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The Sussex holiday cottage blog » An innocent game!

An innocent game!

Posted 27 September 2013 by Andrew Gardner google authorship button

Stoolball in Sussex

Sussex can lay claim to the origins of stoolball - a game we've probably all played at some point, usually in the local park after work and involving a few pints. For the uninitiated, I can tell you that stoolball is described by its governing body as somewhere between Twenty20 cricket and baseball, although I always thought it was a version of the game of rounders we played at school. So you get the drift: it involves wickets, bats, bowling and boundaries and the scores are made in runs.

I don't wish to sound glib though: stoolball is recognised by Sport England and has a serious league, particularly in the South-East corner of England, and teams can be ladies only or mixed. But its history is very much a part of Sussex, dating back to the 15th century and originally, so it's said, played by milkmaids who used milking stools as the wicket. Not to be confused with Stow-ball, which was played elsewhere in England.

Stoolball was notable for crossing class boundaries in times when these were very distinct: between 1866-87 games between the Glynde Butterflies, Firle Blues, Chailey Grasshoppers, Selmeston Harvest Bugs and Eastbourne Seagulls (a good excuse for me to namecheck these lovely East Sussex villages where we have many delightful holiday cottages. Take a look from the link here) would see daughters of the local vicar and the owner of the grand Glynde Place play alongside daughters of the local farm labourers, gamekeeper and the clerk to the local chalk pits. We know this because the vicar of Glynde published the first rules of stoolball in 1867. Given its longstanding association with lewd behaviour - bishops and local lawkeepers were wary of stoolball and the Puritans actively disliked it - it seems just as amazing that women were encouraged to play it.

Some historians believe the game originated in pagan times and was associated with fertility rites. The after-work version that ends in the local pub might have something in common with that.