The sport of Bowls has an extraordinarily long history, and is thought by many historians to be man's oldest outdoor sport in the world, with references to some form of bowling by the Egyptians going right back to the 6th century BC. The sport, in its crudest form with round stones being cast to an object akin to skittles, spread around the world and took on many forms, such as 'Bocce' (Italian), 'Bolla' (Saxon), 'Bolle' (Danish), 'Boules' (French). The date of the formation of the sport in England is unknown, but a bowls green is mentioned in the records of Chichester Castle around 1066, and there are records of Clubs being formed at Christchurch, Bedford, and Southampton in the 12th and 13th century, with Southampton Old BC still being in existence with references back to 1299.  


Over the centuries prior to the founding of the English Bowling Association, the sport had something of a chequered path with firstly royal patronage by Edward 1 where greens were often associated with taverns and inns which lead to unacceptable behaviour of drunkenness, quarrelling, and duelling, when the participants should have been honing other skills required for national defence.  This lead to the sport being banned by laws passed in 1388, until Henry V111 came along and signed an act in 1541 permitting the playing in a very limited way by artificers,labourers, apprentices, servants, and the like, who were forbidden to play bowls at any time except Christmas, and then only at his master's house and in his presence, and this act was not repealed until 1845!  


Henry had his own bowling green at Hampton Court where it proved very popular for those inclined to bet on it, so much so that the Act had an amendment added to stop greens being established for gain.  In the 16th century during the reign of Queen Mary, all bowling licences were withdrawn as the game was deemed an excuse for unlawful ssemblies, conventions, sedition and conspiracies.    However the restrictions were obviously relaxed during the 16th century for in July 1588 Sir Francis Drake is said to have played his famous game on Plymouth Hoe.   Charles 1 ensured much greater royal patronage in the 17th century with his own green laid for him at Carisbrooke Castle, and his son was an even greater devotee of the sport, and with his brother James, Duke of York, and the Duke of Birmingham, he drew up a new set of rules in 1670.


Shakespeare in his 'Richard 11' Act 111, Scene 1V, has the Queen saying "What sport shall we devise here in this garden, to drive away the heavy thought of care?" to which the First Lady replies: "Madam, we'll play at bowls" and the Queen says: "Twill make me think the world is full of rubs and that my fortune runs aganst the bias"    How the bias in bowls came about is interesting as it was supposedly introduced in 1522 when the Duke of Suffolk broke one of his bowls, and in order to continue he took off an ornamental ball from a banister and used that, and because of its imperfect shape it showed a bias which enabled him to draw round other bowls.Until that time the bowls used had no bias.  They were normally made from yew, ash, oak, holly, or boxwood until the 16th/17th century when the very hard and dense wood, lignum vitae, was discovered by it is thought either Christopher Columbus, or Santo Domingo.  This wood is so dense that it sinks in water.  Bowlers still refer to their bowls as 'woods' despite the modern bowl being manufactured from a composite plastic material, and no longer the black, brown or grey of years ago, but now in many different colours.


The naming of the 'Jack' also has some interesting theories, with the first recorded use of the word appearing to be in Shakepeare's 'Cymbeline', written in 1609, when Cloten exclaimed "Was there ever man had such luck! When I kissed the jack, upon an upcast to be hit away"  The etymological origin of the word 'jack' is given by Monro's Bowls Encyclopaedia as being derived from the latin 'jactus' meaning a cast or a throw.  Another theory, and much favoured, is that 'Jack' in some contexts means a smaller version of something. For example a 'jack-rabbit' is a small 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"


Scotland saw bowls thriving from the 17th century, and following a meeting in Glasgow in 1848, which was attended by around 200 players from various clubs, all playing under differing laws, W.W. Mitchell, a solicitor in Glasgow, drew up a 'uniform code of Laws' for the sport, and these are the basis of all subsequent Laws. By the late 19th century there were nearly 400 Clubs established in Scotland, and the Scottish Bowling Association was formed in 1892.   The enthusiasm for the sport spilled over into England, and coupled with the interest being shown in bowls by the famous cricketer, Dr W G Grace, the English Bowling Association was ultimately formed in 1903, with Dr Grace becoming its first President.




Founded in 1903

(With grateful thanks and acknowledgements to Bowls England for allowing the following extracts from the 'History of the EBA' published on its Centenary in 2003)


Not to be left behind it is said that the enthusiasm for bowls overflowed into England, and coupled with the interest which was being shown by Dr W.G. Grace, the famous cricketer, the climate was almost right for the inauguration of a national administrative body.  In 1899 bowls games were arranged with Australian bowlers who were accompanying the Aussie cricket team which was on a tour of England, and the feasibility of arranging formal games between the two countries lead to the formation of the Imperial Bowling Association to undertake the task.


The London County Bowling Club and Association played against Scotland in 1901 where W.G. Grace learned more about the Scottish Bowls Association and the fixture was deemed a great success and Grace subsequently promoted the idea that international matches should be instituted for the home countries.  The arrangements for them to be held in July, 1903 were concluded by April, 1903, and the hosting of this prestigious event was in no small part responsible for focussing attention on the immediate requirement and priority of the day – the formation of the English Bowling Association.


A letter sent by the London Bowling Club to all known bowling clubs in the country stated “The time has arrived for the formation of the English Bowling Association”, with its object to be “to unite the bowling clubs of this country and bring to the front, good bowlers, who under present conditions are only known to their respective clubs or associations”


The historic initiation took place on the 8th June, 1903 in the cricket pavilion at Crystal Palace, where Messrs Dr W.G. Grace, S Fortescue, B.D. Godlonton, J. Hay, T. Robertson, J. Hogg, G. Muat, J.R. Macallum, and W. Stonehewer, decided forthwith to establish an ‘English Bowling Association’

Our National Association was born and then immediately baptised with victory in the newly instigated international series with 2 wins, against Wales and Ireland, and a draw against Scotland,  and with a superior shots aggregate of +62 to Scotland’s +44, England took the title.


The history of the EBA is a catalogue of innovation, improvisation, inspiration and achievement, which are fully captured by the minute books, and its milestones include the following:


1903 Historic initiation of the EBA at Crystal Palace on the 8th June.

1904 First General Meeting held on the 10th February with Dr W.G. Grace elected President and W. Stonehewer elected Secretary.  31 Clubs                          affiliated

1905 First Annual General Meeting held at Andertons Hotel, Fleet Street.  48 Clubs now affiliated at an annual fee of ten shillings and sixpence.     First National Competitions instigated – 22 entries for the rinks at 10 shillings and 20 entries for the singles at 5 shillings per entry.

A combined meeting of the Imperial Bowling Association and the English Bowling Association agreed to amalgamate.

1906 At the first AGM of the ‘new’ EBA held on the 25th January, the ‘vast’ resources of the two former Associations were pooled to provide the princely sum of £15.17s 5d for the new EBA.  Flush with funding the EBA agrees to an annual dinner at which prizes would be presented.

A British team sailed from Liverpool on 21st July, to tour Canada at a cost of £49.14s per head, with the EBA providing one rink of that team.  They returned having won all but one of their 23 matches.

1910 It was agreed that a ‘Standard Bowl’ be produced from Taylors of Glasgow and tested with a bowl made by the Excelite Company, with a bias below which bowls would not be eligible for the stamp of the EBA.

Membership is now 123 clubs with entries for national competition growing apace with 42 for rinks and 41 for singles.

1912     The fore runner of the Inter County 'Middleton Cup' competition, called the 'John Bull Cup' was established with 9 Counties involved, including Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Kent, Middlesex, Oxford, Surrey and Wiltshire, with Middlesex beating Surrey in the Final by 3 shots.

The National Pairs was introduced with a handsome trophy donated by Sir Thomas Dewar and this encouraged 39 entries.  The 'Lipton Cup' and the 'Wood Cup' were donated for the singles and rinks competitions respectively.

1913      For the playing of the Inter County competition the country was divided into 4 zones  - Northern, Midlands, Soutth Eastern and South Western.

1919      The country, having been divided into North and South in 1917 for the purpose of a six rink match between the two, finally played the match for the 'Victory Cup' with the North winning by 101-92 shots.

There are now 222 Clubs and 15 Counties affiliated to the EBA

1920      At the April meeting of EBA it was pointed out that the Scottish Bowls Association Rules have not been accepted universally and in fact had proved unpopular in many of the southern counties.

1921      Resolved that Clubs in the Isle of Wight and Channel Islands should be eligible to play for Hampshire EBA in the Inter County Championships.

Total entries for competition were Rinks 53; Pairs 64; Singles 194.    A new Constitution was adopted with membership open to English County and Island Associations having six or more Clubs in Membership, with Clubs to have a minimum of 20 members.

1923      After numerous complaints about the 'bias' of bowls and upon checking with the bowls testers it was found that 75% of bowls in use were less than the 'Standard Bowl'.  New Regulations were introduced requiring all bowls to be re-tested for the 1924 season before anyone could use them for play in any competitions, championships, or tournaments under the auspices of the EBA.   The North versus South match was replaced by an International Trial and the John Bull Cup was replaced by the 'Middleton Cup'

1928      The 24th AGM accepted the new law regarding 'touchers'.  A 'toucher' must be distinguished by chalk or other distinct mark put on the bowl by a member of the side to which it belongs.

1929      It was agreed that the venue for the National Championships would be London. Hitherto it was alternately London and the Provinces.

1930      The first British Empire Games (now Commonwealth Games) were held in Hamilton, Canada, and England won all 7 bowls gold medals.

Records show that there were 17,043 entrants in National Competitions, with 28 affiliated Counties having a total of 1,300 affiliatedd Clubs.

1933      Rules for the EBA(Indoor Section) were agreed and adopted.     

His Majesty King George V granted his patronage to the EBA.

1945      The General Purposes Committee met 15 times during the war to keep the EBA 'ticking over' and during this period bowlers contributed the sum of £100,000 to war charities.   National competitions resumed and included a Triples event for the first time, andd an Annual Presentation Dinner planned to take place at the Connaught Rooms, London at 12s6d per ticket.

1946      The National Championships were arranged to take place at Paddington Club, and the EBA Year Book would cost 1shilling.

1948      The EBA adopted red, white and blue, as the Association colours.   The Presentation Dinner was priced at £1 with a 1/- gratuity for waiters.

1953      The Golden Jubilee of the EBA was marked by a programme of 8 matches embracing all affiliated Counties, and these were played at Bournemouth, Cambridge, Croydon, Exeter, Gosforth, Leicester, Oxford, and Watford.

Players under the age of 18 years were barred from entering National Competitions, including at County stages.

1958      Watneys Sports Club Bowls Section hosted the National Championships for the first time, and coloured disks were used for the first time, although at that time not compulsory.

1961      The Central Council of Physical Recreation acknowledged the game of bowls in its official programme.

1962      The British Isles Bowling Council was formed.

1966      England accepted an invitation to play in the first World Bowls Championship held in Sydney, where David Bryant won the gold medal.

1969      The award of the MBE was conferred on David Bryant in the Queen's New Years Honours.

The EBA (Indoor Section) broke free and formed the English Indoor Bowling Association.

The EBA had its first Registered Office at the Merville Hotel, Bournemouth.

1971      England won all four British Isles Championships - the only time since their inception.

1972      The 2nd World Championships were held at Beach House Park, Worthing, and England won the Fours.  The EBA staged the event at a profit of £13,510.

1973      Minimum age for playing in the National Championships reduced to 16 years.   The EBA introduces a new competition - Inter Club Two Rink Knock Out.



















Founded in 1936

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Founded in 1964

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Founded circa 1992

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Founded circa 1995

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Founded in 2012

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