Shortmat Bowls

Short Mat Bowls - World Bowls article - May 1997 revised 2009


Short Mat bowls is not the recent phenomenon, that many of you may think it is. Don Durham of Arnold Wyer tells me that they were selling felt carpets for short mat back in the 1950's. In fact there was quite a strong following in the North Staffordshire area and the first President of the E.S.M.B.A.., Mr. G. Dicks was greatly involved in that region. Don also tells me that the "short green" was popular in the Miners Welfare institutes in South Wales.

The felt was generally made up of two pieces 4ft 6 ins. wide sewn together and could be anything up to 65ft long. The now accepted length of 45ft was however more common as at that length it was able to fit the concert halls of those clubs more easily.

The game really took off in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and was played in church halls and similar venues. Before 1977 the Irish rules actually stated that the carpet had a separate underlay and when the first bonded (carpet and underlay as one) were introduced it required a change in the rules for such carpet to be accepted for competition play. The fact that almost all carpets nowadays are one piece it just goes to show of the advantage of this system over the original top felt and underlay.

In Northern Ireland the Tryolite bowl with the crescent grip proved to be a huge success and, just as an aside, it is interesting to note that the crescent grip is the only grip that is "handed". By that I mean if you are left handed the grip has to be reversed from the right handed style otherwise the fingers hardly notice that there is a grip on the bowl at all. Therefore the manufacturer has to know if the bowl is for a left or right handed player when manufacturing the set.

When Taylor Rolph stopped manufacturing this bowl, moving to the Concorde model. I understand that the remaining stock (because of their popularity in Northern Ireland), was purchased by a well known Northern Ireland short mat entrepreneur. Since then Drakes Pride has reintroduced the Tryolite model bowl in particularly for the Northern Ireland market and for the dedicated short mat bowlers in the U.K..

In the North West the game took off because it allowed the crown green players the chance to bowl all year round. Playing bowls indoors is unusual in crown green, there being only one indoor crown green situated at Tranmere on Merseyside (the Tranmere Green closed in about 1995). Playing indoors has added benefits of comfort and usually having a bar handy !! At first the crown green bowlers used their own crown green bowls but quickly realised the advantages of using lawn bowls. Around the North West there are a large number of leagues and there are even some players who only play the short mat game.

The game is also useful for the introduction of bowls to all ages of players and in particular to schools. This is true not only for the U.K. but also in Australia were Mr Noel Turnbull the editor of the Royal Queensland Bowler (Noel has retired as Editor)magazine has run a series of very successful school events. In Liverpool one of the local schools tried the game on their indoor cricket mats the pupils were so keen that they are now purchasing two mats complete with bowls to continue with the development and the Headmaster, was so impressed has said that if it continues to be successful he will find funds for a further two mats.

Some players may consider the short mat game of the 45ft X 6ft carpet as a completely separate discipline to the other bowls games. I prefer to think of it as integral part of the great game of bowls. It has given many people a sport to enjoy and also provides the first taste of the bowls games to others. Margaret Johnston MBE is not only recognised a top bowler for lawn bowls (Probably the best lady Bowler) but also a top short mat bowler.

Perhaps when the administrators of our sport consider its development and promotion they should look more closely at the benefits of short mat. Bearing in mind how keen local school children are perhaps, they should think of introducing a school league. It would appeal to the schools; in that their existing sports halls can be used for a non contact sport. The game of bowls also provides good examples of behaviour and sportsmanship within the etiquette of the game. It is not effected by the weather and is comparatively inexpensive to set up and run. If the administrators of bowls got together, they could help with its promotion by providing coaches and instruction. Then not only would they be able to "talent spot" but could be sure that some of the young participants would stay with the game thus ensuring the future of the sport of bowls.  It might even help to disprove the perception of bowls as "the game that you take up on retirement." In Australia Bowls Queensland uses a Short mat carpet as part ODF their promotion of bowls as can be seen from their advert printed below-

Short Mat Queensland

The short mat game has a strong base here in the U.K. with Home Countries series being an annual fixture. It is played in Australia and New Zealand and also Hong Kong so perhaps in the not too distant future a full International competition may be possible.

The layout for a Short Mat carpet is as per the following illustrations -

SMat _Spec

SMat _Delivery _Area

The Rules for Short Mat Bowls can be found on the E.S.M.B.A. web site

© Peter Clare 2009 - © E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. 2018.
Reproduction of article allowed only with permission from E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.