For most young children, visiting parks or beaches only happened on rather special occasions. In the main they were a long way from the streets that surrounded the town, so bearing that important fact in mind, it is plain to see how it was that the streets became the play area for youngsters of all ages.
In those days the volume of traffic was generally limited to slow, plodding horses and carts. The appearance of a motor vehicle brought hordes of youngsters rushing out to witness the spectacle of something moving at ten miles an hour. As a result of this enforced environment, it was inevitable that street games became the main diet for all youngsters, not only in the form of football, cricket, tennis or hockey, using a bundle of tied rags and broom handles, but other games that have long since vanished.
RELEASE OR MOB was a simple game ideal for exuberant spirits. One would be selected as the finder, he or she closing their eyes and counting to thirty or forty, while everyone else shot away to hide in doorways and when found the finder would call out the appropriate name, rushing back to the starting point, generally a lamppost, before his victim.
The finder would then try to seek out others hiding, but, if in the meantime someone else managed to touch any of his victims standing by the lamppost and shouted “release”, then all who had been captured would escape and the chase would start again. It was a game that went on and on until everyone was worn out.
FOLLOW THE ARROW OR TRACKING would see one or two given a start from the party of chasers, who would attempt to follow their tracks by finding a series of chalked arrows on walls or pavements. Such a game would take you miles, good starters seldom being caught.
ESCAPE always ran across the breadth of a street. One would stay in the middle, standing on one leg, and depending on what subject they were playing, would call out the name of a football team, motor bike, flower or animal. The person who had opted for this title would then have to endeavour to hop across the road, with the one in the middle also hopping around, trying to bump them over. If he succeeded, the next called would have to face the fury of two flying bodies, and so it progressed until the last to survive had to negotiate a veritable army of “hoppers”, seldom with success.
KICK THE TIN was similar in style to Release, except no person could be set free.
HOPSCOTCH, in various forms, would litter pavements. Heavy, but compact pieces of slate were regarded as the best “scotches”. Anyone who was fortunate enough to have a piece of marble was in the top class.
KNOCKING OVER THE TIN – a tin would be placed at either end of a section of the pavement, generally on the flat. The object of the game was simple. Each player, in turn, would roll a battered tennis ball, in the hope of knocking his rival’s tin can over. The game would end when this happened 10 times, and a lot of skill could be developed, by judicious use of making the ball bounce off the wall.
KNOCK THE KNOCKER was popular on dark, winter nights. In turn, one would creep up to the entrance of a house and knock on the knocker. The winner was the one who had the nerve to stay on the doorstep until the door was actually being opened. On reflection, not a game to encourage children to play!
CIGARETTE CARDS – these would be cadged from anyone observed carrying a packet of fags. Every carton at that time contained a card which made a series. With these cards not only would you indulge in swopping, in an attempt to collect a full set, but you could also play other games.
One was pitching, a mild form of gambling. One card would be propped against a wall, and, in turns all competitors, with their own cards, would flick a card, attempting to knock it down. If someone succeeded they won all the cards lying on the floor. A smart game for the fellow with a deft wrist.
You could also play miniature cricket with cards. One would be propped up as a wicket, one used as a bat, one bent over and over to form a ball. You scored runs by hitting the “ball” certain distances and could be out by being caught or having your wicket flattened.
MARBLES OR ALLEYS – who decided when the season began always remained a mystery. One day there was nothing, the next dozens of youngsters dashing up and down the gutters throwing their marbles and attempting to hit their opponents, which, if successful, they kept. There were three kinds of marbles – those made of clay (the poor type), the sparkling glass alleys in a multitude of colours (which most had) and the daddy of them all, the baldies, shining ball bearings. The baldies always counted as a twoer or a threer or fourer, depending on its size. To win it you had to hit the baldies with a glass alley that number of times. If you were a poor shot you could lose an awful lot of glass alleys, which always counted as a oner, before the prized possession fell into your clutches. There were various other games played with marbles, but all had one common feature, you played in the hope that you would win some from your competitor – the first steps to gambling had been taken.
HOOPS – steel hoops from the tops of wooden casks or bicycles were firm favourites. And, armed with a wooden stick, you would run up and down the streets propelling them for dear life. If you happened to obtain a rubber tyre you joined the elite, but the same amount of running took place.
WHIPS AND TOPS - Chalking the head of the spinning tops would produce a galaxy of colourful movement when they spun round in the road. Anything would do for a whiplash – a leather thong or piece of string – but the most effective always seemed to be a shoelace. It was surprising the skill that could be introduced into this pastime. But making them start was the hardest part.
PAPER PLANES AND KITES – made at home from newspapers, glue and pieces of light wood, then painted to your taste. Great fun would be had from these toys. High ground was essential for the best results, also a good, strong breeze, then it would be a case of which plane would go the furthest, or which kite, depending on the size of the ball of string, would fly the highest.
There were, of course, many other games, including skipping, rounders, conkers and home -made trolleys that were raced down hills. Wall tennis, touch rugby, played with rags stuffed into a ball shape that always finished up in tatters by the end of the contest, and so forth.
Many of these games have long since given way to the more sophisticated outlook adopted by the youngsters today. How much fun they have lost in the process.
Next Page, The Great Read