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The Harborough Hoard

Childhood was very different in the 1600s! Imagine if you had to entertain yourself without computers, tablets, or TVs.  You probably are more creative than you think, and these past few months when you have been staying home more may have shown you how to make toys out of the things you find around the house.  Children who lived back in Tudor times often had homemade, portable toys that they would bring with them to keep themselves entertained. We don’t often see these toys anymore because they were so well loved that they don’t survive as artifacts. 


Luckily for us, construction workers in the town of Harborough, England, made a unique discovery that gives us a peek at some of the toys that children in England in the 1600s played with! When they were working on St. Dionysisus Church in the center of town, the construction workers opened a bricked -up stairwell to reveal more than 200 toys! Although we are not sure how these toys ended up there, we do know that they are not toys that should have been used in church.  Described as “street toys”, many of them need open space to be played properly.   

Here are a few of the toys found:

Can you look at the pictures of the toys and match them with the kids playing games in the “Children’s Games” painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder below? Also think about how people studying history can use different sources to study the past.  Here we are using archeology and art to learn more about children’s games.  Can you think of other ways to find out how kids in the past might have enjoyed their free time? 


Harborough Hoard Toy and Game Definitions 

The balls could be used in a variety of games.  They aren’t specialized, like a football or basketball.   

The whistles work kind of like a kazoo or whistle that you would use today! Very noisy.  Some of them may actually have been pea shooters rather than whistles. 

Knucklebones: This simple game may go as far back as ancient Egypt, but we know they played it in ancient Greece.  Knucklebones were originally made from sheep or goat knucklebones, but some later examples are fashioned out of clay and metal.  Children played some simple versions of the game.  One involved throwing five knucklebones in the air and trying to catch as many as possible in one swipe.  Another way to play was to throw one or more of the knucklebones at a hole or an open jar to see how many you could get in there at a time. Adults also played with knucklebones, but they usually used them for dice games. 

Tip-cat: This game might remind you of baseball! The “cat” is a small stick with sharpened ends.  To begin playing, one player flips the cat into the air with a bigger stick and then hits the cat with that same stick. You see how far the cat goes! To add another step, your competitors can tell you how many hops or jumps they think it will take for you to get to the cat.  If you think it will take more hops, you can challenge your competitors and see how many jumps it really takes! 

Spinning tops: These tops could be spun in a few ways.  One way is to throw the top and have it land on a peg.  Another type could be thrown with a string for extra speed. Finally, there were tops that could be hit with whips to keep them going. 

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