The Bohemian Bowls Club, Fry's Island
Sunday, 2nd July 2022
Situated in the River Thames, between the bridges of Reading and Caversham, De Montford Island is the unique home of the Island Bohemian Bowls and Social Club. The club owns half of the island and boasts a fine 6 rink bowling-green, a spacious club house, and a pavilion in a setting that would be hard to equal. All of this can only be accessed by a short river crossing in the club's own ferry.
Although now a tranquil retreat just moments from the bustle of Reading town centre, the club badge depicts two knights in combat recalling the island's more violent link with the past. De Montfort Island derives its name from one of the combatants in a duel actually fought on the island in 1163.
The dual was between Robert De Montford and Henry, Earl of Essex, hereditary Standard Bearer to the King of England. Some years before when King Henry the second was fighting the Welsh, part of his army fell into panic because, it was said, Henry de Essex dropped the Royal Standard and called out falsely that the King had been slain.
If he did this, it was a coward's act and his kinsman Robert de Montford declared him a coward and a traitor. Essex denied these charges and King Henry the second decreed that they must settle their dispute by single combat and that the fight should take place at "Reading, on the island, in the River Thames below Caversham Bridge". Here, in April 1163, a great concourse of people assembled, The King, himself being present.
Essex and De Montford were ferried over to the island to fight out their quarrel - Let God judge between them!!
After a furious fight during which Robert de Montford thundered on him manfully with hard and frequent strokes Henry de Essex fell wounded, and was thought to be dead.
The King turned to the monks of Reading Abbey and bade them carry away the body of the traitor and bury it. However, the monks found that Henry de Essex was not dead and under their care he, at length recovered from his wounds.
Having lost the dual, the name of Henry de Essex was that of a coward and a traitor and his estates were confiscated by The Crown. Unable to face the outside world Essex remained with the monks, eventually joining their order.
Thus he who had been Standard Bearer to Henry Plantagenet ended his life as a monk within the walls of Reading Abbey.