In London in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, children playing in the side streets was a common sight. Most houses in London did not have very big gardens, if any, for physical play like ball games. Traffic was thin because so few families had cars. So, the streets and sidewalks became playgrounds. Even when car ownership and traffic increased, there were games played on the pavements and small front gardens. One of our subscribers remembers playing hospital and school on her family’s front pavement.
Games like British Bulldogs and Boatman Boatman involved being “it” with the goal being running from one area to another without getting caught by members of the opposing team; or like in Tag or It, simply not getting tagged. A favorite girls’ skipping game was Elastics or French Skipping that entailed a choreography of jumping moves around two ropes or elastics. Hopscotch was also a favorite sidewalk game. A game that was sure to annoy the neighbors was Knock Down Ginger. A cotton string long enough to stretch from a door knocker to a nearby hiding spot would be pulled by children whose giggles would give them away when the neighbor answerd the door and found no one there. Paul Feeney in his A 1960’s Childhood: From Thunderbirds to Beatlemania describes these and more children’s games in his chapter “Games, Hobbies, and Pastimes.” Here’s an excerpt from his chapter “Out in the Street.”
“In the early 1960’s, as in previous generations, children’s main source of enjoyment was playing outside in the local streets, greens, and wastelands of bomb ruins with their mates. It was playing outside in the fresh air that rid them of their excess energy and kept them healthy. This is where they played the best games and had such great adventures, and importantly, it is where they became streetwise. This was all part of childhood and growing up; taking a few tumbles, getting dirty, grazing knees, having a few bumps and bruises, and falling out of trees. Cuts and grazes would be disinfected with iodine, and the telltale sign of purple iodine was often to be seen on children’s knees and elbows. The sting from the antiseptic as it was applied was often worse than the pain of the accident itself.”
“In the early 1960’s, traffic levels were still fairly low and kids were able to play happily in local streets without hindrance of parked cars and passing traffic. However, car ownership doubled between 1960 and 1970, and by about 1963 traffic problems had started to spread into residential side streets. The quiet local back streets, where the peace had only previously been broken by the sound of excited children playing, were now changing forever.”
Paul Feeney in A 1960’s Childhood: From Thunderbirds to Beatlemania, The History Press, 2010