The History of Modern Day Lawn Bowling
By the 13th Century, however,bowls in this Country had developed into a more recognizable pattern. Evidence of this comes from drawings in a manuscript of the period once lodged in the Royal Library at Windsor but now housed in the British Library, This drawing shows two men, one having delivered his bowl at a cone shaped marker and the other crouched, bowl in hand ready to send his on its way. Two 14th Century drawings in the same manuscript reveal that the cone targets had by then disappeared and, in one case at least, had been replaced with a smaller bowl or jack.
Tradition rather than hard fact tells us that The Old Green at Southampton was laid prior to 1299 during the reign of Edward I, but truth or wishful thinking, that venerable turf is generally regarded as being the oldest bowling venue in existence. The first documentary evidence of the green dates from 1550 when an unfortunate soul was fined for the misdeed of ?keeping common playing with bowle, tabylles and other unlawful games against the Kings Statute?.
During this period bowling games, in one form or another, figured prominently among the common mans prime means of recreation, pastimes which, to the dismay of successive monarchs, began to distract attention from the archery butts. The skills with which the English archers handled the longbow reached a peak during the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) with the finest bowmen having the ability to unleash 12 arrows a minute at their luckless targets. Small wonder then that any games which seduced the male population away from practice at the butts, should be viewed as a threat to the very heart of Englands fighting capabilities.
In an attempt to redress matters, Edward compelled all men with an annual income of 100d (42p) (the vast majority) to own ?bow, arrows and other arms?. For those residing within the royal forests arrows were to be of a round headed variety, while for those living outside of the forests, the normal, short arrow was deemed suitable. This legislation proved something of a failure, however, and a number of statutes were passed over the following years with the object of eradicating all such dangerous pastimes. Edward III in his English Statute of Labourers passed in 1350, decreed that ?everyman must work six days each week, attend church service on a Sunday mornings under the penalty of a fine and to assemble at the archery butts in the afternoon for practise and to pass on their knowledge and skills to their sons?.
Various games, including gettre de pere (jetter de Pierre or throwing of stones) were banned within the walls of the City of London under the act which heralded a series of punitive measures by successive monarchs all aimed at forcing yeomen and commoners of England back to the butts. Richard II kept up the pressure by declaring in 1388 that all such games were unlawful, while Henry IV followed with a measure passed in 1409 which found anyone playing the forbidden games liable to six days imprisonment.