The Beginning of the Game, an Historical Tale.

All games must have a beginning, even if it has been lost in the metaphorical mists of time, but for one game there is a wonderful tale of how it was created ……..


The subaltern looked out of the window and swore, it was raining, not just a drizzle but a steady, heavy downpour. As he looked he saw a stable hand run towards the stable block, a sack protecting his head and shoulders, it was certain there would be no riding today.

Ostensibly it was a riding party, a group of people gathered together to enjoy a few days of riding in one of the best parts of the country. The unspoken reason for gathering together several young men and women was to ensure suitable matches were made, and the presence of several friendly, but observant, chaperones was to ensure that nothing unsuitable took place. But now it was ruined, the weather would prevent any riding out together.

They gathered in the great hall, several of the young women were very unhappy, they had ordered new riding habits, which hung unwanted in their rooms. One of them picked up a battledore and shuttlecock which lay on a bench and started to play, bouncing it up and down. One of the young men picked up a second battledore and called.

“To me.”

She lobbed the shuttlecock across to him and they knocked it to and fro, getting higher and higher.

“That’s too easy.” Called one of the men and, running downstairs, came back with a length of rope which he tied across the hall.

Knocking it over the rope made the game more fun and the couple continued to play until the girl knocked it very high, the man ran to hit it and almost stumbled into a cabinet beside the wall.

“Careful,” said one of the chaperones, “I think we should stop now.”

“Oh no!” said one of the girls, “We should just keep away from the wall.” She ran upstairs to the schoolroom and returned with some chalk. She drew a line on the flagged floor following the edge of some of the paving stones. She then paced out lines on the other side of the rope, and along each side. The game resumed.

Over the next two days, as long as the rain continued they kept on playing, developing the rules as they went, playing singles and doubles. The chaperones smiled approvingly as some pairs of players began to show a fondness for playing together.

By the time they left the house, two couples were engaged and the game was forgotten in the preparations for the weddings, the carefully developed rules languished in the pocket books of some of the participants.

Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema - Battledore and Shuttlecock

Battledore and Shuttlecock – Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema

A year later the subaltern found himself given the job of carrying dispatches to a governor of an Indian province, then staying in Simla, the summer capital of British India, high in the foothills of the Himalayas.

“At least you will be out of this dammed heat,” said one of his fellow officers, “at least for a few weeks. It’s only lucky devils who get a transfer to the hills.”

When he arrived, it was certainly cooler, but it was wet, it was raining incessantly. The governor greeted him cordially and invited him to dinner.

“It will be a couple of weeks before I can reply to these dispatches, I afraid you will have to remain here until then. And at the moment there is nothing much to do.”

“No, no games or parties or anything.” Said the governors eldest daughter, “we should all be playing outside, but there is nothing we can do indoors.”

“Last year,” replied the subaltern, “ I was with a party in a country house, it was weather like this and we made up a game, using battledores and shuttlecocks.”

Fascinated the governor’s wife and daughters listened as he described the game.

“Can we try?” asked the girls, laughing the governor agreed. An old hall was marked out and soon all the younger people of Simla were playing.

A few weeks later, the daughter was writing down the rules of the game to send to a friend of hers, along with the news of her engagement. She looked up at her fiancée and asked.

“What is the game called? we have just been calling it the game, but it must have a name.”

“We never gave it a name.” He replied.

“Then what was the name of the house where you invented it?”



And that, more or less, is the tale as told to me.


Filed under Historical Reconstructions, Historical tales, Victorian

4 responses to “The Beginning of the Game, an Historical Tale.

  1. Love it. Great story. No idea why they had shuttlecocks lying around though?


  2. Battledore and Shuttlecock was advised as a suitable indoor exercise for ladies. Mrs Louden in ‘The Country Lady’s Companion’ suggests playing it in a suitably large hall in your house.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Autism Mom

    Oh a great story!

    Liked by 1 person

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