Childhood games of the early 50's. Outdoor and indoor games we played at home and at school and how they kept us fit.
Playground games of the 1950s
We had great fun during playtimes at the little Church of England school in a Lancashire mill town. Most of the children lived close by on newly built council estates or in stone built terraced properties.
The best time of the school day was playtime. In the middle of our school playground was a stone building without a roof. Inside and open to the elements were the school toilets. The outside walls were great to use for ball games. We played ball up against the walls with two balls, and three balls if you were clever. Children who found it difficult to make friends could always occupy themselves with a small rubber ball; in that way they did not stand out as loners as they would today. We also used the wall for handstands, and with dresses tucked into our knickers, we spent much of our time upside down!
One ball game which we played was: -
One, two, three, aleri,
Four, five, six, aleri,
Seven, eight, nine, aleri,
Ten aleri, catch the ball.
I think that the game was played with two balls against the wall but when you said ‘aleri’ one ball went under your leg. (I’m not sure whether ‘aleri’ is spelt correctly.) However, my sister thinks that we bounced the ball on the ground!
There were many different kinds of ball. If you were posh you might have a tennis ball, but if you were in the habit of losing your ball, a squashy thin rubber ball was all you could afford. They came in various colours; my favourite was royal blue. The only trouble with those balls, when we were playing near home, was that if dogs ran off with them, their teeth would pop them! The best ball was a sponge rubber ball, which was solid black right through. The pattern on the balls was lovely, with every colour of the rainbow forming a marbled effect. Once the ball was getting old you could pick the sponge off until you had no ball left.
We weren't allowed footballs in the playground but could play catching games with large rubber balls. Piggy in the Middle was a ball game for three or more. The one in the middle was the piggy and the other players would throw the ball to one another over piggy’s head until piggy caught the ball and the child who threw the ball became the pig.
Whip and top
Skipping at Bispham near Blackpool 1952
Marbles and other popular pastimes
Other popular pastimes were - whip and top, marbles, hopscotch, and skipping. We also played ‘Tig’, ‘Kiss-catch’, and the favourites of ‘Farmer’s in his den’, ‘Ring-a-ring o’ roses’ and ‘The Good Ship sails through the Alley Alley o’.
We spent many happy hours with little wooden spinning tops; they were lovingly decorated with chalk patterns in vibrant colours. We then wound a narrow leather lace which was attached to a stick round the top to make it spin on the metal point which was on the bottom of the top. If you were really lucky, you could buy a bigger top, which was about two inches in diameter. This gave more space for the chalk decorations.
Buying marbles with our pocket money was something we really loved to do. Many of the girls were really more interested in the patterns, the size, and the feel of a pocket full of smooth but noisy glass marbles as they clanked together, than the game, but my sister really enjoyed the game and was good enough to win on many occasions. ‘Dobbers,’ were the really big ones and she had plenty of those.
Skipping was very popular
Skipping was very popular; we would skip alone, or in threes with two turning and one skipping, or in a large group chanting, ‘Salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper’, ‘Jelly on a plate’, ‘Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around’, ‘All in together girls’, ‘House to let,’ ‘Oranges and lemons’, and many more skipping rhymes. The rhymes went something like this,
‘House to let,
When I go out,
Mrs. ? (surname of next child to skip) comes in.’
All in together girls,
Very fine weather girls
When I say your birthday
please run out.
January, February, March etc.
‘Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, go upstairs,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, say your prayers,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, switch off the light,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, say goodnight,
Goodnight, teddy bear, goodnight.’
‘Polly in the kitchen,
Doing a bit of stitching,
In came a bogeyman,
And frightened her away!’
‘Jelly on a plate,
Jelly on a plate,
Jelly on a plate.’
Sausages in a pan,
Sausages in a pan,
Turn them over,
Turn them over,
Sausages in a pan’.
With our individual skipping ropes we would have races along the playground. We would also see who could skip the most skips with two feet together, or one foot after the other. Skipping backwards, skipping forwards, crossing arms – all these skipping activities kept us fit. There were very few children at my school who were overweight. Children had much more freedom to play outside and also, if the weather was fine we weren't allowed to play inside the house.
Sometimes we tied one end of a long rope to the railings so that only one girl was needed to turn the rope. If we were at home we would tie the rope round a lamppost.
Games at home in the cul - de - sac
Our estate was built by the council after the war. We were one of the first families to move onto the estate in April 1949. By 1951 most of the houses were completed and occupied and nearl;y every house had children. There was no shortage of playmates and we all spent many happy hours playing on the grass in front of our houses. We also played in a cul-de-sac opposite which was free of traffic as no one owned a car.
My sister had a three-wheel bike, which she loved. She would have liked a two-wheeler but mum said “No”. However she just borrowed her friends’ bikes and would race down the estate. The boys made bogies out of planks and old pram wheels and would sometimes let us ride on them.
I had no wish to ride a bike, partly because mum thought that they were dangerous. (I still can’t ride a bike, or ride a horse, or swim .My children once said “Mum what can you do?” My reply was that I could take them to swimming lessons, horse riding lessons, Brownies, cubs, music lessons and much more! ! !)
One popular game played in the cul-de-sac was ‘Queenie, Queenie, who’s got the ball?’ One person would be Queenie and the rest of us would stand with our hands behind our backs, passing the ball along and chanting ”Queenie, Queenie, who’s got the ball?” Each in turn would show empty hands and chant, “See, I haven’t got it,” and then the next person said,” And I haven’t got it,” and so on along the line of children. When it came to the turn of the child with the ball, that child would throw the ball down and that was the signal for everyone to run away. Queenie had to catch someone and then that child would be the new Queenie.
To decide who was ‘on’ we had some little rhymes.
‘Ip dip dash,
My blue sash,
Penny on the water,
Twopence on the sea,
Threepence on the railway,
Out goes SHE.
‘Ip dip dash,
My blue sash,
Sailing on the water,
Like a cup and saucer,
Ip dip dash.’
Another game was, ‘What time is it, Mr. Wolf?’Again, one person would be ‘on,’ and would answer our question, ‘What time is it, Mr. Wolf?’ with, ‘One o’clock.’ We would repeat the question, and the reply would be, ’Two o’clock,’ and we would continue and at the same time we would creep up to the wolf until we heard the wolf say,’ It’s dinnertime and I’m going to eat you.’ With that, we all had to run away to avoid being caught. If we were caught, then we were the next wolf..
‘The Good Ship Sails through the Alley Alley o,’ was another popular singing pastime. Singing, as we made arches, and went under in twos was great fun.
Another, similar dancing game was to the words; -
‘A hunting we will go,
A hunting we will go,
We’ll catch a fox,
And put him in a box,
And never let him go.’
Perhaps this is not a song to sing today
Dressing up and garden concerts
Our garden shed was always full. Garden tools and the lawnmower filled one side and toys and dressing up clothes were down the other side. We loved dressing up. Our box of clothes was great for imaginary play. There were scarves, hats, fans, dresses, skirts, net curtains, handbags, high heel shoes, necklaces, nurse sets, cowgirl outfits, clown sets and more.
Children, usually girls, were often playing at our house or in the garden, although the boys were allowed in when we had one of our concerts. We would put our blackboard at the garden gate, inviting everyone. “Come to our concert at 2 o’clock, only 1d with a drink.”
Our stage was the raised path in the back garden and the children sat below us on the lawn. We hung sheets and old curtains on the washing line for our theatre curtains and the shed was our changing room. The dressing-up clothes were put to good use, as were Mum’s old high-heeled shoes. We would sing hymns, nursery rhymes, and songs we had learnt at school. We would make some attempt to dance and although we always had lots of children watching, I dread to think what we were like! However, we had great fun and it kept us occupied for hours on end.
Enid Blyton's Famous Five.
We ventured further afield when we became the Famous Five. It didn't matter that we were all girls playing this game and instead of a dog for Timmy we had our cat, Tiddles. Our neighbours were the same age as us so we older girls were Julian and George (Georgina) and the younger girls were Dick and Anne. We roamed all over the estate re enacting the stories.
Every year on May Day (1st May) we made our own maypole and danced around it. We used a sweeping brush which was decorated with lots of colourful ribbons. One person sat on a little stool holding the brush and everyone else took hold of a ribbon and then we all danced round the maypole twisting the ribbons around the pole then changing direction and going the opposite way to undo the ribbons. Great fun.
Modern Hopscotch Set
More playground games and activities
Hula Hoops became really popular and we thought we were brilliant if we could keep our ‘Hula-hoop’ revolving around our middles.
There was also a Yo-yo craze and even now I can’t resist a Yo-yo.
Hopscotch was also very popular.
A newspaper shop was opposite school next door to the sweet shop and we could buy comics, balls, whip and tops, skipping ropes, hula hoops, yo-yo's, pretty rings, stamp albums, stamps and hinges and stick on tattoos.
We spent many happy hours playing board games with our friends. Snakes and ladders was a favourite as were Ludo and Tiddlywinks. Dominoes was good fun and we loved card games such as Happy Families and Snap. Scrabble was popular, also Monopoly. Pencil games such as Noughts and Crosses, Hangman and Beetle occupied many a wet day. We liked to play Draughts but never learned how to play chess.
When we played Snakes and Ladders we would go up the ladders and down the snakes and next time we played we went up the snakes and down the ladders. Nowadays the game is still popular but an adaptation is Chutes and Ladders - up the ladders and down the chutes.
Walking to school
If the weather was fine we always walked to school, a distance of one mile.
We had a little rhyme which meant that we had to step on a full flag and avoid the join.
"If you step on a nick,
you'll marry a stick,
and a blackjack
will come to your wedding."
This was easy to do on large paving slabs but some parts of the walk were on cobbles which were smaller than our feet. The only way to avoid the blackjack was to tiptoe over the cobbles.
We had much fun with this silly rhyme.
My husband didn't know the rhyme and was brought up within ten miles of me so perhaps it is just peculiar to my birthplace..
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