John Evelyn’s Top Crown
Walking past Rangers House the other day (has anyone else noticed that you only seem to be able to go on ‘guided tours’ there now, instead of wandering round at will?) it occurred to me that I don’t know much – if anything – about the bowling green just outside it. I always think it looks very nicely kept (a friend of mine who plays says it looks a bit uneven – can’t see it myself) but I rarely see anyone playing there.
Turning to my long-suffering copy of Hasted (the poor old thing is now kept in an old boardgame box to stop it falling to pieces entirely. It definitely needs rebinding, but I shudder to think how much that would cost…) I find a page that is just four lines of actual Hasted-text long. The rest of the page is taken up with Drake’s notes, which are often the best bit about this fab old book.
Immediately after a protracted ramble about hermits (well – he couldn’t resist – and who can blame him?), Drake tells us that Sir John Evelyn notes in his diary on May 1, 1683:
“I went to Blackheath to see the new faire, being the first procured by the Lord Dartmouth. This was the first day pretended for the sale of cattle, but I think, in truth to enrich the new tavern at the bowling green erected by Snape, His Majesty’s farrier, a man full of projects.”
Evelyn’s being generous here. As we’ve seen before, Andrew Snape nibbled a load of land from Greenwich Park, and then, on a dodgy 60-year lease, built sundry semi-legal-to-downright-illegal projects, the most famous of which is Rangers House, which is, of course, next door to the bowling green.
Then I get a bit confused, as Drake says the tavern in question is the Green Man.
Hang on. Wasn’t that in the middle of Blackheath?
Either there were two bowling greens or two Green Men. I like to think two taverns. Just think – if there had been two pubs and the one at the top of Crooms Hill had survived, wouldn’t that have been somewhere good to drink of a Sunday afternoon?
But I digress. A newspaper ad of 1703 might or might not be talking about our bowling green. “The Bowling Green on Blackheath, near Greenwich, which is now very fine and in good order, where all sorts of provision are to be had for gentlemen, their attendants, horses and coaches, besides a very good ordinary.” It doesn’t say ‘ordinary’ what…
The venerable Blackheath and Greenwich Bowling Club wasn’t set up until July 1903, but it was on the bowling green outside Rangers House. Or at least on the old one. They’re responsible for getting us the one there today – the London County Council rebuilt it in 1923. Even then it doesn’t seem to have passed muster, so the club moved to its current home at Brooklands Park in 1926. You can read the rest on their history page. Try not to blush too much at the unfortunate typo.
So who meets there now? It took me some time to ferret out The Blackheath Bowling Club (which is absolutely not the same thing as the Blackheath & Greenwich Bowling Club, okay?) They don’t have a website that I can find, but their rates are almost low enough to make me want to join.
If you fancy a go, you need to be free on Thursday afternoons (which may explain why I never see them play) and prepared to stump up a whopping 20p per session (after the extravagant £10 joining fee…) Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The season is just beginning…