On The Green

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Statistical accounts of earlier days in Scotland rarely refer to bowling, however there is some reference as in the reign of King James IV, when there is mention of a green at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh in 1501. King James, who had every confidence in himself as a bowler, was prepared to lay a wager on his own ability, though not always with success. Of course, he had the Exchequer to pay his losses, as the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer show. It would appear then that bowling in Scotland was very much alive in those bygone days as an extract from the Annals of the Kirk Session of Glasgow dated April 24th 1595 states, ” The Session has directed the Drum to go through the Town that there be no bickering nor play by either by old or young in games of Golf, Bowls etc. on Sundays, they are forbidden”. Further evidence comes from the Minute Book of the Elgin Kirk Session dated January 19th 1596, when goldsmith Walter Hay was ”Accused of playing at the Bowls and Golf on a Sunday at the time of the Sermon”. He was given a suspended sentence under a penalty of £5 not to repeat the offence during the ”Preaching”. There is further reference to displeasure shown by the authorities to the game being played on a Sunday when in 1598 Aberdeen Town Council Minutes for October 4th refer to a statute that had been passed against play on the Queens Links during the Sermons especially as those involved were known to swear and blaspheme.

Efforts to establish the game were intermittent and little is known until 1691 when the Merchants Company of Edinburgh purchased a mansion in the Cowgate and converted waste grounds into a green. In 1693 ten pairs of bowls, alleged to have come from ‘abroad’, most likely London, were purchased for the sum of £6.50. It is further known that until the early 19th century almost every Laird’s house in and around the city had it’s own bowling green, probably to provide relaxation from the harsh working conditions and the wars in the late 16th and 17th centuries. Bowling greens were also to be found at the rear of the tenements making up the area of the Royal Mile, for example three were to be found near John Knox’s house along with several others on or near the High Street. In the grounds of George Heriot’s Hospital as the results of representation from several gentlemen, two greens were laid down in 1768 where a number of clubs flourished one of which was known as ”The Waverley ”. It is thought that one of the first known public greens could well have been in nearby Haddington where town records of 1662 refer to the laying out of one bowling green at a cost of £160. Furthermore it is generally agreed that the ”Haddington Club” formed in 1709 was Scotland’s first properly instituted bowling club followed in 1740 by Tom Bickets Bowling Green, Kilmarnock. Edinburgh’s oldest is recorded as being Archers’ Hall ( now Edinburgh ) constituted in 1848 but early records appear to show that it was opened in 1791 by the Royal Company of Archers on their present site at Meadow Lane, Hope Park.

By the early 19th century the game had become major form of relaxation as such that in 1804 the Glasgow Society of Bowlers purchased ground behind the Alms House and converted it into a bowling green for use of the Society at a membership fee of Ten Shillings and Six Pence. Then in the 1850’s with the game growing in popularity, properly levelled greens were laid and new clubs were formed, Glasgow itself had at least seven instituted private clubs, a major share of the country’s twenty-five on record at that time. Ten years later the total had reached 65 and with increased numbers competition in bowls prospered to the extent that one of the game’s first trophy’s the ”Eglinton Cup” a massive silver trophy, was offered up and presented by Archibald Wiliam Montgomerie, 13th Earl of Eglinton in 1857 for the now well established annual match between Ayrshire and Glasgow in which the first winners were ”Wellcroft” of Glasgow. Around this period in 1864, a recognised authority on the game, William Mitchell a member of ”Willow Bank” in Glasgow published his now famous book ” A Manual of Bowl Playing ” which included a set of rules for play, rules which were generally adopted by most of the Scottish Clubs. He also favoured and suggested that the game itself should be standardised and that the formation of a National Body be set up. His idea at that time was not given due and proper consideration as had been the case a few years earlier when representatives from around 200 clubs met to discuss a previous proposal and failed to reach agreement, however some accepted the plan in principle for city and county associations were established such as Edinburgh and Leith in 1878. Mitchell’s cause then lay dormant for a number of years until 1889 when James Brown of Sanquhar resurrected interest with a series of letters and articles to the columns of The Scotsman which eventually culminated in an arranged meeting to establish a National Association. As a result on September 12th 1892 an assembly attended by over 100 delegates from 310 Scottish clubs instigated the formation of The Scottish Bowling Association. At their first committee meeting two weeks later, Dr John Clark of the Partick Club in Glasgow was elected President with James Brown as Secretary and Treasurer who reported that 122 clubs had joined the Association.

National Championships took place for the first time one year later on the 12th August 1893 with an entry from 16 Districts at Queens Park in Glasgow where the winners were Kilwinning who beat Carluke 22-16 in the final. The following year Singles as well as Rinks were brought in but it was to be another forty years, 1933 before Pairs were introduced and almost the same time span for Triples in 1971. Following the success of the National Championships it was to be another few years before internationals took place and it is Dr W.G. Grace the famous English Cricketer to whom we should be grateful for their inauguration. He initiated the first ever by arranging a challenge at the Crystal Palace greens of the London Bowling Club in July 1901 with a return the following year at Lutton Place, Whitevale and Ayr. Due to their success and supported by Andrew Haig Hamilton it was his suggestion that games be instituted between all four home nations, agreement was reached and the first series was played in London in 1903.