For hundreds of years the local inn was the focal point of village life, and so it was at the local inn that the Marbles revival began. It all started at the Greyhound, Tinsley Green in the early 1930’s, after a break of almost fifty years.
Mr. F. Hannam, a chiropodist from the near by town of Horley was out with his wife in their pony and trap and they stopped for lunch at the Greyhound Hotel, which at this time was a small old style cottage pub. This cottage is still standing to day just at the edge of the present car park, between the New Greyhound and the main London - Brighton railway line. The brewery was a local one from Reigate, Melish and Neale the landlord was Mr. Alf Farrinton.
In the public bar Mr. Hannam and his wife were talking with the landlord and some of the older local inhabitants of Tinsley Green, when the conversation turned to sport. Marbles is the game at Tinsley, he was told, we have played them here right up to a few years ago - turn of the century or there about.
Mrs Hannam, who was terminally ill, so enjoyed the day’s outing and the impromptu game of marbles, that in memory of his wife Mr. Hannam gave Alf Farrinton a silver cup to be played for at the Greyhound each year there after. (I HAVE BEEN TOLD BY SOME OF THE OLDER PLAYERS THAT THERE WAS NO CUP AVAIBLE WHEN IT CAME TO THE PRESENTATION AND THAT A SMALL TOBY JUG FROM BEHIND THE BAR WAS PRESSED IN TO SERVICE. THIS STORY SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN BORNE OUT BY EDGAR STANLEY GRANDDAUGHER, WHO TOLD ME THE FOLLOWING TALE. IT WOULD SEEM THAT WHEN EDGER ARRIVED HOME, LATE IN THE EVEING AND A LITTE WORSE FOR WARE, HOLDING A SMALL TOBY JUG IN HIS HAND, TELLING HIS WIFE HOW HE HAD WON THE JUG PLAYING MARBLES – HE WAS NOT BELIVED. MRS STANLEY WAS NOT IMPRESSED AND THOUGHT HE HAD COME BY IT DISHONSTLY, ORDERED EDGAR FORM THE HOUSE IN DISCRACE. EDGAR SPENT THE NEXT THREE DAYS SLEEPING IN THE SHEAD. IT WAS TWO DAYS AFTER THE CHAMPIONSHIPS THAT THE LOCAL VICER SAW MRS STANLEY ANS ASKED IF SHE WAS PLEASED THAT HER HUSBAN HAD WON THE MARBLES AND THE LOVLEY CUP. AFTER THIS EDGAR WAS FORGIVERN AND ALLOWED BACK IN TO THE HOUSE.)
The first of the revival matches took place on Good Friday 1932, Good Friday was the last day of the Sussex Marbles Season, as well as being the day locally to plant potatoes.
At first the games were played on the bear earth, a four foot ring being scribed in the ‘dirt’ with a bit of wood on the end of a longish piece of string. There were five teams that took part the first year; they were the Black Horse, Hookwood, Tinsley Green ‘A’ and ‘B’, Three Bridges and the Crawley Legion. This first attempt at organising a Marbles Championship was a bit shambolic; there was a mix-up with difference marble games and their various rules. One contemporary writer in a local news paper the West Sussex County Times said “To the uninitiated ‘marbles’ is a children’s game, but to those who really ‘play the game’ ‘marbles’ is a serious game with a language all its own and it was this that was missing on Good Friday.”
It seems not to have been a game, but a massacre, smash went the marbles as the flying ‘tolley’ struck them, and by delft manipulation, the ‘tolley’ was placed near the opposing ‘tolleys’ which were skilfully ‘killed’ in rotation, Crawley British Legion died first, then the two Tinsley teams and then Three Bridges. The second string then entered the list, but again the Black Horse triumphed. Flushed with excitement the captain of the leading team called up his third man, who ‘knuckled down’ to such good purpose that he sent four marbles flying, ‘killing’ all his opponents and his team was acclaimed champions.
The Old Greyhound Circa 1935
There were no rules as such for the first championships, other than six marbles for each team, 30 marbles in the ring. In later years when each team consisted of six players it was decided that there should be four marbles for each member of the two teams plus one extra, making a total of 49 marbles in the centre of the ring. This meant that a draw could not take place, as there was an odd number of marbles to knock out.
By 1934 the marbles had become a match between Surrey and Sussex, with players from Crawley, Charlwood, Copthorne, Horley Tinsley Green, Three Bridges and Shipley Bridge taking part. They played on a four-foot ring just in front of the old Greyhound. The spectators not only had the marbles to watch, but the added delight of being filmed. In fact this was the second time the championship had been recorded, Pathe had captured the grand opening of the event back in 1932.
The championships had an early start so that they would be over in accordance with ancient custom at noon; at the appointed time Mr Jack Arnold of Three Bridges was overall champion and received the Perpetual Challenge Trophy as well as a pewter tankard.
As he presented the prizes Mr Alf Farrinton, the landlord issued a challenge on behalf of the Tinsley Green players, to meet any team of marbles players who would come to the Greyhound. Later in the year it was suggested that Crawley’s London Transport Depot should enter a team or two on the next Good Friday. It was then agreed that Tinsley Green and the Busmen would field two teams each.
On Good Friday 1935 there were still not many rules to play by, even though this year saw the first six-foot concrete ring. It was laid down on the day prior to the event, Maundy Thursday, and it was touch and go as to whether it would be playable the next day. I am happy to relate that it was.
I have seen photos and newsreel footage from about this time that shows a smaller one foot circle in the centre of the main ring in which the clay target marbles were placed.
The Sussex Daily News gives us an insight in to how it all went that year with the following report.
“Little boys stood around and criticised, while their fathers played marbles in the courtyard of a country inn near Three Bridges yesterday! True, though strange but this was no ordinary game, nor were the players novices. They were defending the honoured reputation of Tinsley Green.
For 364 days in every year marbles are taboo at ‘the Greyhound,’ Tinsley Green, but on each Good Friday the box of marbles is taken down from the shelf and dusted. The alleys and marbles are carefully polished and experts prepare the pitch for the time-honoured championship, which originated something like 300 years ago.
This year the Tinsley Green veterans had rivals from Crawley, and a team of coach drivers and conductors were early arrivals with their trainer and non-playing captain. Their appearance in the arena, was however, not expected, for rumours had recently been current that the busmen had been going home with sore knees and fingertips as the result of continual practice.
Tinsley Green welcomed the challenge - the first they had received for many years. It was agreed that each side should field two teams of six, the highest individual scores to compete in the final.
Round one saw Jim Jones, captain of the Tinsley Green stalwarts, collect a bag of 12, while the best Crawley performance was that of E. Burningham (“Brum" to all his friends) who bagged 8. Crawley almost broke the hearts of the Tinsley Green fathers by scoring 26 and one Tolley to the home side’s 21 and one Tolley!
Round two saw Tinsley Green reverse the position and win by 20 and 3 Tolleys to 18 and 3, Driver Harding was top scorer with a bag of 10, closely followed by B. Botting with 8.
In the final round Botting excelled and flicked his alley with such vigour that he chipped pieces off the marbles in the ring! Botting, incidentally, won the championship and saved Tinsley Green’s good name from becoming besmirched by a “foreigner’s” victory.
The new Champion, who received the prize tankard from the hands of Mrs. R. Uffham, declared that he had not played marbles for thirty years, but those who saw him win strongly suspected he had been practising in secret with the boys at home!
This years champion, however, proved no match for Mr. J. Arnold, last year’s holder of the title, who immediately challenged his successor to a friendly bout and won by 10 - 9.
Tinsley Green boys crowded round the ring and cheered lustily as their fathers retained the championship. Their turn will come soon. They are taught almost from babyhood the secrets of good marbles playing, but they must reach manhood before they can take their turn around the ring at the Greyhound, and challenge all comers.
The Crawley busmen have vowed to return next Good Friday to wrest the championship, but what Tinsley Green has done in the past they can do again.”
In fact the busmen took the game seriously enough for Alf Farrington to ask one of them, Ted Mobsby to run the marbles the next year. Ted organised the championships for the first time in 1936, it was also this year that another busman made his debut, Len ‘Spike’ Robinson. It was ‘Spike’ who for so many years kept up the lively commentary on the proceedings. This was also the year that the new bigger Greyhound Hotel opened, with the innovation of three large concrete marbles rings - each weighing over a ton - built into the grounds and forecourt.
As this was the first time the championships had been held in their new home, it was inevitable that something would go wrong. Two of the four teams that were playing, Tinsley Green and the team from the Southern Railways played among themselves and not each other. It was decided that the two players with the highest scores in each team should fight out the team championship, F. S. Harding and Jim ‘Killer’ Cook both members of the busmens team went on to win. In the individuals F.S. Harding beat ‘Big’ Bert Botting to make it a double for the busmen.
Just a few days after the championships were over one of the oldest players Sam Spooner, went along with Ted Mobsby and the reigning champion ‘Champ’ Harding up to London to appear on radios ‘In Town Tonight’ programme. At the run through all went well with Ted keeping his finger on the words for old Sam to follow, on air Sam began to read a few words, then lost his place, Ted put his finger on the word where Sam had stopped to help him along. Sam took a breath and said, “Move your bloody finger Ted I’ve read that bit before.” Afterwards the producer commented that it was one of the most natural interviews he had ever heard.
Ted Mobsby, Sam Spooner and Alf Farrington were the first people from Crawley to appear on the fledgling television service, only just a few short months after this new phenomenon had commenced broadcasting from London. They all went up to Alexandra Place and were seen on one of the first ‘chat shows’ called Picture Page. Alf Farrington gave a short history of the very ancient game of marbles, which was followed by the rules of the game as played at Tinsley Green given by Ted, it was at this point that Sam gave the first ever demonstration and showed the skills of marbles playing on television.
Such was the success of the championships, which was in part due to the coverage of the press, radio and television, that after the 1936 championships were over some of the best known players held a meeting and formed the British Marbles Control Board. Ted Mobsby was secretary and the late W.J. Denman JP. was its first President.
When I first meet Mr. Mobsby in 1976 I asked him how the ‘Marbles’ began at Tinsley Green, Ted told me with a twinkle in his eye the following tale, It all goes back to the time of Good Queen Bess, at that time Tinsley was right on the Surrey/Sussex boarder. Two young bloods competed for the hand of a village maid, one of the young men came from the Surrey side the other from the Sussex side. They played all the sports of the day Archery, Falconry, Wrestling and many other like games. At the end of each game the two players were judged to be equal, at this point the young man from Sussex came up with the game of Marbles. As marbles are played with an odd number there could not be a draw, only a winner. He did not know the out come of the match but said that and marbles have been played around here ever since.
It seems that around this time (1936) most of the players had nick names, this led to the Yorkshire authoress Phyllis Crawford to remark about the championships The entrants bearing titles which would put any blood-curdling gangster to shame. You can easily see what she meant when you look at the names of just some of the players; Jim ‘Killer’ Cook, ‘Brong’ Bransden, ‘Dunnit’ Thorpe, ‘Smug’ Penfold, ‘Sparks’ Mobsby and last but not least Brum ‘The Crawley Terror’.
The following year, 1937 saw six teams taking part in the championships, Copthorne, Three Bridges, Tinsley Green, Rustington Rambles and two teams of busmen from Crawley and Reigate. It was also the first year that a celebrity was on hand to present the prizes, Stanelli who was a radio and stage performer - part of who’s act was playing tunes of the day on a set of motor car horns.
The crowd was the biggest on record, but as a local newspaper put it There was, however no improvement in the arrangements, so that comparatively speaking, only a handful of people saw the games. In the first round Copthorne beat Three Bridges, Rustington Rambles (a Crawley team) beat Crawley busmen and Tinsley Green beat the Reigate busmen.
Tinsley Green the winning team 1937
The semi final saw Tinsley Green beat Copthorne, with the Rustington Rambles receiving a bye into the next round. The grand final was fought out on the centre court with Tinsley Green romping home with a score line of 28 marbles to 10. The Tinsley Green team at this time was C. Arnell, F. Wattes, G.Burberry, C. Charman, W. Knight and M. Jones.
The team from Tinsley Green gained all the honours, with their captain George ‘Glass Alley’ Burberry beating the holder F. S. ‘Champ’ Harding 9 marbles to 4. The MC for the day was Len ‘Spike’ Robinson, and Miss Farrington the landlord’s daughter was on hand to help Stanelli present the prizes.
After the official championships were over Stanelli challenged old Sam Spooner to a game of marbles, although he had not played since he was a child he put up a good fight, but still lost to the more experience ex-champion, old Sam. Stanelli said he would practice hard for a return match next year.
There were 48 players plus nearly 1000 spectators for the 1938 championships, as well as Stanelli, who was back again to present the prizes, including a pewter tankard he had donated for the individual winner. Even 200 years ago you did not see marbles played better than you are seeing this morning declared ‘Spike’ Robinson.
Stanelli flips a tolley ‘Spike, Robinson is seen
holding a megaphone
It was this year also that a centuries old custom was broken for the first time, the old custom dictates that marbles should not be played after 12 noon on Good Friday. The championships began as usual at 10.30 am, but with so many teams taking part, many of them for the first time it went on well into the afternoon. It was also the first time that old Sam Spooner spoke out about the game, marbles he said is not the game it was when I was champion, and I was champ for seven years mind you. In my day players had to flip their marbles and keep the knuckles of their hands on the ground. Nor did they push their hands forwards when they flipped. It’s a great game, is marbles.
In the final the Copthorne team of H. Weeks, F. Rowe, H. Holden, T. Malthouse, A. Rowe and T. Weeks beat the Crawley busmen ‘Champ’ Harding, ‘Killer’ Cook, ‘Fudge’ Killick, ‘Smug’ Barrat, Ted Mobsby and Brum the Crawley Terror. T. Weeks one of the Copthorne players went on to beat G. Burberry to take the individual title.
1939 saw headlines in the Sussex Daily News, which announced:
“ANCIENT GAME AT TINSLEY GREEN
It went on with a full report of the perceives days play The 351st English Marbles Championships took place yesterday at the Greyhound Inn, Tinsley Green, where the game has been played for centuries. They were most successful.
A threatening morning gave way to sunshine, and a very large crowed was attracted. There were three specially made courts, with a centre court for the semi-finals and championships. Mr. Ted Mobsby was again the organiser of the event, and he secured the help of members of the London Transport Sports Club. Mr. Spike Robinson was in his best form as commentator, and his quips and jokes while giving a good account of the play were hugely enjoyed. Mr. W. J. Denman JP was judge at the centre court, with Mr. V. Packham as recorder, and Mr. S. Brett and Mr. W. Matthews as steward.
The competitors had a bigger inducement than ever, as Messrs Meux had given a magnificent Silver Challenge Cup for the team championship. Miss Dawn White, the radio and film artist gave a barrel of beer for the runners-up, a sucking pig for the individual champion, and a handsome shield for the boys’ (under 12) championships.
The team championship resulted as follows - First Round: London Transport beat The Plough (Three Bridges); Crawley old Comrades beat Black corner; Rusting ton Ramblers beat Tinsley Green; Copthorne Sharpshooters (last years winners) beat The Builders Inn. Semi-final: - Crawley Old Comrades beat Rusting ton Ramblers; London Transport beat Copthorne Sharpshooters. Final: - Crawley Old Comrades (26) beat London Transport (23).
The member of each team with most marbles to his credit then played off to see which should meet T. Weeks, the reigning champion for individual honours. F. W. Rowe (Copthorne) qualified, and he had to meet a fellow Clubman in T. Weeks. Rowe won by eight marbles to five.
In the Boys’ Championship, the finalists were local lads, Eric Tows and Jim Hensley. Hensley proved the victor by six marbles to three. Miss Dawn White presented the prizes and was heartily cheered.”
The two teams in the final were Crawley Old Comrades: C. Burberry, J. Cook, R. Cook, R. P. Turner, G. Gibbs and A. Holden and the London Transport team was J. Kellick, F. S. Harding E. J. Birmingham, A. Brandon, E. Mobsby and A. Wood. The Score for the individuals was: B. Sired 6, F. H. Rowe 8, E. Busby 3, S. Ellis 1, B. Carmen 4, G. Gibbs 4, F. Chatfield 1, and C. Charmin 6.
This was the third year running that Stanelli was at Tinsley Green, but he missed the opening of the contest. He did arrive in enough time to present the new silver Cup ‘The Meux Cup’ which was given when the old perpetual challenge trophy went missing. In 1939 Dawn White presented a shield for the winners of the juniors championship, which was played for up until the mid 1970s when it went missing – if any one knows of its whereabouts I would love to find it again.
In ‘Time Magazine’ for 17th April was the following item, I am not sure about the number of spectators but after all it’s an American publication and perhaps we were out to impress.
“The marbles for which England is most famed are the Elgin marbles, a collection of Greek sculptures which Lord Elgin plucked from the Parthenon at Athens in the early 19th Century, now one of the most noteworthy possessions of the British Museum. To the natives of the little village of Tinsley Green, however, the Elgin marbles are nothing at all. The marbles they talk about are the lively glassies and marididdles that determine the annual marbles championship of England, oldest sporting event in the Kingdom. Through 18 reigns, since a day in 1588 when two village Hodges played for the favours of a red-cheeked Joan, a marbles match has been held in the courtyard of the Greyhound Inn on Good Friday.
Last week, as solemn as cricketers, eight teams of seasoned marblers (six men to a team) massed around a concrete bed at Tinsley Green to knuckle it out for the 352nd marbles championship. This match was the most momentous ever: the recently organized Marbles Control Board hopes to send this year's championship six across the water to challenge a U. S. team. Gravely each man in turn studied the positions of the marbles in the circle, gravely knuckled down, tried to knock his opponents' marbles off the bed with an accurate flick of his "tolly" (shooter).
To the 4,000 spectators, as spellbound as a gallery at Lord's, greatest disappointment were the Crawley Busmen from the nearby London Transport Garage, pretournament favorites because of their strong fingers (from punching tickets, they say). Overcome by nervousness, they were finally nosed out by the Old Comrades, another Sussex six, 26-to-23. To the Old Comrades went a suckling pig, to the strong-fingered Crawley Busmen a barrel of beer.”
Ted Mobsby told me that in 1939 the Japanese cashed in on the game by flooding the country with boxes of clay marbles labelled ‘Tinsley Green’ and it was only when you looked on the bottom of them, could you see in small type ‘ Made in Japan’.