Table Bowls – bowls made to be played on a Snooker – Billiard or Pool table.

There seem to be at least three versions of this game of bowls designed to be played at table height two of which have their roots in the UK the other in Australia.

Trying to trace the history or roots of these games has been all but impossible. However general consensus indicates they were probably started in the Victorian era.

He above page taken from a 1935 Taylor Rolph catalogue – note they had

Tom Newman, a famous Billiard Champion of the time, endorsing the game

Two of the table bowls version are designed for play on Full Size Snooker / Billiard or Pool tables and rather like Flat Green and Crown Green there is a North / South split.

In the Blackpool and Cumbria area the table bowls are two inch in dia.  Were as the version played in the South (East) of England use a 2 ¼ inch bowl. Although in an old catalogue (dated 1950) we have found reference to 2 ¼ inch and 2 ½ inch. As you will see from the illustration below these table bowls were made from Lignum Vitae. The old Lignum Vitae table bowls would likely have been made from quartered timber and would therefore have lost their shape. This would have required them to be re-worked and it is therefore safe to assume that they would have reduced in size so that the 2 ¼ inch would have been nearer 2 inch after being trued and the 2 ½ inch would be near enough 2 ¼ inch. Now Table Bowls are made from a similar composition as used in 'full' size bowls.

Picture acknowledgement- Snooker Heritage Collection

An 'old' set of Jaques Lignum Vitae Table Bowls

Picture acknowledgement- James Masters - Mastersgames

The Australia version played mainly in Northern Queensland is based on a purpose built table and they too use a 2 inch bowl.

There does not seem to be any set rules as there is no governing body and so slightly different local variations will be followed. All the rules seem to have the same basic structure, the following are the rules issued with the Drakes Pride sets :-

  1. The game may be played by two, three or four players. Each player has one pair of bowls but, if two players only take part each may if desired have two pairs of bowls.

  2. If four persons are playing, they may form themselves into two sides, or they may play individually.

  3. In the case of partners, one of either side shall play alternately or, subject to agreement one player from each side playing alternately may bowl their pair of bowls before the second player of each side commences. They would play alternately in the same order as their partners.

  4. Before commencing play, the number of points to be scored for the game should be agreed. This is usually 21 but, may be altered by mutual consent.

  5. The spin of a coin shall decide which player or side has the option of playing first.

  6. Unless otherwise required by local practice, the lower end of the chute should be positioned within the limits of the “half circle” or “D” of the snooker / billiard table baulk.

  7. The first player may play the Jack down the chute, or place the Jack by hand in any required position.

  8. Should the Jack be played so that it strikes the Snooker / Billiard table cushion, it is “Dead” and the opponent is then entitled to play the Jack. If, during play, the Jack should be knocked or driven into contact with the Snooker ? Billiard table cushion the end is “Dead” and should be commenced again without penalties to either side.

  9. Any bowl which come into contact with the Snooker / Billiard table cushion is “Dead” and cannot score and should be removed from the table immediately.

  10. The player or side having a bowl nearest the Jack counts as one point. Should two or more bowls played by the same player or side be nearest a further point for each bowl is counted. Should two players or sides tie for the nearest position, the End is declared “Dead” and played again.


A Foul involves the penalty of removing a player's wood (bowl) from the table, and it fails to score. A foul is any of the following :-

  1. A wood (bowl) bowled out of turn, or a wrong wood (bowl) played.

  2. A wood (bowl) propelled or pushed down the chute – when playing the wood (bowl)

  3. Not placing the chute as per Rule 6

  4. Failure to send the Jack into the top half of the table is also a foul and the Jack is given to the opponent to play as a penalty


Section 1 – “Northern” Table Bowls

It is said that there are some snooker / billiard tables in this region that have been install in such a manner that they can only be used for table bowls, it being impossible to get all round the table!

Picture acknowledgement - Drakes Pride

The set of bowls comprises 4 pairs of black 2 inch dia. bowls, a jack and a delivery chute. Each pair of bowls has a different bias strength. The pairs are colour coded to indicate their bias strength as follows - Yellow ringed bowls have the least bias next increasing in bias are the Green ringed increasing to Blue ringed increasing to the strongest bias Red ringed pair. The jack is a plain white ball (non biassed) usually 1 3/8” ( 1 1/4” has also been used). The delivery chute has a groove along its length down which the bowls are release.

In Carlisle, Cumbria there is a strong Billiard Table Bowls League and even there they have slightly different rules between the Pensioners League afternoon matches and the Evening League matches. In November 2011 the writer was invited to see a Pensioners League match at the RAOB Club. The set of bowls used were an old set of Taylor Rolph Lignum Vitae about 70/75 years old. The host club provided the bowls and the visitors had first choice of the pairs that they would use. As the set bowls have been in play for so long both teams knew the quirks of each pair. Although they were called pairs and numbered up as such ,because of their age and the fact they were made from quartered timber, they did not run as a pair. So each player carefully examined the bowls so they selected the best one for their desired shot.

The bowler places the release chute in the middle of the top cushion of the Snooker Table carefully angling it to their desired position. They then, with just as much care, place the bowl at a position on the chute before releasing it down the table toward the jack. The jack itself was released down the chute to set its position. If it touches the end cushion it is replayed and if it is closer to the cushion than 8 inches it is placed on the centre 8 inches away from the cushion. Play is in both directions and it is noticeable that the nap on the cloth has a marked effect on the draw /bias of the bowls.

The teams consist of 8 players and the matches consists of 4 games of pairs (all games consisting of 9 ends)In the evening league the visiting team take their bowls to the home teams club, Scoring in the Pensioners League – 1 point for each game won (half points for a drawn game). The same scoring system is used in the Evening League but with an additional point for for the team with the highest aggregate score.

The rules for Carlisle Pensioners League versions are printed below -

Carlisle, Cumbria



  1. The League to be called 'Carlisle Pensioners Table Bowls League.

  2. The Chairman and Secretary to be appointed at each A.G.M.

  3. The League Committee to have one representative from each competing club, inclusive of Chairman and Secretary – one vote from per club with the Chairman's casting vote if needed.

  4. All Old Age Pensioners are eligible to play for their club providing they are members and registered players at the start of each season. (Additional players are acceptable on the application to the Secretary during the season but cannot be considered for the Pairs or Singles competitions) Each club may register players who are 60 years or more but they must be pensioners through age, disablement or redundancy. Any player over 65 years takes preference to those under 65 years. Special cases can be considered on their merits.

  5. Each club will be asked for a donation per team for League funds each session.

  6. Matches will be played on Thursday afternoons, commencing at 1.30pm prompt. Competitions will be played on Wednesday afternoons commencing at 2.00pm prompt.

  7. A team shall count one point for each game won and half a point for a drawn game. The team with the most point at the end of the season will be league Champions. Should two or more teams have the equal points, they will play off on a neutral table.

  8. Any team playing an ineligible player and/or not providing 8 players for a match, will forfeit one point per absent pair.

  9. The home team must have a correct statement and the scores prominently displayed during the match.

  10. HOME TEAM bowls will be used for all matches with the visitors having the choice of bowls.

  11. Home Captains must inform League Officials of all League results as directed on the fixture list. Failure to comply with this rule will incur a penalty deduction of one point.

  12. In the Singles competition, League rules will apply. Choice of bowls and throwing Jack will be determined by the spin of a coin, the winner drawing his two bowls from the market and leaving his opponent the other two.

  13. All competitors in the Singles Competition must attend the stated venues punctually, not later than 2.30pm or notify their opponents if unable to do so and re-arrange the match amicably if possible. Otherwise any player failing to appear will automatically forfeit the tie. Rules 12 & 13 also apply to Pairs Competitions.

  14. In the event of a player taking ill during a game, a substitute will be allowed. This applies to the League and knockout games only – on the basis of one substitute per match.

  15. Any player having played for a team cannot transfer to another team during the season.

  16. The League Committee will appoint an official marker for all competitions.

  17. Any team wishing to postpone a match for any reason must notify their opponents 48hrs prior to the date the match should be played. Failure to observe this rule will result in their opponents being awarded 4 points. All postponed matches must be re-arranged within 14 days of the original match date.

  18. Notice of 'Motion' for the AGM must be sumitted in writing to the League Secretary 14 days prior to the AGM.

  19. The AGM will take place on the first Thursday in August each year.

A bowl just released from the delivery chute makes its way to the 'head'.

Picture taken at the RAOB Club in Carlisle.

The chute can be seen at the middle of the end cushion

Picture taken at the RAOB Club in Carlisle

The rules for the Carlisle League that play in the Evenings are as follows-


  1. Throwing the Jack decided by the spin of a coin.

  2. During play the Jack is always 'alive'. In the event of being forced into a pocket, it will be replaced on the lip of the pocket and the remaining bowls played to that position.

  3. If the first thrower hits the cushion with the Jack it becomes 'dead' and is re-thrown by the opposing lead. If he should do likewise, the Jack will then be placed 8 inches from the centre of the end cushion.

  4. If the Jack fails to reach the half-way mark of the table, the procedure will be as Rule 3.

  5. In the game the Jack must be 8 inches from any cushion when first played, with the marker having the power to place the Jack in this position.

  6. The chute must be placed on the exact centre of the baulk or spot end of the table, either on the cushion or bed of the table with the rear of the chute touching the cushion and always self-supporting.

  7. When opposing bowls are equidistant from the Jack there will be no score for either side and the end will NOT be replayed.

  8. All bowls become 'dead' on contact with the cushions and will be removed from the table.

  9. In ALL League and Competition games there will be only ONE trial end.

  10. Competition matches ending in a drawn game will be decided by an extra end and the throwing of the Jack by the spin of a coin.

  11. Team Knockout matches will be played to League Rules using the venue bowls and deciding the choice of bowls and throwing the Jack as in competitions. Any team leading by 2 ½ games (or more) to 1 ½ games (or less) will be the winner. In the event of a tie the aggregate score will decide the winner. If there is still a tie Rule 11 will apply.

  12. The Jim Pattinson Challenge Trophy will be played to League Rules using the venue bowls and deciding the choice of bowls and throwing the Jack as in competitions. Matches will be decided by aggregate score only. If there is a tie Rule 11 will apply.

  13. The home team shall provide an efficient marker for all League games. In the vent of both skips being unable to agree, the markers decision is final. All players must stand at the opposite end whilst the marker measures.

  14. The Semi-final and Final of the Singles, Semi-final and Final of the Pairs, Team Knockout and Jim Pattinson competitions will be played with special bowls provided by the League and will be played on a neutral table.

  15. The Jacks provided by the League must be used at all times.

  16. Players are requested to stand clear of their opponents at all times whilst they are plated their bowls and on no account should a player carry his bowl to the opposite end of the table.

  17. In the Team Knockout and the Jim Pattinson Challenge Trophy, a selected pair from each team will commence the match thereafter a draw will be made for games two, three and four unless the team captains agree otherwise.

  18. Should a player bowl his opponents wood by mistake it will be judged a foul shot. The said wood will be returned to his opponent and his own wood will be removed from the table for that end. Any displaced woods to be replaced at the markers discretion.

  19. Any protest must be submitted in writing to the League Secretary within 48 hrs. of the event taking place.

  20. In all games, skips should stand at the other end of the table while leads are bowling.

  21. Gambling on any match is strictly forbidden and any offenders will have their registration cancelled.

  22. These rules have been carefully drawn up to ensure the games are played in the best possible spirit and will be strictly enforced.

The Blackpool League have another version of the game with their own set of rules. They too generally play with old Lignum Vitae sets made by Taylor-Rolph. The main difference seem to be that they only play in one direction and use the 'D' and the centre baulk line spot (the position of the Brown ball for Snooker) for the chute to be placed. The jack used is a biased jack , so basically a smaller version of the bowls used.The writer was able to visit the Marton Social club, Blackpool to see a match and be shown the method of play. Our thanks go to Steven Murphy for all the information and to the Marton Social Club for their hospitality. The Guide lines and rules for the Blackpool League are as follows -

Blackpool Bowling League

Standard Rules for Table Bowls

(for 2 and up to 4 players)

These rules are written with two players in mind

Apparatus for play

Played with a set of table bowls consisting of eight balls which are divided into pairs and indicated as such by numbers or colours.

I.e. in a bowls set each pair of bowls will be indicated with the numbers 1,2,3 and 4.

If coloured bowls the they shall consist of 2 bowls per colour.

Game is played on a standard full-size snooker table.

Games usually plated first to 7 points but can also be 5, 9 or 11.

At present in The Blackpool Bowling League match games are played to 7.

Bowls bowled from a ramp or a chute.

The bowling ramp or chute

The ramp should be placed in the D of the table at the bulk end. The ramp shall be placed so that the foremost tip ( i.e. where the bowl exits the ramp) is touching or close to the brown ball spot. Note: Where the ramp has a V or U shape at the foremost tip then the ramp shall be placed so that the brown ball spot is seen in the V or the U shape.

The rear of the ramp can then be rotated through 180 degrees (i.e. from the yellow ball spot to the green ball spot) depending on the shot selected.

On commencement of the shot the ramp must not be physically raised and must lie flat on the table. When the player releases the bowl for the shot there must be no interference with the ramp, (sideways or raised) until the bowl leaves the ramp, which would otherwise alter the chosen shot.

When taking a shot a bowl can only be released from where it is positioned on the ramp and cannot be forced or pushed in any way.

The Jack

The ultimate goal of the game is to get as many of your own bowls closer to the jack than your opponent.

The player who has drawn the lowest numbered bowl now bowls the jack from the ramp which he will follow by bowling his own bowl first.

Bowled from the ramp the main requirements of the jack are-

Distance wise it must at least pass an imaginary line across the table (width ways) where the blue spot is positioned.

Then where ever it rests in this area of the table it must be at least the width of a bowl away from any of the other 3 side cushions.

If any of these criteria are not met then the jack is to be termed as a dead bowl and the jack is then offered to the opponent to bowl. However although the first bowler loses the right to bowl the jack, he still bowls his own bowl first after his opponent has bowled the jack. Players will then bowl alternately.

Commencement of game

At the start to determine who plays with which ever pair of bowls, one bowl from each pair (so four bowls in all) are placed in a concealed bad and away team player picks the first ball. Whatever number is chosen becomes the pair which the player uses. The player that picks the lowest numbered bowls will bowl the first jack and then his own bowl first.

Before the start both players have an optional 2 practice ends (4 bowls each).

General Play

As each player begins with 2 bowls then the maximum points that can be scored in an end is 2 points (1 for each bowl). This is of course if both their bowls are both nominated to be closer than their opponents. Where a players bowl is judged to be 1st closest and opponent is next closest then this scores 1 point for the player closest.

At the conclusion of each end the player who wins that end bowls the jack for the next end followed by his own bowl first.

Any player's bowled wood (bowl) that makes contact with any side cushions is taken off the table and is deemed void.

Where two player's bowls are simultaneously touching the jack after all woods have been bowled, this is deemed a dead end . No point scored. Whole end is void and is restarted with the same player, who began that end, given the jack and bowling first.

Where a player bowls a ball by mistake that is not their own then one of that players bowls is taken off and deemed void. The wrongly bowled ball is then returned to the player it belongs to.

Where any player bowls down the ramp and the shot results in the jack touching any side cushion then the whole end is void and is restarted with the same player, who began that end, given the jack and bowling first.

Note: This situation, where the jack makes contact with a cushion during play, is slightly different to the situation mentioned regarding the initial bowling of the jack where the bowled off jack is given to the opponent to bowl.

Bowl on and Good Luck

Anyone wishing to make contact with the Blackpool Table Bowls league can contact Steven Murphy by email - . He is keen to encourage more players sothat the League can grow.

Section 2 - “Southern” Table Bowls

Picture acknowledgement - Drakes Pride

The set of bowls comprises 4 pairs of brown 2 ¼ inch dia. bowls, a jack and a delivery chute. Each pair of bowls has the same bias strength. The pairs are colour coded to be recognisable. The jack is a plain white ball (non biassed) usually 1 3/8” ( 1 1/4” has also been used). The chute has two rungs set apart down which the bowl is released.

Section 3 - “Australian” Table Bowls

Picture acknowledgement- Paul Eathorne of Ayr, Queensland kindly contributed this picture of an Australian Table Bowls league table. Notice that Australian Table Bowls is played on dedicated specially-made tables unlike the British version of the game.

The set of bowls comprises 4 pairs of black 2 inch dia. bowls, a jack and a delivery chute. Each pair of bowls has the same bias strength(Note- the bias strength is considerably strong than any of the UK bias strengths. The pairs are colour coded to be recognisable. The jack is a plain white ball (non biassed) usually 1 3/8 inch ( 1 ¼ inch” has also been used). The delivery chute has a groove along its length down which the bowls are release. These table bowls look the same as the U.K. 2 inch Table Bowls .

Table bowls both 2 inch & 2 1/4 are available from the Thurston online shop.

:- For 2 inch Table Bowls  click on  link

:- For 2 1/4 inch Table Bowls click on link


Acknowledgements – James Masters of Mastergames for allowing use of the picture of the Jaques set of table bowls

© E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. 2020 - This Article can be reproduced only with the permission of E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.