Games Shows & Workshops
There are so many different games to consider – across such a wide historical range – that it just is not possible to show everything here. To include ourselves in every variation of each period costume would make the page even lengthier! We have thus begun a Picture Gallery of ourselves in period dress, so to visit click on this link.
Demonstration or Workshop?
While all of our games presentations shown below are designed to be hands on and have a go for all – and we are always pleased to offer suggestions or information to take away for onward play – we do also offer more structured workshops. Here children can explore, design, make and decorate their own simple traditional games or toys to take home and keep. Please look toward the bottom of the page at ‘Games and Activity Workshops‘ to see some ideas of what we can offer (or do get in touch with your project or curriculum requirements) For details regarding sales of games and to view (lots of!) pictures of recent commissions see ‘Games Made & Supplied‘ at the very foot of this page.
The best games and puzzles either go on for ever – or suddenly re-appear as if from nowhere… Backgammon has its history way back in Roman games but possibly its English heyday as Medieval Tables: A vicious game, often played with rowdy team support, it sometimes lead to murder or at least to riots; we play ours quite sedately, using counters cast from originals.
Nine Man’s Morris was often permitted – even encouraged for novice monks – as a game of strategy to train the young mind (as doubtless does the current internet league). Counting boards and cloths for scoring also provide a valuable lesson.
We begin the Merrils games with Three Man’s Morris, which many recognise and find accessible as allied to naughts and crosses. Where space, time and sufficient bodies permit we play a live game with human pieces and do also show the six and nine men’s boards. Fox and Geese also remains familiar from Medieval and Tudor times to having its more modern versions – read on to see some which may surprise…
Even the most obscure brainteaser strikes unexpected recognition: Our reconstruction of the medieval Baguenaudier puzzle that was excavated at Metz is hailed by some Chinese visitors as a ‘cho lin hua’. Both names may more or less mean ‘walking the rings’ – but I don’t suppose we’ll ever know in which direction the original invention traveled!
The name of the put ‘ n’ take is pretty self explanatory: the game for two or more players provides gambling at its simplest form – with no opportunity for strategy or skill (and hugely addictive too.) Our version is in oak and play is with pewter counters cast from originals.
Recent ‘piece de resistance’ is a tabletop marbles bridge depicting Old London Bridge complete with its houses: the Tudors, even Queen Elizabeth, certainly played it as ‘Troule en Madame’ (it may or may not even be the medieval game ‘Shooting Starlings’) It survived two further centuries as ‘Trolly My Dames’, faded then returned as Marbles Bridge for the Victorians – to become popular once more as an interwar tin or board toy last century.
The Stuart century saw the survival of some earlier games like ‘Gluckshaus’ or House of Fortune, right, as well a the arrival of new fads. The previuosly downmarket Noddy game was introduced to Court as Cribbage around 1630 by Sir John Suckling (who falsely claimed invention) and with dice games survived the Commonwealth.
Later in the century fortune telling became popular: Though still rather daring (with surviving disks found secreted within book covers) these were fast-set games and no longer drew punishment for seriously attempting ‘divination’. Ours has a spinning pointer and shows the Wheel of Fortune as a salutory reminder – but doesn’t deliver any really unpleasant predictions.
The expanding Georgian world saw crazes for new introductions
Dominoes – probably brought back from Italy on the Grand Tour – swept all levels of society. Many old games do endure but others are revived or reinvented: ‘Exotic oriental’ Ponghowkie is just like the Vikings’ taafel game. This version has the added topicality of using whales and longboats for the games pieces
Tiger & Goats or Bhagachai ‘from India’ has pretty much the same rules as the earlier Fox & Geese – though we can spice things up with the addition of a second tiger! We also have – a probably inappropriate? – version called Tiger & Sepoys…
This was known as ‘The Captain’s Mistress’ as Captain Cook allegedly spent so much time shut in his cabin playing it that his officers began to make indelicate remarks. Said to be based on a Polynesian game using cowrie shells, to us it may look very like Connect4.
Here cowrie shells are used, though each may actually represent a shilling, a sovereign, a horse or a house… To the left an eighteenth put ‘n’ take along with a selection of our wooden numbered or pointed teetotum spinning dice – all, of course, for serious wagers.
With many of these Regency games the element of skill is largely abandoned to chance and games become miniaturised for the pocket in an age of impatient and compulsive gambling…
These Jeu Grotesque cards feature topsy turvey figures to amuse. A ‘pocket’ version of Shut-the-Box to stave off those odd moments of lethargy while on the move. This is still played in Brittany and the Chanel Islands – it may have been introduced to England by long detained French Prisoners of War.
A recogniseable successor to Gluckshaus but the Game of the Bank is tweeked to give a far greater opportunity to win or lose massive sums (if you are unlucky, 200 tokens could last just a few minutes!) A favourite with Prinnie himself – so no wonder he eventually had debts of over £6 million…
Crib again: this a bone inlaid folding board/box that contains a pack of original George IV cards (NB: tax paid), marker pegs and a set of mother of pearl gaming chips.
This game of Knock Down Boney (or Patriotic Skittles) does require an element of skill: It was originally placed on a table to create the handicap of playing while standing on a chair and trying to maintain balance. Boney hides at the rear behind rocks and his troops but an accurate bowl will still get him – and also hopefully send his severed head rolling.
Our Victorian presentation uses originals and copies of the now widely commercially produced topical board and boxed games. These tin toy birds jump and peck when wound up to go – and often bounce again unexpectedly after having come to rest!
You can’t get much more hands on than these simple wooden toys: by gently squeezing together the struts the frog will jump or the monkey perform its acrobatic tricks. Winding the handle of the clown trio will make them bob and twirl. The cup and ball is far more difficult than it first appears (though you can cheat a bit by winding the string in shorter…) The crockodile and clown clackers just make a very satisfying (?) noise.
Even survivals do look slightly different in an earlier form: this printed circular Snakes and Ladders ‘board’ was originally pasted onto a metal tray with the original games pieces quite possibly magnetic. Temperance, travel – and Empire building – games were the flavour of the time: This one is The Cottage of Content which relies on the participants’ staying power through an endless series of good deeds and faux pas…
Some Edwardian games closely reference current events: Sufragettes In & Out of Prison was a promotion by the Morning Leader newspaper, Panko has artwork by a leading Punch cartoonist –
– leisure trends are also followed with many board games appearing that are based on sport – Steeplechase, Marathon, Golfo, Sinnet – and our dice game for a satisfyingly lazy take on cricket.
Global events also feature: The Great War Game of 1910 unnervingly predicts much of what was to come in the looming WWI. Trencho is a revival of nine men’s morris – from Australia – but using trenches and gun emplacements as board markings.
Here the fiendish Allies Flags Puzzle: The Belgian, British, Japanese, Russian & French colours are shown. The object is to arrange the blocks in the holder so that only one of each flag shows in each line – you have to do that for all four lines AND have all the flags the correct way up! This puzzle is so difficult that the original vendor made a substantial sum by selling the solution at a ha’penny a time…
These Chinese chi-chi sticks actually come from San Francisco – a prediction ritual imported with American troops and doubtless popular in the worst of unpredictable times…
Here is our Patriotic Bagatelle: Played with period glass marbles to be especially satisfying when striking the high score bell beneath Kaiser Bill’s face. (Adolf also available for later…). [/span9]
We also have a fine further collection of both wooden and painted tin-type period Bagatelles –
– as well as a selection of Shove ha’penny board to be played with either period competition tokens or coins.
We have a huge collection of original Interwar social card games: Askim, Belisha, Dartex, Famo, Progress, Spellex, Sum-it, There & Back – and many more. PM is a current favourite (in deepest shades of art deco brown!) that really deserves to be played to the radio accompaniment of The Palm Court Orchestra on the Home Service…
At the outbreak of WW2 the production of cards was to be discontinued as unecessary: Churchill personally intervened. Here Vacuation for children, ‘Lecardo the 6 in 1 pack for the battledress pocket’ and the patriotic naval game England Expects.
Games and passtimes of all types became popular on the Homefront, especially chunky puzzles to while away dim lit blackout or shelter hours – the wire sort recalling the earlier Baguenaudier. Printed puzzles – often magazine give-aways – could be sensibly put in the salvage once done with.
Our very favourite wartime boardgame is ‘Aerial Attack’ – which includes the clipped instruction ‘Fire extinguished according to regulations, throw again.’ A game so much of its time that even the final pot is rationed: the winner takes two thirds of the pool then the runner up has the rest…
Games & Activity Workshops
Many of the earlier Medieval, Tudor & Stuart table and board games can be simply re-created on paper or card by folding, using our templates and decorating to suit (then we can also offer suggestions for playing live Morris games on the beach or in the garden!) A simple slot together teetotum spinner to use as a scoring die – alternatively even for predicting the weather or fortune telling – can also be made and decorated. Older children may enjoy having a go at counting and calculating grids.
For Victorian & Edwardian workshops there is the huge additional choice of simple traditional playthings for children to make: an articulated or paper-chain doll, ring and stick game, button whirligig, windmill or marbles bridge (as left). Most popular off all is the spinning thaumatrope: though probably most familiar as the bird in a cage illusion there are endless variations, a selection available to make and decorate using our prepared period illustrations.
20th century games activities can include many of those above but also incorporate the make do and mend/all pull together ethos of both the wartime Homefront or recessionary times: A wind spiral can be cut to deter birds from allotment crops (works in the 21st century garden, too…), waste or brown paper decorations made (and recycled), fiendish tangram puzzles created and solved. Logistics: These workshops are generally conducted indoors – whether at an event venue or school – as windy, cold and wet weather or poor light levels make activities dispiriting or even impossible. A group of four or five children is the optimum number for enjoyment so first come first served at short timed sessions works best – even if that might create a queue. We quote for agreed numbers of participants for booked activities in order to have sufficient templates, print-outs, paper and materials not to disappoint. While appropriate historic costume is worn, for safety reasons modern approved materials – card, adhesives, pens, crayons, scissors, etc – are used even for period workshops. Children cannot be left unsupervised but must be accompanied by a parent or guardian throughout the activity session.
Games Made & Supplied:
At events we are happy to offer free leaflets, instructions and creative suggestions for onward inspiration – and play! We generally carry a small stock of games for sale, both on site and by mail order, a range usually including baguenaudiers, cast dice, spinners and games counters, wooden put ‘n’ takes, dice cups, small leather or wooden boards, etc. We have also undertaken much larger projects to supply multiple games sets for schools’ and visitor activity chests to customer requirements and agreed budget – here all items are stitched, cut, sewn and cast entirely to order. We would be happy to hear from you with your own plans and requests.
As an example, shown here ‘en masse’ is a recent medieval commission for CADW that took many weeks to produce. Featured are variations on the 3 Man’s Morris game, plus dice pots, put ‘n’ takes and merchants’ counting cloths with replica jettons – all having accompanying bags and purses. (Although not seen here, durable laminated instruction labels were attached – and spare counters and jettons included – before delivery).
An important part of our remit was to re-create several versions of the same Morris game to be suitable for ownership from the lowest to highest status: a scrap of painted hemp and pebble counters for a kitchen boy; pewter counters and a leather purse for a merchant; sculpted oakleaf and acorn pegs for a noble; a leather topped embossed board with gilded pieces for the King…
We were also tasked to use as wide a range of appropriate and tactile natural materials as possible: counters being quartz and jasper pebbles or lead-free pewter; canvas, linen, hemp and silk brocade cloth; oak hardwood boards and spinners; vegetable tanned leather games, pots and purses.