logo - Join me in the 1900s early C20th
Florence Cole as a child

Games children used to play on the streets



Based on childhood recollections of early 1900s London.

Streetgames for chidren in the early 1900s: boys playing marbles and girls with wooden hoops.

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.

In the early 1900s, when I was a child, 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.

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Marbles

The boys played marbles, and if there was a manhole cover nearby, the dips in them were used as gullies.

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.

Shapes of marbles

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.

Desmond Dyer

   
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Hoops

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.

Ironl hoop with its rod-like attachment, as used by boys in the early 1900s, with wooden stilts placed in front. Iron hoop with its rod-like attachment, as used by boys in the early 1900s. Two iron hoops with their rod-like attachments, as used by boys in the early 1900s.

Three examples of iron hoops, two from West Somerset Rural Life Museum and one from The Museum of Nottingham Life.

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.

Children playing with old metal hoops

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

   

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Hopscotch

Street pavement suitable for playing hopscotch

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

Paving slabs marked out for Hopscotch at York Castle Museum.

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.

  

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Tops

There were peg tops for boys, smaller tops for girls, and whipping tops for everyone, beautifully made of boxwood.

old wooden tops for children

Wooden peg tops, photographed in Milton Keynes Museum.

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.

old whipping top

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.

Sheila Booth

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.

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Cricket

old gas street lamp

The wicket for our street games - a lamppost.

When we played cricket, a 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.

Lamp posts were also used as winning posts in other games.

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Skipping

Early 1900s superior skipping rope with wooden handles containing ball bearings to prevent the rope from twisting out of shape as it swung round

Early 1900s superior skipping rope with wooden handles containing ball bearings to prevent the rope from twisting out of shape as it swung round. Photographed in Milton Keynes Museum.

Almost certainly such a skipping rope was for children from wealthy families. Children on housing estates would have had to make do with simple lengths of rope.

Skipping was one of my favourite games, either by myself holding an 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.

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Please we've come to learn the trade

Ball games - a note from the webmaster

Somewhat surprisingly my mother does not mention ball games. In my own childhood in the 1940s, ball games were a common childhood pastime. In particular we played solo bouncing balls against a wall. Vera Harding who lived on the same estate as my mother in the 1940s particularly mentioned 'two balls' a simple form of juggling, bouncing the balls against a wall - something I did frequently as a child.

"We played two balls against the wall (until we were asked kindly not to as the elderly couple were fed up with the thump, thump in their living room!"

Vera Harding
born Vera Eaton

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.

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Conkers

children playing conkers, early 20th centtury

Children playing conkers. Detail from a picture in West Somerset Rural Life Museum.

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.

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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.

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Knocking down ginger

how to advertise here

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.

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Swinging on lamp post crossbars

If someone had a long enough length of rope it was fun to throw it over the crossbar of a lamp post - the bar where the lamplighter would lean his ladder. Then we would take it in turns to hold both ends of the rope and swing from it.

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Bicycle riding

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.

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Leapfrog

One or more of us children 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.

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Pie Crust Coming

How to play 'Pie Crust Coming'

As the picture shows a team of boys holding onto one another with another boy rushing in to hold on, the game is clearly the same as my friends and I used to play in the 1930s. We called it 'Pie Crust Coming'. I donít know why.

The game is played with two teams: A boy in one team starts with his back to the wall and the next boy holds onto his belt or trousers with the rest of his team bent down and similarly holding on. Then, one by one, the boys in the other team pile on top and try to sway the first team to make it collapse. The game continues until one team collapses making them the losing team.

Henry Lea

'Pie Crust Coming' a game boys played in the street in the early and mid 20th century

Boys playing 'pie crust coming'. A magazine cutting in an old scrap book.

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.