Maddy, the heroine of the book on the left was responsible for the upbringing of her five much younger half-sisters and brothers, and in the writing of the book I had to think up things for the children to be doing at various times.
Which brings me to today's topic —children's games and pastimes.
There's not a lot written in the 19th century about children's play — formal games, yes, but not the kind of unorganized play kids mostly do, especially poor children without balls or hoops, tops or special toys. So I started making lists of possibilities, using my own experience and games passed down through the generations. Of course there would be games like hopscotch and skipping and leapfrog and hide and seek and chasey (tag) and blind man's buff — they've been played by children through the ages.
There would be war games, of course, and since the children in the story were born when England was at war with France they'd play at soldiers, reenacting famous battles and take their heroes from contemporary times. One wet day I had the boys making boats out of walnut shells in order to reenact the Battle of the Nile.
Children invent games using whatever is to hand. I remember one year we made huge and elaborate forts under the pine trees from piled up pine needles. Remember telling time with dandelion seed heads? And asking "Do you like butter?' with buttercups. English children battle with conkers, played with horse chestnuts on strings, but it was the wrong time of the year for conkers in my story. We used to make mudslides and one Scottish winter I learned the delights of ice slides. I used that one — an ice-slide prompted the accident that started the story.
I loved playing with marbles as a child, and did include a reference in the book — in a scene I later deleted. That's the thing with research — you do a mound and only the barest tip of the iceberg shows.
Of course, ring a ring of roses has been played for centuries, but it was a bit young for these children. I suppose you've all heard the story that it's an allegory for the Great Plague. Turns out (well, according to Wikipedia) this isn't true. It was a theory that only came up in the 1950's and apparently it's been discredited. The symptoms don't particularly fit those of the plague, and similar games appear in countries and cultures all around the world.
I wanted to find some singing and clapping games for the girls. Remember those? They vary from place to place and time to time, but they've been around forever. My dad taught me this one that his grandmother taught him. You clap each others hands in time with the words.
My mother said
I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood
If I did
She would say
Naughty girl to disobey
(and now the clapping would get faster and faster)
Down the alley
Picking up cinders
All the livelong day!
The more games I listed the more I remembered. Did you ever play Drop the Hankie?
I wrote a letter to my love, and on the way I lost it Someone must have picked it up and put it in their pocket. Thief, thief drop it! Thief, thief drop it… (and then the mad chase)
There was something called In and Out the Windows." where children linked hands and could "open" or "close the windows, and there was a some kind of pursuit between someone inside and someone outside. As we played this games, we sang, "Go in and out the windows; Go in and out the windows; Go in and out the windows, As we have done before." It looks like they're playing it here.
I thought of having them play the game "Sardines" — it's a variant of hide and seek, except that only one person hides. When each person finds them they hide with them, until they all end up squashed in, say a closet, (which made it very popular as a rather risque game for adults in Victorian times.) But the cottage these children lived in was too small, with few hiding places.
Speaking of Victorian parlor games, my godmother was a treasure trove of the more harmless ones. She used to play this game after dinner, where a person had to say to their neighbor, straight-faced, "I love you but I just can't smile." And that person would turn and say it to the next person. If they smiled they were out, so of course "the beloved" would do all they could to make them smile. It used to have me in fits of giggles as a kid.
My list goes on; Simon Says, I Spy, What's the time Mr Wolf, Fruit Salad, Charades, Rats and Rabbits, Queenie Queenie who's got the ball? Knucklebones.
I searched to find a skipping rhyme, but couldn't find one from the era. This is one I grew up with:
Dressed in yella
Went to meet her handsome fella.
On the way her undies busted
How many people were disgusted?
1! 2! 3! 4! (etc.)
Suitable for a Regency-era story? No, I didn't think so, either.
So most of the games and activities I thought up and researched never found it into the story, but I don't mind. It was a lot of fun discovering games new-to-me, and remembering old ones. And maybe I've prompted your memory. What games did you love to play when you were young? Do you remember any clapping or skipping rhymes? Let's share some memories.