Based on childhood recollections
of early 1900s London.
In the early 1900s we children were expected to entertain themselves. There
was no money for expensive toys, and the adults were too busy to set anything
up for us. We expected nothing else and we enjoyed ourselves. Fortunately there
was little or no traffic, so the street was our playground: the roads, the pavements,
and the tiny front gardens. It never occurred to us to ask permission to use
front gardens, and probably no-one would have expected it.
Detail from a picture on display at Blaise Castle House
Museum in Bristol showing boys playing marbles in the foreground and girls
with wooden hoops in the background.
The boys played marbles, and if there was a manhole cover nearby, the
dips in them were used as gulleys.
The boys would flip their marble with their first finger against their
thumb and score if they got a marble into a gully. I dread to think what
their nails were like but hygiene was not so important then.
Boys were proud of their marble collections and would swop among
themselves to get a range of sizes and colours
Some of the marbles were
very pretty. They were made of glass with a twisted colour markings inside.
When I located my old marble collection, I was astounded to find that instead of the perfect spheres of my childhood memory they were quite misshapen due to having spent so much time in the trouser pockets of boys over an unknown number of years - much as pebbles on the seashore. Rolling them down an inclined plane each had a different course. This would undoubtedly have added an element of chance into any game of 'glarnies'
(another name for marbles). I was also surprised at how small my
marbles were, being only about half an inch in diameter.
We also played with hoops. There were wooden ones in various sizes
for girls with sticks to beat them along the pavement. The boys had iron hoops.
They would start the hoops with their hands then run with them, using a sort
of large hook to keep the hoops going.
Three examples of iron hoops, two from West
Somerset Rural Life Museum and one from The Museum of Nottingham
Unfortunately none of the above photos are ideal.
The first shows the hoops partially obscured by wooden
stilts; the second is cropped away and in the third the rope and curtains
detract from the hoop..
All the photos show a metal rod attached to the hoop with a
small ring. This raises the question of how the hoops
were used as their rod-like attachment looks as if it
can't be removed. The photo on the right,, taken at the Black
Country (open-air) museum, comes some way to answering this.
The Black Country Museum photo shows
a girl running with the hoop, whereas my mother states that
such hoops were only used by boys in her Edwardian
childhood. had wooden hoops and boys these metal ones.
It is sad, although understandable, that the
teachers in charge of the visiting children asked that no child
should be recognisable in my photo. That is why the girl's
face is blurred out.
Pat Cryer, webmaster
A recent picture of Lopen Road showing that the concrete
paving slabs used in the early 1900s for hopscotch are still there. In most
areas elsewhere they seem to have been replaced by tarmac.
For playing hopscotch the concrete paving slabs of the pavements could easily
be marked out with chalk.
Paving slabs marked out for Hopscotch at York Castle
There were many variations of this game, with different rules about what
to do at each slab. The chalk quickly rubbed off or was washed off by the rain.
Hopscotch always seemed to be a game for girls where I lived.
I liked leapfrog. One or more of us would bend over and clutch our
knees while the others would run and put their hands on our backs and jump over.
Sometimes we would get a clout on the head if they missed.
There were peg tops for boys, smaller tops for girls,
and whipping tops for everyone, beautifully made of boxwood.
Wooden peg tops, photographed in Milton Keynes
The peg tops
were made of ordinary wood about 2 inches long and about 1½ inches in diameter,
and the sides were grooved. A boy would have a length of string two or 3 ft
long which he wound round the grooves. Then, keeping hold of the string, he
would throw the top onto the pavement with a brisk jerk. This sent the top spinning
on its metal peg at the bottom. Boys competed with their friends for how long
a top would spin for.
Possibly a whipping top, photographed in Museum of
Nottingham Life. Can you confirm? The photograph was taken behind glass.
If you have a better one, I would appreciate a copy, Pat Cryer, webmaster.
The photo looks to me much more like a diabolo which had to be kept spinning on a string between two sticks.
The whipping tops were small and squat with only a small
peg at the bottom, and they were made in two colours, usually red and blue.
With a small whip we would wind the string around the top, then would stoop
on the ground and with one hand on the top, pull the whip briskly and at the
same time let go of the top. This set it spinning. Then we would whip it to
keep it going.
My brother Jim got into trouble one day with his top. For some
reason the string clung to the bottom of the peg when he threw it. He swung
around holding the string and then unfortunately he was only 1 ft away from somebody's house, and the top went straight into the person's front window,
breaking the glass. The lady was most indignant. So my father put a sheet of
glass in right away and little was said to my brother.
The wicket for our street games - a lamppost.
If you have an old photo which would illustrate
this page, I would very much appreciate a copy.
Pat Cryer, webmaster,
and daughter of the author
When we played cricket, the lamp post was the wicket. Lamp posts were
short and rather elegant, and not automatically controlled. The lighting came
from gas mantles which were the
same as those used in our houses.
were also used as winning posts in other games.
Skipping was one of my favourite games, either by myself holding
end of a rope in each hand or in a group where the ends of a longer rope were
held by two different people. Any number of children could come in and skip
together and sometimes we tried to see how many we could get in before someone
stumbled over the rope and stopped it. Sometimes we would play at "calling in"
a particular child by name and we would vary the speed of the rope so that the
child doing the jumping had to jump faster or in some sort of fancy manner.
Please we've come to learn the trade
Then there was "Please we've come to learn the trade". This is what
one of the children had to say. Then the others would say "What trade?". The
answer could be any trade. The the children would say, "Set to work and to do
it", and the trade would be mimed. The child who guessed correctly would then
have the next turn.
Hide and seek
Hide and seek had to be behind people's privet hedges because the
street provided little else to hide behind. It got us pretty dirty and I, for
one, got into a lot of trouble as a result - but I still did it.
Knocking down ginger
Knocking Down Ginger was the name of the game in which we knocked
on somebody's front door and ran away. Why the game amused us, I cannot now
imagine, although it did. Neither do I know how it got such a strange name.
Conkers was an Autumn game. As the conkers fell off the horse chestnut
trees, boys would select the firm ones and bore a hold into them. Then they
would thread their conkers onto pieces of string about a foot long. Conkers
was played in pairs, and the idea was to swing your conker to hit the opponent's
one. The game ended when one conker got broken. Then the unbroken conker was
declared the winner. Interestingly, the boy who owned the conker was never regarded
as the winner, just his conker. My brothers sometimes asked me to play but I
never did because I was afraid that a conker would hit me in the face.
One boy in our road had a hand-me-down bicycle. One day he asked me if I
would like to have a go on it, and I jumped at the chance. Then, lo and
behold my mother who had been out shopping, came down the road. The look on
her face was enough. I could not get off that bike quickly enough, but I
couldn't raise my leg over the boy's high crossbar without help. So I let
the bike fall and me with it. I was called indoors and ticked off. My mother
said, "Don't you let me see you do that again, you brazen hussy". I had no
idea what a brazen hussy was. Years later I looked it up and found that
brazen means, 'Unrestrained by convention or propriety' and a hussy is 'A
pejorative term for a person who is deemed sexually promiscuous'. No such thoughts had entered my mind when I accepted the ride. I can only think that my knickers were showing because my skirt was pulled up by the crossbar.
This website Join me in the 1900s provides a
social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations,
with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.