Visitors play Downside Wall Game

Pupils welcomed the Old Citizens’ Eton Fives Club to Downside, last weekend, to play the Downside Ball Game. 

The Downside Ball Game is an outdoor racquet sport that has been played by pupils at Downside, since 1820. It bears some similarities to Fives, however, it is played with a solid wooden bat rather than one’s hand.

The history of the sport came about from Downside’s situation at the time, as there was no room for anything else, there were fewer than sixty boys in the School throughout the 1820s. Abbot Snow, an Abbot of Downside Abbey, once said how football, ‘not the tactical manoeuvring of backs and forwards, but the rough-and-tumble game of kicking how and when you could’ was the favourite sport, together with ‘cricket of a sort’ and ‘handball in the spring’. By the end of the nineteenth century it had become a part of Downside folklore that the term ‘handball’ was a translation of the generic `jeu de paume’ and referred to a long-popular game known as ‘bat and ball’ that had come over with Downside from the continent, as evidenced by the very similar game being played at Ushaw College which, like Downside, had its origins at Douai in Flanders.

At Downside, the Wall is a massive structure, some 12 metres high by 30 wide, comprising two playing walls, each with angled wings, and an open-fronted shelter forming a sort of distance-piece between them. It was within a few years of the opening of this grand court that Bat-and-Ball made its appearance.

To learn more about the origins of the game, and how to play it, click here.