The Barnes Bridge

In 1980 an Old Sedberghian fives enthusiast named Michael Haslam thought it might be a good idea to form a ‘Winchester Fives Group’ within the RFA. With the RFA’s blessing, he published a Winchester Fives Group newsletter describing and illustrating the basic Winchester Fives court and listing a dozen institutions possessing such courts. The newsletter expressed the hope that in due course a tournament might be held ‘at some appropriate centre’.

Two newsletters later, the decision was announced to hold a Winchester rules open doubles tournament at Bradfield on March 7th 1982. The tournament attracted 21 pairs ‘and some late entries had to be turned away’, according to Mike’s report. Appropriately an Old Sedberghian, Robbie Barr, and his partner Simon Constantine were the first winners, beating Dave Parlby and Jeremy Schroeter in the final.

Two further features of this day stand out. First, Joan Wood staged one of her unforgettable all-day President’s Cup style buffets in the spectator gallery, so that nobody went away hungry; and second, she and Tom brought along a ‘Barnes Bridge’ to be presented as the winners’ trophy. Fanciful wordplay was always a Wood favourite, as in their family motto ‘Jesters Would Impinge’ – don’t ask, it’d take too long to explain!

Mike Haslam favoured the idea of taking the tournament to different schools in order to cater for a wider clientele, so the second year’s event was held at Winchester, with a similarly large entry. Although it took a while for the tournament to gain the accolade of being reported on in the RFA Handbook, it became a regular feature of the March programme. The third event was held at Sedbergh and the fourth at Malvern, to complete the circuit before returning to Bradfield in 1986.

Mike Haslam continued to run the tournament until he had completed three circuits. In those twelve years, the Bridge had been won by six different pairs, with Simon Constantine (six wins) the most successful individual player, partnering Dave Hebden four times and Robbie Barr twice.

After Mike’s twelfth tournament the Winchester Fives Group recognised his achievement as its founder, first Hon. Sec. and tournament organiser by presenting him and his wife Shirley with a suitably engraved cut-glass bowl. He was also promoted Chairman of the Group, with the previous Chairman, David Barnes, taking up the role of Hon. Sec. and tournament organiser.

Roger Layton and Mike Tremellen, brought up on the Bradfield courts, won the Barnes Bridge five times between 1989 and 1995 but failed to complete the ‘Grand Slam’ of winning four years running. Their achievement was soon to be surpassed by Ian Fuller and Dave Hebden, the remarkable pair who had won ten Cyriax Cups between 1980 and 1990. This pair proceeded to win the Bridge eight years running between 1996 and 2003 – a double ‘Grand Slam’.

Dave Hebden then won twice more to bring his total to fourteen wins – a formidable achievement which will be almost impossible to surpass. But in 2009 Will Ellison and Hal Mohammed became the youngest pair to win the trophy, and in 2014 they won the Bridge for the sixth consecutive time, so you never know! David Barnes March 2014.