Home entertainments (discussed in previous posts here and here) were not the only forms of recreation available to people in the Georgian Era. With increased income, thanks to the Industrial Revolution and increased world trade, the middle class now had the disposable income and free time to begin to enjoy many of the entertainments that had been available only to the aristocracy and landed gentry in times past. We will now take a look at a few of the more popular ones.
Bowls (Lawn Bowling) appears on ancient vases and plaques from four thousand years ago and archaeologists have uncovered bas-relief stone bowls from 5,000 B.C., which show our ancestors enjoyed the game of bowling more than seven thousand years ago. During the Roman Empire, the Legions carried the game, known as “Bocce,” throughout the empire, introducing it throughout the Roman world. By the time the Southampton Old Bowling Green Club was established in 1299, the game was firmly rooted in England. In fact, the game became so popular in England and in France; the King prohibited it because men were neglecting the archery practice, which was essential to the national defense. Beginning in the Tudor period, it was fashionable for the aristocracy and landed gentry to have private bowling greens. In his diary, Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) mentions an invitation to “play at bowls with the nobility and gentry.” Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Water Raleigh, Victor Hugo, and Lord Macauley were all bowlers. According to legend, Sir Francis Drake and his captains were bowling on the green at Plymouth Hoe the day, in 1588, when the messenger arrived with the news of the invading Spanish Armada.
In the American colonies, the first colonial reference to the game comes from Jamestown, Virginia. In 1611, Sir Thomas Dale reported that as he came ashore at Jamestown to assume the governorship of the colony he saw people playing bowls. In New England, in 1692, a man in Wells, Maine (then a part of Massachusetts) faced sanctions for allowing bowling in a tavern he ran. In 1733, the Common Council in New Amsterdam (as New York was then called), leased a portion of the parade grounds in front of the fort to three prominent neighboring landlords for “a peppercorn a year.” They based the lease upon their promise to create a park that would be “the delight of the Inhabitants of the City” and add to its “Beauty and Ornament”; the improvements were to include a “bowling green” with “walks therein.” Continue reading