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What Toys and Games did Victorian Children Play?

Updated on January 25, 2014
Clothes Peg Dolls
Clothes Peg Dolls | Source
Toy Soldier
Toy Soldier | Source

Popular Victorian Toys

At the beginning of the 19th century, toys were not all hi-tech like they are today. Most toys were made out of metal, wood, tin plate or even paper. Poor girls would carry around dolls made out of clothes pegs while poor boys could be found kicking about sawdust filled rags, which was a cheap substitute for a football.

Rich children had much better toys, although still nothing compared to today's popular gadgets. Some may even say toys were better back then, simple yet fun and a lot of them were beautifully hand crafted. Rich boys would play with clockwork train sets and wooden toy soldiers. While the girls would play with china dolls, tea sets and beautiful wooden dolls houses.

Poor children would be more imaginative in their play, they would often play with toys that had been made from home, such as paper windmills, a piece of rope for skipping, a boat made out of a piece of wood. Occasionally poor children would receive marbles, kites and spinning tops in their stockings at Christmas. If they were really lucky, they would receive a tinplate toy, that their parents would have purchased off the market for a penny.

Rich children had a lot more options, popular toys included clockwork trains, wooden bricks, toy boats, jack in the box, rocking horses, play sets such as pretend shops, village in a bag and pretend doctors sets.



Moving Picture Toys

Toys with moving pictures became popular in the Victorian era. One of the first moving picture toys was the Thaumatrope. The Thaumatrope was made up of a card or disc with a picture either side of it, the disc was attached to two pieces of string on a stick, you move the stick really quickly between your hands and the two pictures become one, giving the illusion that the picture is actually moving. Baring in mind television had not been invented back then, children found the whole concept of these toys fascinating.

Another moving picture toy was the flick book also known as the flip book. This was a small book filled with pages of the same image that gradually change from page to page. When you quickly flick through the pages the pictures looks like they are moving.

The most popular moving picture toy was probably the Zoetrope. The Zoetrope was a lot more advanced than the other toys, it was a big cylinder with vertical slits made on it. Inside was a strip that had a sequence of pictures on. When you spin the cylinder the slits stop the pictures blurring together giving the illusion of moving pictures. I remember making a Zoetrope at school, and found them fascinating even then, so I imagine they would have been a huge novelty to the children of the 19th century.

Did you make a moving picture toy at school?

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The Diabolo
The Diabolo
Old Fashioned Skipping Rope
Old Fashioned Skipping Rope | Source

Popular Victorian Games

Victorian children loved to play outside, boys particularly enjoyed football, while families would play shuttlecock, known today as badminton.

Children also played with conkers and marbles, wooden pop guns, skittles, spinning tops and yoyos. Diabolo's was another fun toy, you threw the wooden spool up in the air using the string, and then tried to catch it again.

Games they played at home included pick up sticks, dominoes, jacks, ludo, snakes and ladders, tiddlywinks, draughts and bagatelle. Popular card games for children included snap and happy families. They would also play paper games such as noughts and crosses.

Outside on the street, poor children would make their own entertainment, often whizzing down the road in an old pram acting as a sort of go-kart. While richer children would be playing on their skates or stilts. Other games played on the streets included 'oranges and lemons' and 'ring o roses' and 'kiss in the ring' where all the children would join in to play.

Oliver Twist Toy Theatre
Oliver Twist Toy Theatre | Source

History Of Victorian Toy Theatres

I could not write about popular Victorian toys without including one of the greatest in our history which of course is the Toy Theatre.

This for me was probably one of the most interesting toys of all, and with so much history behind them, it is hard not to be intrigued by these simple yet inspiring toys.

Toy theatres were often based on popular plays, the stage and scenery were mini replicas printed on paperboard along with the characters and costumes. They would be sold for a penny for plain ones and two pennies for coloured. The theatres would be put together at home so the children could re-enact the play for their families.

Famous author Charles Dickens received his first toy theatre when he was just six years old, he would use the theatre to preform plays for family members. The toy theatre inspired Charles Dickens to be more imaginative and creative with his plays and characters. It was while using his toy theatre that he first performed plays such as Elizabeth and The Miller and his Men.

Ironically years later, it was Charles Dickens own novel 'Oliver Twist' that was one of the most popular selling toy theatres in history.

Crime was seen as entertainment in Victorian times, with many toy theatres based on murders. One popular toy theatre was 'The Maid and the Magpye' which was based on the case of Elizabeth 'Eliza' Fenning, who was executed at age 20 for attempted murder.

In the Victorian era, Benjamin Pollock kept the toy theatre business going, after the death of his father in law John Redington. In 1937 Benjamin Pollock died and although his daughters inherited the business, they had no real knowledge of printing and so the business started to fail.

In 1954, Marguerite Fawdry a 42 year old mother of one had recently given up her job for the BBC. Marguerite who along with her husband Kenneth had a keen interest in popular arts and entertainment. While making a toy theatre for her son John, Marguerite was looking for some wire slides used to push the tiny figures around on stage. She was a bit put out when she discovered that Benjamin Pollock's LTD was no longer in business.

Marguerite managed to track down an accountant, and asked if there was still anyway she could purchase some. The accountant replied that he believed there was still thousands stored in the old warehouse, however there was no one who could look them out for her, but of course she could always buy the lot if she so wished.

Marguerite went ahead and bought all the stock, but was quite surprised when she received enough stock to open up a shop, including hundreds of Victorian theatres and scene sheets. Marguerite opened up the 'Pollock's Toy Museum' which quickly became popular and is still in business today.

Today, schools still include toy theatres as part of projects such as Shakespeare and the history of Victorians. You can also purchase them from many online stores to make at home with your own children. Toy theatres continue to be fun and imaginative for all children and adults alike.

How To Make A Victorian Toy Theatre (@NLGsteampunk)

5 Victorian Facts You May Not Know

1. Did you know that back in Victorian times, Croquet was seen as a women's sport. Apparently the game didn't require any strength so was suitable for "The weaker sex."

I think the women of today would have something to say about that!

2. Marbles was a popular game for both boys and girls, although poor children had to make do with marbles made out of clay or glass while rich children played with real marbles.

3. Toys were banned on Sundays unless they were religious toys, such as a wooden Noah's Arc which included two of every animal.

4. Poor children could be found playing football with a blown up pig's bladder, from the Butchers.

5. Many Victorian toys were painted with lead paint, which can cause lead poisoning if the child was to put the toy in their mouth.

This would never be allowed to happen today, but in Victorian times, health and safety was practically non existent.

© 2013 Victoria


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    • profile image

      Karen A Belchere 

      4 years ago

      We have a victorian treen rocking pig and would like to know date and any information about it 700m width by 420 height. I can send a pdf pic on Monday if you wish to investigate further?


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am doing Victorian at home of my work and it helped me a lot and I don't go to school

    • profile image

      y6 pupil 

      6 years ago

      im doing victorians at school and this really helped me do my homework!

    • victoria1800 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Whitechapel UK

      Thank you Blond Logic,

      I expect a lot of Children today would not have the patience for setting up the toy theatres. Although it is interesting that they are still sold today. I think the Theatre's are a great toy as unlike computer games, they require the child to use their own imagination :-)

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      7 years ago from Brazil

      I was aware of some of the Victorian toys such as the skipping rope and the Diabolo (although I didn't know the name of it).

      The theater ones I didn't know about . Imagine having the patience to put that together. I can't imagine kids of today being able to do that, they can get impatient waiting for a computer game to load!

      An interesting topic. I'll be sharing.


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