(with special reference to Newport Pagnell)

Text by Grace M. Clark; Illustrations by Eleanor Dixon

Copyright 1990 - G.M. Clark & E. Dixon

Playtime Between The Wars - Children's Games in North Bucks in the 1920s and 1930s


Many years ago, I started to write down the jingles we used in our playground games as children in the twenties and early thirties. I was concerned that our heritage as not being passed to this generation as we had received it. Later, l discovered the Opies had written a comprehensive bock about playground games covering not only Great Britain but many other countries of the world.

This book is about Newport Pagnell and the surrounding villages. I include these because not only were many parents in Newport Pagnell natives of those villages but also because quite a number of children came into the town at the junior stage of their education - e.g. Stoke Goldington and Woolstones.

These villages often had their own interpretation of a game - maybe only a slight difference in word or action, but enough to enrich and give variety.

I hope the boys will not feel that I have concentrated unduly on girls’ games. After the infant stage of childhood, the girls tended to play separately from the boys, only coming together again in adolescence. Indeed, boys would often mock the girls and pretend that girls’ games were silly. Has life changed much in fifty years?

There are certain practices which have been common to all ages and places. Starting a game entailed a number of rituals. Sometimes before a chasing game, the chaser would be turned round three times. Other more elaborate jingles were used; some of these we have included under the heading ‘Starting Games’.

Occasionally a player would need a respite from play — she might have the ‘stitch’ (a pain in the side). She would hold up her hand and cross her fingers calling out ‘feignites’. After a brief rest she would rejoin the game.

The word ‘feignites’ has puzzled me, Only the words ‘feign’ or ‘feigned’ remotely connect with it. They of course mean to pretend or simulate. It is interesting to speculate that they might derive from jousting and the days of chivalry. Possibly the player could gain some advantage by holding up the game.

Today when tennis players indulge in this behaviour we call it ‘gamesmanship’. I should be interested to hear if any readers have a different explanation for this word.

Another convention which seems to prevail in children’s games relates to the outcome. The player who is least successful is punished rather than the successful being rewarded. The losing player might be tapped on the head three times or some other form of punishment devised.

Children’s games were played in the street, school playground, field, waste ground, recreation grounds or private gardens.