‘Some notes on Planters’ Clubs which I have known in my planting days’
by Sepala Ilangakoon

There were two clubs — Upper Club for planters and Lower Club for town folk. Earlier, before Independence in 1948, the Upper Club was mainly for ‘Whites’. The Club Boy was Martin who always knew who was in town and doing what. It had a well stocked bar and Martin’s roast beef sandwiches were difficult to beat. The monthly meeting of the Planters’ Association were held here in the evenings. Some members stayed on to gossip and to ‘booze’ till morning. This club was the ‘Parent Club’ for the Ratnapura district.

My PD at Hapugastenne (HGT), was bachelor Neville Marquis. From the club, he left for home in his small Standard 8 only the following morning after a Club Day. On one such morning, I was outside the HGT factory as the car went past and when I questioningly signaled driver Cader for the Boss, he merely indicated by bending his arm at the elbow and thumbing towards the back seat where Neville was slouched, fast asleep. They went non stop from the Club to the estate gate about 8 miles and climbed all the way up a further 3 miles to the Superintendent’s Bungalow.

I was ‘Creeper’ on this estate and, in due course was promoted to Assistant Superintendent - Sinna Doray and later to Superintendent Periya Doray of this, the largest estate in Ceylon, comprising 10 Divisions making a total of some 4268 acres

B.V. Club Abbreviation for the Bambarabotuwa Valley Club situated on the sprawling Hapugastenne Group in the valley of the Bambarabotu Oya. Membership was confined to planters of the estates in the agency, James Finlay & Co., Ltd. of Glasgow, Scotland

The Bar Boy was squint-eyed Lopez whose quarters were under the Club House which was on a wooden frame and included a Ball Room, a Ladies’ Room and a Gents’ Room. It had a front verandah overlooking two tennis courts. The plum was the Squash Court, the first in Ceylon, donated by George Fellowes, Life Member. He was the owner of the wonder horse ‘Willow Stream’ which won the Governor’s Cup in Colombo, three years consecutively : He channelled the stake money to the construction of the Squash Court. As a matter of interest, my wife Sunetra, made good use of the Squash Court. More of this later.

Sunday was Club Day when all members were expected to be present at the Club with or without tennis racquets. The Visiting Agent (VA) at that time Alan Passingham, who lived in the spacious baronial style VA’s bungalow, complete with a billiards room, plenty of bed rooms opening on to the numerous terraces, dining room, morning room for breakfast, kitchens, pantry and store rooms. The domestics - cooks, pantry boys, gardeners for the 4 acres of sloping gardens on the style of Hakgala Gardens at Nuwara Eliya, horse keepers and other odd job men, all lived in the domestics quarters built away from the bungalow.

The VA would look down at the BV Club and walk down only when he saw a reasonable attendance. He would look round those present and remark "I don’t see Mr. Jackson. Is he ill or is he still in bed ?" This was duly conveyed to the offender who made sure that he left no room for strictures again. The annual Club Dance was the event of the year when Finlay planters from near and far and visitors from Colombo would foregather for the long weekend. The European ladies wore gowns and Sunetra her best saree. Men wore the so-called ‘Red Sea Rig’ black longs, white shirts, black bow ties and black cummerbunds. I had to borrow a cummerbund from a friend in the army but it was maroon and 1 was stand out!

With changing vicissitudes, the BV Club took a beating. A change in the management of the estates resulted in the new owners/managers imposing their own prospects on what they considered a bourgeoisie luxury. The BV Club House was flattened. The ground and the two tennis courts were planted in tea. The squash court was not easily razed as it was built of sterner stuff to last for ever; so it was converted into a manure shed.

In earlier times, Sunetra and I would motor down from the Superintendent’s bungalow every evening and play enough squash to keep fit. During State ownership, we went down from the Superintendent’s bungalow to the Factory Superintendent’s bungalow. By then, our two children were horn and, naturally, Sunetra had put on weight, sideways! Squash, as before, was the answer but the squash court was now full of manure.

Ken Balendra, at that time, the most junior of my four Assistant Superintendents, was even then a go getter. ‘Never say die’ was his motto. He got the manure outs and refurbished the squash court and spectators’ gallery to their pristine splendour. This enabled us and the four Assistant Superintendents’ families to gather at the squash court gallery every evening and pool our home-made refreshments while watching the squash. This is how Sunetra, after having our two children, was able to regain her natural shape ! Thanks to squash ! Thanks to Bala !!

RAKWANA CLUB was in town and served the planters on adjacent estates.

BALANGODA CLUB was also in town and had two tennis courts. Kit Norwood was, as far as I know, President for life! He was so popular. His daughter, Cyraine, had this unusual name for an unusually exquisite and gorgeous lass. When my sister-in-law, Pathma, was searching for a name for her daughter, I, without hesitation proposed ‘Cyraine’ and it was accepted by popular acclaim. Cyraine the first, was the Hony. Secretary of the club until she left for the UK. Everyone missed her conviviality, especially the young bucks !

PELMADULLA CLUB was situated on the short cut connecting the Colombo - BALANGODA Road and the Colombo Kahawatte Road. It also had two tennis courts and a smallish Club House. As usual, Sunday was the Club Day. On one such day, for the first time in my life, I slapped a fellow member, Jack van Twest, who, I learned later, had won his college boxing colours ! The reason for the onslaught was that he committed an ‘ungentlemanly’ act which is best not described. All the onlookers expected Jack to aim a good straight left at me but no; he promptly left the bar, went up to the lady concerned and, bowing to her, apologized.

KELANI VALLEY CLUB was out of Avisawella town and had very spacious grounds, including the Rugby field. The annual Thai Pongal festivities and Dance to which people came from far off, even Colombo, was on or about 14 January. The popular events included a Hackery Race, an Elephant Race and the Musical Cars where, when the music stopped, the lady partner opened the door, jumped out of the passenger seat and rushed to occupy a vacant chair, as in the standard Musical Chairs.

Three cheers for the Planters’ Clubs of yore!!!


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