The History of Lawn Bowls
It would not be possible to recount the history of lawn bowls without mentioning Admiral Sir Francis Drake's never to be forgotten reaction on the 19th of July 1588 when he was skipping a game in Plymouth and Captain Fleming came with the warning that the Spanish Armada was sighted approaching the shores of England: "Gentlemen", said Drake, "let's finish our game first".
Whence this game that Drake had to end before battle commenced? The beginnings of bowling go back to Egypt of the Pharoes and Ancient Greece. From Greece the game spread to Rome, and the Roman soldiers carried it on to the European Continent. They played it (as in Egypt and Greece) with stones which were thrown towards a stone target. The French who inherited the game from the Romans also used stones, and called it "jetter de pierre".
England's oldest known bowls club is in Southampton and was started in 1299. At first it was not a game for the masses. King Henry the Eighth, a bowler himself, in 1511 prohibited the playing of this sport by the lower classes. He also imposed a fee of 100 pounds on any private club in an effortr to ensure that only the rich would play. The main reason for this prohibition, as for other sports, was that fit people were expected to practice archery. The king's proclamation stated that the makers of bows and arrows were not being productive, since they "wasted their time" playing bowls. All these prohibitions brought about a decline in England of various sports, except in Scotland where the game flourished. In the forties of the 19th century the Scots set out standard rules of play for bowls, which have changed very little since. Only in 1903 was the British Bowling Board formed, and the laws of bowls set out more or less as they are today.
And a word on the history of the actual bowls we play with. As already mentioned, stones were used at first, and only at some later date after 1409 were wooden bowls introduced. Various types of wood were used for their manufacture, notably boxwood and oak. After the discovery of Santa Domingo in the Caribbean in 1492 lignum vitae wood was found and used. Today's bowls are produced from phelonic resin in moulds under 160 ton pressure at a temperature of 200 degrees. The bowls then undergo ultrasonic testing for cavities and completed with computerized colouring and inscribing by lathe.
The bias of the bowl enabling it to circumvent the opposition's bowls is a characteristic added by chance. This was the story of Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, who in 1522 broke his bowl in two when driving into another bowl, and he replaced it with the knob from the top of his banister at home. To his delight the flat surface on this knob allowed it to go round the other bowls. Biased bowls have since become fully accepted.
Subsequently, bowls biasing was achieved by the insertion of side weights, and many incorrectly believe this still to be the case. Today, however, the bias is obtained purely through the shape of the bowl. One must add further that until 1871 there was no system used for testing a bowl's playing suitability, and each bowl was different from the next. Only in 1871 did the Taylor Company in Glasgow construct its first testing table to check the bowls it was producing. In 1928 the World Bowls Board established the basic requirements for a testing table and on this structure, resembling a billiard table, the running speed and suitability of the bowl are checked.
To summarize this historic review, we have seen that from Ancient Egypt, Greece, from the fun-loving Roman soldiers, through France, the English and the Scots, the game of bowls has spread all over the world. Lawn bowls is played today in about 30 countries. It is particularly popular in places such as South Africa, Australia and Britain. Lawn bowls associations exist, for example, in the USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Tonga, Papua, Spain and Cyprus.
Israel also has its own lawn bowls association with eight clubs: Ramat Gan, Raanana, Netanya, Ramat Hasharon, Jerusalem, Kiryat Ono, Savyon and Haifa. The Raanana Club is the largest in the country.