A History of the Game

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History of the Game, from an article by Gary King

Lawn bowls, also known as lawn bowling or bowling on the green, is considered a quintessentially English sport. However, it probably originated in France. It may even have been brought over by the conquering Normans in 1066 or shortly thereafter, though there's no documentary evidence that it was.

Like Italy's bocce and Provencal's petanque, lawn bowling originated in a game played by Roman soldiers, in which stones were tossed toward a target stone with the object of getting as close to the target as possible.

Roman legions introduced the game to countries throughout the empire. Over time, the stones were replaced by balls that were usually rolled, rather than thrown. In France, the sport became known as boules, from the Latin word for ball, and the English word "bowl" came from that French root.

The oldest known bowling green, in Southampton, England, dates at least to 1299, although other greens claim to be older than that. Henry VIII, himself a bowler, in 1511, banned the sport among the lower classes and levied a fee of 100 pounds on any private bowling green to ensure that only the wealthy could play.

The main reason for the ban, as for similar bans on other sports, was that able-bodied men were supposed to spend their spare time practicing archery. The king's proclamation also noted that arrow-makers and bow-makers weren't being productive enough because of the time they wasted on bowling.

Such bans soon passed with the use of firearms and the declining importance of archery in warfare, but the Puritan revolution virtually ended all sports in England, and lawn bowling didn't make much of a comeback with the Restoration of 1660.

The sport flourished in Scotland, however, and the Scots, during the 1840s, developed a set of standardized rules that have been changed very little.

Despite the sport's antiquity, there was no central ruling body in England until 1903, when the English Lawn Bowling Association (EBA) was founded. The association grew slowly, however, and several organizations objected to the stringent rules about the condition of greens.

The Midland and East Anglian Bowling Association, organized in 1926, adopted rules allowing virtually any level grassy area to be used. In 1945, that group became the English Bowling Federation (EBF), which now has thirteen member countries.

Both the EBF and EBA conduct a variety of major tournaments, including national championships. For international competition, though, the EBA is considered the national governing body through its affiliation with the World Bowling Board and the Europeon Bowls Union.


History of Lawn Bowling in Hamilton, New Jersey

(Updated 6-21-17, with thanks to Linda Stewart Mihok, Bob Stewart's daughter)

Bob Stewart, born in Glasgow, Scotland, and lifelong promoter of lawn bowling founded the Hamilton Township Lawn Bowling Club in 1980 from remnants of a group that bowled in Cadwalader Park in Trenton. Bob met with Hamilton Mayor Jack Rafferty (R, 1976-1999) when the township acquired Kuser Mansion. He provided the mayor with all the information needed to lay out the bowling green for the new Kuser Park, including greens care. After Bob's death, Mayor Glen Gilmore (D, 1999-2007) dedicated the green and named it after Bob and gave the family a proclamation. Mayor Rafferty attended that event as well and it was covered on TV! The green was dedicated in 2001.

He is shown here presenting the League Champion Award in 1996 to Mark Pecaric.


  This page was last updated on June 21, 2017.

Copyright 2005, John G. Thomas