1940 was the first full year of the war and saw many of the old players in the services. Only two teams played on Good Friday 1940, and that was not even at Tinsley Green but at the rear of the White Hart in the centre of Crawley. It seems that the brewery decided to move the event to Easter Monday (due to the war), but at a full meeting of the British Marbles Board of Control, it was voted by 5 to 2 that a game MUST be played on Good Friday as well. So on the appointed day two teams of four players went along to the large yard at the rear of the White Hart to keep tradition alive. As the Local Horsham Times said (The White Hart) one of the best known sporting houses in this part of Sussex. The two teams were The Army C. Cook, G. Gardner, J. Cook and J. Burrage and London transport F. S. Harding, J. Thorpe, R. Cook and E. Mobsby. London Transport beat the Army 19 marbles to 14.
The Easter Monday Championships held at Tinsley Green were the biggest yet, with ten teams entering for the Meux Cup, they were The R.A.F., Copthorne Sharpshooters, Crawley Old Comrades, The Builders Inn, The Effingham Arms, Rustington Ramblers. Crawley British Legion, The Plough, Tinsley Green and Black Corner. The R.A.F. had to withdraw at the last moment owing to their duties.
In the final the Copthorne Sharpshooters beat the Crawley Old Comrades 25 marbles to 24, a very close run thing. The teams were the Sharpshooters A. Rowe, F. Rowe (champion), T. Weeks, H. Weeks, H. Brackpool and R. Vigar, the Old Comrades were F. Burberry, A. Burberry, A. Holden, R. P. Turner, R. Cook and J. Cook. The individual championship for the Stanelli Cup was between the currant holder F. Rowe and B. Sired - F. Rowe went on to win and so hold the title for another year. H. Sired won the Dawn White Shield for players under 14 years of age. Mrs. Deeson presented the trophies.
The championship reverted back to Good Friday for the 1941 matches. Sam Spooner had been in hospital with pneumonia but one of his first acts was to sweep all the marbles rings. Seven teams took part, the first round saw a win for the Busmen 28 marbles to the RAOC’s 11, Three Bridges 28 marbles to the RAF’s 11, and Airworks 22 marbles to Tinsley’s 17. In the semi finals Copthorne beat Airworks 30 marbles to 9 and the Busmen beat Three Bridges 23 marbles to 16. It was the same line-up in the final as the year before, the score was equal at 16 marbles each the Busmen scored 1, next in was Copthorns George Gibbs who went on to claim the victory with a score line of 20 marbles to 17. LOOK AT THE SCORES IT WOULD SEEM THAT THERE WERE ONLY 39 MARBLES USED AND NOT THE USAL 49 OR 3 FOR EACH PLAYER PLUS 1. Jack Carman won the individuals, beating all comers with 8 marbles.
The local paper mentioned that ‘They (the marbles) again created a great deal of interest’. The main problem seemed to have been whether Good Friday was to be a holiday or a working day and this had lessened the number of entrants.
I have recently uncovered some old newsreel footage from 1941 showing a team of ladies playing marbles at Tinsley Green, after the game some Canadian soldiers came over and congratulated them with hugs. So it would seem that women had taken part in the game and had not only helped with administration work.
On Easter Monday an extra game was played at the White Hart, Crawley. It was for the Canada Cup presented by the Canadian Army in aid of war supplies. The game was a three cornered fight between the Crawley Busmen, The British Army and the Canadian Army who were stationed at Ifield Wood. The British Army won the Cup.
After the 1941 event marbles games at Tinsley Green were put on hold for the duration of hostilities, as so many of the players were away fighting for King and Country. In 1979 I spoke to the widow of Brong Bransden who told me that her brother who was in a Japanese prison camp was given an old magazine, which had a picture of her husband playing marbles. The championships started again in 1946.
Just prior to the 1946 marbles championship in the Leader Magazine for April 20th was an article by Denzul Batchelor entitled:
The championship of the loyal and ancient sport of marbles is fought out at Tinsley Green on Good Friday. This traditional date has been in force ever since Britain was almost invaded - by which I do not mean in 1944, but in 1588. In that year or thereabouts, a village maiden from Tinsley Green with a flair for publicity which makes Carmen Miranda look like a hayseed, ordered her two suitors to settle their rivalry for her hand by playing each other at every popular sport of the day.
After an Olympic Games-for-two lasting a week, the score was level; Giles having
won at tilting at quintain, Turk’s head, stoolball, archery, cricket-a-wicket and tipcat, while Hodge had scored at single-stick, back-sword, quarter-staff, cudgel-play wrestling and cock-throwing. All the popular sports (and both swains) were by now exhausted. The local oracle had no better suggestion to propound than that they cut the girl in two. The girl herself though of the solution - the final test should be a game of marbles.
Tinsley Green recognized the occasion as a solemn one and decided that Good Friday was the suitable date on which this final contest should be staged. And because on Good Friday, more than three and a half centuries ago, Hodge beat Giles at marbles, the children opposite the village pump now have golden hair and blue eyes instead of brown hair and black eyes; or (because Giles beat Hodge) the children in the cottage behind the vicarage are brunettes instead of blondes. For the sad fact is that no one now remembers who won, or precisely which dynasty of cottagers can be traced back as the direct result of that famous battle.
But, ever since that occasion, Good Friday has been the date and the courtyard of the Greyhound Inn the place for the test as to who in the world (and especially Crawley, Rustington, Copthorne and other villages on the Sussex-Surrey border) is supreme at the sport of marbles.
Note that we speak of the world. Since the old days when Sussex villages played their marbles-tourneys in Lent (to keep parishioners from worse excesses), marbles has become a sport with a worldwide appeal for adult players.
There is a British Marbles Control Board, whose secretary, Mr, E. Mobsby, recently flung forth a challenge to America to settle the question of national supremacy once and for all. “I repeat” he wrote, “that if you do not wish to fight for the world’s title at Tinsley Green, the British Marbles Control Board is prepared to send a team to America - provided expenses are guaranteed.”
I am not sure that I favour a light-hearted challenge to the United States while our rations are scanty and cash reserves slight. Lloyd George once said that wars were won by the countries with the last hundred million pounds, and the same principle has been proved true in competitive polo. It may apply to marbles, too; and the plain fact is that while, as returned evacuees have told me, America has huge stocks of cheap and admirable marbles, in this country the marble is in short supply, and has soared in price to the dizzy overhead expense of a penny apiece. Tinsley Green is the Lords of marbles world, and Mr. Sam Spooner, is the G.O.M. of the game; with beard fit for the part, comparable with W. G.’s or John Roberts of billiards fame. In his youth you could buy a couple of score of marbles for your penny, and with the change out of a threepenny piece, a pint of beer with a real punch in it from the Old Greyhound, replaced eleven years ago as H. Q. of the great sport by the new inn of the same name. Nothing is quite what it was, not even Tinsley Green.
THE START OF THE GAME
Good Friday’s contest will be played under British championship rules. Forty-nine marbles are placed in the ring. Captains of opposing teams, six a side, thereupon make the “drop-tolley” - that is, standing over the starting line, they hold their tolleys (glass alleys) to the nose, then, without bending, let go of them; and the nearest to the line starts the game. Competitors then with the “hammer” (thumb print) shoot their tolleys at the group of marbles, with the intention of driving them out of the ring, while remaining inside themselves. Success earns a second shot.
A player whose tolley is knocked out of the ring is out of the game; his successful opponent (technically referred as his “killer”) adding the tolley to his score. After each inter-team contest, the highest scoring members of the winning side play eliminating contests among themselves to determine who is to meet the reigning champion. Techniques vary tremendously.
THE OLDEST GAME
Marbles is the oldest game in the world. Among the Neolithic remains are to be found the earliest marbles ever used; the first sporting equipment provided for the most primitive moments of mankind. Egyptian youth is known to have played the game long before the coming of Christianity; and Pompeii shows us petrified infants at a pastime they must have found even more absorbing than Drake found bowls. Even the Romans had a word for it; the Latin phrase for putting your marbles back in the cupboard.
Two centuries before it staged Hitler rallies or Nazi trials, Nuremberg was the centre of a thriving industry for the manufacture of unglazed commoneys, the glazed pottery, stoneys made from pebbles, and the lordly alleys and blood alleys, the later worth fifty of the humble commoney. Darbyshire was the rival industrial centre, until, nearly a centre after the United States, ever on the look-out for an expansion of world markets, began to make better rounded marbles (some of hollowed steel) for early Victorian youth to play as myriad variants of the game, including Boss-out, Ho-go, Holy-Bang and Plum Pudding.
The attractive old names of these variants may have gone, but take a look at Tinsley Green and you will see that the vivid nicknames of players still persist. The miserable modern world is the more monochrome for lack of monikers. In the old prize-ring days, fighters milled to shouts of “come on, the Game Chicken” - or the Sprig of Myrtle, Young Rumpsteak or Blue Birdseye. Even in the present century we have had twopence colour champions with names like The Old Master of the Box o’ Tricks. Once upon a time even cricketers had nicknames - the Terror, the Deamond, the Croucher, the Governor-General. Not one has a nickname now; indeed, hardly a sport boasts an outstanding figure who has received this accolade of public favour.
But Tinsley Green transports us back to Corinthian times. When the leading teams of Crawley busmen, and one from the local aircraft factory, clash for the title on Good Friday, many a ringing nickname blazing with fine showmanship will be shouted by the crowd of spectators.
‘Spike’ Robinson with a list of players circa 1946
And champion of champions - who will it be? “Killer” Cook or “Fudge” Simmonds, or “Bronc” Bransden, “Sparks” Mobsby, “Logger” Wood or “Peerless Alf” Holder? Back which you will, but for my part, I shall be surprised if anyone is found to defeat that eerily named virtuoso, “Brum” (the Crawley Terror),”
Over 500 people saw Copthorne Sharpshooters narrowly beat the Copthorne Spitfires in the final of the British marbles championship. The Sharpshooters last won the silver challenge cup, presented by Messrs. Meux, in 1939. The championships were suspended just after.
The day was favoured by exceptionally fine weather, and spectators’ interest was divided between the activities of the Marbles contestants and those of the newsreel cameramen, press photographers and a B.B.C. commentator. (AT AROUND THIS TIME THERE WAS A BBC OUTSIDE BROACAST UNIT BASED AT THE CRAWLEY BUS DEPOT.)
The main ring to the left of the picture can be
The BBC outside broadcast unit
Eighty-one-year-old Sam Spooner, who won the Tinsley Green championship in 1890 arrived a little late on the scene but he received a tumultuous welcome and was immediately surrounded on all sides by photographers. “I am keeping an eye open for a few potential champions,“ declared Sam with a professional air. “Excuse me one moment.” A few minutes later he emerged from the Greyhound Inn bearing two pint glasses of what he described as “the staff of life.”
Aged 75, George Maynard, who was playing for Copthone Spitfires, as also were his two sons, mopped a perspiring brow and cast an appealing glance towards Sam, who stuck to his two glasses like a leach and kept his distance! George cut quite a figure in the final and submitted with a good grace to “that little bit of extra” which was shown by the Copthorne Sharpshooters.
The prizes were presented by Mr. A. G. Neale, president of the British Marbles Control Board. The runners-up received a barrel of beer, and the individual champion, Harry Langridge ( Crawley Aircraft Precision Tool Co.) a piece of Sussex pewter.
The spade-work was done by Mr. Edwin Mobsby, secretary of the Marbles Control Board. “Spike” Robinson, who maintained a lively commentary on the proceedings, and Mr. S. E. Hoad, who ensured fair play as master of ceremonies. Spectators were reminded that the custom of playing marbles on Good Friday originated in the days of Queen Elizabeth.
Play took place on a concrete bed in front of the Greyhound Inn. The bed was sprinkled with sand and dampened to prevent the marbles from rolling.
At this time and into the 1950s players shot their ‘tolley’ from the hip when shooting from out side the ring, standing up to make the initial shot of the game they could break open a tight pack of marbles with very little effort.
In the first round the Griffins beat Tinsley Green 33 marbles to 16, the Spitfires beat Crawley Tools 26 marbles to 23, and the Sharpshooters beat the Southern Railway 29 marbles to 20.
In the second round the Spitfires beat the Griffins 21 marbles to 18 and the Sharpshooters beat the Crawley British Legion. In the Final the Sharpshooters beat the Spitfires 25 marbles to 24. Harry Langridge beat Jack Carman in the individuals by 10 marbles to 3, Jack was the 1940 individuals champion.
This was to be the last championship for old Sam Spooner ‘ The Grand Old Man of Marbles’, he died in November 1946 in the old Chaily Workhouse, he was 82 years of age and is buried in an unmarked grave at Lewes. It was also the last time that Ted Mobsby organised the event, as the Crawley Observer put it in March 1947 Owing to the pressure of other business, Mr. E. Mobsby, of Ubique, Northgate Road, Crawley, has resigned from the British Marbles Control Board, which is responsible for organising the championships at Tinsley Green on Good Fridays. (WHEN I SPOKE TO TED IN 1976 I FELT THAT SAM’S DEATH HAD, HAD A LOT TO DO WITH HIS RESIGNATION, AND THAT HE THOUGH THE LINKS WITH THE PAST HAD NOW GONE AND THAT THE CHAMPIONSHIPS WOULD JUST FADE AWAY.) The Crawley Observer went on, during his years as organiser, he received letters from America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden, not to mention those from all parts of the British Isles.
Such was the interest in New Zealand that a well-known Napier resident, Mr. H. Stringer corresponded with him for about six months asking for the Tinsley Green rules and for information as to how to run the game in his country. The result was that a New Zealand marbles executive was formed and on Boxing Day 1937 the first New Zealand championships were held at the Mardi Gras, Napier.
My colleagues - the busmen at the Crawley garage - have played a great part in these games and such is their fame in the sphere that pictures of them have been received from many countries. There was a local man who, when serving in the Royal Navy at Bombay, saw a picture of the Crawley busmen in a copy of the Army Digest which he kindly brought home for us to see. Pictures of the marbles event have been received from Cairo, Canada and Italy.
1947 saw four teams play, they were Tinsley Green Tigers, Crawley Tools and the two teams from Copthorne, the Sharpshooters and the Spitfires. Many of the 1000 spectators had come to see the special guests Laurel and Hardy, but were disappointed due to the indisposition of the two famous film comedians. This year saw the interest of the spectators divided between marbles and the large contingent of Press photographers and the Gaumont British Newsreel cameramen.
The sand on the ring was damp and slowed the game down quite a bit. In the first game the two Copthorne teams played each other with the Sharpshooters beating the Spitfires 33 marbles to 16. In the second game Crawley Tools beat Tinsley Tigers 36 marbles to 13. The final saw the Sharpshooters beat the Crawley Tools 32 marbles to 17. For the second year running Harry Langridge won the individuals 7 marbles to 5. At one stage of the game between the Spitfires and the Sharpshooters ‘Pop’ Maynard actually split a marble in a valiant effort to change the fortunes of his team!
George Burbridge captain of the Tigers played a big part in the organisation of the event, a job he did until 1963. After the days play was over a meeting was held and it was agreed that a plaque should be erected in memory of Sam Spooner by the next championship.
It was George that made the ‘Marbles’ in to the event it is today, (with just a little help from a young local journalist Dennis Pitts) George could be seen, with his cap tilted on the back of his head talking to anybody that wanted to know about marbles or who would just listen. In the early day a local photographer Rod Balken told him to push his cap back so they could see his face and he never forgot as the many hundreds of photos of him taken can testify. He was the voice of marbles for the next 16 years, making pronouncements on the Olympics, women players, children and any other aspect of the game.
Checking Tolleys in the bar From left to right
Mickey Doyal, Bert Sired sen, Ron Westbrook (landlord). George Burbridge, Harry Langridge and Bert Sired jun.
Mrs Burbridge made the draw for many years and her daughter Silvia and also Barbara Langridge had taken their turn helping with the secretarial work.
Just before the 1948 championships the Rev. George Hill, priest in charge of St. Richard’s Three Bridges wrote in his church magazine about the match. “It is a great pity that they should be held on Good Friday, and Christian people would do well to refrain from attending as a witness to their faith.” (THE REV. W.D. PARRISH SAID IN 1879 “IT SEEMS MORE OVER TO BE REGAREDED AS AN AMUSEMENT PERMISSIBLE ON A HOLY DAY. IT IS POSSIBLE THAT IT WAS APPOINTED AS A LENTEN SPORT, TO KEEP PEOPLE FROM MORE BOUISTEROUS AND MISCHIEVOUS ENJOYMENTS?” TO DAY IN THE LATE 1990’S THE SHOPS ALL SEEM TO STAY OPEN AND DUE TO COMMERICALISAM GOOD FRIDAY IS NOW LIKE ANY OTHER.)
The organiser George Burdridge replied that he appreciated Mr. Hill’s point of view, but considered that it would be unwise to interfere with a time honoured custom.
It seemed that George was more worried weather Harry Langridge would win the individuals for the third year running – as no other player had yet achieved a hat trick before. He went on to say “Harry is a real top-notcher, last year he had to turn down an invitation to go to America.”
On the day there were five teams in on the action, they were the Copthorne Spitfires, Copthorne Sharpshooters, Arundel Mullets, Crawley Tools and the Tinsley Green Tigers. The ring was covered with a thick layer of sand “This was done deliberately to cut out any namby-pamby methods.” According to the organiser.
The Sharpshooters last year’s winners were at a great disadvantage, having drawn two byes and not playing until the final. In the first round Tinsley beat Crawley Tools, and the Spitfires beat the Mullets. The Spitfires beat Tinsley in the semi finals and went on to beat the Sharpshooters 29 marbles to 20. Harry Langridge made his hat trick by beating team mate “Wee Wonder” Bill Wright in the final of the individuals match. The ring was covered with a thick layer of sand, “This was done deliberately to cut out any namby-pamby methods.” According to the organizer.
Jack Waner who was made an honorary member of the Board, said, “that a game like marbles was representative of the British way of life.” This was just after he and John Blyth had presented the prizes to the winners.
Winning captain receives cup from Jack Waner 1948
It was also the year that for the first time a statement was made about what marbles at Tinsley Green were all about. A newspaper had suggested that marbles might be played at the next Olympic Games in London. The Board of Control put out the following statement, “Entering teams for the Olympic Games would be a step towards commercialisation the game, we hate the idea of commercialisation once that comes we’ve had it! Our players are quite happy competing for the cup, medals and a barrel of beer. Tinsley Green is the one and only marbles centre. Further more marbles is a rural game and we want to keep it that way.”
1949 saw Harry Langridge emerge as the star player at the marbles, playing with the Tinsley Tigers for the first time. He played magnificently; Harry smashed marble after marble from the ring in both the team and individual matches. The day was glorious and everyone enjoyed ice creams, sweets and ‘ginger pop’ then at noon there was beer and sandwiches when the pub opened. Marble enthusiasts arrived by coach and train at Gatwick station, which was, then just over bridge in Radford Road. Derek Bond presented the prizes and also unveiled a bronze plaque to Sam Spooner ‘Grand Old Man of Marbles’ who died in December 1946.
Only six of the nine expected teams arrived, they included Copthorne Spitfires, Tinsley Tigers, Fletching Fusiliers, Crawley Tools and Arundel Mullets. There were four of the Maynard family playing for the Spitfires ‘Pop’ with his three sons Arthur, Percy and George.
There was talk that the team from Fletching were to have brought a mysterious Major from the Chinese Embassy with them, but he never arrived to take part.