Edwin 'Percy' Baker: A Legend on the Bowling Greens

by Stable MARK | February 15, 2024

"For more than 30 years Percy Baker has been the dominating figure of English Bowls with four single titles and more championships than any other player." - Times, 18 August 1967, p. 10

Join us on an exclusive journey through the captivating story of the legendary champion, Percy Baker. Delve into untold tales and remarkable milestones that define his extraordinary legacy. Get ready to uncover hidden gems from the rich tapestry of Percy Baker's illustrious career. Let's embark on this thrilling adventure together!

An array of cherished memorabilia belonging to Percy Baker
Image 1: An array of cherished memorabilia belonging to Percy Baker, including his lawn bowls mark from EJ Riley dated 1950 and intimate snapshots from The Daily Telegraph Picture Archive dating back to August 1965 and August 1966. Among the treasures is a vintage Evening Standard newspaper dated January 18th, 1966, featuring an article detailing Baker's inaugural visit to Australia, capturing moments from his illustrious career.

Early Life and Career Beginnings (1895–1921)

Edwin 'Percy' Baker, affectionately known as Percy Baker, was a distinguished lawn and indoor bowler whose legacy continues to resonate in the annals of British bowling history. Born in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, on 19th July 1895, Baker initially pursued a career as a photographer. However, his path took a remarkable turn when he was persuaded to take up bowling in 1921, marking the inception of a legendary sporting journey.

Percy Baker in the final again in the English Bowling Association singles at Mortlake 20 August 1965
Image 2: "PERCY BAKER AT FINAL AGAIN: PERCY BAKER, the famous 70-years-old from Poole Park, reached the final in the English Bowling Association singles championship at Mortlake today. Baker has already won the title four times - twice as often as his nearest rival - in more than 30 years at the top. The other finalist is R.E. Lewes, of Preston, Sussex. PHOTO SHOWS: PERCY BAKER watching the path of one his woods in the final today." - 20 August 1965"
Percy Baker in the final again in the English Bowling Association singles at Mortlake 20 August 1965 - reverse side
Image 3: The reverse side of Image 2 reveals a small note with descriptive text affixed at the top. The photograph bears the stamp "Received" from The Daily Telegraph's Picture Library in August 1966, accompanied by an archive number A.39221. Additionally, another stamp "Used" is evident from the Sunday Telegraph on August 7, 1966.

Rise to Prominence (1921–1932)

Joining the esteemed Poole Park Bowling Club, Baker quickly established himself as a formidable force on the greens. His tall and elegant stature, coupled with his exceptional skill, garnered widespread admiration. Baker's dominance was evident as he clinched the club singles title an impressive 22 times, showcasing his unparalleled talent and dedication to the sport.

Seventy-one-years-old PERCY BAKER, skipper of the Dorset team, competing in the English Bowling Association's fours championships at Mortlake today
Image 4: "BOWLS: BAKER BIDS FOR ANOTHER TITLE: Seventy-one-years-old PERCY BAKER, skipper of the Dorset team, competing in the English Bowling Association's fours championships at Mortlake today. Percy Baker a former photographer, is trying to add the fours championship to the singles, pairs, and triples titles he won in the past."
Seventy-one-years-old PERCY BAKER, skipper of the Dorset team, competing in the English Bowling Association's fours championships at Mortlake today - reverse side
Image 5: The reverse side of Image 4 reveals a small note with descriptive text affixed at the top. The photograph bears the stamp "Published" from The Daily Telegraph's Art Department on August 10, 1966, along with an archive number A.39221. Additionally, another stamp "Used" is visible from Central Press Photos Ltd, although the date is not provided.

National Success and Recognition (1932–1958)

Baker's prowess transcended local competitions, propelling him to national acclaim. He captured the hearts of bowling enthusiasts across England by clinching an array of prestigious titles. Notably, Baker secured victory in the English National Singles Championship on four occasions in 1932, 1946, 1952, and 1955, a feat that cemented his status as a bowling icon.

Bowls England National Championships (men's singles four wood)

Table 1: Past winners of Bowls England National Championships (men's singles four wood)
Source: Bowls England, National Finals | History
Year County Champion Club County Runner-up Club Score
1932 Dorset Percy Baker Poole Park Somerset Ernie Fortune St George's, Bristol 21–14
1946 Dorset Percy Baker Poole Park Berkshire Ernest Newton Windsor & Eton 21–20
1952 Dorset Percy Baker Poole Park Oxfordshire Algernon Allen Oxford City & County 21–20
1955 Dorset Percy Baker Poole Park Yorkshire Jack Fletcher York Co-op 21–13

In addition to his singles triumphs, Baker showcased his versatility by claiming victory in pairs (1950 & 1962) and triples (1960) at the National Bowls Championships. His remarkable achievements culminated in him being capped by England in 1933, marking the commencement of an illustrious international career.

Past winners of Bowls England National Championships (men's pairs)

Table 2: Past winners of Bowls England National Championships (men's pairs)
Source: Bowls England, National Finals | History
Year County Champion Club County Runner-up Club Score
1932 Dorset Percy Baker & Len Piper Poole Park Cumberland Isaac Benson & Joseph Hodgson Edenside 22–15
1962 Dorset Percy Baker & Harry Shave Poole Park Hampshire George Hooker & Arthur Houghton Atherley 21–14

Bowls England National Championships (men's triples)

Table 3: Bowls England National Championships (men's triples)
Source: Bowls England, National Finals | History
Year County Champion Club County Runner-up Club Score
1960 Dorset Percy Baker, Ernie Milnthorpe, Harry Shave Poole Park Cumberland J. Kelly, J. Dominey, J. Hodgson Edenside 13–12

Despite facing challenges, including a serious illness, Baker's indomitable spirit propelled him forward. He demonstrated remarkable resilience by representing England in the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, where he earned a silver medal in the singles event, further solidifying his status as a national treasure.

Empire Games Results, Bowls, Singles, Play-Off for silver medal

Table 4: Empire Games Results, Bowls, Singles, Play-Off for silver medal
Source: Empire Games Results. Times, 26 July 1958, p. 3. Times Digital Archives
Year Winner Country Rival Country Score
26 July 1958 Percy Baker England W. Jackson Rhodesia 21–18

Baker, 70, takes trip off to Australia – first time out of Britain

Evening Standard, 18th January 1966

While his remarkable skills on the greens are well known in the 16 countries where international bowls are played, Percy Baker has never been out of Britain.

It is an omission which, at 70, he will be putting right in April, when he boards an aircraft for the first time in an all-expenses-paid trip to Australia.

At his Poole, Dorset home, Baker ("I've got a wheezy chest ") left a sick bed to tell me of the invitation he has accepted from Sydney's City Bowling Club to play in their Masters tournament. It is the sponsorship of an oil firm that enables Baker to take on the Australian champions.

Baker, a retired professional photographer, has won seven English titles since 1933, and at Mortlake last year came within a few shots of winning the EBA singles championship for a fifth time.

He will arrive in Sydney a fortnight before the tournament and, in acclimatising himself to the super-fast Australian greens, will enjoy home comforts by staying with his sister-in-law, who lives just outside the city.

The trip to Australia will tune Baker up for the coming home season - and here he drops a bombshell with: "After so many years I am changing all my partners. Nothing wrong - I just feel like a change.

Newspaper article from Evening Standard dated January 18, 1966, covering 70-year-old Percy Baker's Australian tour.
Image 6: Newspaper article from Evening Standard dated January 18, 1966, covering 70-year-old Percy Baker's Australian tour.

Continued Success and Legacy (1959–1990)

Even as the years passed, Baker's passion for the sport remained undiminished. His enduring commitment to excellence was exemplified by his victory in the Bournemouth Open pairs tournament at the remarkable age of 76 in 1971. However, Baker eventually bid farewell to the greens due to declining vision, marking the end of an era in English bowling.

On January 3, 1990, Edwin 'Percy' Baker passed away at the age of 94, leaving behind a rich legacy that continues to inspire generations of bowlers. His influence extended beyond his own achievements, as evidenced by his son, Cecil Baker, who followed in his footsteps and also left an indelible mark on the sport.

Percy Baker at the green, rolling a lawn bowl on August 8, 1965
Image 7: Percy Baker at the green, rolling a lawn bowl on August 8, 1965..
Percy Baker at the green, rolling a lawn bowl on August 8, 1965 -, reverse side
Image 8: The reverse side of Image 7 reveals stamps indicating its origin and use. The photograph bears the stamp Copyright Photograph C.M Jones, along with an archive number A.39221. Additionally, another stamp "Used" is evident from the Sunday Telegraph on August 8, 1965.

The Percy Baker Legacy: Fostering Community and Tradition

In tribute to Edwin 'Percy' Baker's enduring influence and commitment to the sport of bowling, a league bearing his name has been established in the United Kingdom. Aptly named the Percy Baker League, this league serves as a testament to Baker's legacy, welcoming members over the age of 65 to partake in friendly competition and camaraderie on the greens.

Among the esteemed clubs participating in the Percy Baker League are Poole Park Bowling Club, Shaftesbury Bowling Club, Greenhill Bowling Club, Bowls Dorset, and The Wessex Bowling Club. These clubs, each steeped in their traditions and history, come together to honor Baker's memory while fostering a sense of community and shared passion for the sport he loved dearly. The Percy Baker League stands as a living tribute to a remarkable individual whose impact continues to resonate throughout the bowling community, ensuring that his legacy endures for generations to come.

Pair of EJ Riley Lignum Vitae lawn bowls from 1950 belonging to Edwin 'Percy' Baker.
Image 9: Pair of EJ Riley Lignum Vitae lawn bowls from 1950 belonging to Edwin 'Percy' Baker.

Percy Baker: A Beacon of Excellence and Inspiration

Edwin 'Percy' Baker's contributions to the world of lawn and indoor bowling are immeasurable. From his humble beginnings in Somerset to his ascent as one of England's greatest bowlers, Baker's journey serves as a testament to the power of dedication, perseverance, and passion. As the bowling community fondly remembers his remarkable achievements, Percy Baker's legacy remains etched in the annals of sporting history, a shining beacon of excellence for generations to come.

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