English bowling: the history of the game of bowls

Bowling was the favourite game of the sixteenth century. It was played in great gardens, on smooth garden lawns in towns and on village greens. The game probably reached England from France, perhaps in the thirteenth century. Like most games, it became associated with gambling. Thomas Dekker wrote (in a charming book on The seven deadly sins of London, 1606) that Sloth gave orders that ‘dicing-houses, and bowling alleys should be erected, whereupon a number of poor handy-crafts-men, that before wrought night and day…. they never took care for a good day’s work afterwards.’ During the crusades ‘No man in the army was to play at any kind of game for money, with the exception of knights and the clergy; and no knight or clerk was to lose more than twenty shillings in any one day. The men-at-arms, and “other of the lower orders,” as the record runs, who should be found playing of themselves—that is, without their masters looking on and permitting—were to be whipped; and, if mariners, were to be plunged into the sea on three successive mornings, “after the usage of sailors” . George London and Henry Wise worked only for gentlemen and provided them with bowling greens. The design below, was published with the explanation that ‘to give a more clear and distinct idea of what a Bowling-Green is, here is the Figure of one, the Design of which, I hope, will not be disapproved of’. Sorry, but I think it a bad design. Still, judging from the Wiki article on bowling, what the word now means is ’10-pin bowling’. Garden and park designes should reclaim the game of bowls.

4 thoughts on “English bowling: the history of the game of bowls

  1. DAN

    Hi Tom, A good place to go to play some French style boules rather than the more formal English lawn bowling is on Cleavers Square in Kennington… There is all that you need there: a large compacted gravel square surrounded by leafy trees providing shade and shelter and a pub in the corner that will lend you a set of boules if you lend them some cash…It will also serve a pint or two too…

    The square was not designed for this purpose but on a summer saturday is full of people enjoying a game…


  2. Robert Holden

    If you search wikipedia by the noun bowls then there is a reasonable article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowls
    Bowling is an American development of skittles and bowls is an English game, with two versions : flat green and crown green. Also check out the circular bowling green in Bishops Castle,


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