P&D Bowls Association

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Bowls England

Affiliated to

Bowls Hampshire

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Portsmouth & District Bowls Association


History of the



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History of the

Portsmouth & District Bowls Association

About the Game

First an introduction to the fine game of Bowls. One of the best known historical references to the sport it that of Sir Francis Drake. On the 18th July 1588 he was apparently engaged in a game at Plymouth Hoe when he was informed of the Spanish Armada approaching England. He is reported to have said "We still have time to finish the game and thrash the Spaniards too." By all accounts he went on to lose the game but history shows the ensuing battle against the Armada was somewhat more successful. Whether things happened quite like this is heavily debated!

The fact Sir Francis was partaking of the game would tend to confirm that Bowls was already an established activity by the late 1500's.

Historians believe that Bowls actually emanated from Egypt, developing from pastimes dating back as far as 5000 BC. As the sport spread across what we now know as Europe it took on numerous variations including Bocce in Italy, Bolla in Saxony, Bolle in Denmark, Boules in France and Ula Maika in Polynesia.

It is unclear exactly when the game of Bowls (or an earlier cousin) crossed the channel but the age of the game can once again be appreciated in Southampton with the aptly named Old Green Bowls Club (1299 A.D.). The club claims to be the oldest bowling green in England which is still played on. Other unsubstantiated claims exist of greens being in use before this time.

Interestingly, Bowls was a cherished pastime of Kings throughout the ages and a game that merited close scrutiny. It is thought that Bowls was regarded in old England much like football is today. Numerous statutes emanated from Kings and Parliament throughout the ages resulting in its prohibition. Fear was felt about the effect this recreation would have on the tradesmen (bow makers, fletchers, stingers and arrowhead makers) who were spending too much time enjoying themselves while the Realm and it's army depended upon their productivity.

Efforts were made to ban the sport in 1361 under Edward III, in 1388 under Richard II and in 1409 under Henry IV out of fear for the effect on archery.

Henry VIII was a bowler. He forbad the playing of the game by anybody other than the wealthy in an attempt to combat the lack of productivity amongst tradesmen who were supposed to be making bows and arrows for his armies rather than enjoying this fine recreation.

Concessions were eventually made and in an order which lasted from 1541 to 1845 lower orders were permitted to play at Christmas. It also seems that Henry VIII devised a tax of £100 (a colossal sum in those days) for anybody who proposed to keep a bowling green. He went on to limit the playing of Bowls by declaring a Bowling Green could only be used for private play forbidding anyone to "play at any bowle or bowles in open space out of his own garden or orchard."

In the following centuries it would seem the game radically developed. The Duke of Suffolk, a gentleman by the name of Charles Brandon, supposedly introduced a bias in the bowl in 1522 when his bowl fell in two and he stuck half of an ornamental ball to it. The unusual slightly flattened shape caused the bowl to roll with a curved trajectory which is fundamental to the game we know today.

It is thought that the 'Jack' was a 17th century development - jack meaning a smaller version of something, hence jack-bowl.

Oddly enough, the invention of gunpowder had a positive effect on the development of Bowls as a game. As armies no longer needed to train archers or engage the services of associated tradesmen Bowls became less of an issue with Monarchs and Parliaments.

By the reign of James I culture had changed to such an extent that Francis Willughby's 'Book of Sports' actually encouraged the practice of Bowls.

In 1848 the first talks about forming a National Governing Body were held in Glasgow involving some 200 clubs from around the UK. The meeting failed to conclude matters but did reach agreement that a common set of Laws was necessary. Laws of the game were eventually drawn up at a meeting held in Glasgow the following year. Twice President of The Willow Bank Bowling Club in Glasgow Mr W.W. Mitchell formed a small committee that managed to agree a complete set of Laws which were adopted by clubs and adhered to for many years. Laws of the game were eventually published as a manual in 1864.

The Scottish Bowling Association who formed in 1892 adopted these Laws a short time later, as did the English Bowls Association that was founded in 1903 with the legendary cricketer W.G. Grace as president.

The creation of a set of Laws was the foundation the game needed to spread worldwide. The International Bowling Board was originally created with member countries comprising Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. Today it is a truly worldwide competitive sport enjoyed by all age groups with no barriers for gender, ethnicity, ability or disability. Bowls is a sport than can genuinely be enjoyed by everybody.

The more recent history of the P&D 

(With many thanks to Frank Eeles for allowing us to use extracts from his book “Bowling Down the Years – A History of the P&D”).


Before 1903, it is thought that the type of bowls being played in the Portsmouth and Gosport area was based on the Old English game, as some of the photographs of that time show.


Then, in 1903, eight bowling clubs from the area got together to form the Hampshire Bowling Association. This was in the same year that the English Bowling Association was founded, and 17 years prior to the present Hampshire County Bowling Association.


Those eight clubs were:

  - Alverstoke BC, which is still in existence, but now known as Alverstoke Old English BC.

  - Carisbrooke BC, of which little is known about. They could have been named after a Hotel, Road, or may even have come from the Isle of Wight.

  - North End BC, who played in Kingston Crescent and were known as Kingston Cross BC. The club is still in being, but they now play Old English Bowls.

  - Portsmouth BC, who later became Portsmouth Corporation, but are now City of Portsmouth BC.

  - Queens BC. The Club is still in Queens Road, Gosport, but their green has been built on.

  - Saxe-Weimar BC, who are now Southsea Waverley

  - Southsea BC, who later became Southsea Falcon. Sadly, they are now defunct.

  - Victoria BC, which was situated behind the Pelham Hotel in Chichester Road.

Sadly, they are now defunct.


For the inaugural competition, Portsmouth BC presented a Challenge Shield Trophy. The first winners were Saxe-Weimar. The shield is on display in the Southsea Waverley Club house.

A second shield was presented to the Association by Saxe-Weimar, and the inaugural winners of it was Queens BC.


A Singles competition was introduced in 1904, the first winner being WC Bower (Carisbrooke BC).


Records don’t show when the Association disbanded, but it is thought to have been at the outbreak of World War One.


In 1925, the Portsmouth and District Bowling Association was formed to run League bowls for clubs in the Area. Records of that time being a bit hazy, it can only be deduced that that first league consisted of:

  - Alexandra

  - City of Portsmouth

  - Civil Service

  - Copnor

  - Milton Park

  - Pembroke Gardens

  - Queens (Gosport)

  - Southsea

  - Southsea Waverley

  - Star & Crescent


Southsea Waverley became the first Champions, and they were awarded “The Peters Bowl”, presented by Colonel JW Peters.


A Second Division was formed in 1927, with a Third being formed in 1933.


In 1928, Sir John Rowland donated a trophy (The Rowland Cup) for a competition to be played between all the clubs in the District. The proceeds from this competition were to go to the Amenities and Comforts Fund for Hospital Nursing Staff, at the Royal Hospital, Portsmouth. The first winners of the trophy were Pembroke Gardens.


With the outbreak of World War 2, it was not until a few years after the cessation of hostilities that the popularity of bowls started to gain momentum. However, records do show that League 1 did restart in 1942, as did the Rowland Cup. However, it was not until 1947 that Division 2 restarted, whilst Division 3 restarted in 1949.


In the early days of the P&D, individual competitions were mainly the responsibility of the Hampshire County Bowling Association, with the District taking care of the needs of players who wanted to play League Bowls. However, the P&D decided to run its own Competitions


To cater for the increase in the popularity of Bowls in the District, the first Combination League was started in 1956, soon to be followed by further Combination Leagues.


The 1960’s saw the start of an explosion of new Bowling Clubs being formed.

  - In the 60’s, 4 new clubs were accepted into the P&D.

  - In the 70’s, another 5 joined.

  - In the 80’s, another 7 joined.


This explosion, probably due to Bowls being shown regularly on Television at Prime Time (remember Jack High on BBC2 shown at 7pm) meant that a Fourth Division proper was started in 1986.


The last recruits into the P&D were Denmead, in 1990, and Emsworth, in 1996.


Sadly, we have also seen the demise of some of the Clubs that used to be in the Association. Some have merged (like Copnor & IBM), others have had to cease altogether (notably Portsmouth Civil Service) whilst others have decided that League Bowls is not for them.


This demise may be down to the fact that Bowls is no longer shown at Prime Time on Terrestrial TV, so that newcomers or youngsters don’t get fascinated with the game. Who knows? However, it is up to the Clubs and the Association to try to revive interest in this wonderful sport. For Bowls is the only game where people of all ages can play against one another, without recourse to a handicapping system. This was epitomised in August 2010 in the match between Southsea Waverley and College Park. Playing for the Waverley was eleven-year-old Louis McCubbin, whilst Bob Reilly was playing for College, at the tender age of 92!


Most players in the early years were Aldermen, Councillors, businessmen or well to do people. The game itself was a much more leisurely affair then today, with more emphasis on the social side of the sport. Ladies seem to have taken a fairly active part in those early days, as some old photographs show. It was not until later that divisions were set up between the sexes, who instigated this division is unclear. In recent years, the pendulum swung back, with more mixed clubs being formed.