Old English Sports eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 100 pages of information about Old English Sports.
favourite amusements for vigorous youths, and men strove hard to win the honour of being champion and the prizes which were offered on the occasion.  There were “cheap jacks,” and endless booths containing all kinds of fairings, ribands, gingerbread cakes, and shows, with huge pictures hung outside of giants and wild Indians, pink-eyed ladies, live lions, and deformities of all kinds.  There were minor sports, such as climbing the pole, jumping in sacks, rolling wheelbarrows blindfolded, donkey races, muzzling in a flour-tub, &c.; but the back-sword play was the chief and most serious part of the programme.

A good sound ash-stick with a large basket handle was the weapon used, very similar to, but heavier and shorter than an ordinary single-stick.  The object is to “break the head” of the opponent—­ i.e. to cause blood to flow anywhere above the eyebrow.  A slight blow will often accomplish this, so the game is not so savage as it appears to be.  The play took place on a stage of rough planks about four feet high.  Each player was armed with a stick, looping the fingers of his left hand in a handkerchief or strap, which he fastened round his left leg, measuring the length, so that when he drew it tight with his left elbow up he had a perfect guard for the left side of his head.[14] Guarding his head with the stick in his right hand, he advanced, and then the fight began; fast and furious came the blows, until at last a red streak on the temple of one of the combatants declared his defeat.  The Reading Mercury of May 24, 1819, advertised the rural sports at Peppard, when the not very magnificent prize of eighteenpence was offered to every man who broke a head at cudgel-play, and a shilling to every one who had his head broken.

Such was the sport which our old Berkshire rustics delighted in.  Back-sword play, wrestling, and other pastimes made them a hardy race, full of courage, and developed qualities which it is hoped their descendants have not altogether lost.  The gallant Berkshire Regiment, which fought so bravely at Maiwand, is composed of the sons of those who used to wield the back-sword on the Berkshire downs, and showed themselves not unworthy of their ancestry, although the quarter-staff and ashen-swords are forgotten.  The old village feasts are forgotten too—­more’s the pity.  Then old quarrels were healed, old bitternesses removed:  aged friends met, and became young again in heart, as they revived old memories and sweet recollections of youthful days.  Rich and poor, the squire and the farmer, the farmer and his labourers, all mingled together, class with class; and good-fellowship, harmony, and mutual confidence were promoted by these annual gatherings.  It is true that these village feasts degenerated, because the well-to-do folk abstained from them; but would it not be possible to revive them, to preserve the good which they certainly did, and to eliminate the evil which is so often mingled with the good?  Such a consideration is worthy of the attention of all who have the welfare of the people at heart.

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Old English Sports from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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