No records exist of the early days of Bicester Bowls Club. It is commonly believed to have been founded in 1862. However, there was an advert in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 24th July 1858 for a picnic being held by “Bicester Bowling Green Club". This may be the same club that we have today, or it may be an earlier organisation.
The early club played on a bowling green behind the King’s Arms Hotel, somewhere under the present-day hotel’s car park, until they moved to their present home in 1951.
When the Keith-Falconers left Bicester in 1948 the town council acquired The Garth and, as the Bowls Club outgrew its home behind the pub, some of the land attached to The Garth was eventually made available for the Club to relocate to. The barn that was already on the site was converted into the present-day club house and the official opening of the new green was a match between the Oxfordshire Bowls Association President’s Team (then Mr W.F. Baughan, a member of Bicester Bowls Club) and Bicester on 20th July 1951.
The Keith-Falconer family also played another part in the club’s development. The earliest competition winner that we know of is J. Scott, who won the Keith-Falconer Challenge Cup, donated by the family, in 1919.
Other annual competitions that still continue today include the Charles Thurston Cup that started in 1929, the Jersey Cup in 1947, the Hawkins Novice Cup in 1948, the Winterbone Cup in 1955, the Butler Cup in 1956, the Harris-Allen Handicap Cup in 1965, the Reg Green Over Sixties Cup in 1968, the Nash Cup in 1969, and the Henry Evans Cup in 1978.
The club has had its fair share of disasters over the years. In the early 1950s a fire in the new clubhouse destroyed most of what remained of the early club. Which is why we know so little about it today. And on 11th July 1968 the bowls green, laid on a heavy clay foundation, was severely flooded after 3.7 inches of rain fell in one day.
The Oxfordshire Bowls Association was founded in 1907. After 1951 the Bicester club had to wait some time before one of their members again sat as the OBA President, when the position was held by M. Workman in 2003. Meanwhile various female members of the club held the position of Oxfordshire Women’s Bowls Association President, including Mrs V.M. Plater in 1988, Mrs C. Douglas, and Mrs Ray Nash in 1999. Ray also held the position in 2012, after the association (which was founded in 1948) had been renamed to Bowls Oxfordshire Ladies BA.
The history of bowls in Oxfordshire dates back to the sixteenth century when, in 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).
However, the best-known records of bowls being played in the county go back to the reign of King Charles I, when the King himself is documented in many history books to have played at Goring in 1647, whilst serving open imprisonment during Cromwell’s control of the country. The inn at Goring Heath bore the inscription that the King “drank from the bowl, and bowl’d for what he drank”.