An introduction to skipping games
Micheal Rosen introduces the tradition of skipping games.
The earliest references to skipping, from the 16th century, relate to skipping with a hoop rather than a rope. In Britain the earliest reference to rope skipping is to single skipping in the early 18th century. Skipping ropes have been manufactured for children since the 18th century, though of course improvisation plays its part in this history. Washing lines were often used to make a long rope.
The two basic forms of skipping are single skipping with a short rope, and group skipping with a long rope, which were observed by Alison Atlee, enthusiastic chronicler of Victorian childhood. Clearly these basic forms are still to be found today. As with clapping games, part of the appeal here is skill, demonstrated both by the complexity and variety of moves mastered, but also by speed. As the Opie’s memorably said, 'The expert skipper reminds one not of a fluttering butterfly but a machinegun.'
In long rope skipping there are different methods of turning the rope. For example, varying the speed, often regulated by a chant, such as 'salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper,' salt being the slowest and pepper the fastest. And in doing the bumps, in which the rope is whipped round so fast that it passes under the skipper’s feet twice in one jump. So on the letters of, 'Mrs D, Mrs I, Mrs F-F-I, Mrs C, Mrs U, Mrs L-T-Y.' Another method was to swing the rope from side to side rather than turn the rope, as in the initial part of the rhyme, 'Bluebells, cockle shells, evie, ivy, over'.
This footage was filmed in Edinburgh in 1951.
The other kind of skipping game to note is elastics, or French skipping, played with a long continuous loop of elastic, stretched around the legs of the two enders to form a rectangle. Elastics took root in Britain in the 1960s, brought from the USA and ultimately originating from China or Japan. This seems to come and go in intense crazes.
While the Opie’s recorded a wide variety of rhymes accompanying skipping games, the playgrounds researched for this website produced a smaller repertoire. Some were old favourites, such as, 'Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around. Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground,' still found across Britain. And, 'Cinderella dressed in yella,' which has been in circulation at least since the 1960s.
This recording was made by Iona Opie in Hampshire, 1972
Finally, as with any game involving physical objects, children display considerable inventiveness in using skipping ropes for other purposes, building them into pretend play to serve as snakes, reins for a horse or other imaginative transformations.
This film explores the fun and complicated skipping games that children play.
Banner credit: © Raymond Townsend
Article: © Michael Rosen