History of Bearsted and Thurnahm Rifle Club

(With thanks to Rosemary Pearce)

The Club was founded in 1901 by John Hampson and a group of like-minded men. John Hampson had served in the Boer War, and was alarmed by how much better the Boers could shoot than their British counterparts. The meeting to inaugurate the Club was held in the old Thurnham School, and the title "Bearsted and District Rifle Club" was adopted. Mr. Badcock was appointed chairman, and John Hampson secretary and treasurer. During the First World War William Hunt, also a founder member, became chairman, and he kept the club going throughout the war. John Hampson died in 1940.

Early meetings were held in the meeting room at the White Horse, (now part of the restaurant), where a twenty-five yard range was established. However the main venues were open-air ones: a chalk pit on the Downs opposite the Black Horse pub; and the brickyard off the road leading to the golf course, The first shoot took place on a Saturday in December at the site opposite the Black Horse. John Brown managed to make a bull, no mean feat in the conditions, and James Ellis was top scorer with fifteen points. Firing days were Wednesdays and Saturdays for the men, and Thursday for the ladies.

Fund-raising for a permanent undercover site began in 1903 with a Grand Smoking Concert held in the hall at the White Horse. At the end of April 1932 the club sought permission to use a chalk pit off Thurnham Lane, if it was considered suitable by a qualified officer of the Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs. It is thought that this was the same pit used when the club was founded, but whose use had lapsed.

In 1936 the club opened negotiations with Fremlins brewery to erect a permanent range behind the White Horse. Agreement was reached in 1937, and the opening ceremony was performed a year later by the chairman of the brewery, Major Leney. The first shot was fired by the club President, Major JH Chapman, then Chef Constable of Kent. Other officers at this time were George Chapman as chairman, J. Ollett as secretary; Martin Corps as competition secretary, and William Hunt treasurer. Mr. Ollett came to the meeting as a reporter for the Kent Messenger. He was a non-shooting member who later became President.

The club stayed open through the Second World War, though with limited opening hours. Children from Bearsted School were to be taught to shoot, with the support and encouragement of the head-teacher, Robert Skinner, who was also head of the Air Raid Wardens. Ladies were also invited, in case there should be an invasion.

Firearms certificates were introduced in 1946 at a cost of 216 (twelve and a half pence), and were only issued if the applicant had a legitimate sporting or work-related reason for owning a gun. Now a certificate costs some £40.

In 1967 the range was re-evaluated by the Ministry of Defence so that air pistols could be used, and in 1978 Fremlins Whittbread carried out major alterations to the pub, and realised that there was no proper written tenancy agreement. After much debate and discussion and lease was drawn up in 1987 for three years, and the club opened a search for an alternative site.

In 1989 the club established a link with Monschau in Germany, and visits are exchanged most years. The home team always wins!

The club celebrated its centenary in 2001 with a Dewar competition in the morning and a clay pigeon shoot in the afternoon. Later in the year, a buffet meal was held at the Royal Oak. In 2003 the club purchased the freehold of their range. A great deal of refurbishment was undertaken, and to mark his four decades of service to the club, the range was named after Dennis Gibbons.

The highest number of members was seventy-one, though current membership is about forty.
The number of clubs has also fluctuated: the Maidstone Division has now gone and just two clubs, Wateringbury and Teston and Bearsted, remain in the area. Bearsted has the most county teams in Kent, and were recently County champions. There are four individual county champions, and one member has shot for England.