With football boots hung up for the summer and the chalk dust of Wimbledon now settled, this month we thought it would be appropriate to showcase an object that very much reflects another long time English tradition and favoured sport of the season, and indeed of the area. Cricket. So, while the best in their field battle it out at county games, and fervent supporters hang on every ball thrown in the ever popular T20 matches, this month’s Object of the Month got us thinking – what if cricket could be played anywhere and all that you needed to play could be carried round in your pocket? “Owzthat?”, a Somerset County Cricketer might say, and that would well sum up our object this month!
Our July Object of the Month, which is currently on show at Cheam library, is the small pocket cricket game called “Owzthat” – it seems you can carry all you need to play cricket in your pocket! We also have a variety of other items on display, all relating to the act of playing the game.
This includes a bronze medal awarded to a Cheam School pupil in 1927, for ‘throwing a cricket ball’; the original fixtures card for Sutton Cricket Club in 1896; and, of course, we couldn’t do a display on cricket without showing an original Montagu Odd & Co. – in this case a well used ‘Superior Special Driver’ cricket bat! All of these can be viewed at Cheam library until August’s Object of the Month goes on display..
As some may be aware, cricket has a long distinguished association with the area, namely in the form of the above mentioned bat manufacturers, Monatgu Odd & Co. of West Street, Sutton. Renowned for the production of superior quality handmade willow cricket bats, the company were once famed for supplying winning bats to one of cricket’s all time greats, W.G. Grace. Regular followers of our Object of the Month series will have previously seen examples of Montagu Odd & Co’s wares, specifically the rather ‘odd’ ball But this month our thoughts are more with the act of play itself rather than the equipment used, and that’s what “Owzthat” is all about.
As the promotional material describes, “Owzthat” is ‘The cricket game for all weathers’. It’s essentially a dice based game that requires a minimum of materials – the two die, a pencil and paper, some knowledge of how to score a cricket game and a vivid imagination. Easy to fit in your pocket, it can be played anywhere – see ‘Rules for Playing the New Game’ instructions below.
This manufactured game is based on the pre-WW1 non-commercial game known as pencil cricket, whereby a six-sided pencil would be shaved back to bare the wood so that numbers and words could be written on the sides and it could then be used as a die. A number of manufacturers attempted to commercialise the game in the early twentieth century, but this particular version was first produced by William Lindop Ltd of Manchester in 1924. The original patent, number 18960, was first applied for in 1924 and finally granted in 1932 – tins that show this patent are the rarest and were produced between 1932 and 1939. Production ceased during WW2, possibly because the factory was taken over by the war commission, therefore we estimate that our version was probably produced soon after the war (late 1940’s early 1950’s) – a hinged lid to the tin was introduced in 1964 and produced and sold in this way until 1972, when a plastic tube version replaced the metal tin completely.
Our example was donated by a local resident who fondly played the game as a boy in the early 1950’s, inventing his own teams and tournaments with friends. Accounts indicate that it was actually as popular amongst adults as it was children, and continued to be up until the 1980s when the hunger for digital started to kick in – for those of a certain age you may remember the BBC TV comedy series ‘The Good Life’, in which Richard Briars plays “Owzthat” on the kitchen table in one of the first episodes. Some critics say this pocket game is nothing like real cricket, as no skill is required. Of course it’s not. But does that matter? From hearing and reading fond stories from those who played it, we believe there’s no doubt this iconic small blue tin provided many a happy hour or two for cricket fans who were content to let their imaginations run wild for a while with this pocket size alternative.
If you’re wondering about “Owzthat” today, it seems the concept of cricket in your pocket is not dead! William Lindop Ltd, the manufacturer of our little example, continued producing the game in different formats for some time, only ceasing production when they went into liquidation in 2014. Despite this, various versions of an advanced, multiple dice ‘Pocket Cricket’ game are currently widely available, including limited editions such as ‘The Ashes’, which includes new rules ‘to give gameplay a true Test Match experience’. It seems the concept of cricket in your pocket is not such a crazy idea after all.
You can see the Object of the Month and all of the objects discussed here in their accompanying display currently on at Cheam Library (Church Rd, Sutton, SM3 8QH) during regular library opening times.