Lawn bowls, a history

It is generally accepted that lawn bowls originated in a way from the ancient Egyptians in a game where they would throw skittles around stones, various forms of this original game spread around the world. 

In Britain, the game of bowls apparently developed between 12th and 13th centuries. The oldest site that is still played on is in Southampton, where records show the game was played since 1299. There is evidence that King Henry VIII was a lawn bowler; and that he wished to keep this sport as an elite entity – not to be enjoyed by the working class.

King James I effectively banned the sport in “The Book of Sports” – however in 1845 this changed and the game of bowls was to be played once more. 

Lawn bowls has gone from a sport that was exclusive and only for the upper classes, to actually being banned in public places – apparently it was associated with a drinking culture and so had an undesirable image.

In the 19th century it became recognised as a legitimate sport/activity and was allowed to be played in public once more. 

Some sources credit the game’s existence to the Scots – W.W. Mitchell drew up a standard set of rules for the game after a meeting of over 200 people from many different clubs (who all followed varying rules for the game). 1892 saw The Scottish Bowling Association being formed. Later (1903) The English Bowling Association was established.

Lawn bowls, a competitive sport

The nature of lawn bowls is that it doesn’t require a strong level of fitness, so it has always been a very popular sport with older participants. The game, because of its very accessible nature, was ideal for people with visual or physical impairments. It was even used as part of the patients’ rehabilitation process by Ludwig Guttmann.

However, while physical strength is not required to play, lawn bowls is a game that requires strong concentration and can take players years to become champions.

Lawn bowls, a Paralympic sport

For the Paralympics the sport was initially divided into sections based on singles/pairs and men/women. Later, it was categorised according to visual impairments or physical disability – hence the later games have multiple sections such as LB7/8 or A2/4. 

The sport has been discontinued – it hasn’t been played at the games since 1996.

Lawn bowls at the Paralympic Summer Games

  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel - 4 events (men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles & women’s doubles), 8 countries and 31 athletes participated.
  • 1972 Heidelberg, Germany - 4 events (as above), 7 countries and 20 athletes participated.
  • 1976 Toronto, Canada - 16 events, 13 countries and 80 athletes participated.
  • 1980 Arnhem, Netherlands - 19 events, 13 countries and 69 athletes participated.
  • 1984 New York, USA – 11 events, 8 countries and 52 athletes participated.
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea – 6 events, 10 countries and 55 athletes participated.
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA – 8 events, 11 countries and 64 athletes participated.

British lawn bowls medal winners

  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel 
    Easton & G. Monoghan - gold in Men’s Pairs
    Gwen Buck - gold in Women’s Singles
    Gwen Buck & J. Laughton - gold in Women’s Pairs
    Britton - silver in Men’s Singles
  • 1972 Heidelberg, Germany
    Gwen Buck & F. Nowak - gold in Women’s Pairs
    T. Ure - silver in Men’s Singles
    Tom Guthrie & T. Ure - silver in Men’s Pairs
    F. Nowak - silver in Women’s Singles
    Barnard – bronze in Women’s Singles
  • 1976 Toronto, Canada
    Peter Pienerosa - gold in Men’s Singles D
    Michael Shelton - gold in Men’s Singles Wh
    J. Anderson & R. Miller – gold in Men’s Pairs C
    K. Bonnet - gold in Women’s Singles B
    William McLeod - silver in Men’s Singles A
    G. Morgan - silver in Men’s Singles B
    J. Gladman & Peter Pienerosa - silver in Men’s Pairs D
    G. Matthews - silver in Women’s Singles Wh
    I. Baker & K. Bonnet - silver in Women’s Pairs B
    Margaret Maughan & F. Nowak - silver in Women’s Pairs Wh
    R. Miller - bronze in Men’s Singles C
    McCreadie – bronze in Men’s Singles Wh
    D. Avis & McCreadie – bronze in Men’s Pairs Wh
    I. Baker - bronze in Women’s Singles B
    Gwen Buck – bronze in Women’s Singles Wh   
    Gwen Buck & G. Matthews – bronze in Women’s Pairs Wh
  • 1980 Arnhem, Netherlands
    D. Cale - gold in Men’s Singles 1A-1B
    William McLeod - gold in Men’s Singles A
    J. Hughes - gold in Men’s Singles B
    R. Newton - gold in Men’s Singles D
    Ken Bridgeman - gold in Men’s Singles 2-5
    D. Cale & T. Taylor - gold in Men’s Pairs 1A-1B
    J. Gladman & R. Newton - gold in Men’s Pairs D
    Ken Bridgeman & Brian Faulkner - gold in Men’s Pairs 2-5
    M. McLellan - gold in Women’s Singles 1A-1B
    K. Bonnet - gold in Women’s Singles A
    Jane Blackburn & M. McLellan - gold in Women’s Pairs 1A-1B
    Margaret Maughan & R. Thompson - gold in Women’s Pairs 2-5
    R. Miller - silver in Men’s Singles C
    J. Gladman - silver in Men’s Singles D
    Michael Byrne - silver in Men’s Singles F
    R. Miller & Neil Shaw - silver in Men’s Pairs C
    Jane Blackburn - silver in Women’s Singles 1A-1B
    Yvonne Hawtin – silver in Women’s Singles 2-5
    Yvonne Hawtin & G. Matthews - silver in Women’s Pairs 2-5
    T. Taylor - bronze in Men’s Singles 1A-1B
    Neil Shaw - bronze in Men’s Singles C
    P. Silva - bronze in Men’s Singles 2-5
    John Gronow & P. Silva - bronze in Men’s Pairs 2-5
    R. Thompson - bronze in Women’s Singles 2-5
  • 1984 New York, USA
    Richard Coates - gold in Men’s Singles A6/8
    K. Ellison - gold in Men’s Singles Tetraplegic
    Richard Coates & Anthony Prowse - gold in Men’s Pairs A6/8
    A. Smith - gold in Women’s Singles A2/4
    Yvonne Hawtin - gold in Women’s Singles Paraplegic
    R. Thompson & T. Ure - gold in Mixed Pairs Paraplegic
    Hubball - silver in Men’s Singles Paraplegic
    Barr - silver in Men’s Singles Tetraplegic
    J. Gladman & Bernard Wessier - silver in Men’s Pairs A2/A4
    R. Thompson - silver in Women’s Singles Paraplegic
    Yvonne Hawtin & R. Thompson - silver in Women’s Pairs Paraplegic
    Ken Bridgeman & Yvonne Hawtin - silver in Mixed Pairs Paraplegic
    Jimmy Gibson - bronze in Men’s Singles Paraplegic
    T. Taylor - bronze in Men’s Singles Tetraplegic
    John Gronbow & Hubball - bronze in Men’s Pairs Paraplegic
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea
    Ralph Foster - gold in Men’s Singles LB1
    Neil Shaw & Bernard Wessier - gold in Men’s Pairs LB2
    Richard Coates - silver in Men’s Singles LB3
    Ken Bridgeman - silver in Men’s Singles 2-6
    John Gronow – silver in Men’s Singles 2-6
    Ken Bridgeman & John Gronow - bronze in Men’s Pairs 2-6
    Hazel Randall - bronze in Women’s Singles
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA
    William Curran - gold in Men’s Singles LB2
    Alan Lyne - gold in Men’s Singles LB7/8
    Vera Moore - gold in Women’s Singles LB2
    Samuel Shaw - gold in Men’s Singles LB3-5
    Irene Cheer - gold in Women’s Singles LB3-5
    Rosa Crean - gold in Women’s Singles LB7/8
    David Heddle – silver in Men’s Singles LB3-5
    George Wright - silver in Men’s Singles LB7/8
    Penny Tyler - silver in Women’s Singles LB2
    Keith Brenton - bronze in Men’s Singles LB7/8
    Mary Elias - bronze in Women’s Singles LB7/8

Disclaimer -
Some information from earlier Paralympic Games (i.e. 1960-1988) such as relay and team members are not presented in the IPC source data. Therefore, final results, medal standings and derived statistics may not be complete.
Important note on the definition of participants: Only athletes that appear in the official results books in the section of final results are included in the database and counted towards participant statistics. Data for 2014 and 2016 are accurate. Statistics for previous Games are under review by the IPC.
Important note on competition partners: Competition partners eligible for medals are included in the combined participant statistics until 2014. Statistics for 2016 and beyond consider athletes with an impairment and their competition partners separately. 

Rules of lawn bowls

To play lawn bowls as a para sport, athletes must have either a visual impairment or a physical disability. Players are then classified based on their disability. There are 8 classifications: B1-B4 are classes for those with visual impairments and B5-B8 are for those with physical disabilities. 

Lawn bowls is a game of concentration and accuracy involving a target and balls. is played on a green that should measure between 30 & 40 metres each side.

The main objective is to land the balls as close as possible to the target – which is called a jack. At the start of the game the jack (which is a small white ball) is thrown/rolled out onto the playing green.

It is possible for the jack to move – as the players are allowed to hit and move the jack with their balls.

The game is played in sets – there are four balls in each set.

Balls in the game are biased – which means they are unsymmetrical and the ball moves in a curved direction – the players should roll the ball at an angle in order to hit the target.

After each player rolls their balls, the distance between the balls and the jack is measured.

Players are given points according to the position of their ball.

Players have to roll four balls for singles or doubles matches, and three balls for triples, two for fours.

The game can be played in singles, doubles, or teams and set scoring systems are employed.

Governing bodies

International Bowls for the Disabled (IBD) is the international body. Although it is not a member of World Bowls, the IBD is among the organisations recognised by them as ‘as being representative of the people they respectively purport to represent’.

Bowls England is the National Governing Body for the sport

Bowls Scotland is the NGB for Scotland

Bowls Wales is the National governing body

Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Bowling Association

Regional clubs

Visit Bowls England or Disability Bowls England to search for local clubs

The Bowls Scotland website provides a useful list of clubs and Scottish Disability Sport lists contacts for further information.

Clubs can be found on the Disability Sport Wales or Welsh Bowls websites.

Northern Ireland
For a list of clubs visit the Irish Bowls Federation or Disability Sport NI.


Lawn bowls stories

Jane Blackburn, Paralympian

Jane Blackburn

Jane Blackburn was an all-rounder in the days when athletes competed in multiple sports. In the 1970s, she won medals in Archery, Swimming, Table Tennis and Lawn Bowls. Read more