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.