The Games Children Played

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Growing Up with Street Games

When we were growing up in Belfast decades ago, children usually played out in the streets given the chance. During the holidays this could be all day long till darkness fell and you were called in for bed. There were no computer games or expensive toys, no mobile phones and only 3 channels on TV with “children’s TV” limited to about an hour a day.

How did we pass the time?  A ball or a skipping rope and plenty of imagination often fitted the bill. We’ve listed below some of the games we remember. We are aware that there are variations of the names of the games and indeed the rules varied in different neighbourhoods but these are the games we remember that were most popular.

How many do you remember?

Swinging on Lamp Posts

This was popular with both boys and girls. A sturdy rope was knotted around the lamppost. You sat on the rope loop and swung or ‘burled’ around the post. For added luxury a cushion could be added (so long as you replaced it on the settee before your mum found out!). Of course this game was a lot safer then as there were fewer cars about.

Swinging on lamp posts
Swinging on lamp posts

Kerby/ Kerbie/ Kribie/ Cribby (and other variations)

One person stood on either side of the street. The aim was to throw a ball to hit the exact angle where the road and the kerb met. Whoever had the most hits ‘kribs’ after a designated number of throws was the winner. Of course there was a lot less traffic to disrupt your game in those days!


One person, the queen, stands with their back to the rest of the group. They throw a ball over their shoulder. The rest of the children run to catch the ball and then hide it behind their back. The gathered children then sing

“Queenio, queenio who’s got the ball-e-o?

I haven’t got it in my pocket!”

The queen then has to guess who has the ball. If they guess correctly they get another go. If not, the child who had successfully concealed the ball becomes queen.

Chain Tig/ Tag

This was basically a variation on tig or tag, mostly known when we were young as ‘chasies’. However, instead of the caught person becoming the chaser, they held hands with the person chasing. As more kids were ‘caught’ the chain became longer and longer. The last person to avoid the chain was the winner.

Stuck-in-the Mud

Another variation of chasies, but this time if you were touched by the chaser you had to remain absolutely rooted to the spot. You could only be release if another player in the game tapped you and freed you from the ‘mud’.


There were other variations of hiding & chasing games including Kick the tin where those caught by the chaser had to wait beside a small tin while the chaser sought the remaining players who were hiding out of sight. If one of the hiding players raced to the tin ahead of the chaser and kicked the tin then all of the ‘captives’ were freed and the game started again. It was a particularly frustrating game to play as the chaser.

Chasing games
Chasing games

Piggy in the Middle

A three person game. The ‘piggy’ stood in the middle and tried to catch the ball as the other two threw it to each other. A fun game unless who were much smaller than the two throwing!

Clapping Games

A favourite with girls. Two girls would stand facing each other and sing a song while clapping and smacking each other’s hands. Some of the easiest were Pat-a-cake and A Sailor Went To Sea, Sea, Sea. Others were a lot more complicated and required a lot of practice to get the movements synchronised!

The Farmer Wants A Wife

Usually only played by girls. One person, “the farmer”, stands in the middle of a circle of girls holding hands. They move around in a ring chanting

“The farmer wants a wife,

The farmer wants a wife’

Hey ho my dearie-oh

The farmer wants a wife”

The ‘farmer’ then chooses one of the girls to be his wife and she joins him in the centre. The verse is then sung again but with the lyrics

“The wife wants a Child”

Another person is chosen from the circle and the song continues

The child wants a dog

Again someone is picked to be the dog and the song continues

“The dog wants a bone”

When the ‘bone’ is chosen, the whole group gather around and raucously slap the person on the back while singing

“Ha ha look at the bone!

Ha ha look at the bone!

Hey ho my dearie –oh!

Ha ha look at the bone!”


This was an autumnal game, a favourite with boys. When the chestnuts fell to the ground there was great competition to see who could collect the most and the biggest!

Taken from their green fleshy coating the nut of conker was drilled with a hole from top to bottom. This was usual the dad’s job. A string or shoelace was put through and knotted at the bottom. Two players then took turns to hold their conker on its length of string while their opponent swings his conker at the target (this was difficult than it sounds with fingers often being hit). The conker that shattered the opponent’s conker was the winner. Reputedly soaking a conker in vinegar overnight made the nut even harder.



A series of squares were drawn on the pavement in a set pattern. Each one was numbered from 1-10. If you were lucky you would have chalk to draw the grid but, if not, a sharp stone would do. A small stone was then thrown onto one of the more distant squares. A child then had to hop to that square to pick up the stone and then back again without letting their other foot touch the ground.


Almost exclusively a girl’s pastime. Skipping could be done individually with a one-person rope. Sometimes the rope had wooden handles. Various skipping songs accompanied the jumping.

Alternately if a long rope was procured, two people held either end and swung the rope in a circular movement. Another jumped in and out of the rope in turn or jumped to a particular song. If you mi-stepped and snagged the rope then it was your turn to swing the rope.

German Skipping

This involved the knotting together of lots of rubber bands to make a large circle. Two girls stood at each end with the elastic bands around their ankles. Others then took turns to perform various tricks manoeuvres by stepping on or twisting the bands.


This involved combining old pram wheels with a plank of wood to create a vehicle to race down, often steep, streets or grassy slopes.

The front wheels were attached to the smaller piece of wood which was attached to the plank using a lengthy bolt to allow the front wheels to turn. A rope tied to the front axle either side of the plank was used as the steering mechanism. The rear wheels were nailed on so that they could not be turned.

Refinements included 3-sided wooden box attached to the plank to serve as a makeshift seat and different sizes of wheels on front & back were common. Bear in mind that in those years there was no such thing as go-karts for sale in the shops. A plank of wood and a set of old pram wheels was all that was required plus ‘borrowing’ your sister’s skipping rope to use as the steering mechanism.

There was also no such things as brakes! Shoes were trailed on the ground to slow or stop the go-kart. (Mum’s were generally not too pleased with damage/ wear of shoes used for go-karting).

For those who enjoyed racing in the streets, snowy weather offered the opportunity to use a tin tray as a toboggan on any steep street.

Go Karting
Go Karting

Red Rover

This game saw two teams of children holding hands line up on opposite sides of the street facing each other. Each team took it in turns to call over a member of the opposing team –

“Red Rover, Red Rover we call Mary over!”

The chosen person then ran across the road and tried to break through the other team. The skill was guessing which two holding hands were the weakest link. If you succeeded in breaking their grasp you returned victorious to your own team. If you could not then you joined the opposition.

Rubber Balls

Girls would often play with two rubber balls against a wall, throwing them and catching them in sequence.

There were a variety of moves, uppies, downies and dashs were the basics. If you were really accomplished you would play with three balls.

Again there was a whole host of songs to accompany the actions. This game was best played against a red-brick building as the white-washed yard walls tended to be too uneven and playing against an end terrace house would annoy the residents greatly!

Bouncing balls against the wall
Bouncing balls against the wall

In conclusion

In looking back it is obvious that we grew up in simpler, less affluent times with children left to make their own fun. Games would often involve lots of neighbourhood kids with lots of physical activity and a fair share of bumps & bruises and occasional scrapes and cuts. They were however times that we recall fondly.

How many of these games did you play or remember?

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