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Some of the street games we played
in the 1950’s East End

The games we played in the streets

The streets were a much safer place back then. The main roads were always busy even at that timHop Scotche. Mainly with trolley buses and delivery vehicles, including horse and carts. But because hardly anyone in the area owned a car in those days the back streets were virtually traffic free. You can see how quiet my road was from some of the old photos on the site.This made them a good place to play. It also got you out of the house while the Flit and feather dusters were being bandied about. A car or more likely, a lorry may interrupt your game every half hour or so but there was no speeding and drivers knew there would be kids in the street.
Because everyone knew everybody else it took the strain off the mothers who would always know where you were. If you did wander off you would shout up to her or tell one of the other kids.

Rules are rules, and you’re not playing!

We played the usual games like football and cricket in the streets. Coats for goal posts or a wicket chalked on a wall would do. Some other games were known by different names in other parts of the town or country but all had basically the same rules.
One of these rules concerned who’s game it was. Obviously when playing a ball game the owner of the ball had the final word. “Can I play?”, the latecomer would ask. “Better ask Billy, it’s his ball”, would be the reply. Rules had to be adhered to or Billy simply took his ball home and ended the game. With other games it was normally the person who suggested it that the game "belonged to". “It’s my game, and you’re not playing” would be said when two kids had fallen out.
I don't really know if any of the games below are still in existence. I know the one in the picture above is, Hop Scotch. You just don't see kids playing in the street anymore. Maybe in other parts of the country they are still alive, it would be a shame for them to die out altogether. My grandchildren sometimes sang songs and chants that resemble the ones from the playground of my youth but I don't think the games haves survived so well in this electronic age.
Some of the games below may seem complicated at first but all are quite simple to pick up. Picking teams or someone to be "it" was usually done by "dipping" or "pigeon steps". If nobody else was “playing out” we played with the dirt on our own.

Who’s going to be “it”

The process of "dipping" was the fairest way to decide this, and there were many, many different rhymes that accompanied this elimination process. The "dipper" would recite the rhyme while touching or pointing at each person in the circle in turn. The one left at the end would be "it" for the first game. Here are a few of the ones I remember but there were many more.

“Ip dip dog shit, you are not it”
was one of the most popular as well as the shortest. I think it was just an excuse to use a swear word!

Here’s a more complicated one:
Ippa dippa dation, my operation
How many people, at the station
(Then this person picks a number, I’ll use 5 as an example)
The one who comes to number 5 shall surely not be it - 1-2-3-4-5.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four (pause) Five potato, six potato, seven potato more.

With the above, each kid held out two fists in front of them and if the "more" came on theirs it was put behind their back. When both hands were behind, they were out.

There must have been scores of different ones handed down through generations, some of which are still used in playgrounds today. How long for though, I dread to think.

Tin Tan Tommy

Egga (or Egger)

The only thing you needed to play this game was an empty tin can. There were plenty of those lying about on the debris. After sorting out where "home" was, one of the players threw the can as hard as they could down the street. Whoever was "it" or "on it" chased after the can, picked it up and ran backwards to the elected “home” point. This was usually a section of wall; a bollard or a lamp post.
While the tin can was being retrieved the other kids ran and hid themselves. The person with the can had to search out the others and when one was spied, get back to the can. He would then bash it up and down on the wall, shouting “I see Johnny behind the green lorry”, and out would come Johnny from behind the lorry moaning because he was now "it". If someone managed to get to the can and bash it before the searcher, then they were "safe".

This game needed a tennis ball in order to play. As usual the one to be "it" was picked by ‘dipping’. The person who was 'it' gave the rest of the group a subject to choose a name from. The group then huddled together and chose names from the given subject. If the choice was colours then one would pick blue, another red, and so on. One person would then recite all the chosen colours to the one who was ‘it’. They then threw the ball high into the air against the wall shouting one of the colours. Whoever had chosen that colour had to retrieve the ball while the others ran away. As soon as they caught it they shouted “Egga”, and everyone had to stand still. The person with the ball was then allowed three giant steps towards any one of the others, and threw the ball to hit them, making them "it" and the whole cycle started again.



You could either find the necessary tools for this game on one of the debris, or get your dad to knock you up a quick set. All you needed were two bits of wood. A small piece with chamfers or slopes on each end, and a larger piece to use as a bat. You placed the small piece on the edge of the kerb or low wall with an inch or so overhanging. You then gave it a downward whack with the bat and sent it flying as far as you could. From where it landed you had to hit it on the chamfer to make it jump into the air then try to whack it again while it was in midair to send it flying farther. After three whacks the distance was paced out and the furthest person was the winner. I have included my “highly technical” drawing showing how it worked!

Everyone had marbles (people tell me I’ve lost mine). I don’t know why, they just did. I know that there are many variations of this game still played today but ours was just a simple hit and take version. The first person rolled their marble then the second rolled theirs after it to try and hit it. Alternate turns were taken by each player until one hit the others. That marble then became their property. This could sometimes take ages and it has been known to go right around the block once they had rolled into the gutter. The other version we played was against the wall. This was similar to ‘flickers’ described below. I've also seen it played in a circle with different rules.

Lolly sticks


This was a game to be played while sitting over the coal hole in the porch on a rainy day. A steady hand is needed. You sat there with your bunch of flat wooden lolly sticks (there were always loads of these available) and let them fall from a low height so that they landed in a crisscross heap. You then picked up all the ones that weren't touching from round the edges. You then used one of these to start flicking a stick off the pile without disturbing any others. If you moved another one while flicking it was your opponent’s turn.

Picture cards, or flickers as we called them came from everywhere. From cigarette packets, bubble gum and sweets. Even packets of Brooke Bond PG Tips tea contained picture cards. We used to play to get more (or lose the lot). As with marbles, there were several versions that we used to play. The most popular was ‘up the wall’. You flicked your card towards a wall to get as close as possible to it. The nearest took the cards. Or, if you landed on top of your opponents card you took it. There were many more variations of this game.

Run outs

He ball

In this game, whoever was ‘it’ counted to twenty while the others ran and hid. He then went in search of them. When one of the hiders was caught by him they joined him as a seeker to find the others. As more kids were found the search team got bigger. This went on until there was only one hider left and so became the winner. Sometimes the others had to find him or her to convince them that they were actually the only one not yet found! They would ignore calls in case it was skullduggery by the seekers.

This was the same as the classic game called either "it", "had", or "he", where you chased the others in order to touch them and make them "it" instead of you. The only difference being that a ball was used to throw at them instead of touching by hand. When it hit them it was their turn to chase the others with the ball. Sometimes immunity was given if you were off the ground.

Cheap and cheerful

When we weren’t playing cowboys on the debris, or any of the above games, there were always the cheap toys we spent our pocket money on. Mainly rubbish, but it kept us amused. Off to Wheatley’s the newsagents to buy the comics (Beano and Dandy usually) and while there, something in the window always caught your eye.
A ‘Rocket’ and a roll of caps! The rocket consisted of a bomb-shaped piece of metal, sliced through to give two separate parts. The parts were held together by an elastic band in a groove. You put a cap between the two metal surfaces, the band holding them in place, and you threw it into the air. Yes that was it! Exciting eh? It came down, the cap went bang, and you did it again. This was entertainment. We would spend hours playing with a toy that cost pennies! We stopped when we finally got bored or nobody had any caps left. Years later, I remember seeing the improved version. Made from moulded plastic with a spring loaded button to hold the caps. Not a patch on the original!

Bonfire night