Games played by girls in Plymouth, c.1960


This involved juggling with two balls, and chanting rhymes.

  • This game had to be played up against a wall, and the chant was based on "One, two, three, O'Leary":
    One two three and PLAINSY
    Four five six and PLAINSY
    Seven eight nine and PLAINSY
    Ten and PLAINSY, catch the ball.
    (Followed by the same, substituting
  • Over the garden wall
    I let my baby sister fall;
    My mother came out
    And gave me a clout,
    I told my mother
    Not to boss me about;
    She gave me another
    To match the other,
    Over the garden wall.
  • Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Jews
    Bought his wife a pair of shoes;
    When the shoes began to wear
    Nebuchadnezzar began to swear
    When the swearing had to stop
    Nebuchadnezzar bought a shop
    When the shop began to sell
    Nebuchadnezzar bought a bell
    When the bell began to ring
    Nebuchadnezzar began to sing:
    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall (etc.)
  • Each, peach, pear, plum
    I spy Tom Thumb;
    Tom Thumb in the wood
    I spy Robin Hood;
    Robin Hood in the cell
    I spy William Tell;
    William Tell at the table
    I spy Betty Grable;
    Betty Grable is a star
    S — T — A — R.


Many games needed people to do less interesting tasks, such as turning skipping ropes or giving the instructions while everyone else had the fun. These were selected by means of a dip, which eliminated girls in the group one by one, until the required number of stooges were left. Here are the two most common dips that I remember:

  • Dip, dip, dip
    My blue ship,
    Sails on the water
    Like a cup and saucer
    It must not be you.
  • Eeny, meeny, mackeracka,
    Air, aye, dominacka
    Chickapoppa, Lollipoppa
    Im, pom, push.
    God’s words come true,
    It must not be you.


Sometimes a girl would skip on their own, but often another girl joined in and the two skipped together, face to face. The one holding the rope had to be the taller of the two.

It was more fun, however, when two girls turned a long rope together. If there was a large group, all the other girls would run through, one at a time, without missing a beat and without hitting the rope:

  • Keep the kettle boiling
    Miss a beat, you’re out!

Another game with the group involved one girl being invited in to skip, and then told to get out read for the next one:

  • There's somebody under the bed
    Whoever can it be
    It makes me feel so frightened
    So xxxx come in with me.

    Xxx light the candle
    Xxx look under the bed,
    Get out you fool, get out you fool,
    There's nobody under the bed.

Other team skipping games could determine the initial of our sweetheart: after the some irrelevancy about raspberry tart we would get to the all-important line “Tell me the name of your sweetheart” and we would shout A, B, C, as the rope went round faster and faster, and the letter on which the person tripped provided the first letter of the sweetheart’s first name. We also had games which would determine who the girl would marry, and how many children she would have. Some of this divination was done via skipping, and the rest by games in a circle. Just to make sure, we also used to play with a square of paper with all the corners folded to the middle; this was then turned over, and all the corners turned to the middle again. Numbers were placed on the top layer and fortunes underneath: one girl held it on her forefingers and thumbs, and another chose first the numbers and then the letters that would seal her assumed fate.

Chinese skipping, where a long piece of elastic was wrapped around the legs of two girls while a third jumped on it, came in only at the very end of my time at Pennycross, and was more popular with my younger sister Melanie.

We were short enough then to skip with hoops too, although we got keener to spin them round our waists when the hula hoop rage started.

Action Game

Some games involved vigorous actions

  • I am a girl guide dressed in blue
    These are the actions I can do:
    Bend your elbows,
    Bend your knees.
    Salute to the King,
    Curtsey to the Queen,
    Turn your back
    On the dirty Submarine.

Changing beads

Collecting beads was an obsession, and changing duplicates a favourite pastime. They were kept in tins lined with cotton wool. Large intricate beads were highly prized, but “tackers” were also preserved: these were the minature beads that came from the multi-strings of necklaces that were fashionable at the time.

Girls often collected marbles of the prettier type too, but never played with them.

They also collected silver charms for charm bracelets.

Mothers and Fathers

When we played Mothers and Fathers, the child playing the baby had to waddle in a squatting position, and when the tar melted in the hot summer sun, the hems of our skirts became permanently edged with it. Two children would have to cross arms to form a chair when the “baby” needed carrying.


With a piece of chalk in your pocket, you could draw a hopscotch game on any playground or pavement. Usually it was in the form of one square followed by two squares for as long as required (with two squares at the end to enable a jump turn). Spiral ones were harder to draw and less commonly used.

Clapping games

  • My mother said
    That I never should
    Play with the gypsies in the wood,
    If I did
    She would say
    Naughty girl to disobey
  • Imm pompay Galilee Galilosky
    Imm pompay, Galilee
    Academic, Mrs Fleury,*
    Academic, puff puff!

* Mrs Fleury became a local Plymouth councillor in 1958. None of these words is likely to be correct, but are written as they sounded to a seven-year-old at the time.

Other games

  • Truth, Dare, Kiss, or Promise
  • Fairies’ and Giants’ Footsteps
  • In and out the dusty windows
  • The farmer’s in his den
  • Statues
  • Hide-and-Seek
  • Poor Sally is a-weeping
  • What’s the time, Mr Wolf?
  • Oranges and Lemons

Some of the above games were usually played out of school, as they took up too much room in the playground, which was usually commandeered by the boys.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are / The monkey's in the motor car" was often chanted, possibly after hide-and-seek?

Sayings and special words

  • “Cross my heart and hope to die”
  • Erky post (safe place to shelter in Hide & Seek)
  • “Barsies” (saying this granted immunity in games if a shoelace needed to be tied, etc.)
  • Tacker (small thing or person)
  • Maid (girl) as opposed to boy (pronounced as in “bite “)
  • “Charlie’s dead” (always said when a girl’s petticoat was showing). Not that Plymothians used the term girls much: this was likely to be prefixed by "Hey, maid"

Magazines read by the girls

  • Bunty
  • Judy
  • June
  • Princess
  • Look & Learn (imposed by parents)


  • If you saw an ambulance, you had to hold your collar until you saw a four-legged animal
  • Stepping on a crack in the pavement meant bad luck


Girls were not all sweetness and light: their bullying was usually mental rather than physical, except for a method of torture to the wrist known as Chinese burns, and itchybacks (the irritant insides of rosehips) thrust down people’s necks….

Contact: Stephanie Jenkins


Last updated: 9 October, 2021