They were only playing leapfrog…..

This story comes from a source which I have used quite frequently, namely “The Date Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood”. On this occasion, the year is 1794 and the French revolutionary government has recently abolished slavery on February 4th of that year. Only a week later, on February 11th, the sessions of the United States Senate are made open so the public can come along and watch.

Today, though, is February 23rd and the slack jawed young locals in the Hockley area of Georgian Nottingham have all assembled in Broad Street. They are going to have a damned good game of leapfrog while they wait for somebody to invent football. On this modern map, LRTS marks the tram system. Look for the orange arrow:

I presume that leapfrog  is a universal game across the world. This is Harlem during the Jazz Age:

And here’s one of those old Victorian stop motion films:

You wouldn’t want to play  leapfrog in the middle of Broad Street nowadays, but in 1794 it was not a problem. So what happened? Well…….

“A number of young men, in a playful mood, were diverting themselves in a game of leapfrog in Broad-street, when one of them disappeared underground in a remarkable manner. He had leaped over the back of a comrade, in the customary way, and happened to alight on the spot where there was a well,  120 feet deep.”

It wasn’t as big as this…

But it was still quite big and it soon attracted a crowd:

Anyway, back to 1794…

“The aperture had simply been covered with boards and a little earth, and was uniform in appearance with the surrounding ground . Fortunately, the man was extricated perfectly unhurt, and with an oath declared himself equal to any pantomime performer on the stage, inasmuch as he dare leap without being caught in a blanket! The well was immediately arched over.”

Nowadays, Broad Street is a busy but basically, fairly ordinary thoroughfare, except some bored fool with nothing better to do has painted ” Broad St” on the floor in big white letters :

The other end of the street has a famous pub:

This pub is nowadays the only real attraction in the street. Things might change though, if “arching over” an old well doesn’t solve the problem for very much more than 200 years. Then we might see some more excitement.

Here’s a better view of the pub:

Once you’ve had a refreshing pint of ale in the Lord Roberts pub, above, you might even feel like a game of leapfrog yourself. Here’s the army’s version of the game in that magnificent anti-war film about World War One, “Oh What a Lovely War”. The song is entitled “They were only playing leapfrog”:



Filed under France, History, Nottingham

26 responses to “They were only playing leapfrog…..

  1. I wonder what he thought as he was falling through space to the bottom of the well?

    • I suspect he may not even have known what was happening to him and he was very lucky to survive. In Cornwall nowadays, similar events happen out on the moors where walkers wander off the path and tread on an old tin mine shaft which has been capped in the same careless way.

  2. jackchatterley

    When I read the title, I saw at once the scene you link at the end of the text. I couldn’t help…

    • Yes, it’s an absolutely wonderful little cameo of a song and reflects very well, I suspect, the ordinary soldier’s opinions about the young upper class men who ordered them around.

      • jackchatterley

        I think that age had little to do. Haig was not too liked in spite of his age, while Daddy Plummer was on the oppposit side, IIRC.

  3. Who would have thought an innocent game of leapfrog would land you in a sinkhole!!!

    • Nobody knows what fate has in store for them, I suppose. There must be other such incidents in history where a perfectly innocent act ends in disaster. I wonder if any really important events in history have ever come to pass completely by accident. I can’t think of any at the moment but I’m sure that there musty be some.

  4. I’m afraid we-humans are still clawing our way out of that sinkhole.

    • Yes, we humans do seem to have a habit of not clearing up properly after ourselves. Years ago one of our Year 9 boys did an ecology project about a marsh near his home which had grown up on land where the local mine used to dump its waste water. His Dad was able to analyse the boy’s samples and he found a horrendous mix of harmful metals in the mud at the bottom. The worrying thing, of course, is that that that particular marsh was not unique to Nottingham, and certainly not to the country as a whole. I think that the idea we have is that if you turn industrial land into a country park, all the nasty things will just go away.

  5. That certainly makes parade more interesting doesn’t it!

  6. John, when I was younger we learned that when a column of soldiers marched over a long bridge the resonance set of by the marching troops could cause the bridge to collapse. So then the soldiers were required to change step. The procedure was taught to us that as you were given the order you would kick your right boot in behind the left boot and then everyone would be out of step together but that would stop the resonance developing. It was very much like that first dance move that the Black Soldiers made.

  7. That’s really interesting. I had heard the idea that troops marching could bring down bridges and when you mentioned a specific marching step to stop the problem developing it took me back to my Dad years ago. In his happier moments if nobody was about he would march along the road, and then, just for a laugh, do some silly step in the middle of his marching. I bet that that was his version of the method to change step.
    When Wembley Stadium was built in the 1920s they employed lots of men to march and stamp all around the ground to make sure that everything was safe. Try this video

    It starts around 3 minutes 30 seconds. I suspect they were blokes who learnt to march in some war or other years ago.

  8. Jan

    American military drill isn’t to everyone’s taste: more Busby Berkley than Grenadier Guards. For instance:

    Stand Easy!

    • I thought that was pretty good as away to entertain the audience. I had a go at it with my walking stick, and I must admit, it is a lot more difficult than they make it look!

    • That is a wonderful piece of film. The High School’s OTC used to participate in ceremonies in the Old Market Square fairly regularly in the 1930s at least, and the Archives have at least one photograph of them providing a guard at a ceremony to welcome high ranking visitors to the city, I think it was. They also used to parade quite regularly on the Forest, using the somewhat narrow path to the south of the buildings. That too is in the Archives.

  9. I do remember playing leap frog as a kid, John. Too funny about the boy who fell in a well. I’m saying “funny” because he was unhurt of course. I enjoyed this write! Thank you!

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Amy. If there is an accident and nobody is hurt, we all laugh at a close shave. If somebody is hurt, it’s a tragedy. Human beings are so strange, but so like each other!

  10. Jan

    Any discussion of ‘oles in the ground is incomplete without the incomparable Bernard Cribbins. Who could not want him as your favourite uncle?!

  11. That is a universal game 🙂 What is that well ? It looks huge.

    • I got the picture of that huge hole from Google. It was called a “sinkhole” and they seem to be old mine shafts that have not been filled in properly or covered in a safe way. Eventually, the top will give collapse and there is a huge problem. I selected that picture because it was the biggest hole I could find!
      Leapfrog is a universal game but different nationalities jump over different imaginary animals. In France it is Leap-sheep, in Rumania it is Leap-goat, in Japan, Leap-horse. Italians jump over a “small or baby female horse” and Dutch children jump over goats, as do the Chinese. This is all from Wikipedia, who say that in India it is known as “Aar Ghodi Ki Par Ghodi” (meaning “horseleap”). You are the expert for the last one!

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