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Parlour Games

parlour games

Parlour Games – The Fun and the Flirtatious

Parlour games were a common way of passing an evening with friends and relatives. They might be mentally stimulating, physically assertive or even somewhat messy (like snapdragon or bullet pudding!) The Austen family is known to have enjoyed many types of mental games, which required memorization, or rhymes on the fly.

Book such as Winter evening pastimes; or, The merry-maker’s companion, by Rachel Revel (1825) offered stimulating and sometimes even daring diversions from the staid entertainments of reading, writing, music and card playing,  featured at the Netherfield Park house party.

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An engraving by Bosio, attributed to Le Bon Genre, 1816

This illustration would seem to depict “The Bridge of Sighs” or possibly “The Beast of Burden”, as described in Winter evening pastimes; or, The merry-maker’s companion. Continue reading Parlour Games

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Battledore and Shuttlecock

Battledore and shuttlecock or jeu de volant is an early game similar to that of modern badminton.

This game is played by two people, with small rackets, called battledores, made of parchment or rows of gut stretched across wooden frames, and shuttlecocks, made of a base of some light material, like cork, with trimmed feathers fixed round the top.

Georgian girl with Battledore and Shuttlecock by  Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)
Georgian girl with Battledore and Shuttlecock by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)

The object of the players is to bat the shuttlecock from one to the other as many times as possible without allowing it to fall to the ground.

From Mrs. Hurst Dancing, by Diana Sperling
From Mrs. Hurst Dancing, by Diana Sperling

Jane Austen, herself, played the game with her nephews. In 1808, she wrote to Cassandra

Yesterday was a very quiet day with us; my noisiest efforts were writing to Frank, and playing at battledore and shuttlecock with William; he and I have practised together two mornings, and improve a little; we have frequently kept it up three times, and once or twice six.

Games with a shuttlecock are believed to have originated in ancient Greece about 2,000 years ago. From there they spread via the Indo-Greek kingdoms to India and then further east to China and Siam. Continue reading Battledore and Shuttlecock

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The Game of Graces

When I had reached my eighteenth Year, I was recalled by my Parents to my paternal roof in Wales. Our mansion was situated in one of the most romantic parts of the Vale of Uske. Tho’ my Charms are now considerably softened and somewhat impaired by the Misfortunes I have undergone, I was once beautiful. But lovely as I was, the Graces of my Person were the least of my Perfections. Of every accomplishment accustomary to my sex, I was Mistress. When in the Convent, my progress had always exceeded my instructions, my Acquirements had been wonderfull for my age, and I had shortly surpassed my Masters.
Love and Freindship
Jane Austen

The Game of Graces was a popular activity for young girls during the early 1800s. The game was invented in France during the first quarter of the 19th century and called there le jeu des Graces. The Game of Graces was considered a proper game benefiting young ladies and, supposedly, tailored to make them more graceful. Graces was hardly ever played by boys, and never played by two boys at the same time, either two girls, or a boy and a girl.

In 1838, Lydia Marie Child (American abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author of such works as Hobomok and A Boy’s Thanksgiving, which begins, “Over the River and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…”) published The Girl’s Own Book, a volume full of entertainments for girls of all ages.  In it, she describes the game of Graces, thus:

This is a new game, common in Germany, but introduced to this country from France. It derives its name from the graceful attitudes which it occasions. Two sticks are held in the hands, across each other, like open scissors: the object is to throw and catch a small hoop upon these sticks. The hoop to be bound with silk, or ribbon, according to fancy.

The game is played by two persons. The sticks are held straight, about four inches apart, when trying to catch the hoop; and when the hoop is thrown, they are crossed like a pair of scissors. In this country it is called The Graces or The Flying Circle.
Continue reading The Game of Graces

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Hot Cockles and other Christmas Pastimes

Hot Cockles and other children's games

In this article we look at Joseph Strutt and his book of somewhat dangerous games such as Hot Cockles and Hunt the Fox.

Joseph Strutt (1749–1802) was an English engraver, artist, antiquary and writer, born in Chelmsford, Essex. In 1770 he became a student of the Royal Academy, and in the following year secured both a gold medal for oil painting and a silver medal “for the best Academy figure.” He wrote the Regal and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of England, followed by other works on the manners and customs of the English people, including the well known tome The sports and pastimes of the people of England from the earliest period.

In an article for The Telegraph, Nick Britten writes of a copy of the book which was recently found in a house in Staffordshire.

The “book, dating back to 1801, shows that a game popular with families at Christmas 200 years ago involved placing your head in someone’s lap while guessing who was hitting you from behind. The game, called Hot Cockles, was a variation of the classic Blind Man’s Buff, also a well-loved pastime with our Victorian ancestors… a far cry from the tradition of families gathering to play a board games such as Monopoly together on Christmas Day.

Strutt’s “traditional” games, many of which have long since fallen victim to the march of technology, included names such as Baste the Bear, Duck and Drake and Puss in the Corner.

The latter involved four children, each standing in the corner of a room with another standing in the middle; the object was for the ones in the corners to try and swap positions before the one in the middle took their place.

More energetic games included Hippas, a Greek game involving “one person riding upon the shoulders of another, as upon a horse”. “A curious pastime,” noted Strutt.

Hunt the Fox, where one boy was allowed to run a certain distance before having to return without anyone catching him, was also well known.


One candidate for the attention of the modern-day health-and-safety brigade was a game whose name defied even Strutt’s dedicated research.

He wrote: “A young man is seated upon a pole which may readily turn either way. Immediately beneath him is a vessel nearly filled with water.

“He holds a taper in each hand, and one of these is lighted. His business, I presume, is to bring both together and light the other.”

The player had to be careful not to lose his balance during his task, said Strutt, “for, that done, he must inevitably fall into the water”.

The auctioneer Charles Hanson, who is handling the sale of the book, said it offered a remarkable insight into a long-lost age of childhood.

Written more than three decades before the working and middle classes were granted the vote, it was largely divided along social lines.

It began with “rural exercises practised by persons of rank”, before tackling the more common “rural exercises generally practised”.

Next came “pastimes usually exercised in towns and cities or places adjoining to them” and, finally, “domestic amusements of various kinds”.

Strutt, who decorated his work with dozens of his own engravings, also appeared to foresee the rise in violence in children’s games.

He warned the “vicious” pastime popular with youngsters – pulling the wings off flies – might lead to children turning into violent adults.

Strutt died just a year after /Sports and Pastimes’ – hailed at the time for “attracting the notice and admiration of almost every class” – was published.”

To Play Hot Cockles:
The rules are as follows – One player sits down, another player is blindfolded, kneels, and places his/her head in the sitter’s lap. The kneeler places an open hand on his/her back, with palm uppermost, which other players take it in turns to strike, and the kneeler must guess who has struck the blow.