Category Archives: Games

Children Christmas Entertainment Games

To Vanish A Glasse of Beere

To celebrate Christmas, here are some entertaining party tricks from a children’s magic book published in 1634. Try these at home during the festive season, to the admiration of all.


[The credentials needed for a junior magician] First, he must be one of an impudent and audatious spirit, so that hee may set a good face upon the matter. Secondly, he must have a nimble and cleanly conveyance [that is, a good sleight of hand]. Thirdly, hee must have strange termes, and emphaticall words, to grace and adorne his actions, and the more to astonish the beholders. Fourthly, and lastly, such gestures of body as may leade away the spectators eyes from a strict and diligent beholding his manner of conveyance.

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Conversation Entertainment Games London Sport

Let us make a match at tennis

Browsing through John Florio’s English-Italian dictionary and phrasebook, I discovered this charming conversation between the fictional Thomas, John, and Henry. Florio gives these characters typical English exchanges, which he then translates into Italian to enable people to learn the language. Their conversation reveals fascinating everyday detail about late 16th and early 17th century life.

Thomas: Let us goe and plaie at tennis
Henry: One of us must staie out then
John: I will stay out, plaie you two
Thomas: We will cast lotts
John: No, let me be rather a looker on than a plaier
Henry: Go to, since you will have it so, let us two plaie
Thomas: What odds will you give me?
Henry: I will not plaie unless I plaie even hand
John: You may plaie even hand well enough
Thomas: I am content for a set or two
Henry: To what tennis court shall we goe?
Thomas: To charter house court
Henry: Trulie it is the fairest court about London
Thomas: But what shall master John doo in the mean while?
John: I will goe with you to see you plaie
Henry: You shall looke on and be our judge

At the court:

Thomas: What ho boy, bring hither some balles and some rackets
Boy: How manie are you my masters?
Henry: We are but two that will plaie
Boy: Will you plaie in set?
Thomas: Yea marrie, therefore give us good balles
Boy: Here are two dozen of faire and white balles
Thomas: Let us keepe the lawes of the court
John: That is, stake money under the line is it not so?
Thomas, Yea sir, you hit it right
Henry: Here is my monie, now stake you
Thomas: Whose lot is it to plaie?
Henry: Mine, for you are at the house
Thomas: Plaie then, and give me a faire balle

Thomas: A losse: I have fifteene
Henry: Fifteen for fifteene
Thomas: I am thirtie
Henry: Is that balle under or over?
John: Methinks it is under more than a handfull.
Henry: You have fortie then, goe to, plaie
Thomas: And I a dewes then.
Henry: I have the advantage
John: That was a verie faire stroake
Thomas: Everie man is against me.
Henry: I have wonne the first game.
Thomas: This is my woonted ill luck
Henry: I sweate, and am all in a water
Thomas: Let us give over plaie if you will
John: Who must paie for the balles?
Thomas I must, how manie dozens have we had?
Boy: Three dozen and a halfe
Thomas: Here is monie

Henry: Whether shall we goe now?
Thomas: Ile goe home to mine owne chamber
John: What to doo there?
Thomas: To rest a while, for I am wearie.
John: Then let us goe to my lodging.
Henry: It will be best since it is not farre hence.
Thomas: Let us goe apace then, for it is late.

I’ll post more entertaining and illuminating chit-chat from Thomas, Henry, and John soon.

More from Florio – Master Andrew, will it please you to eate an egg? and Will you wear any weapons to daye?

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Games Sport

Popular sports

Tennis match

Tennis was imported into England from France, where it was known as tenez – from the call which then commenced the game. Henry VIII was a great tennis enthusiast and the game was very popular among the elite. John Stowe, in his survey, records to the right of Whitehall ‘be diuers fayre Tennis courtes, bowling allies, and a Cocke pit, all built by king Henry the eight, and then one other arched gate with a way over it thwarting the street from the kings gardens to the said parke.’ He also reports ‘The ball is used by noble men and gentlemen in tennis courts, and by people of meaner sort in the open fields and streets.’ These balls were stuffed with human hair and quickly lost their shape, in fact they usually only lasted one game, which meant a lucrative money-spinner for anyone wishing to sell their hair. Rackets were made of wood and strung with sheep gut. Indoor tennis consisted of hitting the ball off walls across a net, similar to today’s squash game. One contemporary description explains: ‘in a Tennis-Court they play with a Ball which one throweth and another taketh and sendeth it back with a racket.’

Tennis was not the only popular ball sport. Football was also a favourite, although not with the aristocracy.  Indeed, in 1553 it was condemned as ‘nothing but fury, and external violence, whence proceedeth hurt, and consequently rancour and malice do remain with them that be wounded.’  It is true that in the 17th century football was a violent contact sport with few rules. The number of players per team was unlimited, and whole villages and hamlets challenged each other to matches. The ball, usually made of wood, either yew, crabtree, or holly, was just big enough to be held in the hands, and was boiled in tallow to make it slippery.  The players stripped to the waist, and played barefoot. Some played on horseback, in a forerunner to modern polo, using long wooden sticks. The size of the pitch was unlimited and could stretch for several miles. Certain villages played each other at set times of the year; usually on feast days like Shrove Tuesday or Easter Monday. These matches had something of a carnival atmosphere, attracting ‘diverse victualers with meate, drinke and wyne of all sortes’, as well as merchants and peddlers hoping to sell their wares.

Child on stilts

In addition to tennis and football, Stowe records a variety of other sports popular at this time:  ‘In the holidays all the summer youths are exercised in leaping, dancing, shooting, wrestling, casting the stone, and practising their sheilds.’ And contemporary accounts of common activities for children include:

running upon the ice in Scrick-Shooes where they are carried also upon sleds, or in the open field making a line which he that desireth to win ought to touch but not to run beyond it. Runners run betwixt rails to the Goal and he that touch it first receiveth the prize. Tilting (or the quintain) is used, where a hoop is struck with a trunchion. Boys like to play with Bowling-stones, going upon Stilts, at Nine-pins, scourging a Top with a Whip, shooting with a Bow and swinging themselves upon a Merry-totter.

Child having fun on a swing

Multiple primary and secondary sources, including Stowe, Picard, Dodd, Ackroyd, Tames.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Custom Entertainment Games London Underworld Vice

We play with dice

Evidence of gambling in London goes all the way back to the Romans, with dice carved from bone and jet having been excavated by archaeologists. Medieval London also had its fair share of gaming activity; Hazard was played in taverns and brothels, along with another dice game known as Tables. Playing cards were introduced into London in the 15th century; John Stowe remarks on their popularity during feast days. Playing cards were also kept in most taverns, often with the name of the tavern printed on them. In fact playing cards became such big business that over four and a half million packs were sold in the mid-17th century. Here is a contemporary description of some popular tavern games:

We play with Dice either they that throw the most take up all; or we throw them through a casting-Box upon a board marked with figures, and this is the Dice-players game at casting Lots.  Men play by luck and skill at Tables and at Cards.  We play at Chesse on a Chesse-board where only art beareth the sway.  The most ingenious Game is the game at Chefs, wherein as it were two Armies fight together in Battell’ (Early Modern Risk!).

Lincoln’s Inn was had a particular reputation for gambling in London; and even children played each other for oranges and coins. One game known as Wheel of Fortune was especially popular. However, gambling was frowned on by many and seen as a vice fit for the devil. This comment is fairly typical:

O how happy were it for your posterity, if all Dicing-houses, and allies of gaming were suppressed in, and about this Citty… The delights of these Tabling-houses are so pleasant and tempting, that a man when he hath lost all his money, will be most willing, even in the place of his undoing, to stand money-lesse, and be and Idle looker on of other mens unthriftinesse.

By the early 18th Century there were over forty gaming houses in London; gambling had evolved from a tavern sport to a recognised industry. These early casinos had a fancy lamp outside the entrance which made them immediately recognisable to passers-by. Gaming was eventually outlawed in London, but this merely drove it underground, and despite regular raids by the authorities, the gaming houses prospered. At Almanacks, a famous casino in Pall Mall, the players turned their coats inside out for luck and wore leather wristbands to protect their lacy cuffs.Outside the door of White’s gaming house, when one player dropped dead, members of the club ‘immediately made bets whether he was dead or only in a fit.’

Sources: Peter Ackroyd, London The Biography; John Stowe, Survey of London (1598)

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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