Monday, December 13, 2021

Garden Design - The Bowling Green

It is thought that the game of bowls developed from the Egyptians.  Artifacts found in tombs dating circa 5,000 B.C. show that one of their pastimes was to play a type of skittles with round stones. Sculptured vases & ancient plaques show the game being played some four thousand years ago, & archaeologists have uncovered biased stone bowls from 5,000 B.C. which indicate our ancestors enjoyed the game of bowling more than seven thousand years ago.  The sport spread across the world & took on a variety of forms, Bocce (Italian), Bolla (Saxon), Bolle (Danish), Boules (French) & Ula Maika (Polynesian).   The sport of lawn bowls is the forerunner of curling, a popular winter version played in northern countries (including Canada) on ice. 

Depictions of early games of bowls in colonial America are very rare.  Most paintings of the game seem to come from Flemish artists.

When Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) ruled Rome, the game was known as “Bocce,” & conquering Roman Legions of centurians may well have carried the game to Europe & the British Isles. By the 13th century, bowling had spread to France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, & England. The oldest English Bowls green still played on is in Southampton, England where records show that the green has been in operation since 1299 A.D.
1600 Playing a Game of Lawn Bowls or Lawn Billiards

The game became so popular in England and in France it was prohibited by law because archery, essential to the national defense, was being neglected. The French king, Charles IV (1294-1328), prohibited the game for the common people in 1319, & King Edward III (1312-1377) issued a similar edict in England in 1361. Statutes forbidding it & other sports were enacted in the reigns of Edward III, Richard II, & other monarchs. Edward III, the game was restricted by royal decree to “Noblemen & others having manors or lands.” Successive kings played & enjoyed the game.

Even when, on the invention of gunpowder & firearms, the bow had fallen into disuse as a weapon of war, the prohibition was continued. During the reign of Richard II (1452-1485) bowls were referred to as "gettre de pere" or "jetter de pierre," & describes throwing a stone, probably as round as possible. In the early 15th century bowls were made of hardwoods &, after the 16th century discovery of Santo Domingo, of lignum vitae, a very dense wood.

King Henry VIII (1491-1547) was a lawn bowler, & had bowling greens installed at Whitehall, permitting the common people to play on Christmas Day.  However, he banned the game for those who were not wealthy or "well to do" because "Bowyers, Fletchers, Stringers & Arrowhead makers" were spending more time at recreational events such as bowls instead of practising their trade. 

The discredit attaching to bowling alleys, first established in London in 1455, probably encouraged subsequent repressive legislation, for many of the alleys were connected with taverns frequented by the dissolute & gamesters. The word "bowls" occurs for the first time in the statute of 1511, in which Henry VIII confirmed previous enactments against unlawful games. By a further act of 1541—which was not repealed until 1845—artificers, labourers, apprentices, servants & the like were forbidden to play bowls at any time except Christmas, & then only in their master's house & presence. It was further enjoined that any one playing bowls outside his own garden or orchard was liable to a penalty of 6s. 8d., while those possessed of lands of the yearly value of £100 might obtain licences to play on their own private greens.  However, the green could only be used for private play, & he forbade anyone to "play at any bowle or bowles in open space out of his own garden or orchard."   (In 1845, the ban was lifted, & people from all walks of life were again allowed to play bowls & other games of skill.)
David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Game of Bowls

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 (1564-1616) who 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."
Shakespeare (Richard II, Act III, Scene IV):

"Queen: What sport shall we devise here in this garden,
To drive away the heavy thought of care?

First Lady: Madam, we'll play at bowls.

Queen: 'Twill make me think the world is full of rubs.
And that my fortune runs against the bias"

John P Monro, Bowls Encyclopaedia (3rd ed), writes that the name 'jack' is derived from the Latin word jactus, meaning a cast or a throw.   '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."

A sport played by young men called "casting the stone" is mentioned by William FitzStephen, a close friend of Thomas à Becket, in the preface of his biography Vita Sancti Thomae written during the twelfth century. Casting of stones translates in Latin as "jactu lapidum" & was a game in which rounded stones were thrown at or bowled towards a target object & so some are persuaded that the modern word 'Jack' derives originally from this term.

A manuscript from the 13th century in the royal library, Windsor (No. 20, E iv.), contains a drawing representing two players aiming at a small cone instead of an earthenware ball or jack. The world's oldest surviving bowling green is the Southampton Old Bowling Green, which was first used in 1299.  A 14th-century manuscript, Book of Prayers, in the Francis Douce collection in the Bodleian Library at Oxford contains a drawing in which two persons are shown, but they bowl to no mark.
 David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Peasants playing bowls outside an inn

Fortunately, no serious effort was made to enforce the ban against ordinary men playing at bowls, & it did not apply to Scotland. Almost every English monarch was a bowler, & the royal estates were all equipped with fine bowling greens. King James I (1566-1625) issued a publication called "The Book of Sports;" &, although he condemned football (soccer) & golf, he encouraged the play of bowls. King James I was an ardent bowler, as was his son King Charles I (1600-1649). Both monarchs are reputed to have enjoyed playing for high stakes. King Charles, according to bowling tradition, lost over $5,000 in one encounter with a Barking Hill merchant named Richard Shute. A bowling green has been a permanent fixture at Windsor Castle. Anne Boleyn (1501-1536) was a bowler, as were many noblewomen, including the first Princess Elizabeth & Queen Victoria in the 19th century.
David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Playing at Bowls

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) mentions in his diary being invited to “play at bowls with the nobility & gentry.” Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) & Sir Water Raleigh (1552-1618) were bowlers.  Ordinary people used public alleys and greens maintained by towns and taverns, and the well-to-do had private bowling greens on their estates.

English & Scottish colonists brought the game to America in the 17th century.  Apparently playing at bowls was a game to be wagered on in the early colonies.  Gambling was such a probem in the colonial South, that the Virginia General Assembly set a ten shilling fine for gaming with cards or dice at their first session in 1619.  Unlawful games included bear baiting, bowling, cards, cockfighting, & dice. 

As early as 1737, the owner of the Centre House tavern on the eastern edge of Philadelphia's central square boasted that "gentlemen who would divert themselves at bowls" could avail themselves of the green on the grounds of his tavern. The proprietor Roger Ellicott also offered a billiard table for indoor sportsmen. In 1755, Daniel Fisher wrote in his journal while he was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:  "I went into a Tavern called the "Centre House"...Here is a Bowling Green."   (Daniel Fisher's Journal, Some Prominent Virginia Families, p 802)

How did playing bowls become an attraction at commercial tavern gardens in the colonies?

In the American colonies, bowling greens--hopefully smooth & relatively level lawns used for playing bowls--capped many colonial falling gardens.  By the 18th century, many bowling greens measured 100 by 200 ', & many were sunk slightly below the level of the ground surrounding them. Others could be irregular in shape or even oval.  Sometimes called “squares” in late-18th- & early-19th-century America, bowling greens offered beauty & ornament as  well as recreation.  The game had simple rules. A small white ball of earthenware, called the jack, was rolled onto the green to serve as a target.  Players rolled their bowls in turn trying to place them close to the jack.  Bowls were slightly flattened at their poles, so that they could not be rolled in a straight line.  An opponents ball could be aimed at to knock it out of its position close to the jack.  Few colonial greens were level, and familiarity with the green was an advantage.
David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Playing Bowls at an Inn on a River

Bowling greens were recorded in Boston in 1615, New Amsterdam, as New York was then called, & not long afterwards in Washington & Virginia. There was a bowling green in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1632, & several states have towns named "Bowling Green" due to the early settlers abiding interest in the sport.

On July 30, 1666, in Port Royal South Carolina, Robert Sanford recorded, "Found...a plaine place before the great round house for their bowling recreation." (Narratives of Early Carolina 1650-1708. p. 100.)

Even though the Virginia council had outlawed gambling on bowls, it seemed to continue.  In the mid-Atlantic & South, playing at bowls often involved wagering.  William Byrd wrote in his diary of visiting the bowling green in Williamsburg on May 5, 1721, “After dinner we walked to the bowling green where I lost five shilling.”  William Byrd II began his Bowling Green in 1722 at Westover on the James River.  In 1724, the Rev. Hugh Jones description of Williamsburg noted that "Not far from hene is a large area for a market place; near which is a play house and a good bowling green."  Twenty years after Byrd built his bowling green, guests at Westover were still bowling there.  In 1741, the last year of Byrd's diary, almost every July afternoon had a bowling game.
David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Playing Bowls at an Inn

British officers installed bowling greens in the American colonies in New York in 1725.  By 1733, the area was declared a public park.  1733, New York City: " a piece of Land lying at the lower end of Broadway fronting to the make a Bowling Green thereon, for the Beauty & Ornament of said Street as Well as for the Recreation & Delight of the Inhabitants of This City."  (New York City Common Council Resolution, March 12, 1733)

In 1735, this notice appeared in a New York City newspaper,  "John Miller.—All Persons indebted to the Estate of George Montgomerie, deceased, are hereby desired to pay the same to John Miller, Gardner, at the old Bowling Green...—N.B. You may be furnished with the best kind of Garden Seeds, of several Sorts, that have been abus'd or spoil'd by ignorant Pretenders, to Silvering may be rectified & put in Order."  (The New-York Weekly Journal, February 17, 1735)
David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Playing Bowls

An ad for land in South Carolina advertised its location by using the bowling green as a point of reference.  October 10, 1740, Charleston, South Carolina: "TO BE LET...the house near Mrs. Trott's Pasture, where the Bowling Green."  (South Carolina Gazette, October 10, 1740)  A year later, an explanation of Williamsburg also touted its bowling green.  1741, Williamsburg, Virginia:  "Near it is a good Bowling-Green & a Play-house."  (Oldmixon, John. The British Empire in America.  London: 1741. p. 408)

Eliza Lucas Pinckney wrote to a friend in May, 1743, of William Middleton's Crow-Field in S. C.: "Opposite on the left hand is a large square boleing green sunk a little below the level of the rest of the garden with a walk quite round composed of a double row of fine large flowering Laurel & Catalpas which form both shade & beauty."  (Pinckney, Eliza Lucas. The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney 1739-1762. edited by Elise Pinckney,  Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1972. p. 61-62)
Pieter Angillis (Flemish, 1685-1734) The Game of Bowls

In the 1754 South Carolian Gazette, an ad announced a house to be sold, "together with all the Out houses, Bowling Green, Gardens, & other land."  While taking over the management of Fort Pitt in Pittsburg, Capt. Simeon Ecuyler wrote in April of 1764, of a deer park and bowling green in the little garden there.

Irish physician Dr. Henry Stevenson (1721-1814), had one of the earliest terraced gardens in the Baltimore area.  His grounds displayed a flat four-bed garden on the north side of his home, called Parnassus, which Stevenson started constructing in 1763 & completed in 1769.  On the south side of the house, facing the harbor, he built a bowling green & five grass terraces.  In 1770, Virginian Mary Ambler visited Mount Clare in Baltimore & recorded that she “took a great deal of Pleasure in looking at the bowling Green & also at the …very large Falling Garden thee is a Green House with a good many Orange & Lemon Trees just ready to bare…the House…stands upon a very High Hill & had a fine view of Petapsico River You step out of the Door into the Bowlg Green from which the Garden Falls & when You stand on the Top of it thee is such a Uniformity of Each side as the whole Plantn seems to be laid out like a Garden there is also a Handsome Court Yard on the other side of the House.”  (Ambler, Mary. "Diary of M. Ambler, 1770."  Virginia Magazine of History & Biography  XLV (1937): 152-170)
Pieter Angillis (Flemish, 1685-1734) The Game of Bowls

Meanwhile, back in Virginia, Robert Carter wrote of his bowling green at his plantation Sabine Hall twice between 1770 - 1772.  He sent one of his slaves to cut the grass in 1772 and wrote, "Talbot set to work yesterday to shave the bowling green, he seems to do it well, but he is very slow."  School tutor Philip Vickiers Fithian wrote of another plantation in 1773, Nomini Hall, Virginia:  "The area of the Triangle made by the Wash-house, Stable, & School-House is perfectly level, & designed for a Bowling-Green." (Fithian, Philip Vickers.  Journal & Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, 1773-1774:  A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion.  Edited with an introduction by Hunter D. Farish.  Williamsburg:  Colonial Williamsburg Inc., 1943)

In Annapolis, Maryland, Charles Carroll of Annapolis wrote his son, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, in 1775, “Examine the Gardiner strictly as to . . . Whether he is an expert at leveling, making grass plots & Bowling Greens, Slopes, & turfing them well.”  (1775 Carroll, Charles of Annapolis to Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Charles Carroll Letterbooks  MS. 208 Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore Maryland.)
Pieter Angillis (Flemish, 1685-1734) Figures on a Bowling Ground

Virginia's Colonel George Braxton wrote to a friend just after the Revolution between 1776-1781, "I agreed wth Alexander Oliver finish my...Garden wth a Bolling Green."  (Colonel George Braxton's Letterbook. in Horner, Frederick, The History of the Blair, Banister, & Braxton Families. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1898. p. 147-148)

In 1726 George Washington’s father, Augustus, took over management of the family estate at Mount Vernon; & in 1732, the year George was born, constructed the bowling green. At this time the game was highly favored as a genteel pastime by the ranking officers of the British Colonial Army.  George grew up with the game, became an avid bowler in his youth, & apparently this love of the game was never lost. He kept the green busy through the years. By 1754, he had come into his inheritance & settled down with Martha. They kept up the family tradition of sponsoring bowling on the green as “suitable for the intelligentia & ranking army officers.”  George Washington wrote on October 28, 1785, at Mount Vernon, Virginia: "Finished levelling & Sowing the lawn in front of the Ho. intended for a Bolling Green."  In 1798, visitor Julian Urysn Niemcewicz wrote of his visit to Mount Vernon, "Two bowling greens, a circular one near the house, the other very large and irregular, form the courtyard in front of the house."  In 1813, Noah Webster described Mount Vernon as still having its bowling green, "Of Mount Vernon. On the western bank of the Potomac uine miles below Alexandria, is the seat of the late general Washington. The house stands within fifty yards of the brink of a high stcep bank, at a bend in the river,which affords a vicw of an extensive & delightful landskip. The house is large but more magnificent than elegant. On the west is a handsome bowling grcen, & on each side serpentine walks, bordered with trces, a flower garden on one side, & on the other, a kitehen garden The position & the improvements all rendered it a charming rctreat, & 'worthy of the illustrious proprictor." (1813 Elements of Useful Knowledge Noah Webster & Washington, George.  The Diaries of George Washington.  Edited by John C. Fitzpatrick.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925. 4 Vols.  Vol 2:429)
1791 Edward Savage. Mount Vernon from the Court Yard Carriage Entrance.

Visitor Moreau de St Mery wrote of his 1790s visit to New York City:  "The Governor's House is at the lower end of Broadway...What really embellishes this place is an enclosed bowling green, surrounded by an iron railing in front of the house."  (St. Mery, Moreau de.   American Journey 1793-1798.  Edited by Kenneth & Anna Roberts.  Garden City:  1947. p 150)

Several ads also noted bowling greens in New York City in the 1790s.  In 1792, New York City:  "A bowling green is in front, & stables, wood house & other necessary offices in the rear of the house." (New York Diary; or, Loudon's Register, June 25, 1792).  In 1794, 1794, Belvedere House New York City: "The little grounds into which the east front opens, are formed into a bowling-green, gravel walks, & some shrubbery." (New York Magazine, August 1794, p. 451)

The machine in the garden seems to have regularized bowling greens & the rules that governed play.  It is claimed that the patenting of the first lawn mower in 1830 Britain, is believed to have been the catalyst, world-wide, for the preparation of modern-style greens, sporting ovals, playing fields, pitches, grass courts, etc. This is turn led to the codification of modern rules for many sports, including lawn bowls, football codes, lawn tennis, & others.