The Game of Bowls
Bowls historians believe that the game developed from the Egyptians. One of their pastimes was to play skittles with round stones. This has been determined based on artefacts found in tombs dating circa 5,000 B.C. The sport spread across the world and took on a variety of forms, Bocce (Italian), Bolla (Saxon), Bolle (Danish), Boules (French) and Ula Maika (Polynesian). The oldest Bowls green still played on is in Southampton, England where records show that the green has been in operation since 1299 A.D. There are other claims of greens being in use before that time, but these are, as yet, unsubstantiated.
King Henry VIII was also a lawn bowler. However, he banned the game for those who were not wealthy or "well to do" because "Bowyers, Fletchers, Stringers and Arrowhead makers" were spending more time at recreational events such as bowls instead of practising their trade. Henry VIII requested that anybody who wished to keep a green pay a fee of 100 pounds. However, the green could only be used for private play and he forbade anyone to "play at any bowle or bowles in open space out of his own garden or orchard".
King James I issued a publication called "The Book of Sports" and, although he condemned football (soccer) and golf, encouraged the play of bowls. In 1845, the ban was lifted, and people were again allowed to play bowls and other games of skill.
The earliest documented use of the word 'Jack' in Bowls is either from 1611 "Was there euer man had such lucke? when I kist the Iacke vpon an vp-cast, to be hit away?" or alternatively Shakespeare used it in Cymbeline (thought to have been written in 1609) when he caused Cloten to exclaim, "Was there ever man had such luck! When I kissed the jack, upon an up-cast to be hit away."
But the most straightforward theory and the one most favoured by this author is that it appears that Jack in some contexts meant a slightly smaller version of something. For example a jack-rabbit is a little rabbit. In this case a 'Jack-Bowl', was the little bowl, later shortened to 'Jack'. In 1697 R. Pierce wrote "He had not Strength to throw the Jack-Bowl half over the Green".
Old English Bowling
There is still a league in South East Hampshire that plays an what they claim is the old version of Lawn Bowls. The woods used are a minimum of Jaques No 6 Bias and have to end up within four feet of the jack to score. The clubs in the league are at Titchfield, Gosport (Alverstoke Old English Bowling Club), Portsmouth, Havant, Hayling Island, Emsworth and Bosham.
The English Bowling Association was founded in 1903 and it is very well organised sport which hosts numerous competitions from the club to the national level. The sport is most popular in the South of England with thousands of devotees. Because success doesn't require physical fitness, it is particularly favoured by older folk but there are a lot of younger players, too. As with many English sports, Lawn Bowls spread to the the British colonies from the 1600s onwards.
Lawn Bowls was first played in North America in the early 1600's in the United States. Records show that President George Washington played bowls on his estate. In Canada, the sport was introduced around 1730 at Port Royal in Nova Scotia. In Australia, bowls first was played in Sandy Bay, Tasmania in 1844. The game appeared in New Zealand sometime during the 30 years after that. The World Bowling Board (WBB) is responsible for the standardisation of rules across the world, and is charged with the task of encouraging the growth of the game world-wide.
Lawn Bowls is usually played straight up and down a lawn. In "Singles", each player has four bowls called "woods" (although these days, 90% of bowls are made from a resin material) which are rolled alternately at a target ball called a Jack or Kitty. Other games are "Pairs" - four players in two teams, each player having four bowls, "Triples" - three players with three bowls each and "Rinks" or "Fours" - four players two bowls each. Each bowl is less rounded on one side which results in the bowl being "biased" in one direction due to the extra weight on one side. The bias of a correctly rolled bowl ensures that it follows a slightly curved path as it rolls which accentuates as the bowl comes to a halt. The Jack is a smaller yellow or white ball without a bias.
Part reproduced from "Online Guide to Traditional Games" by kind permission of James Master.