WG Grace’s woods
WG Grace’s woods c.1900
Diameter 12,7-13,9 cm
Weight 1463 g
Although bowls has been played in Britain since at least the 13th century, its spread in modern times was the direct consequence of two crucial developments, both north of the border.
First came the introduction in the mid 19th century of uniformly level bowling greens, thanks to trails by Scottish greenkeepers of sea-washed turf. Second, in 1871 Thomas Taylor, a long established billiard manufacturer in Glasgow, developed a machine lathe and slate test bed that, for the first time, permitted the production of bowls with a precisely calculated ‘bais’.
At last the old game’s unpredictability gave way to measured skills, facilitating, as it were, a level playing field on which competition could now thrive. Within a few decades flat green clubs sprang up all over Britain.
Then in 1900 the flat green fraternity found itself a champion. WG Grace, the greatest cricketer of his age, took up the game at the age of 50, and by 1903 was capitan of the England bowls team and president of the English Bowling Assotiation.
Bolstered by this celebrity endorsement, bowls could now slot comfortably alongside lawn tennis into Britain’s rapidly expanding suburban matrix. Here was a non too strenuous or time consuming game for both sexes, requiring little equipment, and free from thr taint of gambling that characterised traditional pub bowls.
As for lignum vitae, its days were numbered. In 1914 US bowling alleys started to trail the Mineralite bowl, made from a ‘mysterious rubber compound’, while for biased bowls the andwer turned out to be a phenolformaldehyde composite, invented by Hensel of Australia in 1931. Standard ever since, composites are made today by Drake’s Pride in Liverpool and Thomas Taylor in Glasgow, still going strong after 200 years in the trade.