Jackie Nanson looks out at the immaculate green square that he first played on 60 years ago. “I didn’t think I would see it open again,” he says.

Jackie is not the only one who doubted. The Magpie Inn’s bowling green had been deserted for a decade. You’d have got long odds against it ever being used again.

But here it is - the last pub bowling green in Carlisle.

There used to be many more, due to the city’s role in the State Management Scheme.

This unique social experiment was introduced in the Carlisle area by the government during World War One.

It aimed to stop munitions workers from Gretna flooding into the city to binge-drink.

Carlisle’s pubs were made more civilised. Buying rounds was banned. In some cases bowling greens were built.

Even though the war ended in 1918, State Management continued until 1973. The fact that it made a profit for the government was a major reason for its longevity.

The Magpie opened in 1933. Most of Carlisle’s other pub bowling greens were built over decades ago.

Until recently, three remained.

The one at The Redfern Inn in Etterby has not been used for years. Houses are currently being built on it.

The Horse and Farrier on Wigton Road has been closed since 2007. It is now being transformed into a gastro pub. Its bowling green is being turned into a children’s play area.

The Magpie’s green appeared doomed when the pub, on Victoria Road, Botcherby, closed in 2013.

George and Laura Parsons took over in January 2016. The green was one of the things which attracted them. They always planned to restore it.

“We wanted to get our feet in the door first and get the pub set up,” says Laura.

In March last year The Magpie’s owner, Yorkshire-based Samuel Smith’s, paid for the bedraggled green to be lifted and the ground reseeded.

“Now it’s down to us,” says Laura. She and George are responsible for the green’s upkeep.

“Hence the white hair!” says George, pointing to a few snowy strands.

He cuts and maintains the green, which reopened three weeks ago.

It’s magnificently smooth and lush. You’d never guess that George is a newcomer to this world.

“I’d never cut a lawn before,” he admits.

“We want it perfect. I’ve had some good feedback.”

What’s his secret?

“Get up early!”

The Magpie has quickly acquired its own bowls team. The team which used to be Holme Head has moved here from St James’ Park in Denton Holme.

It competes in the Men’s Carliol League and the Over 60s Carliol League.

The Magpie will also hold its own competitions, some for trophies named after local players from yesteryear.

Businesses and organisations are welcome to use the green for team-building. Medical staff from the Cumberland Infirmary have booked a session.

Individuals can play when there are no matches on. (It’s £5 for two hours, including bowl hire, or £2.50 with your own bowls.)

George says: “Because we’re a community bowling club, we’re looking at getting schools involved. We’re looking at bowls lessons.”

Laura adds: “We’ve already had people who had never been since we reopened who have been in to have a look and have been playing.

“We’d love to have a State Management league, for all the State Management pubs. Their bowling greens have gone. But they’ll still have customers who bowl.

“The green is very expensive to maintain. We’re looking for sponsorship from local businesses.”

The Magpie is now affiliated to Bowls England. Laura and George hope this will release funding. They dream of their pub hosting county matches.

As they talk, the fixture on the green is an over-60s match against Stanwix.

Several tables on the patio are occupied. A customer carrying a pint squeezes past. “It’s getting to the stage you’ve got to book a seat here!”

It’s a warm Friday afternoon. Neatly trimmed hedges grow around three sides of the green.

A row of pint glasses sits on a wall, ready to refresh their owners.

The sweaty gridlock of Warwick Road feels much further away than it is. Botcherby has not always enjoyed the best reputation. From here, it’s beautiful.

Jackie Mansell is sitting this match out. The 82-year-old used to work at John Laing and has played bowls for most of his life, often at State Management pubs.

“We used to have The Turf, The Redfern. I started playing at The Harraby Inn as a young man. My father was bowls daft. I was football daft. He bought me a set of bowls from Chivers.”

What does he enjoy about it?

“Company. A pint and company. They’re all a good set of lads. You get a good crack.”

Jackie gazes out across the green. “I used to love this game,” he says. “It keeps you going.”

He says bowls was never regarded as an old person’s sport. That has changed.

Most players are past retirement age. They are falling off the perch much faster than the next generation is coming through... not that young people are queueing up to play.

Laura and George are fighting for two seemingly lost causes: a local pub and a bowling green. Judging by how busy both green and pub are today, they are winning.

John Mason is The Magpie’s team captain. A Londoner, and former distribution manager for a parcel company, he moved to Cumbria after retirement for the very good reason that “the wife is a Carlisle lass”.

John says of Holme Head’s home at St James’ Park: “There wasn’t the upkeep of the green. We’d been playing there for years and years. We were talking to the city council. They said they didn’t have the money. It was just unplayable.”

Another Holme Head player was a Magpie regular. He mentioned that the pub’s green would soon be available, and the move was made.

“Laura and George have done a really good job,” says John. “It’s a lovely setting. Bowls is a nice pastime. It keeps you busy. You can get a pint after the game here. At St James we were lucky to get a cup of tea if the water was still hot.”

The match comprises four games played at once. Each has three players from each team. Despite bowls’ sedentary image, the action moves quickly.

“Well played, Peter.”

“Good roll that.”

And some comments are a reminder that these players are not in the first flush of youth.

“I’ve got a bit of gout in my left foot. It’s agony.”

Players beckon their team mates’ bowls towards the jack. Some give hand signals which look as if they’re guiding in an aircraft.

Some bowls glide smoothly. Others are like bouncing bombs.

The Magpie team plays in white. Maybe black and white would be more appropriate.

Stanwix’s white is trimmed with red, blue and gold. There’s no fierce rivalry between these teams from opposite sides of the River Eden. The atmosphere is as warm as the weather.

Does bowls attract nice people or does playing bowls put people in a good mood?

Bruce McDonnell, 71, is a Stanwix player. “I was very sad to hear that Holme Head had gone away,” he says. “But this is a good set up. The atmosphere is different at a pub. You’re all having chatter. It’s very friendly.”

Bruce’s wife Marion, 75, is watching from a bench. She plays for Stanwix’s ladies team. She and Bruce watch each other’s matches.

“It’s a good arrangement,” says Marion. “It’s a good excuse to sit and do nothing. If I was at home I’d find something to do!”

She is delighted to see a new venue, especially one as pleasant as this, in what she sadly describes as a dying sport.

“The age of people... we lose players. We’ve got a 92-year-old in our club that still plays. We’re desperate for young people.

“The young people don’t do enough outdoor activity. I spent my childhood outside. I was never in the house.

“We played a lot of sport. My father instilled in us, it’s not the playing of the game - it’s the winning!”

The outdoor bowls season runs from April to September. In winter the McDonnells play at Cumbria Indoor Bowls Club on Carlisle’s Viaduct Estate Road.

“You know you’re not going to get rained on there. We prefer the outdoor game. We just love the great outdoors.

“We play in all weathers. We play in pouring rain. A lot of people say ‘I’m not playing in that.’ I say ‘Get on with it!’ If you didn’t bowl in Cumbria in the rain, you’d never bowl.”

Days like this, when the rain stays away and the sun comes out, are very special. Even more so when they’re spent at the last pub bowling green in Carlisle.

George Parsons looks out across his lawn at the people enjoying it. “Look at that,” he says. “How good is that? You’d think you were out in the country.”

n To contact The Magpie, use Facebook page ‘The Magpie Inn, Carlisle’, email themagpieinncarlisle@gmail.com or call 01228 402165.