Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Conkers and the games children played during the Regency

Autumn is the time of year when Regency children gathered horse chestnuts for an old-fashioned round of conkers. It’s believed the game was introduced into England during the late 16thcentury from Eastern Europe. However, the first official conkers competition wasn't reported until 1848 on the Isle of Wight.

The name is thought to have originated from the French word conque which means conch. In France, the game was played with snail shells. After drilling a hole in the conker, a 10 inch string was threaded through and knotted at the bottom end. The player then held the nut while stretching the string in a sling-shot manner. The object was to let it fly and smack the conker of your opponent. A player continued the attempt until he/she missed. Then it was the other player’s turn. The first to break his opponent's conker won.

Fox and Geese
Another popular children's game during the Regency was Fox and Geese, a checkered or lattice board game with Celtic/Germanic origins. There are many versions of this game but in all of them the object was to surround your opponent until he/she couldn't move.
The “fox” was placed in the middle of the board and the “geese” on one side. Pegs/pieces were able to move into the empty spaces around them. The fox could jump over the geese into an empty space. Like checkers, the fox then took possession of the goose piece. Geese could not jump. The object was to “shut up” the fox so it couldn't move, or for the fox to take so many geese it couldn't be “shut up.”

Ducks and Drakes
A simple game of skipping a flat stone across the surface of water to see how many times the thrower could make it skip. The person with the most skips won.


Marbles have been found in archeological digs dating to the Ice Age, in Egyptian tombs, and have been unearthed from Greek and Roman excavations. The game came to England some time during the 1600's. From 18th Century onward, Germany was the center of the marbles trade. As the name suggests, these little round spheres were made of marble. They were also made of stone, baked clay and glass. Nuts were used by early Greeks.

At Oxford and Cambridge, undergraduates were prohibited from playing marbles on the steps of the Bodleian Library and Senate House. Complaints by members of Parliament led to Westminister school boys being forbidden to play marbles in the Hall.
Shakespeare wrote of a game of marbles called “Cherry Pit” in Twelfth Night. A one foot hole was dug in the center of a ten foot ring. Players placed their marbles on the edge of the hole. Using a “taw” or shooter, they took turns knocking their opponents’ marbles into the hole.

Known in America as Jack Straws or pick-up-sticks, the object of this game is to remove a stick from a pile without disturbing the remaining ones. There is evidence the game was played during the 5th century B.C in India. Herodotus wrote of it in 450 B. C. Variations are believed to have spread from Asia to the Native Americans in British Columbia where wheat straws were used. A French version called Jonchets, which consisted of carved bone, irvory or wood sticks, was popular there during the 17th Century.

A cup and ball game found in most cultures. It was especially popular among the royal courts during the 18th Century. The object is to toss the ball into the air and catch it with a cup on the end of a stick to which the ball is attached by a string.


Patricia Rice said...

Good morning, Joanna! Just saw the note you wrote to Sherrie over at Wordwenches and thought I'd stop by to check out your Regency resources. What a delightfully relaxing and informative site!

Best of luck with your new book!

Joanna Waugh said...

Thanks, Patricia! I'm glad you found my website helpful. Keep up the good work at Word Wenches. It's one of my most favorite blogs.

Linda Banche said...

I played pick-up-sticks when I was a kid. Some things never change.