January 28, 2011

Colonial Games: How to play Fives

Fives, the Game of Fives or Hand Tennis has many game variations and can be played in teams of 1 to 5 players. A line is drawn down a suitable wall. The starting team throws the ball at the wall and, once the ball ricochets back, uses their hands like moderns day tennis rackets to hit the ball to the other teams' part of the wall. The ball may hit the ground once or be intercepted from the wall, if the ball is missed, the other team gets a point. The ball is then thrown again and the game continued.   

A favorite place to play was against church walls because they provided the best kind of wall for the game. The book, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England from the Earliest Times  (1901,) stated that "The custom of playing fives in churchyards continued in many a country district until quite recent years, notably in Somersetshire and Staffordshire. Ball-playing in such a place no doubt prevailed because the church tower often afforded so suitable a wall for fives. It was usually practised on the north side, because there were generally no graves on that side, and the sport created less scandal. A painted line for the game still remains on some of our church towers, but a string-course of suitable elevation more usually sufficed. " 

The ball was typically a soft leather ball but later the game came to include wood rackets or gloves, especially with the upper classes to protect the hands.


  1. Great post! Where's the first image from? I'm trying to find good quality images of historical fives playing.... Thanks!

  2. It was from a book entitles "A Pretty Little Pocket Book."


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