It is widely accepted that Hereford Bowling Green was laid in 1484 however, there is no substantial documented evidence for this assumption. A similar Green in Southampton is thought to have been in use since 1299 however; again, there is no official evidence.
Lack of Documentation may be because certain types of “Bowls” were proscribed (Banned) by acts of Henry 1V and Edward 1V. These may have been “Alley Bowls” or better know as “Skittles” and possibly a precursor of the present game known as Bowls however, the games were illegal for certain “Low Class” people of the 16th Century.
The first official reference to Bowling in Hereford is in Court papers of the Corporation of Hereford in the year 1533 when certain people were accused of playing “Le Poyche” and “Pro Custodiento Le Boullynge” Further information was recorded in 1552 & 1557 when “Boules” was alleged to have been played in the garden of Gregory A.P. Rees Esq. There is no proof that this “Garden” refers to The Hereford Bowling Green
In 1562 seven men were accused of playing Bowls “Par Toreiches” (without permission” and finally in 1618 a “Book of Sport” was published stating that “Bowls” was prohibited for the meaner sort of people. What ever did they refer …!
In 1697 there is a specific reference to a Bewell Street Green(where the Current Club & Green stand) when properties in Widemarsh Street ( near the old Mansion House and the Black Swan) was conveyed to Dr. William Brewster by a group of London Lawyers and Gentlemen, by order of the court of Chancery to recover debts from the estate of Francis Griffiths. In these documents a “Bowling Green” in the possession of William Smith situate and lying near to “All Saints Church” in the City of Hereford is included, with extensive gardens, in the property Brewster. William Brewster died in 1715, leaving the “Bowling Green” and properties in Widemarsh Street to his wife Susan. Later they became the property of William Brydges whose heirs conveyed the “Green” and the “Mansion House” to the Corporation of Hereford to provide the salary of a Chaplain to Hereford Goal.
In 1768 the City leased “The Bowling Green & Billiard Room thereto belonging and all outhouses, Buildings and Edifices, Cellar Rooms” to an Innkeeper, Matthew Thomas, at a rent of £15:00 per annum with strict instructions that he was “not to dig, plough or break up the Green” Our present Club House was known as Albert’s Billiard Rooms and was part of the Bowling Green Tavern.
To sum up the early history of Hereford Bowling Club, we can safely say that it was part of exclusive gardens belonging to imposing houses in Widemarsh Street. The owners “Gengtlemen & Esquires”, would have been permitted to have a Green “within the precint of his garden” only if his annual income was more than £100:00 The value of the Mansion House, gardens, including the Green was valued at £1610:00 in 1697.
The Green was at one time used as a parade ground for the County Yeomanry, but it is understood that the green has never been re-laid. The most significant event in the recent history of the club was the purchase of the Green & Clubhouse in 2005.
To sum up, The Hereford Green was in existence in the late 17th century and there is circumstantial evidence that it was there in 1552, through court documents regarding illegal bowling in 1553. This is some eight years before there was official mention of the Southampton Green, So, Hereford Bowling Club well may be the oldest in Great Britain.