A sign on Torrington bowling club’s pavilion says the club was founded in 1645. According to the club’s archive, evidence for this comes from mention in a paper written at the time of the Civil War that the ‘Prince’s Guards were in the Castle Green’ before the battle of Torrington. Also that John Howe, chaplain to the Parliamentary army and perpetual curate at Torrington, referred to a game of bowls in a sermon in 1654 implying that his parishioners would be familiar with the game.
Elsewhere in the bowling club archive, it says that in 1717 ‘Castle Green was laid out for recreation – the summer house was built for £3-7s-4d in the Castle Green’. In 1741 a certain John Squire was paid five shillings for laying turf on the bowling green and the Town Wardens’ Accounts show two payments for ‘Repairing the Bowl House’ in the 1750s.
Bowls must have been played at one time on the part of the commons just beyond the cemetery which is still called ‘the Old Bowling Green’ but no-one seems to know when it transferred to the Castle Hill site.
In 1888 the bowling club was invited to send a team to Plymouth for the tercentenary celebrations of the Armada as Torrington was considered the most active bowling club in Devon. Their opponents were a team from Leeds and the match was played on Plymouth Hoe with the players dressed in Elizabethan costumes.
1890 saw the first match with Barnstaple at Torrington which Torrington won by 66 points.
In 1892 the archive states, ‘The Greenkeeper was instructed to roll the green three times and cut it twice a week. He was paid £11 for 22 weeks’ work during the season. There were 10 Honorary and 75 Members. The Annual Subscription was five shillings. (This was equivalent to a week’s wage)’.
On 8th June 1892 there was the first recorded match against Bideford.
In 1903 the English Bowling Association was formed. Dr W. G. Grace of cricketing fame was instrumental in setting it up. In 1908 the Devon County Bowling Association (DCBA) was founded and in 1911 a North Devon Division of the DCBA was proposed. In this year the Torrington green was re-laid.
In 1912 Torrington bowling club won the Devon County Trophy.
In 1972 the North Devon Triples League was formed.
On 19th July 1988 a Commemorative Armada Bowls Match at the Armada 400 celebrations was played on Plymouth Hoe, once again between Torrington and a team from Leeds. In 1888 the Original Oak Bowling Team from Leeds had beaten Torrington by two shots but this time (again dressed in 16th century costume) the Devon team had its revenge beating the northerners 99-63.
In 1987 the old bowling pavilion – a wooden building painted green with a tin roof – was demolished. Excavations were made to see if any remains of the old castle could be found. The masonry foundations of part of a domestic building were discovered, the tail of a rampart of clay and stone was located and considerable quantities of medieval pottery were recovered. The smart new clubhouse, brick built with a tiled roof, was opened in 1988.