1902 Encyclopedia > Bowls


BOWLS, one of the oldest and most popular of English pastimes, the origin of which can be traced back to the 12th century. William Fitzstephens, in his Survey of London, written during the last quarter of that century, states that in the summer holidays youths took exercise amongst other pastimes in jactu lapidum, " in throwing of stones."
This might be taken as referring to throwing stones by slings or other artificial means, were it not that the next pastime mentioned is " slinging of missiles to be delivered beyond a certain mark (amentatis missilibus ultra metam expediendis)." Fitzstephens was both an accurate ob' server and a careful writer, and he clearly alludes to two distinct exercises. In early days stone spheres are known to have been used for bowling, and the like thing and name were in vogue for the next two centuries, in fact till 11 Henry IV. (1409). There is little doubt, therefore, that Fitzstephens here refers to bowls. It has been a matter of speculation whether bowling was first practised in the open air on turf or under cover in alleys, and Fitz Stephens may help to decide the question. He states that the citizens went outside the city walls into the suburbs to witness these games, but the alleys were within the walls and in the midst of the population. Again, these alleys were always held up as scenes of vice and debauchery, and it is certain that had they existed at this date they would have been included in the resorts forbidden to the clergy by the constitutions of Walter de Cantilupe, bishop of Worcester, 24 Henry III. (1240). In the Close Roll, 39 Ed. III. (1366) mem. 23, jactus lapidum, "throwing of stones," is mentioned as one of the ludos inhonestos et minus utiles out valentes, " games alike dishonourable, useless, and unprofitable." But then there was a reason for this depreciation. The king was concerned lest the practice of archery, so much more important to the military spirit of the kingdom, should suffer, and the same reason prompted the action of Parliament. By 12 Rich. II. cap. 6 (1388), servants, artificers, and labourers were forbidden —amongst other games to play at gettre de peer, or " casting of the stone," as the practice of archery was becoming lax. This statute was confirmed by 11 Henry IV. cap. 4. (1409-10), wherein "gettre de peer" is again forbidden. From 17 Ed. IV. cap. 3 (1477-8) it appears that bowling still remained in disrepute; for " half-bowl" is included among the " many new imagined plays" which were followed by all classes " to their own impoverishment, and by their ungracious procurement and encouraging do inducen other into such plays till they be utterly undone and impoverished of their goods." Even murders, robberies, and felonies were the consequence. Accordingly, it was enacted that any one playing at half-bowl after the follow-ing Eastar, or the occupier or governor of any " house, tenement, garden, or other place," where such games are permitted, should be punished by fines and imprisonment. Here it is probable that both the outdoor and indoor games are referred to, as " house" and " garden" are mentioned, and it may be concluded that by this time alleys had sprung into existence in towns. This then may be considered the first mention of the game as practised under cover, though it is equally clear that alleys had not entirely superseded greens.
By 3 Henry VIII. cap. 3 (1511-12) the previous statutes against unlawful games were confirmed; the word " bowls " for the first time occurs, and the game is deemed an illegal pursuit. Owing, however, to the impos-sibility of following the outdoor game except during the summer, and the absorption of playing fields for building purposes, public alleys continued to flourish, as they were again the cause of legislation in 27 Henry VIII. cap. 25 (1535-6), whilst 33 Henry VIII. cap. 9 (1541-2) was very severe indeed on them. They were distinctly mentioned by name, and it was enacted that no one "by himself, factor, deputy, servant, or other person, shall, for his or their gain, lucre, or living, keep, have, hold, occupy, exercise, or maintain any common house, alley, or place of bowling;" and magistrates might search suspected tene-ments and make arrests. Oddly enough, however, no

punishment was to be inflicted, except binding offenders over by their own recognizances, and making them find sureties not to break the law again. Artificers, servants, and the like, might play during Christmas time in their masters' houses and presence, but no one could at any time " play at any bowle or bowles in open place out of his garden or orchard," whilst a licence might be granted to any one worth over ¿£100 per annum to play privately in his own domain, but not to keep any common or open place of play. By 2 and 3 Mary, cap. 9 (1555), these licences were cancelled, evidently for religious and poli-tical reasons, as they were considered excuses for " unlawful assemblies, conventicles, seditions, and conspiracies." The evil still continued and remained irrepressible. Stephen Gosson, in his School of Abuse (1579), says—
" Common bowling alleys are privy moths that eat up the credit of many idle citizens ; whose gains at home are not able to weigh down their losses abroad; whose shops are so far from maintaining their play, that their wives and children cry out for bread, and go to bed supperless often in the year."
Again, twenty years later, Stow, in his Survey of London, states—
" What should I speak of the ancient daily exercises in the long bow by citizens of this city, now almost clean left off and forsaken ? I overpass it; for by the means of closing in the common grounds, our archers, for want of room to shoot abroad, creep into bowling alleys and ordinary dining houses nearer home, where they have room enough to hazard their money at unlawful games. And there I leave them to take their pleasure."
Stow also mentions in another place that the gardens of old Northumberland House, in Coleman Street, City,
" Were made into howling alleys, and other parts into dining houses, common to all comers for their money, there to bowl and hazard; but now, of late, so many bowling alleys and other houses for unlawful gaming have been raised in other parts of the city and suburbs, that this, their ancient and only patron of misrule, is left and forsaken of her gamesters." Again, Goswell Street is described as "replenished with small tenements, cottages, alleys, gardens, banqueting houses, and bowling places."
The law, doubtless, was transgressed with impunity until the beginning of the 18th century, when power was given by 2 George II. cap. 28, § 9 (1728), and confirmed by 18 George II. cap. 34 (1745), to commit offenders to prison. From this date alleys were rigorously suppressed, whilst greens began to increase rapidly; and, during the 18th century, no country gentleman's mansion was considered complete without one. There is evidence that it was a royal game, since Stow states that bowling alleys were amongst the additions made by Henry VIII. to Whitehall, and the unfortunate Charles I. was an enthusiast of the open-air pastime. During his confinement at Holmby, Northamptonshire, he frequently went over to Lord Vaux's at Harrowden, and Earl Spencer's at Althorpe, both of which seats possessed unrivalled bowling greens. He is said to have been engaged at the game when seized by Cornet Joyce. After the suppression of alleys "long bowling," or " Dutch rubbers," was practised for a short time. It consisted of bowling at nine pins, placed on a square frame 30 yards distant, but does not appear ever to have found much favour in England. The first regular bowling club of which there exists any trace is the Willow-bank Club founded in Glasgow at the commencement of the 19th century. The game is now chiefly practised in the northern counties of England and in Scotland. In the present era of violent athletic exercises its principal votaries are middle-aged and elderly persons, to whom it affords a pleasant and not too vehement exercise during summer evenings.
For the outdoor pastime the first requisite is a smooth and level plot of turf, well mown, watered, rolled, and kept in order,—hence the comparison, "as smooth as a bowling green." The earliest delineation extant of the game shows two players with a ball each, but no jack or mark to bowl at. It is presumed from this that the first cast his bowl to constitute a mark for the second to play at and knock from its position. Probably it was soon found expedient to introduce some definite mark, and in a 13th century MS., marked 20 Ed. IV., in the Eoyal Library, there is a picture of a game of bowls being played with a small cone erected at each end. Here the prin-ciple was evidently the same as at present, viz., to see who could cast his bowl nearest the mark. The modern green may be laid out on any suitable piece of smooth and level turf. The dimensions vary, according to the ground available, but from 90 to 150 feet in length, with a proportionate width, is found most suitable. The bowls are made of lignum vitce; and, instead of being perfect spheres, are more or less oval with a bias. Formerly bias was accorded them by loading one side with lead, but now the more simple method of turning one-half of the oval smaller or leaner than the other half is universally adopted. The chief difficulty of the game consists in each player's mastering the bias of his own particular bowl. The "jack " or mark to be bowled at consists of a white ball of smaller size, which has superseded the old-fashioned cones. "Pegs" are a length of cord, with one end firmly attached to a bone or wooden peg, and the other passing through a hole in a similar peg. They are used for measuring which of two bowls is nearest the jack; and, if the distance be under a yard, the " standard "—consisting of a light straw or reed —may be called into requisition. A " rub " or " set" is when a jack or bowl, in transitu, comes in contact with any object on the green. The " footer" is the small piece of material—cocoa-nut matting is the best—whereon each player stands in delivering his ball. " Cast," or " point," is the term for each unit in scoring the game, which is " up" or won when the number of casts agreed on have been obtained by the winning side. A " dead bowl" is one knocked off the green, or against one lying in the ditch, or an illegally played bowl, and must at once be removed from the green. Should the boundary of the green consist of fencing, touching the fence constitutes a deadbowl. " Mark," or " set a mark," means the delivery of the jack at the commencement of a game. The jack must be bowled at least 63 feet from the footer and not over 3 feet from the edge of the green. The bowling generally takes place alternately from the two "ends" of the green. A "void end" is when neither side can score a cast. "Turning the jack" is when a player claims the game to be finished as the bowls then lie, and can only occur when one side has but a single bowl to deliver, all the opposite side's bowls having been cast. For the rules of the outdoor game as now played, reference may be made to Mitchell's Manual oj Bowl-playing, Glasgow, 1865.
In France, according to Cotgrave, there formerly existed a game termed carreau, somewhat similar to bowls, the jack or mark being set up on a square stone at the end of an alley.
In the United States of America a game of bowls, termed " Ten Pins," is very popular. It is strictly an indoor game, played in alleys 60 feet by 4 feet. Ten wooden pins are set up at the further end of the alley, in the shape of an equilateral triangle with the apex (termed the "king pin)" towards the players. The object is to knock down the greatest number of pins with the fewest balls. These are made of lignum vita;, unlimited in size or weight, but perfect spheres, instead of being biassed. A game consists of ten " rolls '' of three balls each (if necessary), or thirty in all. The score is kept on a large vertical slate with ten divisions, corresponding to the ten rolls, for each player. The chief point is to try and hit the king pin at the apex of the triangle, as this affords the best chance of knocking down all the pins. Should a player succeed in doing so with the first ball of a roll he

trains a " double spare," his bowling is over for that roll,
and he is entitled to add whatever number of pins he
knocks down with the first two balls of the next roll to
the tea already down. Should he gain another double
spare with the first ball of the succeeding roll he has to
wait for the first ball of a third roll before the total score
for the first roll can be ascertained, and so on in succes-
sion. Accordingly, should a player obtain a double spare
in each roll—or ten in all—his total reaches 300, the
highest attainable. If a double spare be scored with the
first ball of the tenth roll, the player is entitled to bowl his
two remaining balls at once as he has no further rolls to
play. Should he knock down all the pins with the first
two balls of a roll, he gains a " single spare," his bowling is
over for that roll, and he is in a similar manner entitled to
add whatever number of pins he knocks down with the
first ball of the next roll to the ten already down. The
technical name for this method of scoring is " counting old
and new." There are a few ten-pin alleys in London and
the suburbs, but the pastime is not much practised in
England. The rules will be found in The Modem Pocket
lloyle, New York. (H. F. W.)

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