Marbles at Alfristion 1899
Playing marbles was also popular in Brighton where in 1883 an old fisherman, Mr James Rolf told how the fishermen commenced to play on Ash Wednesday in strict accordance with the old traditional custom.
and In Hove it was “Gobblins” on Good Friday if marbles were still being played after the appointed time.
At Cuckfield Marbles was a popular pastime in the 1880’s, so much so that Good Friday was known as ‘Marble Day’. S. M. Kingsley wrote in 1879. ‘It is the custom here on that day (Good Friday) for men and boys of all ages to play marbles and on a remark being made to an old woman about it she replied’ “Don’t you know its marble day?” An old inhabitant of Cuckfield told Miss Lillian Candlin that her father had played on the south side of the churchyard about 1876 and that previously to that they had played right inside the church porch.
Marbles were played at Fletching at the end of the last century; the main game was on Good Friday outside the Rose and Crown against visiting team of men. At other times of the year local men would play on the round stone slab, which was set out side the pub. The children played many difference kinds of marble games. One involved making a hole in the ground using the boys cap to beat the dust and lose earth out of it. Then the idea was to get as many into the hole as possible.
In 1949 and 1950 teams from the village went to play at Tinsley Green. They were called the Fletching Fusiliers A’s and B’s. In 1949 there was talk that they were bringing a mysterious Major from the Chinese Embassy with them, but he never arrived to take part.
In 1950 they fielded the oldest player, he was Harry Allen 87 and was on hand both to show and tell how he played in the championships at Fletching over 50 years before.
The fishermen at Hastings played marbles and there is a photo of them in the local Fisherman’s Museum. They are shown wearing their traditional fisherman’s smocks.
The Red Lion at Hooe was once a venue for marbles, Mike one of the regulars started a fun tournament, which was played on St Georges Day (April 23rd). At first it was played on an old blanket in the main bar. Later a bed of sand was used until a proper ring was built. At one time the ring was covered with course sand paper, Mike told me this was to save the mess and having sand all over the floor. Mike passed over in 1999 and with him the Red Lion marbles.
Lewes, the county town of East Sussex was another place were the game was avidly played. In 1814 when John Dudeney first opened his school marbles were so common amongst the young that he used them in one of his school books On page four of the red covered book published in 1824 entitled an Introduction to Arithmetic we find the following question 1) Suppose John had 19 marbles James 15, Henry 9, Samuel 14, Richard 6, Charles 13, and William 16, if they put them into one bag how many will there be?
Miss Lillian Candlin of Brighton told how her grandfather played marbles in the old navigation pit next to the Snowdrop Inn, South Street, Lewes, some time in the 1870’s. She also said that they played by the pump at St. Thomas church in Cliff High Street in the 1880’s. Marbles still come to light today in Lewes, Fiona Marsden curator of the Sussex Archaeological Society told me that when she digs her garden, which is the old mote of Lewes castle, she still finds old clay and stone marbles from time to time. A small collection of marbles is held in Anne of Cleves House, Southover High Street.
In a manuscript written in 1955 Alfred Ridel of Ninfield talked about the marbles played by the village boys in the 1890s. After mentioning games like ‘Shooting in the ring’, ‘Follows’, ‘Ante’ and ‘Egg in the hat’. He goes on to say “Incidentally, Good Friday marked the end of the marbles season, and on that day only, marbles were played up in the village by grown-ups- a strange and fascinating sight for us boys. After Good Friday ‘hoggings’ came into force, that is, one was perfectly justified in confiscating any marbles being played with, always bearing in mind one’ physical capacity to retain them.”
The well-known Sussex writer and folk singer Bob Copper mentions marbles at Rottingdean in two of his book. It seems when young his father and uncle would play marbles on the hearth in front of a roaring fire. When he was young he said “ we whipped on mushroom-shaped, window-breaking tops along the deserted, traffic-free roads on our way to school, or played marbles along the gritty roadside verges.”
Much later in September 1978, there was a world marbles championship at the White Horse, which is on the seafront. It was a rout for the British; the Pernod Rams took a battering from an 11-year-old Beigian boy, Walter Wardenier.
Pitching marbles into an egg shaped hole was popular as a game in Rye. Mr H.W. Wright (late of Rye) said ‘ I was disappointed no mention of a marbles game which was most popular in Sussex - that is pitching marbles in holes. Every school wall was used and one saw them outside many houses. The holes were scooped out about six inches long and one inch deep, egg shaped. One stood about six feet from the hole and the one who got the most marbles in got all the marbles out of the hole. In those days marbles were stone, not clay as they are now, and they were very strong. Some boys had their favourite Alley; it was called a blood alley and never parted with. I think they had red stripes in them. Another game was cannons. Many times I have played going home from school. Starting outside school we went all along the side of the pavement rolling the marbles at each other till we reached home. Sometimes stones were used, but generally we used large glass marbles for this game.’
On the road from Lewes to Ditchling at the very foot of the south downs lies the village of Streat, where about the turn of the century the local farm labourers performed their essential tasks as early in the morning as they could, and were then given the rest of Good Friday as a holiday on the strict understanding that they should go to church. They attended the morning service, and then went out to play marbles, playing on until evening.
The marbles game at Battle is played near the old Bullring just in front of the Abby gates, on the Abby green used since 1966 as the town’s main car park. The game seems to be one of ‘long taw’, played by two teams of five. A small circle one-foot in diameter is chalked on the ground and 15 marbles are spread around it. Then players from each team take it in turns to roll their ‘bossers’ from the ‘taw line’, a mark some feet away from the ring. If a player knocks a marble from the ring he is then allowed another shot; he carries on until he misses. The first team to knockout eight or more marbles from the ring wins; a result is obtained from the best of three games.
As elsewhere in Sussex the game must end at 12 noon, when the marbles and hot cross buns are thrown to the local children. At one time it was also the custom for Battle team to wear Sussex smocks, later the teams would wear the brown short fisherman’s smock that were easier to obtain. Today they wear fancy dress and there is a separate prize for the best-dressed team.
Jack Wait played for the Battle team, like his father before him. Old Pelham Wait was the town’s lamplighter until electricity arrived. Jack Wait still has his father’s smock, which is now well over 100 years old.
Another member of the Battle team was the late Frank Anderson, the smock he wore until the time he died in 1967 is now in the Battle museum, and can now be seen with a small exhibit of marbles and photographs. Bert Goble has been playing for the Battle team for the last 28 years and said they were playing long before I came to Battle in the 1920’s. The team has included many players born in the last century. Frank Anderson, Pelham Wait 1890, ‘Pop’ Bavistock 1866, Bert Mepham 1880 and Dick Dennis 1875. The other players were James Denning, Guy Duke and Bernard Triggle who was only sixteen when he first played in 1949.
The team in 1978 consisted of Jack Wait, Bert Goble, Roy Carter custodian of the ‘Bossers’, Jim Hatward and Horace Wilkins. This team had beaten Netherfield for the past two years and was looking to make it a hat trick.
The revival game at Battle began in 1948, when the organizers Frank Anderson and Pelham Wait played from Mount Street along the High Street to the Abbey Green. Here they were met by other players and a tournament was played ending at 12 noon. Then Mr Anderson, in his white smock distributed 1,500 marbles from a Sussex trug to the local children.