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Games and pastimes

Note - For Bowling Greens and Tennis Courts see also Parks Playgrounds and Allotments

This section is currently being completely revised, more will be added as time allows.


Kite flying has been popular in Britain since long before the railways. Possibly the most common kite today is the traditional diamond shaped design but there is a British variant which had a curved top and ribbons on the ends of the cross-bar. This hoop topped design was probably the more common British design up to the Edwardian era, however it takes a little more making than a simple diamond and since the 1940s has largely disappeared. The 'box kite' was invented by (I believe) the Chinese, however the type commonly flown in Britain was developed by a chap called Hargrave. Born in Britain he emigrated to Australia where he conducted experiments in flight, producing his box kite design in the 1890s. The Hargrave kite has rather oblong boxes, many box kites sold have boxes forming a cube at each end of the frame, however I am told these do not fly as well.

Fig ___ Common kite types
Sketch of Common kite types up to the 1980s

Kites come in all sizes, generally speaking the bigger the kite the better it will fly, although this does depend on the availability of suitable materials. The down side to a big kite is that it is potentially dangerous as they can achieve high rates of descent, powering into the ground like a sailing boat in full sail.

Chalk Games

Hopscotch is a simple skipping game, the table is drawn out as shown below on the pavement using chalk, a stone is thrown onto it and this determines the skipping moves performed by the child. In the early 21st century, after several hundred years of children playing this game, the police in the West Midlands were called out by complaints of unruly behaviour and banned children from making the chalk markings, describing this as 'preventing low level crime'.

Fig ___ Hopscotch table or grid

Sketch of traditional hopscotch grid as drawn on pavements and playgrounds


Cricket is a simple game, the origins of which are not recorded. The basic idea is that one man throws or 'bowls' a ball toward another who stands in front of a 'wicket' of vertical wooden sticks driven into the ground with small wooden pieces called 'bails' resting on top. If the bowler can knock the wicket so the bails fall the man with the bat is out. To add interest the batsman has to stay at his marked position or 'crease', if he is further from the wicket than the crease then any member of the opposing side can use the ball to knock off the bails. If the batsman hits the ball and someone catches it he is out. To score the batsman must run to an opposing set of wickets 22yards (20.1m) away, usually there are two batsmen on the field, they exchange ends when the ball has been hit, the more runs they can get the higher the score. However either one of the batsmen can be 'run out' if the opposing side can knock off the bails whilst they are not at their crease. Each team consists of eleven players, one team has two batsmen on the field (the others remain at the pavilion watching the game), the bowling side has all its players on the field trying to catch the ball and return it to the bowler.

By the 18th century the wicket had two vertical 'stumps' (vertical wooden posts about 1 inch or 2.5cm in diameter made of Willow) set quite far apart with a single cross bar or bail. The third stump was added in about 1776 and the wicket gradually became narrower and taller until it reached the present standard of three stumps two feet three inches (70cm) high and set about four inches apart (total width nine inches or 23cm), with two small wooden 'bales' resting in cut-outs on the tops. Originally the bat was wide and usually curved, all bowling was under arm until 1828 when round arm (with the arm horizontal) was allowed and in 1869 over-arm bowling (the usual style today) was allowed. By this time the bat was straight and (from the 1880s) the batsman's crease was a painted line rather than a mark in the ground. There will be an umpire standing close by the bowling end wicket to adjudicate on disputes over play.

Fig ___ Village cricket match in progress 2006
Photo of a village cricket match in progress in 2006

Cricket was mainly a village game (also played by the wealthy) until the later 19th century when the county sides began to play against each other in 1873. The clothing worn by cricketers has changed slowly over the years, the protective pads for the legs and padded gloves used by batsmen were introduced in 1836, at which time the players wore knee breeches and top hats. By the later 19th century professional teams wore spotted shirts and ties were worn into the early years of the 20th century. Generally everyone one changed to wearing plain white shorts and trousers with white shoes and (when cold) white woolen pullovers by the 1920s. The leg pads were always white but protective gloves work by the batsman and wicket keeper were usually a dark colour. The headgear followed the fashions of the day, top hats, bowler hats, pill-box hats and tam-o-shanters all being tried before they settled on the cloth cap (standard by the 1920s). Often it was only the batsman and wicket keepers who wore the hat.

Cricket is played on a field, the size of which is not fixed, however the small area where the ball is bowled is the 'pitch' and has a fixed size of 22 yards (20m) by 10 feet (3m). The field is typically oval rather than rectangular in shape (which is why the Lords cricket ground in Middlesex i called 'the oval') and usually about 100 yards along its long axis. The field with the surrounding spectator stands, score board etc is called the 'ground'. The pitch is rollered down and the grass on it is close cropped, producing a colour difference with the surrounding field, the pitch being a lighter green. The sketch below shows a typical cricket field and also shows the usual positions for the fielders on the field, remember there are only eleven men in a team so as well as the bowler and the wicket keeper you can have any nine of the fielders positions covered. To do this properly you need to know what style the bowler is using and how the batsman is addressing the ball, but there are so many permutations it would take pages to explain it all. One often hears of the fielder at 'silly mid on', this position is marked 'a' on the drawing, there is also a 'silly mid off' on the opposite side, marked 'b' on the drawing. The edge of the field, or 'boundary', is clearly marked either with a shallow trench or (more commonly) with a white line. The oval shape of the pitch as shown is about as narrow as would be found anywhere, most fields are rather more circular.

Fig ___ Cricket field showing possible positions of fielders
Cricket field showing possible positions of fielders

Cricket was also often played in the street by children, using anything of roughly the right size as a wicket, or with the wicket chalked on a wall. There was usually only one bat, the batsman dropping it to make his runs. Normal daytime or 'school' clothing was worn when playing. When the suburban council estates of the later 1950s were built they were not built for profit and often had wide grass verges to the roads (so toddlers could be caught before they reached the road). Where the road went round a corner these verges often widened into open grassed areas on which there was often a concrete block set into the centre of the grass bearing a sign saying 'no ball games', these were just about the right size and pretty well positioned for a wicket and often had a patch of worn grass in front of them.

Football (street and pitch)


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