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History of Oxon Bowls

The Oxfordshire Bowling Association was founded in 1907 to bring together under one association all the bowls clubs then existing in Oxfordshire. The first President of this Association was the 7th Earl of Jersey (V.A.G. Child-Villiers) representing the Middleton Park club, who had previously played with the Royal New South Wales Bowling Association in Australia, where he was Governor.

The best known records of bowls being played in this county go back to the reign of King Charles I where the King himself is documented in many history books to have played at Goring whilst serving ‘open’ imprisonment during Cromwell’s control of the country, and the inn at Goring Heath bore the inscription that the King “drank from the bowl, and bowl’d for what he drank”. Looking at the historical records, we must assume that this was in the 1647 season prior to his exile at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. Equally significant was the fact that Charles chose to make Oxford his headquarters during the civil war – obviously taking into account the calibre of bowlers in this area of the country. However, it is also recorded that Oliver Cromwell and Lord Fairfax played bowls on the Magdalen College green in the same year.

The history of bowls in Oxfordshire indeed goes back to the sixteenth century as within the city of Oxford there were four recorded bowling alleys in the year 1508, and University students were playing the sport certainly by 1530. The first council owned green was opened in 1631 in George Street (then known as Broken Hayes).

The game was clearly very popular in Oxfordshire because Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect of Blenheim Palace wrote the song “The Oxford Bowlers” in circa 1707 as he watched the craftsmen and labourers playing the game in their spare time during the building of the Palace. To our knowledge, no other county bowlers have a song written about them.

Oxfordshire’s oldest club is believed to be Banbury Chestnuts which was founded in 1780, although Banbury Central might lay claim to the title as Banbury Old Central Bowls Club were playing on the green at the Reindeer Inn from 1584 before disbanding in 1929 and reforming in 1931 as Banbury Central on the new green. South Oxford celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006, and many other clubs are approaching the centenary.

Although a small County in terms of bowling membership, Oxfordshire has recently had a resurgence of performance culminating in Home Counties League wins in 2004 and 2008, and the first ever appearance in the Middleton Cup final in 2005.

Over the years, many famous bowlers have played for the county including international A.R.Allen who monopolised County Championships during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, Commonwealth Games player Gary Harrington, T.V.Star Les Gillett, and more recently internationals Alan Prew and Greg Moon. Greg, last year, became only the 2nd bowler in history to win all four county titles for a 2nd time (the other being the legendary David Bryant). Oxfordshire also possesses possibly one of the best known faces on the county bowls circuit – that of Alan Ley who has represented the County over 700 times.

60 years of the Oxfordshire Women’s Bowling Association

The Oxfordshire Women’s Bowling Association was founded in 1948 to represent the growing number of ladies playing the sport, and the first President elected was Mrs. Darlow from Oxford City and County. In 2009, the County achieved its first ever appearance in the County Championship final – the Johns Trophy.

One of Oxfordshire’s most illustrious players is Irene Molyneux, whose bowls delivery action has been a model example in many books and films of the sport.

There are currently 34 affiliated clubs in Oxfordshire

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