Splitting from Suffolk: A century since Norfolk bowls went independent

Norfolk County Bowls Association County Cup final at Eaton Park, Norwich between Dereham St. Nicholas and Runham in 1966

Play in progress in the Norfolk County Bowls Association County Cup final at Eaton Park, Norwich between Dereham St. Nicholas and Runham. Date: 1966. - Credit: Archant Library

It was 100 years ago when Norfolk and Suffolk went their separate ways when it came to… bowls.

Before 1921 the county of Norfolk was joined with neighbouring Suffolk for bowling purposes.

The bowling green on South Beach Parade, Great Yarmouth in 1963

The bowling green on South Beach Parade, Great Yarmouth with the town mayor at the time A. W. Ecclestone later making a presentation. Date: August 1963. - Credit: Archant Library

Then there was a meeting at the old Boar’s Head on St Stephen’s – later blown up in the blitz – to form the Norfolk and Norwich Bowls Union.

Trouble was, people didn’t like the name, so a special meeting was held a month later to change the name to the  Norfolk County Bowls Association.

Newspaper clipping from the EDP archive announcing the newly-named Norfolk County Bowls Association in 1922

Newspaper clipping from the EDP archive announcing the newly-named Norfolk County Bowls Association. Date: May 2, 1921. - Credit: Archant Library / localrecall.co.uk

And the president of the association was the much-loved city-born Sir Henry Holmes, of the Edwards & Holmes shoe factory, who was Lord Mayor at the time.

SIR HENRY HOLMES - LORD MAYOR OF NORWICH IN1921.

SIR HENRY HOLMES - LORD MAYOR OF NORWICH IN1921. - Credit: Supplied


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But bowls had been around for far longer and there was money to be made, or lost, on the greens.

Records tell us it was 660 years ago when a gallant company were entertained in Norwich by the Duke of Norfolk….to a game of bowls at his famous bowling alley.

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It was no less than 198 feet long and 31 feet wide facing the river and what became known as Duke’s Palace Bridge.

A report in the Robert’s Norwich Almanac almost a century ago said: “Formerly a pastime of nobility and gentry rather than ordinary work-a-day citizens, it has always had a vogue in the County of Norfolk.”

The bowling green on South Beach Parade, Great Yarmouth in 1963

Scenes from the bowling green on South Beach Parade, Great Yarmouth where the town mayor at the time A. W. Ecclestone later made a presentation. Date: August 1963. - Credit: Archant

Bowls matches for considerable sums of money were commonplace in days gone by across Norfolk.

One of our cuttings from 1807 reports that on August 31 at Cley a team of three gentlemen “entertained” a trio from Holt in a tournament of seven games for a purse on no less than 50 guineas – a huge sum in those days.

It turned out that the Holt team won by five games to two and headed home to spend their small fortune.

Indoor Bowls Club in Diss, 25 February 1969

Indoor Bowls Club in Diss, 25 February 1969. - Credit: Archant Library

Players in action on the indoor bowls green at Diss. Date: February 21, 1967.

Players in action on the indoor bowls green at Diss. Date: February 21, 1967. - Credit: Archant Library

Before 1840 bowling greens existed in Norwich at the Bowling Green Hotel, Chapel Field, the Eagle on Newmarket Road, the Greyhound in Ber Street, the Victoria at Lakenham and at other inns in the city.

As the years rolled on bowls became more popular. Several of the big companies had their own teams with their bosses got involved in promoting and supporting tournaments.

Norfolk Ladies bowls finals at RG Carter Bowls Club, Drayton.

Norfolk Ladies bowls finals at RG Carter Bowls Club, Drayton. - Credit: Archant

And many of the charities across Norwich and Norfolk benefitted thanks to money raised at the events being handed over to them.

As the Norwich Almanac reported in the 1920s: “May the many and various benefits of the ancient game became more and more popular as time goes by, as it takes many into the fresh air and gives the necessary exercise after confinement in various business houses and factories.”

Bowls for the blind at Downham Market July 20, 1978.

Bowls for the blind at Downham Market. Date: July 20, 1978. - Credit: Archant Library


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