed. Jim Dixon became a Vice President at Surbiton.
Membership of Surbiton Postal Rifle Club grew quite dramatically after the opening of the new facilities. In 1982, a few of the members of 41st City of London club at Carshalton found Surbiton Postal to be more convenient and started shooting there. There were enough of them to rent out the club on a Sunday evening and eventually the bulk of the 41st moved there. They formally joined SPRC and so the club gained several good shots (people like Dave Goodfellow and Bob Cole). Membership rose to some 150 shooters.
The club did a lot to encourage disabled shooters. The first disabled shooter, David, came via the Social Services; a young lad who had Spina Bifida and was partially deaf. He was attending a school in Ashford, Kent and his mother used to pay for a taxi to bring him home each weekend. The taxi would bring him straight to the club on a Friday evening. A pair of wheelchair arms was acquired and Tony Hoye made a table that fitted into the arms. For shooting, the arms from his wheelchair had to be removed and the arms with the table attached fitted. After shooting for a couple of months his uncle bought him a second-hand rifle and he had a jacket made at Andrew Tuckers, and all things considered, he did quite well. Bill Baptie sent his details to the NSRA and he was allowed to shoot up to County level. David wanted to be independent and as soon as a flat became available he moved to a home for the disabled in Leatherhead, but they did not have the transport to bring him to Kingston to shoot.
During David’s time at Surbiton we had another wheelchair shooter join us. Terry had been involved in a road accident, but this didn’t stop him from trying everything possible – he’d tried a parachute jump, tried his hand at Judo and even been a bouncer at a night-club – but shooting was a bit slow for him and he gave it up to try other things.
Tuesday evenings had become coaching and newcomer nights. Hatchford Park School at Cobham approached the club to see if they could bring down some of the disabled children, the school being a GLC residential home. It was agreed to take them on Tuesday evenings. The club was not prepared for children with such bad disabilities. Small-bore shooting was out for most of them so a small air pistol range was built, which they enjoyed. This range was set up in the club room with the pellet catcher in the workshop. They were never going to be world champions but it gave them an evening away from the school and they would save their pocket money to clear the club out of soft drinks and crisps. Excluding school holidays they stayed with us for about twelve months.
If a mistake was made when the range was built, it was getting the pistol range passed for full-bore pistol. Word soon got around and we started attracting practical pistol shooters who weren’t interesting in target shooting. Tony Hoye had become Pistol Captain and being a strict captain was his downfall. He upset the shooters by making them abide by the club rules, one of which was that they had to get a qualifying score on small-bore pistol before being allowed to shoot full-bore. It was only a matter of time before pistol shooters were elected on to the club committee and they elected a new pistol captain. Turning targets followed and the range had to be re-inspected by the army for a new safety certificate. Following a few problems, the certificate was issued. But Bill Baptie didn’t like the way things were going, so resigned as Secretary after 27 years, but stayed as Honorary Vice-President. The position of Secretary was taken up by Derek Dredge.
For a while, Bill had been running the Surrey Juniors squad. He came back to the club in a formal capacity after twelve months to look after their juniors. Two of the original club members agreed to help; Derek Hoye (a mechanical expert) and Dennis Mitchell (a plumber) both of whom since left the club. Bill agreed to do this on condition that the juniors had their own night, which was agreed. John Menard joined Bill in 2006 and junior night is now the busiest that it has ever been, with sometimes all 14 firing points in use. There is no minimum age for junior membership. “If they are big enough and strong enough – they are old enough!” asserts Bill Baptie.
In 1994, Jerry Jellinek died suddenly of a brain tumour. John Menard was then elected Chairman. And in 1999 Bill Baptie returned as Secretary when Derek Dredge stood down.
However, with the pistol ban in 1997, and as happened at many clubs, the club membership dropped significantly to about 50, the decline mainly being in pistol shooters. Lightweight Sport Rifle (LSR) later started shooting on the pistol range and recently the numbers shooting this discipline have started to rise.
The club has started to make a mark for itself in British shooting, but really only over the last decade. One of the members of the 41st City of London was Brian Burrage. His son, Jason, had established himself as an international small-bore rifle shooter and Jason joined Surbiton because he could practice standing and kneeling indoors there. In the early 2000s, with Jason’s continuing successes, the club felt that they should build an air range. This was built in an unused part of the car park, separate to the rest of the facility. Jason went on to represent England at the 2002 Commonwealth Games where he won a silver medal in the 3P pairs.
Jason’s successes raised the profile of the club and other good shooters joined. Ann Roberts joined in 1998 when she moved into the area from Liverpool. At the Commonwealth Shooting Championships in New Zealand in 1999 Ann won a gold medal in the pairs and bronze in the individual, both shooting prone. She also won the French Masters (mixed prone) in 2002 and has won the British Women’s 3P and English Women’s prone titles. She has represented Great Britain in European & World Championships. In the early 2000s, local shots such as Neil Davis, Kevin Sinclair and Wendy Hall joined. Other more recent additions to the membership are Melanie Flowers (twice English Junior Women’s Air Rifle champion) plus Ian and Fanar Potts.
In 2004, the club added central heating throughout, funded by a Lottery grant. Again, the work was done by the members themselves. A new disabled toilet was added in 2007 to serve both the main and the airgun ranges.
Of the “founding fathers” from 1966, only Bill Baptie remains active in the Club. As of January 2009, we believe that there are three others still alive. Jock Bradley, who was the best shot amongst them, took early retirement and joined his daughters in Australia. Fred Ramsey lives in the West Country and Ted Clayton lives in Esher.
Out of the other original members who built the range, Tony Hoye and Jerry Jellinek passed away. Robin Hoar, a carpenter but a jack of all trades, moved down to Bournemouth. Chris Colbourne, who spent many hours on the building as well as supplying the transport when it was needed and helping the club when finances got low, passed away in about 2003.
In December 2011, both John Menard and Bill Baptie stood down from the committee after many years of service. Until they stood down, since the club opened in 1966, it has only ever had two chairmen (Jerry Jellinek and John Menard) and two secretaries (Bill Baptie and Derek Dredge).
Membership has grown again and now stands at about 80. Recently, the club has become involved with the local Scout group and they regularly use the facilities as does one of the local schools. The junior membership is particularly strong, an encouraging sign for the future. Some members of the National Scout Squad, the Great Britain Junior Rifle Squad and the Junior Development pistol squad now train weekly at the club. Recent successes include winning the British Team of Eight prone rifle title in 2000, the London Inter-borough title (representing Kingston) in 2004 and 2005, the National Air Rifle Division 1 title in winter 2007/8 which included setting a new British record for the combined team score and again in winter 2008/9, summer 2009 and summer 2011. We also won National Standing & Kneeling Division 1 in winter 2010/11.