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Aunt Sally

Aunt Sally at the King’s Arms, Kidlington

The game on August 28th 2007 was the last of the season and the league started playing again in May 2008. There were two teams, the visiting team from Ambrosden, and the King’s Arms team. The scores were chalked on a blackboard with the home team’s names written up in the first column, with the initials of the visiting team at the right hand side of the board. Each member of the home team threw his six sticks and the score was chalked up and totalled. The home team won 21 points. Ambrosden then threw, also scoring 21, a tie, which is unusual. The home team then threw three sticks each, followed by Ambrosden who passed the score of the home team after three players had thrown. This finished the first leg of the game. If the result had not been clear cut, and the teams had tied again, they would have then played one stick each in a similar fashion. If there had still been no clear winner they would have gone back to throwing six sticks and the process would have started again until there was a clear winner. The players then began on the second leg, which followed the pattern of the first one, with the visiting team again winning, and the third leg followed the same pattern again with a win for Ambrosden. This meant they were top of their league and in 2008 moved into a higher league.

What has been written about Aunt Sally?

There is a great deal written about throwing games with balls but very little about throwing sticks. What is often described as the fairground game of Aunt Sally is played throwing balls rather than sticks.

There are however references to stick throwing. Strutt quotes Stow of London, published in 1720, who writes: “The lower classes diverted themselves by pitching the bar.” Wikipedia also records that Robert Dover, an attorney of Barton on the Heath, in Warwickshire, directed the annual celebration of games in the Cotswolds. Listed among the games is “Pitching the bar” but in neither case is there a description of the game itself. Perhaps these were similar to welly wanging, the modern game popular with children and a mainstay of local fetes and other amateur money raising events. In this game all that is needed is a space to throw, a wellington boot and someone to see fair play.

There is, however, a cartoon drawn by Rowlandson in 1808 entitled “Doncaster Fair or the Industrious Yorkshirebites” which shows a woman encouraging two youths to try their hand at throwing sticks. The throwing sticks are long and thin and what they are meant to be thrown at are prizes balanced on much shorter sticks like ninepins. The prizes appear to be a potato, a slice of bread, a bread roll and a fourth object which it is difficult to interpret. It looks like a very small barrel which may contain alcohol.

Sticks were a cheap and easily available resource at this time, unlike balls. Until the middle of the 19th century bouncing balls were often made of cork and worsted or leather and feathers. These would have been time-consuming to make and not easily replaced. In France balls were sometimes made of papier mache, while in hitting games using sticks, such as knurr and spell or tipcat, the object hit by a big stick was either a round piece of wood, a knurr, which is a hardened excrescence on the trunk of a tree, or in the case of tipcat a short pointed stick.

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