Drake’s Game

Sometimes it is better to travel slowly in life, and savour the moment. There is no finer example of this than lawn bowling, or as it is often simply known, bowls. This ancient game provides a much needed antidote to the stress and hurry of modern life. Though the exact origins of bowls is uncertain, it is known that a basic version of the game existed in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. The game of bowls or ‘Bocci ‘ as it was then called, is assumed to have travelled across Europe with the legions of the Roman Empire.

What is known, is that by the 13th century, lawn bowls was an established sport in England. in 1299 AD the Southampton old Bowling Green Club was formed, and remarkably, this club still exists today, after 713 years of play It is, not suprisingly, the oldest known lawn bowling club in the world.

The game itself continued to grow in popularity from this point.Though there were many attempts made to restrict the practice of bowls in the 14th and 15th centuries. At the time it was considered that archery, vital to the armies of the time, was being neglected in favour of bowls. Fortunately the prohibitions were largely symbolic, and the game continued to be played. in Scotland however, even these restrictions did not apply, and in many ways it is to these early scottish enthusiasts, that we owe the development of the modern game.

Simple in essence, yet requiring considerable skill in execution, lawn bowls is played on a prepared green, which is usually between 34 and 40 yards square. The bowls, which look entertainingly like canonballs, are bowled towards a small white target ball known as the ‘jack’. This can be placed on the green anywhere from 75 – 108 feet away. The challenge is to place your bowl as near as you can to the jack itself, with points awarded accordingly.

The bowls themselves are ‘biased’, which means that they are made with one side slightly flattened. As the rolling bowl slows down, it will turn inwards towards the biased side, in a curving motion. here lies the skill of the game, in being able to judge not only the distance, but also the ‘turn’, as it known, of the bowl as it runs towards the target.

Perhaps the most famous game of bowls, was played by Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Walter Raleigh, at Plymouth Hoe in July 1588. Legend has it that a messenger arrived on horseback while they were playing, to inform Sir Francis that the Spanish Armada had been sighted in the English Channel. The Armada was the greatest fleet ever assembled for the invasion of England, it was considered to be invincible. Sir Francis is said to have calmly insisted on finishing his game of bowls, before taking command of the English fleet. He won, both his game of bowls, and the subsequent naval battle. Lawn bowling, a traditional pastime of patience and skill, with much to teach us in today’s world. It was Drake’s game, could it also be yours?

Drake’s Game


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