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Coping with Coronavirus 22. Edwardian Parlour Games.


In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, people were a lot more trusting.

Guests would arrive, armed with an introductory letter, or introduced by family or friends of their hosts, and often stayed for several weeks. Any introduction seemed like an accepted order to show hospitality to their uninvited guests.

Edward Lear

Edward Lear, the famous Nonsense Rhyme writer and artist, (He wrote The Owl and the Pussy Cat) travelled around Southern Italy, with a pile of introductory letters. One Italian family didn’t want to let him stay with them, and he got quite angry, waving his letter at them, and insisting that they had to let him in. In the end, they reluctantly let him stay with them for a few nights.

If you’ve ever read Bertie Wooster, or seen the series, he spent most of his life inflicting himself on  his friends’ families with his butler Jeeves. The hosts often had no idea who he was. And when they did know, they didn’t really want him there!

Everyone would wander round the grounds, often writing or sketching the scenery. Then they’d all get changed for dinner, and afterwards they met in the parlour, drawing room, or lounge, to politely listen to someone playing the piano – not always well. They often had a sing-song and then they enthusiastically played parlour games. Children were included in these games, until they were sent to bed with their nurse to look after them.

Most of the games were very active and everyone took part. There was no room for shyness!


This form of entertainment carried on until WW2, when  a large number of stately homes collapsed and had to be given up due to high taxes, making hundreds of loyal servants jobless.

Singing games were popular for children, like Oranges and Lemons, the Farmer’s in His Den, Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush, and Ring a Ring o’ Roses. This originated during the Great Plague, or possibly as early as the Black Death. It was thought that carrying a bunch of posies or herbs was protection against the Plague. Atishoo atishoo we all fall down is the final sneezing followed by death.

Hunt the Thimble was played differently to how it is now. The thimble must be hidden within view. When someone spots it, they silently sit down until only one person is left hunting for it. Then the others can give them clues, like Warmer, Colder.

Elf on a shelf is the modern version.

I Spy with my little Eye (something beginning with- followed by a letter) is another game that has survived until now.

Dumb Crambo was another very popular Edwardian game. It dates back hundreds of years. Samuel Pepys played it on a long journey in a carriage in the 1600s.

Nobody is allowed to speak; that’s the Dumb bit. And Crambe was a Greek cabbage dish which was served repeatedly.

Two teams are needed. One side chooses a word, like Bat and then announces, It sounds like CAT. The other side has to silently act out what they think the word is, one at a time. When they’re wrong, the first team hisses, and when they get it right, the first team claps.

It’s supposed to be silent, but usually everyone collapses in fits of laughter. It’s great fun. We love it!

Charades is another miming game originally with two teams acting the words.  But nowadays one person at a time mimes the words of a book title, a film or a song.

The first team would leave the room and choose a word and decide how they were going to act it out. Of course, they couldn’t choose a film then!

Charades dates back hundreds of years. It comes from the word charradas which was danced and acted by Spanish clowns.

The game O’Grady Says.. was said by one person at a time, and everyone had to obey his instructions, eg O’Grady says hop on your right leg.

Then suddenly they give an instruction without saying O’Grady says…  Everyone who obeys it is out.

You mustn’t say Yes and you mustn’t say No is another popular Edwardian game that is still well-known.

Again, just one person asks another person questions to which they mustn’t say Yes and they mustn’t say No. And they mustn’t laugh.

When they reply Yes or No, they’re out.

Hide and Seek was nearly always played. Houses were huge, so it could go on for a long time.

Sardines is the version when the person hiding is found, they stay hidden and the one who finds them also squeezes next to them until everyone’s squashed in a wardrobe or small space, like sardines. Very intimate sometimes, especially when the lady hiding tells her favourite gentleman where she’s going to hide!

Obviously most of us don’t have the large spaces that the Victorians and Edwardians had, but we can still have fun playing some of the old games. And when playing with the children, you can genuinely enjoy yourself without pretending. You can all burn off a lot of energy before bedtime!


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