The Traditional Children's Games of England Scotland
& Ireland In Dictionary Form - Volume 2

With Tunes(sheet music), Singing-rhymes(lyrics), Methods Of Playing with diagrams and illustrations.

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TOPS
Steevens, in his notes on Shakespeare, makes the positive assertion that " this is one of the customs now laid aside: a large top was formerly kept in every village, to be whipt in frosty weather, that the peasants might be kept warm by exercise, and out of mischief, while they could not work."
This passage is repeated in Ellis's edition of Brand, so that there is only one authority for the two statements. The ques­tion is whether Steevens was stating his own independent knowledge, or whether he based his information upon the passage in Shakespeare which he was illustrating. I think there can be no doubt that the custom existed, in whatever way we accept Steevens' statement, and the question is one of considerable interest.
"Tops" is one of those games which are strictly limited to particular seasons of the year, and any infringement of those seasons is strictly tabooed by the boys. Hone (Every Day Book, i. 127), records the following rhyme:—
Tops are in, spin 'em agin ; Tops are out, smuggin' about, but does not mention the season. It is, however, the early spring. This rhyme is still in use, and may occasionally be heard in the streets of London in the top season. Smugging is legitimate stealing when boys play out of season. u Marbles furst, then comes tops, then comes kites and hoops," said a London boy who had acquired some tops by " smuggin; " but these rules are fast becoming obsolete, as is also the use of a dried eel skin as the favourite whip or thong used.
The keeping of a top by the parish in its corporate capacity is not likely to have arisen for the sake of supplying people with amusement, and we must look to a far more ancient origin for this singular custom. Hone mentions a doubtful story of a top being used in the ritual of one of the churches at Paris. (The burial of Alleluia. The top was whipped by a choir-boy from one end of the choir to the other : Every Day Book) i. 100), and if this can be confirmed it would be a link in the chain of evidence. But the whole subject requires much more evidence than it is now possible to go into here, though even, as far as we can now go, I am tempted to suggest that







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