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Lawn bowling has a long and colourful history. The following covers some of the more interesting aspects. It is a synthesis of reflections of club members and more scholarly sources. For further insights and an expanded view go to the references in the Links section of this Website.

A Brief History Of The Sport Of Lawn Bowls:

Older than the pyramids of Giza, bowls has take on many forms and variations.  Evidence of rounded stones projected towards various types of targets have been discovered in widespread civilizations such as the Aztecs, the indigenous tribes of North America, the Chinese, and the Polynesians.  Tomb contents and other archeological artifacts provide evidence of the popularity of the sport in ancient times.  When people migrated from the Middle East to new locations they brought with them many cultural influences.  The game of bowls is an example of how civilization spreads and is influenced by local geographical factors, political conditions, economic circumstances, and religious beliefs.   “Ula Maika”, “Bocce”, “Bowls”, and “Bowling on the Green” are among the more popular names that the game has been called. The game was popular in Imperial Rome and spread with the conquering armies to the far reaches of the empire.

When Captain Cook landed in the Sandwich Islands in 1788, he found that the natives used whetstone for a purpose other than sharpening their tools; they were playing a game with bowls fashioned from the whetstone.
"The bowls were about 3 to 4 inches in diameter and about one inch across at the edges but thicker at the centre and rounded very exactly." In his book "Games and Pastimes of the Maori", Elsdon Best refers to some ancient stone discs found on the beach at Tauranga many years ago. He writes that he could not establish positively the use to which these had been put, but he did say that they resembled those found in Hawaii, though they were slightly larger. He assumed that the Maoris had played with them in a game similar to Ula Maika. At any rate, the shape of these stones is such that when delivered with a normal bowling action, they take bias; that is, they take a curved path, particularly when the initial speed begins to slow down.


The two oldest British sports are archery and bowls, and in centuries past there was conflict between the two, mainly during periods of warfare or national strife. Some history records of bowls indicate that the game was played in England 
as far back as the 12th century, and it may have been played much 
earlier than that.
From the early 15th century bowls were made of wood, usually yew, ash, oak, holly, or boxwood.
Lignum vitae was not used in the United Kingdom until the 16th or 17th century; this very hard wood was discovered by Columbus in the West Indies, in 1493. Lignum vitae wood is so heavy that it will sink in water.


The bowls used in the early days were merely rounded, without bias. The bias was not introduced until 1522 due solely to the accidental breaking of a bowl by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. In order to continue the game, he rushed indoors and cut off an ornamental ball from a banister. Accordingly, one part was flat and it took a curving direction at the end of its run, instead of continuing on a straight line. Bowls at this time were also known as "woodies" because they were made of wood.


The game increased in popularity through to the 14th century, however the king and parliament were worried that the practice of archery was being neglected and that the effectiveness of the bowmen in battle or military operations would therefore be lowered. Consequently statutes were passed restricting or forbidding such sports as bowls and tennis during the reigns of Edward III in 1361, Richard II in 1388, and Henry IV in 1409.
However, these laws did not stop the game from being played, and many bowling facilities were developed.
In 1511 Henry VIII made an edict strenthening earlier Acts of Parliament and in 1541 combined all prior laws and expanded the nature of the ban. Through this Act common people such as artisans, construction workers, labourers, apprentices, farmers, and servants were prohibited from playing the game of bowls. The only exception being at Christmas with their master's permission. Large fines were levied if the Law was disregarded.
However, wealthy and influential landowners were granted licenses or permits that allow them to play on their own greens.


There are many references to bowls in literature. For example, in Act III of Richard II -- Shakespeare indicates that women also played the game at 
that time. In the 19th century the law banning bowls was apparently largely overlooked.
It certainly was not rigorously enforced. Many of the inns had bowling greens, presumably as an amenity to attract clients, and these probably helped the game to survive.


As with golf, the game of Bowls was popular in Scotland. The Scots are credited with establishing the rules or laws that have been adopted world-wide. In 1848 a meeting of about two hundred players from many different clubs met in Glasgow to reach a consensus on how the game should be played. This "uniform code of Laws" have become the basis for all subsequent laws.
In 1892, the Scottish Bowling Association was formed and in 1893, it drew up rules or Laws based on this code and also published a Code of Ethics. In 1903, the English Bowling Association was formed. The International Bowling Board was formed in 1905, with the founding members being Scotland, England, Ireland, and Wales. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States joined this world-wide association in 1928.

A Set of Woodies
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