crown-green bowls

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A variant of the outdoor version of bowls, in which the bowler must negotiate not just the lie of the grass green and the weighted bias of the balls (or woods), but also a built-in camber as the green rises to the centre and falls away to the edges. In crown-green bowls, the jack—the ball at which the woods are aimed—is also biased. The sport was widely popular in the midlands and north of England for much of the 20th century, both for playing at all levels, and for betting by spectators at organized professional competitions, the most famous of which was at the Talbot Hotel at the seaside resort of Blackpool, Lancashire, in the north-west of England. Crown-green bowls provides the focus for a central chapter of Brian Jackson's Working-Class Community: Some General Notions Raised by a Series of Studies in Northern England (1968), in which he noted that the bowling club (in his case-study town of Huddersfield, Yorkshire) constituted a ‘society of members…part of the network of community’; expressed the pride and skill of the working class, as against the ‘snootiness’ of middle-class sports; and gave status to the older generation in the community—the green, ‘itself so aggressively green and fresh to look at and yet paradoxically so old and cherished, is a very special setting where an old man, for a brief spell, feels young again’. The crown-green game also caught the attention of Mass-Observation researchers in the 1930s, for whom the bowlers appeared to associate magic and superstition with the demands of the game.

In the early 21st century, crown-green bowls continued to feature in the municipal parks of the north of England, but new generations were emerging on nothing like the scale of the mid 20th century. The British Crown Green Bowling Association labelled the sport a ‘Sport for all Ages’, emphasizing the enjoyment to be had at club, county, or national level: ‘All the family can play Crown Green Bowls, from grandchildren to grandparents and it is a great sport for making new friends. It is a non-contact sport which is enjoyed by all, including people with disabilities.’ But the less populated and increasingly neglected greens of the public parks—due to, among other factors, rises in hiring costs and a lack of new volunteers to take on the responsibility of running the clubs—were testimony to the fading significance of the sport in local communities and the sporting landscape.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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