A Brief History Of Bowls

Bowls, there are two forms of this game: lawn (or flat green) and crown green. Both are played on grass.

Lawn bowls
Is often played indoors as well, on artificial surfaces. Flat green is played on an absolutely level, smooth green (lawn) with maximum dimensions of 40 by 40 yd (36.6 by 36.6 m). Greens vary in “speed” according to latitude, the length and density of the grass, its nap, and whether it be dry, damp, or wet. A match may be for singles, pairs, triples, or fours. In singles and pairs each player has four bowls (colloquially “woods”). In triples each player has three woods and in fours, four. The bowls may not weigh more than 3.5 lb (1.59 kg) and their circumference may not exceed 16.5 in (41.9 cm). Bowls are flattened slightly on one side and this causes the bias which makes a bowl tend to move on a curving path as it “draws” towards the jack or object ball. Woods are delivered alternately by opposing players who must have at least one foot on a rubber mat or footer at the moment of delivery. The bowl is aimed towards the jack (“cot” or “kitty”), a small white ball with a diameter of 2.5 in (6.35 cm), which must be cast a minimum of 25 yd (22.9 m) up the green. The object is for the player (or team) to get his or her woods as near the jack as possible, and in any case nearer than those of the opponent. One point is won for each bowl nearer the jack than one's opponent's best bowl. An end is completed when all bowls have been rolled. Matches may be played for a certain number of ends: 12, 14, or 21 for singles; 21 for pairs and fours; 18 for triples.

Crown Green Bowls
Many of the principles of the flat green game apply in crown green bowls, but there is a number of differences. The greens tend to be bigger and have rougher grass but are quite often about 40 yd (36.6 m) square. The green slopes gradually from the sides to the crown, an eminence about 8 to 18 in (12 to 44 cm) higher than the sides. The centre is clearly marked, so is the entrance to the green which must be near the middle of one side. The jack itself is biased, has a diameter of 3.5 in (9.53 cm) and is a little heavier than the flat green jack. The bowls must not weigh less than 2lb, but they tend to weigh 2 lb 6 oz to 3 lb (1.1 to 1.4 kg) and are biased. Singles is the usual game, occasionally pairs. For the first end the leader puts the footer within 3 metres of the entrance to the green and 1 metre from the green edge. For subsequent ends it is placed within 1 metre from the last position of the jack.  The jack is cast and a mark set when it stops at least 19 metres from the footer. There are very specific rules about casting the jack and about delivery of the bowls. Naturally, a decisive factor in the game is the slope. As in the flat green version, the object is to get one's bowls as near as possible to the jack.

The ancient Egyptians are believed to have played a game resembling bowls about 5200 BC, but the earliest recorded green is at Southampton, England, in 1299, although one was claimed in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, in 1294. It was a popular game in the Middle Ages and is closely associated with bowling, skittles, and ninepins. It was so popular that periodically English kings proclaimed edicts against it because it distracted men from the necessary military duty of archery practice. Later it fell into further disrepute and partial desuetude, but was revived early in the 19th century—especially in Scotland where the modern rules were codified in 1848-1849 by a Glasgow solicitor, William Mitchell. Scottish enthusiasm helped the development of the game in Britain and overseas—particularly Australia. The English Bowling Association was founded in 1903, with the cricketer W. G. Grace as its first president. In 1905 the International Bowling Board was formed. The Women's International Bowling Board was founded in 1969. Outside Britain and Ireland, where it has a large following, bowls is very popular in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Hong Kong S. A. R., where the game is strong and cosmopolitan. Elsewhere it is played a little in Argentina, Belgium, and the United States.

Crown green bowls is peculiar to Britain and is played mostly in the Midlands and the north of England, where there are some professional players, in parts of Wales, and the Isle of Man. It developed later than flat green bowls and is governed by the British Crown Green Bowling Association founded in 1932.

The main lawn green tournaments are the World Outdoor Championship, instituted in 1966 for men and in 1969 for women; the World Indoor Championship, for singles and pairs, instituted for men in 1979 and for women in 1988; the English Bowling Association Championship, first held in 1903; and the International Championship, also first staged in 1903, and contested by the four Home Countries of the British Isles (Scotland have won most often).

The premier tournament for crown green bowls is the Waterloo Handicap, first held in 1907 and played for the Waterloo Cup. Its home is the Waterloo Hotel, Blackpool, Lancashire.

Interesting points

If you have any interesting points about bowls that you would like to see on the web site, send them by using the contact details. Either click on the link in the menu bar at the top of this page or here: Contact