A Bit of History

History of the Game, information World Bowls

Perhaps the most famous historical game took place in 1588, with legend claiming that Sir Francis Drake insisted on finishing a game of bowls at Plymouth even as the invading Spanish Armada approached.

There are numerous theories regarding the origin of the sport, however archaeological findings from Egypt suggest a sport with biased stone balls was played close to 7000 years ago. A variation of the sport, which later came to be known as ‘bocce’, was popular in Rome in the days of Julius Caesar. The spread of the Roman Empire may explain the early introduction of the game to much of Europe, while other variations of the game were gradually appearing across the globe, from China to Polynesia.

The oldest surviving bowling club is in Southampton (England) and dates back to 1299, and as the game grew in popularity in the 14th Century, the respective kings of France and England banned the sport as it was seen to be distracting people from the militarily-critical practice of archery. 

The sport is referenced in no less than three of William Shakespeare’s plays, at a time when it was almost exclusively played by nobleman and punishment was enforced when commoners were caught playing amongst themselves. The preferred style of play at the time was ‘crown bowls’, perhaps a reference to the popularity of the sport amongst the royals. The game was played on an uneven grass surface until the flat-green game was developed in Scotland where it found a welcome home. The Scots also developed a formal code of laws, the essence of which still form many of the current rules and regulations. 

Perhaps the most famous historical game took place in 1588, with legend claiming that Sir Francis Drake insisted on finishing a game of bowls at Plymouth even as the invading Spanish Armada approached.

As the British colonised much of the world, so did the sport of lawn bowls spread: to Australia, Canada and the United States amongst others. Although the sport has never reached great heights in the United States, George Washington’s father Augustus was a keen competitor and is believed to have commenced construction of a bowling green in 1732, the year of George’s birth. 

In the late 1800s, national bowling associations were being established across the globe. The Royal Victorian Bowling Association (Australia) was formed in 1880, while the Scottish Bowling Association came into existence in 1892.

Today there are more than 55 member National Authorities in 51 Member Nations, with the prestigious World Bowls Championships taking place every 4 years. A bit of history