Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sports & Games - A 1475 Skittles Argument + a brief History

Argument Two Peasants quarrelling over a game of skittles; village and forest in background Print by Monogramist FVB c 1475-1500 Netherlandish

In England, skittles grew in popularity for the common-man during the 15C & 16C to the point where “Common bowling-alleys  are privy mothes that eat up the credit of many idle citizens,” (Stephen Gosson, The School of Abuse, 1579). John Stow, writing in his Survey of London in 1598, complained about the loss of space for defensive martial sports, particularly archery; because “by the means of closing in of common grounds, our archers, for want of room to shoot abroad, creep into bowling-alleys and ordinary dicing-houses near home.”  He also cited specific examples such as Northumberland house in London “being deserted by that noble family, the gardens were converted into bowling-alleys, and the other parts into dicing houses.” By the mid 17C, schoolboys were playing “at skittle-pins, or dust-point” according to an example given in a Latin primer of 1649 (An Easie Entrance to the Latine Tongue, Charles Hoole) & another common use of the term was recorded a few years later during the civil war: “Unruly Rulers are like Ninepins, advanced one by one, to be thrown down by sixes and seavens” (Nathaniel Church, A Pocket-Companion made of 500 Proverbial Aphorismes, 1657.) By the early 18C, British skittles appeared to have a class element creeping in. John Strype’s 1720 Survey of London lists “the modern sports of the citizen besides drinking” and includes “bowling upon greens” before going on to list the “diversions” of “the lower classes” which include “bowling in allies and skittles.”  Bowling greens rather than alleys that figured in the great gardens of the day. Even so, Charles Cotton whose Compleat Gamester was published in 1674 was scathing about both. “The Bowling-green, or  Bowling-Alley is a place where three things are thrown away beside the Bolts - Time, Money, and Curses.”

See: Parks & Gardens UK