Lawn bowls can claim to be the oldest sport still being played in the UK. The first set of rules to be published was in 1670 by none other than King Charles II. This is some 70 years before rules for golf or cricket were first published. Several clubs claim to be the oldest, there is evidence that the green used by Southampton (Old Bowling Green) Bowls Club was first used in 1187 with the first game of bowls (played to similar rules used now) in 1299. However, there is still some debate between sports historians with the earliest categorical evidence of bowls being played circa 1500. It was around this time the game took off in popularity being played by all classes of men, often associated with large sums of money wagered on the outcome of games. There have been periods in history when bowls has been banned from being played by the “working” man. In the 16th century it was considered an unwelcome distraction from the strategically essential archery practice, then in the 17th and 18th century the church intervened to have playing of the game banned on the Sabbath. There is a famous story that Sir Francis Drake insisted on finishing his game of bowls at Plymouth Hoe before taking on and defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) makes several mentions of Bowls (or bowles) in his poems and plays, including Cymbeline, King Lear and Hamlet. In 1850 William Mitchell, a Glaswegian solicitor, drew up a set of rules which were incorporated by the Scottish Bowling Association, on its formation, in 1892. It is these rules that are the basis for the current "Crystal Mark v3.2" rules. Incidentally these rules were adopted in 1903 by the English Bowling Association, which succeeded the Imperial Association, under the leadership of the famous W. G. Grace, followed closely by the Welsh and Irish associations, and most importantly the International Bowling Board. The name of this organisation was changed to the World Bowls Board and subsequently to World Bowls Ltd.
The first bowling green in Wellington was created in 1889. However, the bowls club was founded following a meeting of the Wellington Athletic Union on the 5th September 1906, the club's first green was opened on the 8th May 1907 and was laid next to the town cricket pitch, which is where the rugby pitches are now. The land had been donated by Fox Brothers for sporting use. The club moved to its current location in Corams Lane in May 1911, also using land donated by Fox Brothers. The proximity to the town railway station no doubt made this an attractive location to encourage visiting teams, though it is recorded that Bridgwater refused the offer of a fixture in 1910 because the train service was inadequate. Indeed, most games were internal club matches with competitive matches against other clubs relatively rare across most of the country until after the Second World War when alternative means of transport became more widely available.
Wellington Bowling Club was not the only bowling club in Wellington around this time. According to records in Wellington Museum, Wellesley Bowling club was formed in 1912 but folded in 1925. Information on this club is a little vague, but we know the secretary of Wellesley Bowling Club, Mr J R Miller, became the first treasurer of Somerset County Bowls Association. A position he held from the association's formation in 1914 until 1923.
Today Wellington Bowling Club is a vibrant sports club with around 120 playing members (including around 40 Ladies) and a further 40 social members. Our members are all ages, we have several teenagers and we have several in their 90s. We play all year round on our one indoor rink and during the summer months (April to September) on our outdoor green which has seven rinks. Our men play in the Somerset County league on Saturday’s, the West Somerset triples league (now open) on Thursday evenings and the Exeter and District over 60s triples league on a Wednesday afternoon. Our Ladies play in the South and West Somerset Ladies league, and in 2019 we joined the East of Exe mixed league for the first time. We have approximately 70 mixed friendlies each season where men and ladies of all ages and abilities join to play against other local clubs in friendly matches which are always great fun and played in the terrific spirit that lawn bowls is famous for. If you are interested in having a go, we have club nights most Mondays from 6.00pm and Friday's, again from 6.00pm.
In 2016 we were honoured to be awarded the prestigious Bowls England Regional Club of the Year award (West). This was recognition of the hard work many of our members put in developing the club and promoting the sport of Lawn Bowls. In 2017 Wellington BC won the Bowling Tours Ltd 20-20 initiative. This competition was open to all Somerset clubs and was awarded to the club considered to have made the best effort at promoting the sport of Lawn Bowls.
For more information visit our website www.wellingtonbowling.club, telephone 01823 652749 or simply pop in some time. Your first six lessons are free and we provide kit, though it will help if you turn up with flat soft-soled shoes or trainers.