- by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Central Library
In a new series, we’ll be taking an occasional look at individual items from our Collections. The title, if not the exact intention, of this series – The Chimney Corner – has been taken from a charming volume published by this Library Service in the 1920s and 30s: “a little publication to tell you and your parents and teachers something of the books and activities conducted by the Public Libraries of the City for the benefit of boys and girls.” You can find copies in our Local and Family History department.
The Book of Sports for Boys and Girls; Containing Games, Recreations and Amusements, for the Play Room and Play Ground at Home or At School was written by William Martin – author of “Fireside Philosophy” and “The Parlour Book”, among other titles. Our copy was published in 1853 and is presumably a first-edition, as no information about reprints can be found. In fact, little information about the book or the author can be found – all that we have are the book’s contents.
Those contents are by turns charming, amusing and intriguing in equal measure. Split into a variety of sections – including “Games with Marbles”, “Games for Cold Weather”, “Dangerous Games”, “Gymnastics”, “Gardening”, “Carpentering”, “Short Plays, Games and Recreations” – the book is notable for its, on the whole, gendered separation of outdoor “sports” for boys and indoor “amusements” for girls. The book is clearly a product of its times in that sense, feeding into Victorian notions of masculinity and femininity, as well as a Whiggish insistence on the value of “liberty” to British identity:
Martin is also keen to position his interest in “Curious Tricks” as distinct from “conjuring”; which presumably has connotations incompatible with a Victorian belief in rationality as the grounding for a “healthy” society.
Bee-keeping, on the other hand, is an activity fit for training young minds:
It’s hard not to read any of this without concluding that Martin’s insistence on liberty, virile health and rational industry is in some way related to the British imperial project of the 19th-century. That may well be the case, and we may now look at a text like this from a position of implicit superiority. But does any of that get us any closer to successfully answering the 100 Conundrums at the book’s end? I suspect not!
Why not give them a try for yourself? (sadly the pages containing Conundrums 53 through 81 are now lost). To find the answers…visit our Information and Research department and ask to see William Martin’s Book of Sports for Boys and Girls.