Object of the Month/Hidden Treasures of the Dockyard
Chequers Gaming Board
What did seamen do in their leisure time on board ship?
Did you know that games played in the 18th/19th Century are still being played today!
Daily life at sea during the age of sail was filled with much hardship, such as cramped living quarters, disease, poor food, pay and bad weather. These harsh conditions on board ship often created a good sense of comradeship, and sailors enjoyed each other’s company off duty. There were times specifically set aside for leisure activities, when they could relax. They could enjoy playing games of dice and cards, telling tales, carving and drawing, practising knots or model making. Music and dancing were always popular at various levels.
To help illustrate a unique picture of life on board an eighteenth century warship, the Command of the Oceans galleries displays a large collection of the Invincible artefacts. These were recovered during the eleven years of excavation in May 1979 of the remains of a wooden ship outside Portsmouth harbour. The Historic Dockyard acquired an example of each type of artefact recovered. Careful selection ensured that a complete cross section of material from this important wreck site will be held in the collection for future generations to enjoy.
A number of gaming pieces and counters were recovered and is shown above. These pieces are typical examples, made from pine wood. A gaming board of 8 x 8 squares could have been a chess or draughts board.
In April 1988 several of the Invincible artefacts, as well as some from the Mary Rose collection were shown on Blue Peter TV programme. Originally this Chequers Board was thought to be something which would plot a course but upon receiving several letters after the broadcast, the wooden board was identified as a gaming board similar to Solitaire called ‘Old Fox & Geese.’
Old Fox & Geese Game, an old traditional game going back hundreds of years, is played on a board. It’s a game that is intriguing and which has stood the test of time admirably. Evidence for the play of Fox and Geese has been found in ancient digs and boards have been found inscribed on old buildings and even as graffiti by monks in medieval Christian cloisters.
It is normally played with a red or black draught representing the fox, and fifteen white draughts representing the geese. The fox starts in the middle of the board and the geese occupy all squares of one arm of the cross plus the whole first adjacent row. The geese cannot capture the fox but aim, through the benefit of numbers, to hem the fox in so that he cannot move. The objective of the fox is to capture the geese until it becomes impossible for them to trap him.’
Thanks to Ann Howe for this blog!
Anne is a volunteer in the CHDT Researchers Group providing in-depth knowledge of the Dockyard, Medway area, local and social history general, and more importantly preserving our heritage for the benefit of future generation.