Bowls is one of Britain’s oldest and most loved sports, still played in more than 7,200 clubs across the country. Now expert bowler and sports historian Hugh Hornby has compiled Bowled Over - the first book to comprehensively look at its importance in sporting history
The Mackintosh Institute in Cardiff occupies a grand building originally known as Roath Castle and constructed between 1780 and the 1830s. The site was later gifted to the local community by Alfred Mackintosh in 1891.
‘Let no man be biassed’ reads the inscription on the Bowling Green House at Newark Town Bowling Club, Nottinghamshire. The club has now sold this Grade II listed 1809 building and constructed a new pavilion.
A Grade II-listed hexagonal pavilion at Great Torrington. It is thought this building is the one referred to in accounts of 1717, showing that Etheldred Davey, mayor of Torrington, was reimbursed £3 7s 4d for ‘new building the summerhouse in the Castle-green’.
The Grade II* Bowling Green House at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, designed by Batty Langley for Henry Grey, the 1st Duke of Kent, in around 1735.
A typically modest bowls’ shed at the Severnside Club in Shrewsbury, formed in 1896.
The lovely pavilion at Burntisland in Fife has been kept in its original state since it was completed in 1893, a year after the green was laid. It is listed Category B.
The Baronial Gothic style of architecture was very popular at Scottish clubs in the late 19th century, including Stirling BC. This pavilion, designed by William Simpson, opened in 1886.
Home to the oldest bowling club in the world, formed in 1753, the green at Lewes Castle in Sussex also houses this unusual pavilion. It was probably first used to display pot plants and has been here since the mid 19th century.
One of the earliest photos of bowlers in Britain, this shows the members of the Chesterfield Bowling Club in front of the Municipal Hall on August 24 1859. The ground floor of the Hall served as their clubhouse.
Members of the Southampton Bowling Green Club at the former pavilion, rebuilt in 1873 and seen here in 1923. The liner in the background is the Mauretania.
The Melville Bowling Club in Montrose sadly closed in 2013 as running costs escalated. But its listed pavilion lives on as a café.
Crouch Hill BC was the first in Britain to have a purpose built indoor facility in 1931, with three felt-covered rinks on its upper floor. The club folded in the 1960s.
A fine example of a Modernist pavilion at the Newmarket Avenue Bowling Club in Suffolk, designed by Cecil Rayner in 1936.
The crown green behind the Stile Inn in Wolverhampton, dating from around 1890, is T-shaped. The pavilion was once a stable and the hay loft door is still evident.
The Grade II* listed bowls’ pavilion at Wood House, South Tawton in Devon, with its balustraded viewing platform, was designed by the leading landscape architect Thomas Mawson around 1900. Steps lead up to the terrace from the arches at either end.
The Scottish Baronial style of architecture influenced some buildings in England, including Fulwood Conservative Club, in Preston, which opened in 1899. Yet the greens here are of the uneven, crown variety - a form of the game unknown in Scotland.
The Grade II-listed garden house in the grounds of Cockermouth Castle, in Cumbria, is octagonal in shape, like a number of Georgian bowls’ buildings. It is now used as the gardener’s office.
The former pavilion at the Milton Regis club in Kent originally bore the date of 1900. At some point this was changed to 1540 as the club, like many others, tried to establish its antiquity.
The thatched corner gazebo at the green behind the Painswick Falcon pub in Gloucestershire has been there since at least 1870 when it appeared in an early photograph of members.
In a constricted site, the members of Lutton Place BC in Edinburgh decided to increase the pavilion’s capacity in 1967. They did so by building an upper storey which projects over the green.
The charming, thatched John Young shelter at the Victoria BC in Norwich was built in 1925. The Latin inscription above the clock, horae serenae, means ‘pleasant hours’.
- Bowled Over by Hugh Hornby is published by Historic England on October 10 2015, £17.99. Order here. For a chance to win a copy, email email@example.com with the subject Bowled Over. Terms and conditions apply, don't forget to include your contact details.
Five facts you did not know about bowls
- The first recorded rules of bowls were drawn up with the help of Charles II – himself a keen bowler – in 1670. This was some 70 years before the earliest rules of cricket or golf. Rule 20 stated: Keep your temper.
- When cricket first became popular during the early 18th century, the ball was delivered underarm along the ground. Hence the player who delivered the ball was known as the ‘bowler’. Even though the now standard overarm delivery was introduced during the 1760s, the terms ‘bowler’ and ‘bowling’ lived on.
- Before the invention of lawnmowers in the 1830s, all bowling greens were kept in trim by scythes and kept flat using heavy rollers known as ‘rolling stones’. By an amazing coincidence, one of Britain’s oldest bowls pavilions, at Swarkestone in Derbyshire, built during the 1630s, featured in the artwork for two Rolling Stones albums: Beggars Banquet (1968) and the Hot Rocks compilation (1971).
- The best preserved historic bowling green in Britain, still in more or less its original form within the grounds of a medieval castle, is at Lewes in East Sussex. Bowling was first recorded there in 1639.
- Women have long been active in bowls. In 1532, Anne Boleyn lost the considerable sum of £12 7s 6d after losing a game, while Mrs Pepys often played with her husband Samuel. But once clubs started forming in the Georgian era women became excluded, and would not return to the green in any numbers until the early 20th century. National competitions for ladies then started in the 1930s. Today three out of every 10 bowlers is female, and only a handful of clubs remain men-only.
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