Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery - February 2016

Trap & Ball Game

Trap & Ball

February’s Object of the Month has been chosen by Heather Evernden of the Southborough Society. The object selected is a wooden trap and ball, dating from about 1820. It sits in a display case in the museum, alongside exhibits which explain the process of manufacturing cricket balls by hand.

The “trap” part of this item is described in the catalogue as a “solid shoe-shaped block of wood, mortised out to take a pivoted trigger”. You might think it is an old version of the modern shoe-tree, designed to keep Regency slippers in shape. Or you might imagine it to be a children’s toy; it having the appearance of a sleepy duck! A small ball sits in the hollow of the heel of the “shoe”. It’s hard to see what material forms the ball itself, but the string net-like cover is still intact. Pressing on the trigger mechanism projecting from the “shoe” with a foot, the ball is flung upwards. The batsman then would have to try to hit the ball as it flew past, towards a team of waiting fielders. A brief research online soon reveals that this blissfully simple mechanism was used in the old game of Bat and Trap. The game, which is little known outside of Kent, may originate as early as the Middle Ages. Bat and Trap was often played in the gardens of inns and is likely to be a precursor of cricket. The game is still is enjoyed today by enthusiasts.

So why did I choose this item? Firstly, I was looking for something connected with Southborough, which is where I live. Cricket balls were manufactured in Southborough from the 1840s, maybe earlier, until Twort’s workshop finally closed in 1978. It is thought that Twort manufactured balls for Bat and Trap as well as standard cricket balls. Cricket is so much part of Southborough’s past that a cricket ball features in the town coat of arms.I also was drawn to the date of this exhibit. As an English Literature student and teacher, I see dates in terms of writers and their works. 1820 means to me the year Keats sailed to Rome seeking a better climate for his health, having published his great Odes in 1819. Wordsworth was pacing the Lake District fells and the Austens recovering a little from Jane’s death in 1817. Did the Wordsworth children play Bat and Trap? Did Jane Austen’s brothers know this game?

Next time I stroll across Southborough Common while a game of cricket is in progress I shall try to picture an earlier form of the game being played: the shouts of boys as the trap shoots the ball up high and the thwack of the bat as the ball flies through the air towards the Hand and Sceptre, perhaps not breaking the windows this time!

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