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Events | Lore & Legend | Rather Interesting | Cultural Britain

Knighthood of the Old Green, Hampshire

Why has Britain invented so many sports? To this day enthusiasts for games along the lines of tightrope tennis will claim to partake in the fastest growing sport in the country. Most of the games go the way of tightrope tennis players, but some - football, rugby, golf and spharistike to name but four - endure. It is certainly so with the special version of bowls played for the Knighthood of the Old Green in Southampton .
Every year, on the third Wednesday in August, a tournament is held for all the members of the bowling club at the Old Green in Southampton. Or to be more accurate, all bar previous winners. The rules and the tournament date back to the end of the 18th century, although it may have begun much earlier. The tournament is, however, a mere stripling compared to the green itself, which can be traced back to 1299, evolving out of an area used for the exercise and recreation of the warden of God's House Hospital there. All that recalls the story of the American visitor asking the gardener of some ancient British institution what was the secret of its perfect lawns, to be informed there was no secret to it, just regular mowing for the best part of a millennium.
Members who have not won the tournament - Gentlemen Commoners - are supervised by the previous winners, Knights of the Old Green, these latter dressed in top hat and tails. A knight places a penny on the green, and the jack, with a small flat area on the bottom, is put on top of the coin. Each commoner then has two woods to bowl at the jack. Every wood bowled is measured and removed, the Knights recording them. Should the jack be moved from the penny it is returned once the shot is measured. The winner is the first to seven points.
Not surprisingly the tournament can take some time, rarely being completed in one day, and may even on occasion stretch to 10 days. Victory is bitter-sweet, as the champion can never enter again.

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