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.