Rolling back the Years

20230403_130012Club members in 1964

Ann Holmes reflects on 100 years of lawn bowling at Wanstead Bowling Club, and invites residents to have a go at this historic sport at this month’s open day event

What have the Romans ever done for us? Anyone who has watched Monty Python’s Life of Brian may recall the list. But we also have them to thank for refining the Egyptian practice of rolling stone balls towards targets into the modern game of bowls. It was adapted across Europe, spreading through the British Empire and The Commonwealth and is hugely popular in Australia.

Indeed, it was so beloved that a succession of laws was passed restricting play from the 13th century onwards. Far too much time was being taken away from archery practice, a skill integral to success in battles. The game was exclusively thereafter only played by royalty and the upper classes until Queen Victoria relaxed restrictions in 1845.

The invention of the lawnmower by Edwin Beard Budding in 1830 enabled the greens to be brought to a much higher standard and opened up the sport to the masses. The famous cricketer WG Grace founded the English Bowling Association in 1903 and went on to represent England in the first six Home International Series. 

Our club started out as an offshoot of Wanstead Cricket Club. In 1912, veterans of the ‘willow’, looking for a less strenuous sport, started playing bowls on the eastern side of the cricket ground. As the game became more popular, Wanstead Sports Ground Ltd arranged for a good Cumberland turf green to be laid in front of the golf clubhouse. A new club was born and formally opened on 30 June 1923.

For many years, the dress code was very formal. These days, women no longer have to play in skirts, nor men in long-sleeved collared shirts and ties. Many clubs now have patterned tops and play with a myriad of coloured bowls rather than just black. 

Club members in 2023

Our ethos is to be inclusive. We have members of all ages, with different physical challenges, and some no longer able to play competitively, who are just happy to have a friendly ‘roll up’ or sit and watch. We go on lovely day trips to play other clubs and have a busy social calendar, with quizzes, race nights, bingo and murder mystery evenings. 

Our special centenary open day is on 14 May, from 12 noon to 4pm, where there will be a plant stall, cream teas, ladies playing in vintage dress and much more. You can have a go, if you want, with fun events on the green. An added bonus is that we are in the unique and privileged position of being within the beautiful surroundings of Wanstead Golf Club – a little oasis in the East End!

Wanstead Bowling Club is located within Wanstead Golf Club on Overton Drive. For more information, visit wnstd.com/bowls