Outdoor Playground Games of the 1950s
I grew up in the 1950s in a mill town in Lancashire, in northwest England. I attended a little Church of England school, and most of the children lived close by on newly built council estates or in stone-built terraced properties. The best time of the school day was playtime, and I remember that my classmates and I always had great fun.
In the middle of our school playground was a stone building without a roof. Inside and open to the elements were the school toilets. The outside walls were great to use for ball games.
We played ball up against the walls with two balls—or three balls if you were clever. Children who found it difficult to make friends could always occupy themselves with a small rubber ball; in that way they did not stand out as loners as they would today. We also used the wall for handstands, and with dresses tucked into our knickers, we spent much of our time upside-down!
One, Two, Three, Aleri
One ball game which we played was called One, Two, Three, Aleri.
One, two, three, aleri,
Four, five, six, aleri,
Seven, eight, nine, aleri,
Ten aleri, catch the ball.
I think that the game was played with two balls against the wall but when you said ‘aleri’ one ball went under your leg. (I’m not sure whether ‘aleri’ is spelt correctly.) However, my sister thinks that we bounced the ball on the ground!
Piggy in the Middle
We weren't allowed footballs in the playground but could play catching games with large rubber balls. Piggy in the Middle was a ball game for three or more. The one in the middle was the piggy and the other players would throw the ball to one another over piggy’s head until piggy caught the ball and the child who threw the ball became the pig.
Types of Balls
There were many different kinds of balls. If you were posh you might have a tennis ball, but if you were in the habit of losing your ball, a squashy thin rubber ball was all you could afford. They came in various colours; my favourite was royal blue.
The only trouble with those balls, when we were playing near home, was that if dogs ran off with them, their teeth would pop them! The best ball was a sponge rubber ball, which was solid black right through. The pattern on the balls was lovely, with every colour of the rainbow forming a marbled effect. Once the ball was getting old you could pick the sponge off until you had no ball left.
Whip and Top
We spent many happy hours at a game called whip and top. The main component was a little wooden spinning top with a metal tip on the bottom. We would lovingly decorate the top with chalk patterns in vibrant colours. We would then wind a narrow leather lace that was attached to a stick round the top to make it spin on its metal tip. If you were really lucky, you could buy a bigger top, which was about two inches in diameter. This gave more space for the chalk decorations.
Buying marbles with our pocket money was something we really loved to do. Many of the girls were less interested in the game and more interested in the patterns, the size, and the feel of a pocket full of smooth but noisy glass marbles as they clanked together, but my sister really enjoyed the game and was good enough to win on many occasions. The marbles called 'dobbers' were the really big ones and she had plenty of those.
Skipping Games and Rhymes
Skipping was very popular. We would skip alone, or in threes with two turning and one skipping, or in a large group chanting, 'Salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper', 'Jelly on a plate', 'Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around', 'All in together girls', 'House to let', 'Oranges and lemons', and many more skipping rhymes. The rhymes went something like this:
House to Let
House to let,
When I go out,
Mrs. [surname of next child to skip] comes in.
All in Together Girls
All in together girls,
Very fine weather girls
When I say your birthday
please run out.
January, February, March [etc.]
Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around
Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, go upstairs,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, say your prayers,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, switch off the light,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, say goodnight,
Goodnight, teddy bear, goodnight.
Polly in the Kitchen
Polly in the kitchen,
Doing a bit of stitching,
In came a bogeyman,
And frightened her away!
Jelly on a Plate
Jelly on a plate,
Jelly on a plate,
Jelly on a plate.
Sausages in a Pan
Sausages in a pan,
Sausages in a pan,
Turn them over,
Turn them over,
Sausages in a pan.
How We Skipped Rope
With our individual skipping ropes we would have races along the playground. We would also see who could skip the most skips with two feet together, or one foot after the other. Skipping backwards, skipping forwards, crossing arms—all these skipping activities kept us fit. There were very few children at my school who were overweight. Children had much more freedom to play outside and also, if the weather was fine we weren't allowed to play inside the house.
Sometimes we tied one end of a long rope to the railings so that only one girl was needed to turn the rope. If we were at home we would tie the rope round a lamppost.
Games Outside in the Cul-de-Sac
Our estate was built by the council after the war. We were one of the first families to move onto the estate in April 1949. By 1951 most of the houses were completed and occupied, and nearly every house had children. There was no shortage of playmates and we all spent many happy hours playing on the grass in front of our houses. We also played in a cul-de-sac opposite, which was free of traffic as no one owned a car.
My sister had a three-wheel bike, which she loved. She would have liked a two-wheeler but mum said 'no'. However she just borrowed her friends’ bikes and would race down the estate. The boys made bogies out of planks and old pram wheels and would sometimes let us ride on them.
I had no wish to ride a bike, partly because mum thought that they were dangerous. (I still can’t ride a bike, or ride a horse, or swim. My children once said, 'Mum what can you do?' My reply was that I could take them to swimming lessons, horse riding lessons, Brownies, cubs, music lessons and much more!)
Queenie, Queenie, Who’s Got the Ball?
One popular game played in the cul-de-sac was 'Queenie, Queenie, who’s got the ball?' One person would be Queenie and the rest of us would stand with our hands behind our backs, passing the ball along and chanting 'Queenie, Queenie, who’s got the ball?' Each in turn would show empty hands and chant, 'See, I haven’t got it', and then the next person said, 'And I haven’t got it', and so on along the line of children. When it came to the turn of the child with the ball, that child would throw the ball down and that was the signal for everyone to run away. Queenie had to catch someone and then that child would be the new Queenie.
To decide who was 'on' we had some little rhymes.
Rhymes to Choose Who Was 'On'
Ip dip dash,
My blue sash,
Penny on the water,
Twopence on the sea,
Threepence on the railway,
Out goes SHE.
Another rhyme we sang to choose who be be 'on' went like this:
Ip dip dash,
My blue sash,
Sailing on the water,
Like a cup and saucer,
Ip dip dash.
What Time Is It, Mr. Wolf?
Another game was called 'What time is it, Mr. Wolf?' Again, one person would be ‘on', and would answer our question, ‘What time is it, Mr. Wolf?' with, 'One o’clock'. We would repeat the question, and the reply would be, 'Two o'clock', and we would continue and at the same time we would creep up to the wolf until we heard the wolf say, 'It’s dinnertime and I’m going to eat you'. With that, we all had to run away to avoid being caught. If we were caught, then we were the next wolf.
The Good Ship Sails Through the Alley Alley O
'The Good Ship Sails Through the Alley Alley O' was another popular singing pastime. Singing, as we made arches and went under in twos, was great fun.
A Hunting We Will Go
Another similar dancing game went like this (although now that I look at the lyrics, perhaps this is not a song to sing today!):
A hunting we will go,
A hunting we will go,
We’ll catch a fox,
And put him in a box,
And never let him go.
Dressing Up and Garden Concerts
Our garden shed was always full. Garden tools and the lawnmower filled one side and toys and dressing up clothes were down the other side. We loved dressing up. Our box of clothes was great for imaginary play. There were scarves, hats, fans, dresses, skirts, net curtains, handbags, high heel shoes, necklaces, nurse sets, cowgirl outfits, clown sets and more.
Children, usually girls, were often playing at our house or in the garden, although the boys were allowed in when we had one of our concerts. We would put our blackboard at the garden gate, inviting everyone. 'Come to our concert at 2 o’clock, only 1d with a drink.'
Our stage was the raised path in the back garden and the children sat below us on the lawn. We hung sheets and old curtains on the washing line for our theatre curtains and the shed was our changing room. The dressing-up clothes were put to good use, as were Mum’s old high-heeled shoes. We would sing hymns, nursery rhymes, and songs we had learnt at school. We would make some attempt to dance and although we always had lots of children watching, I dread to think what we were like! However, we had great fun and it kept us occupied for hours on end.
Enid Blyton's Famous Five
We ventured further afield when we became The Famous Five. It didn't matter that we were all girls playing this game and instead of a dog for Timmy we had our cat, Tiddles. Our neighbours were the same age as us so we older girls were Julian and George (Georgina) and the younger girls were Dick and Anne. We roamed all over the estate re-enacting the stories.
Every year on May Day (1st May) we made our own maypole and danced around it. We used a sweeping brush which was decorated with lots of colourful ribbons. One person sat on a little stool holding the brush and everyone else took hold of a ribbon and then we all danced round the maypole twisting the ribbons around the pole then changing direction and going the opposite way to undo the ribbons. Great fun.
More Playground Games and Activities
Hula hoops became really popular and we thought we were brilliant if we could keep our hula hoop revolving around our middles.
There was also a yo-yo craze, and even now I can’t resist a yo-yo.
Hopscotch was also very popular.
A newspaper shop was opposite school next door to the sweet shop and we could buy comics, balls, whip and tops, skipping ropes, hula hoops, yo-yos, pretty rings, stamp albums, stamps and hinges and stick-on tattoos.
We spent many happy hours playing board games with our friends. Snakes and ladders was a favourite as were Ludo and Tiddlywinks. Dominoes was good fun and we loved card games such as Happy Families and Snap. Scrabble was popular, also Monopoly. Pencil games such as Noughts and Crosses, Hangman and Beetle occupied many a wet day. We liked to play Draughts but never learned how to play chess.
When we played Snakes and Ladders we would go up the ladders and down the snakes and next time we played we went up the snakes and down the ladders. Nowadays the game is still popular but an adaptation is Chutes and Ladders: up the ladders and down the chutes.
Walking to School
If the weather was fine we always walked to school, a distance of one mile.
We had a little rhyme which meant that we had to step on a full flag and avoid the join. It went like this:
If you step on a nick,
you'll marry a stick,
and a blackjack
will come to your wedding.
This was easy to do on large paving slabs but some parts of the walk were on cobbles, which were smaller than our feet. The only way to avoid the blackjack was to tiptoe over the cobbles.
We had much fun with this silly rhyme.
My husband didn't know the rhyme and was brought up within ten miles of me, so perhaps it is just peculiar to my birthplace.
What Games Do You Remember?
Thank you for joining me on my tour of the childhood games we played in 1950s Lancashire. How about you? What games did you play? Please share in the comments below.
pat on November 27, 2019:
a game we played in the classroom where an object is identified by person that was in closet
Yuletime on February 22, 2019:
I'm researching games we played in the playground and at home, because our over 60s club has been asked to introduce them to the local primary school children. In reference to playing balls against a wall, one I do remember is juggling 2 balls against a wall, and singing 'Horsey horsey don't you stop, just let your feet go clipity clop, your tail goes swish and your wheels? go round, giddy up there homeward bound. At the same time as still bouncing the balls off the wall, you had to bounce one off the floor to the side, then behind you, and then spin round, in time to the rhyme, and hopefully without dropping the balls. I was born in Scotland so not sure if this was regional.
Janine Guinter on October 14, 2018:
Trying to remember the little verse we said as we threw a rubber ball up against the brick wall.......repeating a little rhyme as we went under the leg or other moves. Also played a game called "red light" and "Simon Says" in the empty lot behind the little Rohrerstown Post Office and in front of Roy Henny's Lawn Mower Shop. Can anyone help me?
yep on April 13, 2017:
Jan on February 01, 2017:
How about five stones or if you had money you could buy jacks loved it as a child.
Philip on September 30, 2016:
How about hide and seek?
Jill on June 16, 2015:
The rules of the stick game. The sticks were placed cross wise quite close to begin with so you had to tippy toe between them. If you touched a stick you were out. Each player, as they got to the last stick would take a big leap and one stick of their choice that they had picked up as they went through the line of sticks was moved to this spot. At the end leaping so as not stepping on a stick was very difficult especially if several were still close. It was eventually banned at Bexley Public School in 1949 because Janice Byrne's sister broke her ankle! (I think I remember her name was Pat) So there!
Whatever happened to Janice Byrne or Burns? Anyone know?? JO
Megan Elphick on May 06, 2015:
I Hate everyone and i'm a big hater. I REALLY HATE THE LORD OF THE RINGS!
abigail gills on May 06, 2015:
I play kiss chase with my bae
Jim bob joe on March 31, 2015:
Carol phillips on March 18, 2015:
Would like to know if anyone can remember a game. We played with square checkers and a ball
Moira on March 10, 2015:
i loved the ball against the wall games too. I remember the one. Mrs Dunlop had a wee shop and all she sold was candy floss. Candy floss penny ......and I forget the rest. Then there was one two three a leery, I saw mrs Peery sitting on her bum a leery eating blah blah? candy. I wish I could remember more but I can't..sorry. Hope these bring back memories and jolt someone's memory into knowing the missing words.
Barbara Crook on January 14, 2015:
I am trying to find the chalk five stones which I played with. They were pastel in colour and had ridges on the sides. Can anyone help me?
Valerie West on September 01, 2014:
Happy days... Thank you so much for all this info. My pal and I were just remanising about our childhood games. She is from Newfoundland and I grew in up London UK in the '50's. To our surprise so many games were very similar. Neither of us could recall the rhymes to go along with 2 balls and skipping. So happy to find them.
Tula on April 10, 2014:
I have my grandchildren for the Easter holidays and would like to find out where I can purchase -Five Stones and Jacks, as it helps with hand eye coordination?
caitmo1 (author) from Lancashire England on September 24, 2012:
Thanks for your comments. I'm afraid that I don't know this game which sounds fun. Hopefully someone will recognise it. Good Luck.
Pauline on September 20, 2012:
Wow what fun to relive these old memories. I found this site by searching for an old game I used to play as a child. We called it 'lay down sticks' but I can't quite remember the 'rules. We would find 7 sticks around 10-12" long and lay them down like a ladder. Each person would then run through (1 foot in each gap), turn around and run back through. Somehow the ladder rungs would then be placed further and further apart making it more and more challenging. Just how is the bit I can't recall. Can anyone help???
caitmo1 (author) from Lancashire England on July 19, 2012:
Thanks for your comments. we played Kiss Chase but called it Kiss Catch and Knock and run was a favourite of ours. We always chose houses which were straight onto the street and those with doorbells were easiest. We would escape via ginnels to get our breath back. We must have annoyed the occupants.
Andy Aitch from UK & South East Asian Region on May 31, 2012:
Crikey, this hub brought back some memories. I used to love marbles at playtime. Drains were the goals for these little glass balls. Perhaps i can add a few more to your list caitmo1.
* Hopscotch (great fun for both boys and girls)
* Rounders (this stopped kids from getting fat)
* Tiggy (aka tip, tick, tig, dobby, or chasey)
* Conkers (seasonal and mainly a game for the boys)
* Kiss Chase (once we got a bit older ;-))
* Ginger Knock and Run (aka Knock, Knock, Ginger or Knocky Door Ginger)
Oh the list is endless, but the point is parents couldn't drag the kids in from outdoors back in the day, but nowadays they get they can't drag them out :(
caitmo1 (author) from Lancashire England on August 19, 2011:
Not really - but they were fun. We are having all the fun again with our granddaughters aged 4 and 9. Just wish I could still do a handstand!
Angela Dale from Columbus, Ohio on August 19, 2011:
Missing the good ol days huh?