Georgian Era Entertainments – Outside the home

Home entertainments (discussed in previous posts here and here) were not the only forms of recreation available to people in the Georgian Era.  With increased income, thanks to the Industrial Revolution and increased world trade, the middle class now had the disposable income and free time to begin to enjoy many of the entertainments that had been available only to the aristocracy and landed gentry in times past.  We will now take a look at a few of the more popular ones.

Bowls (Lawn Bowling) appears on ancient vases and plaques from four thousand years ago and archaeologists have uncovered bas-relief stone bowls from 5,000 B.C., which show our ancestors enjoyed the game of bowling more than seven thousand years ago.  During the Roman Empire, the Legions carried the game, known as “Bocce,” throughout the empire, introducing it throughout the Roman world.  By the time the Southampton Old Bowling Green Club was established in 1299, the game was firmly rooted in England.  In fact, the game became so popular in England and in France; the King prohibited it because men were neglecting the archery practice, which was essential to the national defense.  Beginning in the Tudor period, it was fashionable for the aristocracy and landed gentry to have private bowling greens.  In his diary, Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) mentions an invitation to “play at bowls with the nobility and gentry.”  Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Water Raleigh, Victor Hugo, and Lord Macauley were all bowlers.  According to legend, Sir Francis Drake and his captains were bowling on the green at Plymouth Hoe the day, in 1588, when the messenger arrived with the news of the invading Spanish Armada.

Sir Francis Drake and his Captains Being Informed of the Spanish Armada

Sir Francis Drake and his Captains Being Informed of the Spanish Armada

In the American colonies, the first colonial reference to the game comes from Jamestown, Virginia.  In 1611, Sir Thomas Dale reported that as he came ashore at Jamestown to assume the governorship of the colony he saw people playing bowls.  In New England, in 1692, a man in Wells, Maine (then a part of Massachusetts) faced sanctions for allowing bowling in a tavern he ran.  In 1733, the Common Council in New Amsterdam (as New York was then called), leased a portion of the parade grounds in front of the fort to three prominent neighboring landlords for “a peppercorn a year.”  They based the lease upon their promise to create a park that would be “the delight of the Inhabitants of the City” and add to its “Beauty and Ornament”; the improvements were to include a “bowling green” with “walks therein.” Continue reading


Entertainment in the Georgian Era – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post we looked at how the people of the Georgian era entertained themselves indoors using cards, dice, and with board games. In Part 2, we look at Georgian era Parlor Games and other “entertainments”.

Entertainments – Parlor Games and Other Pastimes

Artistic accomplishments were valued in a lady, who, according to period expectations, should be educated, but not so much as to be threatening to her husband. As a result, many young women devoted a good part of their time to drawing and painting with common subjects being landscapes and portraits. Drawing could be a form of group entertainment, as the artist’s friends and family might watch her at work if they were not serving as her models.

Georgian era woman at her Paints

Georgian Era Woman at her Paints

Blind Man’s Buff is a children’s game played as early as 2,000 years ago in Greece. In the Middle Ages, blind man’s buff was an adult game, and the blindfolded player was usually struck and buffeted as well, hence “buff.” A player touched or caught by the blind man takes on the blindfold, although sometimes the blind man must guess the identity of his captive before the removing the blindfold. If the guess is wrong, the blind man must release the captive and the game continues.

The game has been popular among adults on and off throughout history. The game has been played in England since the Tudor period, when there are references to Henry VIII’s courtiers playing it. During the 17th Century, the English diarist Samuel Pepys reported a game played by his wife and some friends in 1664. Art from the 18th and early 19th centuries shows the game continuing to be popular with adults throughout the era.

Social Group Playing Blind Man's Buff

Social Group Playing Blind Man’s Buff

Buffy Gruffy is a substitute for Blind man’s buff for those occasions where you do not want the racket of the legitimate Blind Man’s Buff, having your toes trod on, or your furniture bruised and battered. One player, with a blindfold over the eyes, stands in the middle of the room. The others arrange their chairs in a circle and silently trade places. Someone claps to start the game. The blindfolded person passes around the chairs and stops in front of one. The player may use his knees to decide if someone is sitting in that chair, since physical contact is not permitted in polite society, especially between gentlemen and ladies this was quite “stimulating” . Continue reading

Entertainment in the Georgian Era

Imagine a long winter evening stretching ahead of you – in a world without electricity. You have the light from the fireplaces that you use to heat your home but it is dim. It will cost you money to burn candles or oil lamps; and gaslights, while beginning to be common for lighting streets and public buildings, will not gain wide acceptance for use in private residences until the 1850s. If you are to spend the money for lighting, how will you and your family entertain yourselves for the hours to come? Around the open fires of homes throughout history, but mostly lost today in favor of video games, TV, and streaming video, existed a solution: The parlor game.

Indoor games for groups are as old as history. From ancient Mesopotamia onward, people have enjoyed gambling on dice or card games and playing games of strategy to pass the empty hours. In England, Francis Willughby’s Volume of Plaies (1665) describes the rules of backgammon, and gives instructions for card games, beginning with the very manufacture of the cards themselves: take “3 or 4 pieces of white paper pasted together and made very smooth that they may easily slip from one another, and be dealt & played.”

By the Georgian period, 1714 – 1830, things had changed to the point where you did not have to manufacture your own cards. There were entertainments considered proper for ladies, those proper only for men, and others considered proper for both sexes. In this article, we are going to look at those that might be enjoyed by family and friends within your own walls.

Entertainments with Cards and Dice

Commerce is an 18th-century card game akin to the French Thirty-one and perhaps an ancestor of Poker. It was popular in the later 18th and early 19th centuries, however, some writers have indicated that it was most popular with the older set during the Regency era. This game has many of the aspects of modern Poker including scoring using pairs, triples, straights, and flushes.

Men playing cards in the Georgian era

Men playing cards in the Georgian era

Cribbage was invented in the early 1600s by Sir John Suckling, an English courtier, poet, gamester, and gambler. It derives from the earlier game of Noddy. Originally, the five-card game was played where each player only discarded one card to the crib. The goal of the game is to be the first player to score a target number of points, typically 61 or 121. Players score points for card combinations that add up to fifteen, and for pairs, triples, quadruples, runs, and flushes. Following the rules of game etiquette was important, and players followed them closely in cutting, dealing, pegging, playing, and using terminology. Some accounts contend that for many centuries, Cribbage was the only card game that could legally be played for money in English pubs. Continue reading