The Old Bowling Green is situated between the southern end of Lower Canal Walk and Orchard Place. It is reputed to be the world’s oldest bowing green still in use. The earliest surviving mention of it was in 1299 when it was known as the Master’s Close (i.e. the Master of nearby God’s House Hospital) and was used for a variety of recreational purposes. It is known that bowls was played at this early date, so it is likely that the sport was played here then.

In 1541 an Act of Parliament prohibited ‘inferior people’ from playing bowls on the King’s Orchard. It is unclear where the King’s Orchard was actually situated, but it was certainly close to this spot and may have been identical to it.

In 1611 John Speed’s map shows four men playing bowls on the site (image below). In 1637 the green was described as a place “where many gentlemen with the genteel merchants of the town take their recreation”.

In 1776 the Knighthood Tournament was inaugurated. This annual event lasted two or three days with the winner being declared the ‘Knight of the Green’, given the title ‘sir’ and invested with a silver medal.

Bowling Green

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Speed's plan of Southampton of 1611, with depiction of men playing bowls.

'Knight of the Green’ Tournament

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Photograph, c.2000

Further reading:

The First 700 Years: Southampton (Old) Bowling Green, by Bert Baker et al. (HS/r)
Southampton Occasional Notes, by ‘Townsman’, p66-67. (HS/h)
‘Oldest Bowling Green in the World’, by Patricia Webb, in Hampshire, vol. 39, no. 6, April 1999, p44-45. (H/y)


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