Carpet bowls 1850
Typical diameter 7,6-9,1 cm
Typical weight 480-790 g
Ceramics, one might assume, have no place amid the rough and tumble of sport and games.
But that did not deter William Gaount Jnr of Glasgow, Manufacturer of China Figures and Ornaments, Toys, Marbles and c….
‘Parlour Bowling’, he announced in an advert of 1846, ‘is the sine qua non in fashionable circles’. This ‘truly delightful and exhilirating game’ possessed ‘all the enjoyments of curling, without causing over excitelment’. It was, moreover, ‘an amusement in which the ladies can practicipate’.
A simple adaptation of law bowls, carpet bowls offered Scottish potteries an ideal entree into the burgeoning market for domestic leisure. All players needed, at 3s a set, was 12 bowls, a jack and a strip of carpet, felt or matting.
Had a joiner hatched the idea no doubt the bowls would heve been made of wood. Instead, not only were they ceramic but, in order to appeal to feminine sensibilities, they were finished in a variety of ornate patterns and colourful glazes – in stripes, plaids, sponge prints and agateware – so that even if one never actually played, the bowls were in themselves objects of curiosity and allure. these carpet bowls and the white jack, from the late 19th century, were probably made in one of numerous Scottish potteries active from the 1850s onward, the leading exponents being the Fife Pottery and Links Pottery, both in Kirkaldy. Other examples have been traced to potteries in Portobello, Glasgow, Sunderland and Staffordshire.
Although more robust than they appear, the game’s rules required the bowls to be pushed with a cupped hand, rather bowled or thrown.
Alas for the potteries, the arrival of synthetic bowls from Australia in the 1930s put an end to the trade. But not to the popularity of the bowls themselves. A thriving antiques market, together with prized museum collections in both York and Fife, have happily guaranted their survival as perhaps the most lustrous of all old balls ever to have been made, and played in Britain.