Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 3/Ancient Customs in Games



"Any they dare challenge for to throw the sledge,
To jump or leap over ditch or hedge;
To wrestle, play at stool-ball, or to run,
To pitch the bar, or to shoot off a gun;
To play at loggats, nine holes, or ten pins,
To try it out at football, by the shins;
At tick-tacke, seize noddy, maw and ruff;
At hot-cockles, leap-frog, or blindman's buff;
To drink the halper-pots, or deal at the whole can;
To play at chess, or pue, and inkhorn;
To dance the morris, play at barley-brake;
At all exploits a man can think or speak:
At shove-groat, venter-point, or crop and pile;
At 'beshrew him that's last at any stile;'
At leaping over a Christmas bonfire.
Or at the drawing dame out of the mire;
At shoot-cock, Gregory, stool-ball, and what-not;
Pick-point, top and scourge, to make him hot."

These lines have been erroneously attributed by Baines, in his "History of Lancashire" (ii. 579), to the second Randle Holme, who merely quoted them as descriptive of Lancashire games and sports in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They are from Samuel Rowland's "Letting of Humour's Blood in the Head-Vaine" (1600). Some of these names of games, and indeed the games themselves, having become obsolete, a few brief explanations may be necessary for the general reader:—Stool-ball is a pastime still practised in the North of England. It consists in simply setting a stool on the ground, and one of the players takes his place before it, while his ntagonist, standing at a distance, tosses a ball with the intention of striking the stool; and this it is the business of the former to prevent, by beating it away with the hand, reckoning one to the game for every stroke of the ball; if, however, the ball should be missed by the hand, and touch the stool, the players change places; as they also do if the person who threw the ball can catch and hold it when driven back before it reaches the ground. The conqueror is he who strikes the ball most times before it touches the stool. Elsewhere, it is played with a number of stools and as many players. This seems to have been a game for women more than men, but occasionally it was played by young persons of both sexes indiscriminately, as the following lines show, from Tom D'Urfey's play of "Don Quixote" (1694):—

"Down in a vale, on a summer's day,
All the lads and lasses met to be merry;
A match for kisses at stool-ball to play,
And for cakes and ale, and cider and perry.
Chorus—Come all, great, small, short, tall,—
Away to stool-ball."

Pitching or casting the bar was, in Tudor times, a favourite gymnastic exercise. A poet of the sixteenth century thinks it highly commendable for kings and princes, by way of exercise, to throw "the stone, the bar, or the plummet." Henry VIII. retained "the casting of the bar" among his favourite amusements. The sledge hammer was also used for the same purpose. Loggats (says Sir Thomas Hanmer) is the ancient name of a play or game, one of those made "unlawful" by the 33d Henry VIII. It is now called kittle-pins (i.e., skittles), in which the boys often make use of bones instead of wooden pins, throwing at them with another bone, instead of bowling. Hamlet asks, "Did these bones cost no more the breeding, but to play at loggats with them?" Nine-holes was a boyish game played at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Nine holes are made in a square board, in three rows, three holes in each row, at equal distances, twelve to fourteen inches apart. The holes are numbered one to nine, so placed as to form fifteen as the total of each row. The board is fixed horizontally on the ground, and surrounded on three sides with a gentle acclivity. Every player being furnished with a certain number of small metal balls, stands in his turn by a mark on the ground, about five or six feet from the board; at which he bowls the balls. According to the value of the figures belonging to the holes into which the balls roll, his game is reckoned; and he who obtains the highest number is the winner. Another game, having the same name, was more recently played by schoolboys. A board was set upright resembling a bridge, with nine small arches, numbered one to nine; at this the boys bowled marbles. If the marble struck against the side or piers of the arches, it became the property of the boy owning the board; if it went through any arch, the bowler claimed a number of marbles equal to the number upon the arch it passed through. Ten-pins was in reality nine-pins. Moor, in his "Suffolk Words," says, "We have, like others, nine-pins, which we rather unaccountably call ten-pins, or rather tempins, although I never saw more than nine used in the game." Probably the game was once played with ten pins, as an evasion of the statute which made nine pins an unlawful game. The most ancient form of nine-pins was "cayles" or "kayles" (from the French quilles), which was played with pins, but all ranged in one row, and thrown at with a stick. These kayle-pins were afterwards called kettle or kittle-pins, and hence, by an easy corruption, skittle-pins. The game of skittles, however, differs materially from nine-pins, though requiring the same number of pins. At nine-pins, the player stands at a distance settled by mutual consent of the parties, and casts the bowl at the pins; the point is to beat them all down in the fewest throws. Skittles is played by bowling and tipping; the first at a given distance, the second standing close to the frame upon which the pins are placed, and throwing the bowl through in the midst of them. In both cases the number of pins beaten down before the return of the bowl (for it usually passes beyond the frame) are called fair, and reckoned to the account of the player; but those that fall by the coming back of the bowl are said to be foul, and of course not counted. One chalk or score is reckoned for every fair pin; and the game of skittles consists in obtaining thirty-one chalks precisely. Less loses, or at least gives the antagonist a chance of winning the game; and more requires the player to go again for nine, which must also be brought exactly to secure himself. Football needs no explanation. Tick-tack was a kind of backgammon, played both with men and pegs, and more complicated than the ordinary backgammon, or, as the French call it, tric-trac, whence our name of tick-tack. It is frequently referred to by English writers of the seventeenth century. Seize noddy, maw and ruff, were all games of cards. Sir John Harrington, after describing primero, perhaps the most ancient game of cards played in England, enumerates in rhyme the card games that succeeded it:—

"Then thirdly followed heaving of the maw,
A game without civility or law,
An odious play, and yet in court oft seen,
A saucy knave to trump both king and queen.
Then followed lodum, . .
Now noddy followed next."

In Thomas Heywood's play of "A Woman Killed with Kindness" (third edition, 1617), the game of ruff is mentioned, and is proposed to be played with honours. Double ruff, and English ruff, with honours, are mentioned in "The Complete Gamester" (1674), as distinguished from French ruff. Noddy is supposed to have been very similar to, if not the origin of, the game of cribbage; and noddy-fifteen is given in Carr's "Craven Glossary." Any number can play—the cards are all dealt out—the elder hand plays one (of which he hath a pair or a pryal, if a good player)—saying or singing, "There's a good card for thee," passing it to his right-hand neighbour. The person next in succession who holds its pair covers it, saying, "There's a still better than he," and passes both onward. The person holding the third of the sort (ace, six, queen, or what-not) puts it on, with "There's the best of all three." The holder of the fourth crowns all with the emphatic, "And there is niddy-noddee." He wins the tack, turns it down, and begins again. He who is first out receives from his adversaries a fish, or a bean, as the case may be, for each unplayed card. If seize have any particular signification, it may be the French sixteen, and in that case, if fifteen-noddy were made unlawful, they might play it with an additional point, just as ten pins may have been substituted for nine pins. Maw was played with a piquet pack of thirty-six cards, and any number of persons from two to six formed the party of players. At ruff, the greatest sort of the suit carried away the game; ruff became a term for a court-card, and to ruff meant to trump at cards. Hot cockles (said to be a corruption of the French hautes coquilles, but the French name for this game is Main-chaude, literally warm-hand) is a play in which one kneels, and, covering his eyes, lays his head in another's lap, and guesses who struck him. Gay describes this pastime in the following lines:—

"As at hot cockles once I laid me down,
And felt the weighty hand of many a clown,
Buxoma gave a gentle tap, and I
Quick rose, and read soft mischief in her eye."

Leap-frog and blind-man's buff are still favourite games. The line "To drink the halper pots, or deal at the whole can," is evidently an allusion to some competition in drinking, either in half or whole measures. Perhaps halper should be halfer. The pot of ale was once a measure; the pottle was two quarts; and the drinking off at once this measure of liquor was termed a "pottle draught." Chess is never likely to be obsolete. Pue is probably a misprint for put, a game at cards, still lingering in some districts. It was in vogue in the seventeenth century. Inkhorn is not known as a game. Inkhorn terms were fine words, savouring of the inkhorn. The morris-dance was a very ancient dance, in which the performers were dressed in grotesque costume, with bells, &c. It was sometimes performed by itself, but was much more frequently danced in processions and pageants, especially in those of the May-games. In the sixteenth century, it was frequently introduced on the stage. The bells on the dancers' dresses were to be sounded as they danced. They were of unequal sizes, and named the fore-bell, the second bell, the treble, the tenor or great bell; and mention is also made of double bells. In 1561, two dozen of morris-bells were valued at one shilling. There was no particular number of morris-dancers, usually five or more, besides two musicians (pipe and tabor), and the performer of the hobby-horse. The morris-dance is sometimes yet to be seen in Lancashire in connection with the rush-carts, the May-games, and the mummings about Christmas. Barley-brake was an ancient rural game, described by Gifford as played by six persons, three of each sex, who were coupled by lot. A piece of ground was then chosen, and divided into three compartments, of which the middle one was called hell. The couple condemned to this division tried to catch the others, who advanced from the two extremities; if they succeeded, hell was filled by the couple excluded by pre-occupation from the other places. In this "catching," however, there was some difficulty, as the middle couple, hand in hand, were not to separate before they had succeeded, whilst the others must break hands whenever they find themselves hard pressed. When all had been taken in turn, the last couple were said to be in hell, and the game ended. There is a description of the game in a little tract called "Barley-breake, or a Warning for Wantons" (4to, Lond. 1607). This game would seem to have left its traces in a boys' game still played in the North of England (especially in the East Riding of Yorkshire), in which a couple link hands, and sally forth from home (the modern substitute for hell), shouting something like "Aggery, ag, ag, ag's gi'en warning," and trying to tick or touch with the free hand any of a number of boys running about separately. These latter try, by slipping behind the linked couple, and throwing their individual weight on the joined hands, to separate them, without being first touched or ticked; and if they sunder the couple, each of the severed ones has to bear a boy "home" on his back. Whoever is touched is condemned to replace the toucher in the linked couple. Shove-groat is a variety of the old game of shovel-board. A shilling or other smooth coin was placed on the extreme edge of the shovel-board, and propelled towards a mark by a smart stroke with the palm of the hand. Sometimes a groat-piece was used, and in the present times a halfpenny; and the game of shove-halfpenny is mentioned in the Times of April 25, 1845, as then played by the lower orders. Taylor, the water-poet, states that in his time, the beginning of the seventeenth century, "Edward (VI.) shillings" were chiefly used at shove-board. Venter-pointwas a children's game of the sixteenth century, named but nowhere described. Cross and pile is the old name of what is now called "tossing," or "heads and tails," the coin now used being generally a halfpenny, of which the obverse or bust of the Queen is the "head," and the reverse, whether the figure of Britannia or the harp of the Irish halfpenny, or other device, is called the tail. The origin of the term "cross and pile" is not very clear. The cross, in form that of St George, its four arms of equal length, was the favourite form for the reverse of silver coins from the time of Henry III., and perhaps at one time facilitated the fourthing or farthing of the coin, i.e., the dividing it into four equal quarters. But what was the pile? Not the pellets, for they were always inserted in the angles between the arms of the cross. Not the legend or reading on the coin, for that was found both on obverse and reverse. It does not appear to be from the Latin pilus (the beard), or pilum (an arrow or spear). Yet it was clearly the opposite side of the coin to the cross side. Grafton records, that in 1249 an order was made to coin a silver groat, which was to have on one side the picture of the King's face (Henry III.), and on the other a cross extended to the edge. In 1364, the controller of the King's Exchequer, by order of the King's treasurer, sent to the treasurer for Ireland twenty-four stamps for coining money there, viz., "three piles with six crosses, for pennies; the same for halfpennies; and two piles, with four crosses, for farthings." This at least shows that "cross and pile" were terms for the opposite sides of coins. The next sport is apparently a foot-race to the next stile. Leaping over a Christmas bonfire appears to be a relic of the leaping through or over the bel-tain fires in honour of Bel or Baal, at various festivals. The name of the next game contains a misprint. It should be drawing dun out of the mire. Dun was a favourite name for horse or mare of that colour, to which the saying "Dun is the mouse" doubtless refers. "Dule upo' Dun," a Lancashire tradition, is anglice the devil upon the dun horse or mare. The rural game is described as played with a log of wood representing dun (the cart-horse), and a cry is raised that he is stuck in the mire. Two of the company advance either with or without ropes, to draw him out. They find themselves unable, call for help, and gradually the whole company take part, when dun is extricated of course; the fun consisting in the awkward and affected efforts of the rustics to lift the log, and sundry arch contrivances to let the ends of it fall on one another's toes. Chaucer and Ben Johnson have references to it. Shoot-cock is the same with our shuttlecock; was played by boys in the fourteenth century, and was a fashionable pastime among grown persons in the reign of James I. Gregory was a children's game of the sixteenth century. Stool-ball has been already noticed. Perhaps this second time it occurs in the verses it should be read stow-ball, which appears to have been a species of golf, and played with a golf-ball. Pick-point occurs in an enumeration of children's games in the sixteenth century. Top and scourge is simply the whipping-top, one of the most ancient of boys' pastimes, for it was in vogue amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans. Peg-top is a modern play.