Lensbury

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The Lensbury clubhouse was opened in 1938

Lensbury (previously the Lensbury Club) is a wholly owned profit centre of the oil major Royal Dutch Shell located in Broom Road, Teddington in South West London. The club was founded in 1920 as a sports, leisure and social facility for Shell employees to which, over time, were added training, conference and other features.

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

The Lensbury Club ( “Lensbury Social and Athletic Club”) was established in 1920 as a sports club for Shell staff in the United Kingdom - one of the driving forces behind its formation was Dutchman Henri Deterding, one of the original founders of the Royal Dutch/ Shell Group of Companies, who was a fitness fanatic. Land was acquired in Broom Road, Teddington for playing fields and within a year there were active sections in Cricket, Rugby, Football, Ladies Hockey, Tennis and Chess. Between 1920 and the beginning of the Second World War significant additions to the Lensbury estate were made with property and land purchases on both sides of Broom Road. In 1933 the club merged with “Britannic House”, a similar club operated by BP, and created a joint venture known as the “Lensbury and Britannic House Associated Clubs” – an arrangement that lasted for thirty years. In 1938 a new clubhouse was opened which comprised 162 bedrooms, a dining room, a ballroom and many other facilities. During the war years club activities were suspended and Lensbury became a Shell office and some of the sports grounds were ploughed up to grow vegetables.

Post War years[edit]

In the immediate post war years it took time for the Lensbury clubhouse to be free of its wartime role as a Shell office but by the early 1950s most of the established activities, and many new ones, were in full swing again. By 1956 membership had reached 5000 and there were 27 active sections. The arrangements with BP came to an end in 1962 and Lensbury became once again a facility exclusively for Shell employees (and those of the UK marketing joint venture Shell-Mex and BP Ltd). Many new sports and pastimes were introduced including sailing, judo, ballroom dancing and keep fit and membership continued to rise reaching 7000 by 1964. Building of additional facilities for training courses took place in 1967 and the role of the Lensbury clubhouse as both a recreational and a training location was established. However financial concerns began to be expressed in the difficult economic climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the club’s structure changed so that it became a “members” club to be governed by members committees and supervised by trustees. However Shell still saw the club unequivocally as a benefit for employees, and the Lensbury continued to receive a subsidy from Shelml to help cover its costs. The club became, as a consequence, more arms length from Shell with the intention that Shell’s subsidy would gradually reduce.

1970s and after[edit]

In the 1970s Lensbury had active sections in 47 sports and pastimes including Tennis, Hockey, Volleyball, Bowls, Music, Drama (Lensbury Theatre Group: [1]), Bridge, Sailing, Swimming, Motor Cruising, Sub-Aqua, Mountaineering (now the LMC Mountaineering Club http://www.hillsandvalleys.co.uk/LMC/), Fishing as well as its core Rowing, Association Football, Cricket and Rugby Football [2] teams. At this time membership was restricted to employees of Shell companies in the UK although this restriction was relaxed for some of the team sports participants.

The Yarranton years[edit]

Sir Peter Yarranton

In 1978 Shell appointed Peter Yarranton as Lensbury's General Manager. Yarranton was himself an accomplished sportsman, notably in Rugby in which sport he had been capped five times by England. An indoor swimming pool was open in the same year and under Yarranton's management the club's status as a world class sporting venue was enhanced. Membership reached 13,000 and many international sporting stars were attracted to use the club's facilities including top tennis players such as Steffi Graf, Chris Evert and John Lloyd during Wimbledon. The Duke of Edinburgh visited the club in 1980. Middlesex County Cricket Club used the ground for some Second XI matches – a recognition of the quality of the club’s main cricket square, the home of Lensbury Cricket Club.

From 1978 until Peter Yarranton’s retirement in 1993 Lensbury continued to build on its tradition as primarily a club for team and individual sports. Yarranton himself became President of the Rugby Football Union in 1991 and Chairman of the UK Sports Council in 1989 and thus he combined his management of Lensbury with sports representation at the very highest level. It was with some pride that he described the club in 1990 as “… the largest sports, leisure, social and training centre in Europe and certainly one of the largest in the world”.

1992 to 2008[edit]

In the 1990s Shell decided that Lensbury should be seen not as exclusively a “staff benefit” but as a “profit centre”. Driven by the Shell Group's new Chairman J.S. Jennings, and implemented by the new Chairman of the Club, Clive Mather, changes were instituted that were designed first to reduce and then to eliminate Shell’s subsidy. This meant that the decision that had been taken in 1974 to make Lensbury a members club without direct Shell involvement was reversed and all the members committees were abolished. The club became a subsidiary like any of Shell’s other assets and like them it was defined as a business whose goal was to maximise its profits. A plan was proposed by members that would have achieved this objective whilst retaining the essential character of the club (including all the team sports) but this was rejected by the Shell directors. Instead they insisted on drastic changes to the club’s raison d’être.

Non Shell employees were sought, members’ subscriptions were substantially increased and the whole basis of the club went through a radical series of changes. Team sports, the life blood of the club since its creation, were gradually phased out and a greatly expanded gymnasium/fitness centre was introduced. The extensive playing fields on the opposite side of Broom Road to the clubhouse were disposed of and the cricket and rugby pitches on the clubhouse side were redeveloped as a pitch and putt par 3 golf course. The bowling green was closed. These changes had been initially fought hard by many of Lensbury’s traditional members (particularly those in the Cricket, Rugby, Bowls and other long-established sections which were forced to disband) but to no avail.

The target market for the club changed from all Shell employees of whatever background (facilitated by nominal subscriptions) to focus on the more wealthy middle-class in the area – particularly professional couples with young families - mostly with no connections with Shell. A crèche facility was introduced. These changes were overseen by a new Chief Executive, Lesley White, a professional club/catering manager with no Shell connections or loyalties. Whereas previous heads of Lensbury (especially Peter Yarranton) were Shell careerists who understandably placed the role of Lensbury as being above all a facility for Shell employees, pensioners and connections, Ms White had no such bias. She was required by Clive Mather, with whom she worked very closely in the early years - a process that was helped by their shared ambitions and values - to make Lensbury a hard-nosed profit centre. When Ms White announced her departure from the club after sixteen years in 2008 she boasted that under her fiefdom Lensbury had been able to “…grow and flourish…” and that it was a “…magnificent 21st century club in which the values of sporting competition, social camaraderie and genuine care for members and staff continue as strongly as ever”. Others viewing this period would argue that the Shell roots of the club had been destroyed, that it was fundamentally changed from the place where Shell people could socialise together and that the sporting “progress” was in reality a calamity with the destruction of playing fields, a bowls green and other amenities and the obliteration of the old Lensbury teams and clubs that used these once fine facilities. In 2008 the Lensbury celebrated Children in Need, Genes for Jeans and Link Poverty Family Shoebox Appeal and in 2009, it acquired a Cyber coach.

Ethos[edit]

When the official history of The "Shell" Transport and Trading Company ("A Century in Oil") was published in 1997 the author described Lensbury thus: "With a long river frontage, pleasant terraces, wide lawns, and sports courts and pitches of every sort, as well as bars, dining rooms and overnight accommodation, Shell's own comfortable and imposing country club has arguably affected staff's lives more to the good (certainly more pleasantly and much more visibly) than any figures of production...".

In his book "The Thames" [2002] author David McDowall gave an independent view of Lensbury's original ethos: "The clubhouse says much about both Shell and also the ethos that was common to large companies until the last quarter of the twentieth century. There is an unmistakable statement of corporate grandeur in this typically thirties building, a visual reminder to its employees of the economic might of Shell, a hint that deference might be in order. But it was also a clear statement of Shell's expectations regarding its employees, to engage in healthy outdoor pursuits and also to socialise with work colleagues and their wives during their leisure time. One may think of these expectations as paternalistic both to employees and to their housewife spouses. But alongside such expectations, large corporations like Shell also cared about the quality of life for their staff both as individuals and as a community, a form of pastoral concern which came under intense pressure in many corporate ventures as these embraced a very much more ruthless and exploitative employment ethos from the 1980s onwards."

The Lensbury conference and training centre is attached to the 1938 clubhouse

Lensbury remains a training and conference centre extensively used by Shell (although also marketed as a facility available to all [3]) and the location has the back-up potential to support Shell’s global business in the event of any disturbances to Shell’s central offices in London and/or The Hague.

[edit]

The name Lensbury was coined in 1920 from part of the names of Shell’s two London offices at the time which were located at St Helens Court, in Bishopsgate and at 16, Finsbury Circus also in the City of London. The name took the “Lens” from “Helens” and the “bury” from “Finsbury”. For most of its existence Lensbury had a logo which reflected its Shell ownership and essential purpose as a benefit for Shell employees. When this purpose was changed in the 1990s the logo was also changed and today there is little or no overt sign of Shell’s ownership at the clubhouse.

Historical notes[edit]

  • 'The Lensbury' is a name sometimes also given to the Bridges Handicap Race, a traditional running race which starts and finishes on the Albert Embankment near to Shell Centre in London.
  • The clubhouse was badly damaged by a fire in April 1976 - rebuilding was completed in 1977.
  • In addition to its Teddington clubhouse and sports grounds the Lensbury Club once also had sports and social facilities for members at Shell Centre, Shell Mex House and a boathouse for the rowing section at Putney. These facilities were closed in the 1990s.
  • Lensbury hosted Middlesex County Cricket Club and the county played second XI matches on Lensbury's cricket pitch between 1982 and 1998. Phil Tufnell, Chris Cowdrey, Mark Ramprakash, Angus Fraser, Chris Lewis and Andrew Strauss were amongst the future England international cricketers to have played at the ground.[4]
  • England's women's cricket team played a One Day International at the ground in 1979 [5]
  • A cricket match between a team of homeless men from the streets of London and a group of schoolchildren from Los Angeles took place at Lensbury in 1997 [6]
  • In 2002 Shell/Lensbury proceeded with a civil lawsuit against former Lensbury team sport players who had sought to retain the Lensbury name for (e.g.) their Rugby team. Shell/Lensbury won the case on Trademark grounds. [7]
  • After losing the rights to continued use of the "Lensbury" name Lensbury Rugby Football Club renamed themselves "LockSide RFC" [8]
  • The Lensbury Sub-Aqua club still continues today, as a British Sub-Aqua Club branch open to all. It has taken the other part of the original St Helens and Finsbury names that founded Lensbury, and operates as "Hellfins". [9]

External links[edit]