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.
The ‘urban squatters’ skateboard park on the South bank in London is one of my favourite examples of a highly specialised, and unofficial, public open space. Benighted planners have as unimaginative an approach to POS as they do to education. It is ONE SIZE FITS ALL – a national curriculum and a national provision of ‘public open space’. The historic standard was ‘7 acres of open space/1000 people’, to go with a national diet of one glass of milk, four slices of bread, meat and two veg, with a fish on a Friday. Cooks have liberated us from wartime diets but wartime POS provision continues. ‘You can have any POS you want, so long as it is green’. But, as the video shows, London’s young, dynamic, agile and multi-ethnic youngsters have other ideas, other tastes, other skills and a harlequin love of coloured space. My conclusion is that the age of Generalised POS is over. The age of Specialised POS has begun. The above example cost the authorities nothing to make and costs them nothing to maintain. It is therefore more SUSTAINABLE than a stupid patch of neglected grass.
Notes (1) other examples of specialised POS welcome (2) I’m not sure but I think the urban space in the video is a consequence of the architecture professions onetime love of pilotis.
A labyrinth has a single path to its centre and was a Christian pilgrimage symbol during the middle ages.
A maze, with many blind alleys, puzzling events and difficult choices, became the setting for a garden game for six unmarried youths and six unmarried maidens. In pairs, a boy and a girl make their way in opposite directions, one centripetal and one centrifugal. Cupid, who directs the game, encourages them to kiss if they meet. They all dance when the game is over. Ringhieri, an Italian author who explained the rules in 1551, appends some questions to the rules: ‘Why is the maze blind? Why is love a maze? Is human life a maze? Why is womens’ hair like a maze? Is philosophy a maze? Is human life an inextricable maze?
The game and the questions form part of the ‘labyrinth of love’ (see, for example: Boccacio’s Corbaccio o Laberinto d’amore).
A game of love on a turf maze would be fun during a university fresher’s week – when there is everything to play for.
The maze in the photograph is on the village green at Alkborough in Lincolnshire – and I do not know if it was used for the game of love. Arthur Mee says it was cut by monks in the 12th century and White (Lincolnshire Directory (1872) that it was made by the Romans. Others think it is medieval. The excellent Labyrinthos website states that the first record of the Alkborough Turf Maze dates from the 1690s. Eight English ‘turf mazes’ survive. They are actually unicursal labyrinths and may be old – but the earliest records are from the seventeenth century. Their locations are interesting in themselves. One is in a garden; three are in the hills; four are on village greens or similar places:
Alkborough, Lincolnshire – near the village church and overlooking the Rivers Trent and Humber
Dalby, North Yorkshire – on the hills between the villages of Brandsby and Dalby
Wing, Rutland – on the edge of the village green
Hilton, Cambridgeshire – on the village green
Somerton, Oxfordshire – in a private garden
Saffron Walden, Essex – on the Town Common
Winchester, Hampshire – on a hill on the south of the village
Breamore, Hampshire – on a remote hilltop
Image courtesy Lincolnian (Brian)
Too many park managers have a horticultural training. To few park managers are trained in landscape architecture, garden design, event management, community leadership, economics, public accountancy or social entrepreneurship. The consequence of the imbalance is that too much public open space is managed as ‘parkland’: ‘green deserts with lollipops’, shrubberies, flowerbeds and a few facilities for young mums, sporty youths and old age pensioners. We have too much generalized public open space and too little specialized public open space.