is a sport that dates back to the 14th century, originating in Sussex
, southern England
. It may be an ancestor of cricket
(a game it resembles), baseball
, and rounders
. Traditionally it was played by milkmaids
who used their milking stools
as a "wicket".
The game's popularity has faded since the 1960s, but is still played at a local league level in Sussex, Kent, Surrey and the Midlands. It was officially recognised as a sport by the Sports Council in early 2008. Some variants are still played in some schools, though often, due to safety fears, a tennis ball is used. Most teams are for ladies only, but there are some mixed teams.
The game of Stool Ball is ancient and dates back to England in the Middle Ages, with references found in manuscripts dating back to the 15th century. The game is strongly associated with Easter
, and some historians theorise that the game was a Christian adaption of pagan ball games strongly associated with fertility rites. This is evidenced throughout early literature where the game is also strongly associated with romance and courtship, and Shakespeare made use of the phrase "playing stool ball" when referring to sexual behaviour.
Stool-ball makes an appearance in the dictionary of Samuel Johnson, where it is defined as a game played by driving a ball from stool to stool.
According to Alice Gomme, the earliest references show that the game was called Stobball or Stoball, and was a game peculiar to North Wilts, North Gloucestershire, and a little part of Somerset, near Bath.
Description and Rules
Stoolball is played on grass with a 90-yard (82-metre) diameter boundary, and the pitch is 16 yards (14.5 metres) long. Each team consists of 11 players, with one team fielding and the other batting. Bowling is underarm from a bowling "crease" 10 yards (9 metres) from the batsman's wicket, with the ball reaching the batsman on the full as in rounders or baseball rather than bouncing from the pitch as in cricket. Each over consists of 8 balls. The "wicket" itself is a square piece of wood at head or shoulder height fastened to a post. Traditionally the seat of a stool hung from a post or tree was used. Some versions used a tall stool placed upright on the ground.
As it is played today, a bowler attempts to hit the wicket with the ball, and a batsman defends it using a bat shaped like a frying pan. The batsman scores "runs" by running between the wickets or hitting the ball beyond the boundary in a similar way to cricket. A ball hit over the boundary counts for 4 runs if it has hit the ground before reaching the boundary, or 6 runs if it landed beyond the boundary upon first contact with the ground. Fielders attempt to catch the ball or run out the batsman by hitting the wicket with the ball before the batsman returns from his run.
Originally the batsman simply had to defend his stool from each ball with his hand and would score a point for each delivery until the stool was hit. The game later evolved to include runs and bats.
There was a game called stoolball played by the prisoners-of-war at Colditz
castle during World War II
. It is described by P. R. Reid
as similar to rugby football
and is unrelated to the traditional Sussex game.