steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Tom Butler's Schooldays - Part 12: Games (London)

There were two rough and cruel games which could only be enjoyed by the biggest boys, but everyone in No. 15 Ward was obliged to attend, and the boys' names were called out from the Board belonging to the Ward by one of the Monitors. These games were "Hunting the Stag" and "Storming the Castle". The "stag" was represented by some strong lad, say "the buck of the ward" who would, during the game, punch with his fists anyone who came near him. When the stag was at length overpowered and seized, he was carried by several big lads to the goal, some holding his arms and some his legs. The cruel part of the affair was that a little boy was placed under the back of the stag to support it, and this little boy who was necessarily bent down under the weight, was hurried along faster than his legs could conveniently carry him. He was in the dark too, for the stag was surrounded by a running crowd of lads, and he sometimes was exhausted and trampled upon. When the little boy thus became a failure, another little one was forced to take his place.

In the game "Storming the Castle" the lads of the Ward were divided into two opposing armies. They faced each other under an archway. The duty of one of the armies was to prevent the other from pressing its way through the archway. The cruelty in this game was that the big lads in the attacking party clambered over the heads of the little ones. The games of cricket and football were not, to my knowledge, ever played in the London School for there was not field or suitable place for them. The favourite game was Rounders. I did indeed once see a football kicked by a Grecian in the playground adjoining the Hall, but he only spadged after it, and called to some lad, "Here, fetch me that ball," while as he spadged, the skirts of his coat flopped about his legs. I never saw a Grecian run, or with his skirt tucked up into his girdle. Such a thing would have been "infra dig" in the presence of others. What Grecians did behind our backs I cannot say. I don't remember any other games of the London School, except "Puss in the Corner" played by little boys in that cloister which was denoted by a text upon it, "Honour all men, &c." (1 Peter II.17)

There was not much inclination for play in the London School. The scholars could neither skip so well, nor play at marbles so well as when they were at Hertford, for they had lost much of their former ability from want of practice. Skipping was felt to be girlish, and playing at marbles, childish. They wasted hours looking through the bars of the School at the people passing, and wishing themselves outside. There were a few absurd amusements which ought to be mentioned because they had the merit of lessening the dreariness of this prison life. One of them was to observe by the clock how long one could stand on a slanting ledge which lay at the bottom of the "Garden" wall. A lad got so expert that he stood reading a book for half an hour when, forgetting that his feet were on the slant, he paced forward and nearly fell. Another amusement requiring much time and perseverance was making horsehair chains ornamented with beads, and making cherry-stone chains, which latter were very trying to the patience, for after grinding each link, it had to be cut and there were many failures. With such recreations, these cloistered scholars were indeed much more like monks than boys.
Tags: family history, tom butler's schooldays
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