A BRIEF HISTORY of BOWLS
Although Lawn Bowls is essentially an English sport, it is likely that it was first brought to this country by the
conquering Normans in 1066. Like Italy's bocce and Provencal's petanque, lawn bowling seems to have had
its beginnings in a game played by Roman soldiers throughout the countries of their empire.
Stones were tossed toward a target stone with the object of getting as close to the target as possible.
Balls that were rolled rather than thrown gradually replaced stones. In France, the sport became known as
boules, from the Latin word for ball, the English world "bowl" coming from that same French root. In medieval
times a feather stuck upright in the ground was at times used as a target. (As in the illustration above).
The oldest known bowling green is said to date back at least to 1299 and is in Southampton, England.
In 1511 Henry VIII, himself a bowler, banned the sport among the lower classes and in order to ensure that only
the wealthy could play he levied a fee of £100 on any private bowling green. All able-bodied men were required to
spend their spare time practising archery rather than playing the frivolous game of bowls.
The king's proclamation also noted that arrow-makers and bow-makers were not being sufficiently productive because
of the time they wasted on bowling. With the lessening importance of archery which followed the increasing use of
firearms in warfare, such bans passed. The dominance of Puritans in the 17th Century, however, menat that virtually
all sports in England ceased. Lawn bowling was only gradually re-introduced after the Restoration in 1660.
However, the sport did continue to flourish in Scotland, and during the 1840s the Scots developed a set of
standardized rules that have been changed very little since that time.
Bowling in Medieval & Tudor Times
A good outline history of 'Playing At Bowls', can be found on the Greydragon Library website.
The site contains a number of fascinating woodcut illustrations, reproduced from 14th Century manuscripts,
of the earlier manifestations of the modern game of lawn bowls. You can visit there and read the article by clicking
The most famous game of bowls . . .
. . . you will recall from school history lessons, that this was played in 1588, in Devon,
on Plymouth Hoe, by Sir Francis Drake, while the invading Spanish fleet sailed up the English Channel.
Drake is said to have scoffed at the imminent threat by saying that the Spanish could wait till he had finished
playing. Unperturbed, he completed his game, then went off to play a major part in vanquishing the Spanish Armada.
The result of the game of bowls is not recorded.