Playground Games at Langdon Hills
A Laindon Lad's Memories
Langdon Hills school was bounded by the High Road on the west, by residencies on the north and south, and by Nightingale Avenue to the east. It was surrounded on four sides by a high iron fence. Two pedestrian gates and one gate large enough for a lorry to enter fronted on to the High Road. The entire grounds surrounding the school were macadamized. Spotted around the sides and rear of the ground were half a dozen or so Morrison shelters. Oddly, while toilets, entrances, cloakrooms etc were all strictly gender differentiated, the playground, on all four sides of the school, was unisex. Unlike Markhams Chase and Donaldsons, Langdon Hills boasted no sports field. At break time and after lunch all sorts of games abounded on the playground. Some, cricket and conkers for example, were seasonal. Most knew no season. The rules for each game were simple and well defined. Memory says that we all played by rules, often self imposed, and that there was little or no attempt at infringement. Further, some of these games varied by region (even by school) both in their rules and even by name.Some of the games played are remembered here but some, no doubt, escape recollection.
Some girls were invariably engaged in rope skipping. This might mean a single girl twirling the rope for herself. Sometime it meant an indeterminate number of girls, two of whom would swing a much longer rope while, one after another, a stream of girls skipped through the rope.
Cigarette cards came, as a promotion, in packs of cigarettes. One in a pack of ten and two in a pack of twenty. They would come in a set, the set comprising fifty cards. Sets of anything from butterflies to cricketers. The idea was to swap them toward completing the the set you were collecting. High stakes gambling could ensue if the players were prepared to lose their valuable cards. A game would ensue where, played against a wall, one player from a distance of several feet would float or skip a card against the wall. From there it would flutter to the ground. His opponent would do the same thing with one of his cards. This would continue until a card was thrown which floated down and partly covered a card already lying on the ground. The successful player would then pick up all the cards on the ground. This continued until one player had no cards left, determined he had lost enough and quit, or the bell rang!
Milk tops was a down market low risk variation of cigarette cards. Milk was delivered to the house in glass bottles. In the top of the bottle was a stopper to keep the milk in. The stopper was made of cardboard. The cardboard stopper, or top, was perhaps two inches in diameter. The same format took place as in cigarette cards but with milk tops floated against the wall.
Hop scotch seemed to be exclusively a girl’s game. The playing surface was delineated by chalk and an indeterminate number of players took part.
Chase was played by both girls and boys but I cannot remember it as being mixed. Essentially, someone was designated as “it” and the concept was that “it” would pursue anyone involved in the game until a participant was touched. As soon as the person was touched then he or she became the new “it”.
Release was a game played exclusively by boys. It is widely played with a variety of names and of rules. In some parts of country it was called British bulldogs, or bulldogs, or oysters, and a variety of other names. The group of boys, of indeterminate number but memory says it might have been up to twenty, divide into two teams. Each team has a camp or home. The boys circle the playground and, from a host of other games being played, one will spot a member of the opposing team. Then, often with a team mate for it will likely take two, stalk or chase the opposing team member. Wrestling him to the ground it is necessary to pat him on the head (sometimes smack or hit) while he tries to keep one hand on his head. At this point he becomes your prisoner and is taken to your camp. Meantime the opposing team is also trying to take prisoners. Each camp maintains guards for prisoners can be rescued. Rescue is achieved by a kamikaze-like charge when one attempts to charge through the guards and reach the prisoners. If unsuccessful the attacker becomes a prisoner but if the attacker can get past the guards and into the camp then a simple touch of each individual imprisoned team mate is sufficent to free them and they fly to the four winds. The game is over when one side or the other are all taken prisoner or, more likely, when the bell rings!
Cricket was a seasonable game. Three stumps plus bails were chalked on one of the school walls. Obviously all play took place in front of the wicket. There was no need for a wicket keeper. The wall did a perfect job. No byes!
Marbles could often be found taking place in a quiet corner. If there was such a thing! Memory says that cigarette cards or milk tops were more frequent.
Conkers was another seasonable game. The horse chestnuts became available in September-October time.Holes were drilled through the conker. A length of string pulled through, knotted underneath. One boy would hold his conker string at arms length and the second boy would swing his conker at the stationary conker. Then the roles reversed until eventually one conker split into pieces. There were a few enterprising characters who baked their conkers or soaked them in vinegar believing this would harden them. One even carefully removed the skin from his conker and filled it with cement. This made for the world’s heaviest conker and was soon discovered. These attempts to gain an edge were generally frowned upon as not being sporting and somehow rather “not British y’know”.
Football knew no seasons and I doubt that a day went by when one pick up game or another did not take place. Chalk marks on the side of a Morrison shelter did for goal posts.
In retrospect it is amazing to think that these games all took place in the same shared space. Inevitably a fielder chasing a cricket ball (they were sponge rubber, hard balls were not allowed) might run through a rope where girls were playing resulting in instant confusion. Or a fleeing boy playing release might run through a patch of cigarette cards lying on the ground leaving cards disturbed and angry players shouting after him. I personally know of one instance all too well. I was chasing or being chased. It may have been release which I played frequently. In great haste I ran across a cricket pitch, about three feet in front of the batsman, just as he was attempting a hook to square leg. Blackness!! The next thing I remember is being held over a sink in the boys cloakroom by a teacher with blood all over the place. Many years later an ear, nose, throat physician told me I had a deviated septum. I know how I got it. To a casual observer the playground at Langdon Hills might have seemed like a scene of unbridled confusion. Nonetheless, despite the occasional bloody nose or similar happenstance— it worked.