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Children's games - late 19th century


New Member
Hello everyone!
I'm doing some research about the kind of games that kids/teens played during the 19th century and, reading Carl Chinn's book on the Peaky Blinders came across with these ones: "pitch back" and "bear and tender". Does anyone know how they were played? Rules, a description of the game... anything would help.
Thank you!

Sally Parlett

Brummie babby
I'll ask my Mother-in-law who grew up in B'ham and is now aged 97. She says hop scotch, whip and top, tag, hide & seek, eye spy, made dolls houses out of cardboard and tops off things.
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master brummie
Here's the actual text
Unfortunately the ones you mentioned 'pitch back' & 'bear and tender', I have searched for I can find nothing about.
But note the text also says 'in the middle of the roadway'.
One I did find a bit about 'fox and dowdy'

In nineteenth century Warwickshire, a variant called fox and dowdy (or fox-a'-dowdy) was played across a lane or similar area. In this version, the catcher catches players by holding them and reciting the phrase "Fox a' dowdy—catch a candle".


master brummie
I wonder if 'bear and tender', where 'tender' might be his 'handler' or 'keeper' is related to this?:

Badger the Bear
A rough game, sometimes seen in the country. The boy who personates the Bear performs his part on his hands and knees, and is prevented from getting away by a string. It is the part of another boy, his Keeper, to defend him from the attacks of the others.—Halliwell’s Dictionary.

This is a boys’ game, and is called “Buffet the Bear.” It may be taken part in by any number. One boy—the Bear—goes down on all fours, and lowers his head towards his breast as much as possible. Into his hand is placed one end of a piece of cord, and another boy, called the Keeper, takes hold of the other end in one hand, while he has in the other his cap. The other boys stand round, some with their caps in hand, and others with their neckties or pocket-handkerchiefs, and on a given signal they rush on the Bear and pelt him, trying specially to buffet him about the ears and face, whilst the Keeper does his best to protect his charge. If he happens to strike a boy, that boy becomes the Bear, and the former Bear becomes the Keeper, and so on the game goes.—Keith, Banffshire (Rev. W. Gregor).

I saw this game played on Barnes Green, Surrey, on 25th August 1892. The boys, instead of using their hats, had pieces of leather tied to a string, with which they struck the Bear on the back. They could only begin when the Keeper cried, “My Bear is free.” If they struck at any other time, the striker became the Bear. It is called “Baste the Bear.”—A. B. Gomme.

Chambers (Popular Rhymes, p. 128) describes this game under the title of “The Craw.” It was played precisely in the same way as the Barnes game. The boy who holds the end of the long strap has also a hard twisted handkerchief, called the cout; with this cout he defends the Craw against the attacks of the other boys, who also have similar couts. Before beginning, the Guard of the Craw must call out—

Ane, twa, three, my Craw’s free.

[13]The first one he strikes becomes the Craw. When the Guard wants a respite, he calls out—

Ane, twa, three, my Craw’s no free.

(b) Jamieson defines “Badger-reeshil” as a severe blow; borrowed, it is supposed, from the hunting of the badger, or from the old game of “Beating the Badger.”

Then but he ran wi’ hasty breishell, And laid on Hab a badger-reishill.

MS. Poem.

Mr. Emslie says he knows it under the name of “Baste the Bear” in London, and Patterson (Antrim and Down Glossary) mentions a game similarly named. It is played at Marlborough under the name of “Tom Tuff.”—H. S. May.

[Extract from The Traditional Games Of England, Scotland, and Ireland - collected by Alice Bertha Gomme]

P.S. In the Scots version 'Craw' = 'Crow'

Pitch Back might be their name for a boy sitting on the shoulders of another boy acting as his horse and then fighting other boys similarly mounted. Certainly that is the sort of game that could be played in the middle of the road where there is the necessary space. Is it just possible that some child mis-heard 'Piggy-back'? Children do that all the time, after all they are told new things all the time and (sometimes!) accept what they heard without argument,
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master brummie
No one alive today will remember toys on the 19th. century (which is what the OP has in mind).
I have seen, in small specialist shops, Victorian style toys and play items which have been revived in recent years - such as the hobby horse for an instance. Many of the toys went out of fashion it seems, but as they say if you wait long enough everything comes back! ;)


master brummie
There are many Victorian items in museums and even more kept as family heirlooms. They are the memories that we are able to discuss today.
This interesting link shows many indoor and outdoor games of the period. (not everyone has the book mentioned in earlier posts).
The more well off financially, probably purchased them, but other families probably made their own, or had older family members who did so.

Lady Penelope

master brummie
The book I referred to earlier is 'Four Meals for Fourpence' written by Grace Foakes. She tells of her childhood in the East End before WW1. All games were played in the street as there was no room in the house. In case they are any good I've listed them below. Although we played at the carriage-horses I didn't realise that was what it was until now.

Girls spent a lot of time skipping either with individual ropes or in groups with a long rope and a person at each end ‘keeping the pot boiling’.

They also played ‘carriage horses’ by crossing and linking their arms behind and cantering about.


Marbles (including something called gobs and bonsters but I don’t know what these are).

Peg tops – the boys had string and the girls had whips – string attached to strips of wood)

Diabolos – with two sticks and string joined in between and the aim was to throw it into the air and catch it again and keep it spinning.

Knock Down Ginger – they ran as fast and they could knocking all doors and hiding when someone came to the door.

Boys climbed the lampposts and looped ropes over the arms on which the lamplighter rested his ladder. They then swung round.

Made bats from wood for tip-cat(?) and rounders. If not ball was available they used a tin can.

Men gambled in the street with pitch & toss and crown and anchor.

Bubbles - Children waited outside the pub to scrounge a clay pipe and then got their mothers to save bits of soap and soaked them in water. Competitions for biggest bubble or distance travelled.

Also went to the abattoir to get a pig’s bladder which they blew up for games of football.

They played hoop bowling with metal and wooden hoops (presumably from barrels). Sticks were used to keep them rolling.


New Member
Thank you all so much for your help! I was a little bit loss and you all came up with a lot of ideas and games. I'll take note of the games you all mentioned and check out the books and the victorianchildren link. They look truly useful!
I'm still not sure about the "tender and bear" game, but it could pretty much be "badger the bear". I couldn't find anything on it, so it might as well be the same one but with a different name.
Honestly, thank you all for the brainstorming! :)