by Frank Spittle

6.  Aldersley, Internationals and Other Matters

Chris Huddart, British Junior Champion, takes aim at Bilston Baths Range.
When the Wolverhampton Sports Advisory Committee was formed twenty five years ago, shooting was one of the founder members (Mr F. Spittle), along with swimming (Mr Peter Holmes).

The two original representatives are the only two founders of the initial advisory council still serving their sports.

The only municipal air rifle range in the country was located at Bilston Baths. It was opened by the Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor Arthur Storer in 1974 and gave very useful service for the local community. It closed some 20 years later, the National Indoor Shooting Centre at Aldersley Stadium having replaced the need for it.

With the recession and adverse media propaganda, plus new Government legislation against this our first national organised sport, many of the short range factory clubs lost their indoor ranges of the 25 yards distance. Only three clubs remain from the twenty seven of 1975. The largest of these remaining three is the Wolverhampton (Aldersley) Rifle Club based at the outdoor range at Aldersley, owned by the Wolverhampton Small bore Rifle Association who lease the land from Wolverhampton Borough Council. Wolverhampton's influence on the sport of target shooting is now international, not only in the field of 22 calibre rifle, but in the Air Rifle/Air Pistol disciplines.

Wolverhampton was the home of the President of the new National Air Rifle and Pistol Association. He felt that it was essential that some of the influence on competitive shooting that predominated in the south of the country at that time, should be shared by other areas such as the Midlands, where the growing interest in the air-rifle was strongest. In 1974 he secured from the Wolverhampton Council a site at Aldersley Stadium for a new National Air Rifle Centre. The town council had for many years supported and encouraged the sport of competitive shooting in their factories and schools, seeing it as a disciplined safe and drug free form of recreation. Councillor John Bird MEP and Councillor George Howells were always particularly supportive.

When the Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor Sam Reynolds, opened the large new outdoor range at Aldersley Stadium in 1974, Wolverhampton Smallbore Rifle Association had perhaps the best range in Britain. With sixty firing points at the 100 metres distance, it was destined to bring international shooting competition to Wolverhampton, and place the town in the position of a leader in the field when a first class venue was required for overseas participation.
Councillor S. Reynolds, Mayor of Wolverhampton, opening the Aldersley Rifle Range, May 1974.
The first of these was the International Airlines Rifle Championships.

Eventually the new National Indoor Shooting Centre for Airgun was built by the NSRA with a 50% grant from the Sports Council for a total price of £240,000, at Aldersley, Wolverhampton. It was alongside the large outdoor Small-Bore Range that has seen so many international, and 22 Black Country Olympics, shooting events.

In 1989 these events included a World Championship that attracted twenty two countries with nearly four hundred competitors, when the International Armbrust Association held a most successful event on the outdoor Rifle Range. Though it was just a few weeks after the Tiananmen Square massacre, China sent a full team.
The National Indoor Shooting Centre, Aldersley, Wolverhampton.

Wolverhampton were pioneers in Shooting for the Disabled. The photo was taken in 1974. 
This was, perhaps, the most prestigious shooting event ever held in Great Britain, these visiting Olympic and International marksmen bringing once again international honour to Wolverhampton, a town whose support in cash and kind for competitive shooting was unrivalled in the United Kingdom.
Shooting for the disabled was pioneered there in the 1970's, for the visually impaired in 1995, and for the mature retired in 1996.
Presentation of a cheque by the Mayor of Wolverhampton in support of the 1992 Birmingham Olympic bid.  left to right:  Anthony Spittle (Great Britain), Councillor Bishan Dass, Representative of the Birmingham bid, Peter Hall (Great Britain).

The volume of the Olympic bid which contained details of the proposed shooting venue at Wolverhampton.
Had Birmingham won the bid to host the 1992 Olympics, a £8,000,000 shooting complex would have been built for all of the shooting events at Aldersley Stadium, Wolverhampton.

Many members of the local shooting fraternity assisted in the preparation of this part of the bid and the Borough Council provided financial assistance.

Perhaps due to the enthusiasm and expertise of the local shooting fraternity, the two sections of the Wolverhampton Council, officers and Councillors, recognised that here was a sport of the lower orders that should be helped and encouraged at not only club and school level, but national and international level. No other town in Britain did more for shooting sport than Wolverhampton Borough Council. The First National Six Yard Airgun Championship was staged in the Civic Hall on Saturday 28th/Sunday 29th March 1987 and included a National Bell Target Championship event. The Council also funded the 1989 World Match Cross Bow Championships for the International Armbrust Union at Aldersley Stadium 1989.
Unfortunately the club house did not match the range itself in quality. Moves were made by Wolverhampton S.B.R.A., in co-operation with the National Smallbore Rifle Association and Wolverhampton Leisure Service Councillors, to bring the outdoor range up to a standard that would have been one of the best in the country. The Wolverhampton Borough Council, with the co-operation of the shooting fraternity, made an application for Lottery funding from the Sports Council for an ambitious plan for the redevelopment of the whole Aldersley site.

Without any doubt, the efforts of Wolverhampton's marksmen were instrumental in obtaining the Lottery Grant and the application allocated the sum of £450,000 to further develop the shooting facilities at Aldersley Stadium.The application seemed very clear that the shooting interest was going to be supported and the facilities greatly improved. The funding was awarded. But from there on things went awry.

The Borough Council, perhaps noting the impact of Hungerford and Dunblane, decided that the application and the grant did not commit them to doing anything for shooting. The shooting fraternity was surprised and upset when it eventually discovered that all the granted funding was being spent on other sports and shooting was getting nothing. How and why this came about and what can be done about it is still a live issue, now in March 2001, and no more need be said about it in this context, however sad it is to end this history of one of Wolverhampton’s most popular and successful sports on a sour note.

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