The Game

Nipsy is an old South Yorkshire game similar to Peggy and Billet, children's games played all over the North of England, BUT and a very big but! in the Barnsley area it was and is a man's game.

The History

Played on an individual basis from well before 1900 - a Long Knock competition, during the 1940's the game was codified and the team game developed.  Leagues were running in the Barnsley and South Yorkshire areas in the 1950's and 60's, the last league starting in 1980 up to 1990 or there abouts.

The Tackle

A look at the photo of me on the local field gives an idea as to the sizes of the stick and nipsy.  The nipsy is the small round object on top of the up turned brick.


Note the bad photo! making me look like I have a face like a full moon

The stick is made from a single piece of Hickory, one of the toughest and most intransigent woods to work into the general shape of a golf club, hence the derogatory name of "Miner's Golf", made by the player himself - or somebody daft enough to make them for him.

Originally made from a road pick shaft, its oval cross section at the business end made a perfect head for the stick but later railway brake sticks were found be better as they were thicker in the head area. Due to the thickness of the head end (approx 60mm thick whereas the road pick shaft gave a maximum thickness of 45mm) this became important as it was found that if the head was pressed in from a thickness of about 60mm to 25mm, a more durable head was made.


The presses used took many shapes, the majority hardly touching the thickness but all players wanted a “pressed” stick.

After a few attempts my last press was made from 2” steel plates, with four 15” x 1¼” UNF bolts, thrust bearings on each with 4” captive nuts welded to the base plate. A real beast that could shove the head in to the thickness of a twenty packet of cigs, using a ten foot length of pipe and a 1” drive socket for the 1¼” UNF bolts. Setting this in a vise in the Maintenance shop of a local factory where I was employed as a Pipefitter/welder, I spent many an hour (on the night shift) pressing my sticks.

This was not the ultimate! Barnsley used to surrounded by coal mines and in each pits blacksmiths shop was a rail straightener, a press with a hydraulic ram 8” in diameter that would press the heads in very easily BUT all this technology was kept secret from all but the honoured few.

This combined with steaming the wood for three hours in a length of 4” pipe before pressing, fashioned a stick with a head that would last a season, whereas others would shred up after a few weeks.

Making the Tackle

After pressing came the task of making the stick. Total length varied to each players preference but from 24" to 32" was normal with a head about 4" long tapering into the shaft, again the photo makes this more clear.

Hickory has what is termed a locked grain, very difficult to work with normal woodworking tools, the cost of which were beyond most players pockets in any case.  So other equipment came to the fore.

Rasps were used to rough the shape out and then using broken glass and a good eye, the stick was scraped to a final finish.  The use of the workshop lathe (also on the Nights) made it a lot easier, although when trying to take too big a cut, the stick would bounce out of the centres, chasing me out of the shop.

Some people took great pains in the making of their sticks, others less care. Ron Darlow's sticks were a work of art. He kept one in a ladies silk stocking just to show how well he had smoothed and sanded it to a surface that would not snag when the stocking was pulled off.

On one famous occasion a friend of mine asked Frank Lenthal one of the best Nipsy players ever, what he thought of his new stick. Frank's answer (that has gone down in local folk law) was "Ah wunt bray thi dog wi it nivermind use it!"

As Lignum Vitae and Permali are far too hard to use woodworking tools, the nipsy is made by fileing or grinding (the fitters at the local pits always knew when Nipsy was back in fashion as they had to re-dress the grinding wheels on the pit top regularly) into the shape of a pigeons egg with a flat on the long axis - this made it sit on the up turned brick, the end was then chamfered off about two thirds toward the rising end.  This caused the nipsy to "rise" when chipped correctly with the stick.  Painted white with enamel paint, it was ready to use.

The last piece of equipment needed was a brick, not your common or garden one with three holes in, but one that was more robust, I believe that is known as an engineering brick.  Getting a good one could make a player.  The top had to be perfectly flat with no shine (chalk was used to dull it anyway)  Each player tended to guard his brick jealously, refusing to allow anyone else its use, some like Joe Doyle (White Bear, Worsbrough Common) fitted it in a frame and took it with him where ever he played. Terry Hodson (White Bear, Worsbrough Common) was a ornamental stonemason, hence his white marble brick.

Ron Dean the team captain of the Engineers at Higham started to use a slightly longer brick.  As it tapered over its length it was thought to be from a brickwork arch.  The arguments caused by him using it lead to a special rules meeting.  Arguments squashed, Ron used it to the end of the league. 

Rising the Nipsy

Getting the nipsy to where you can hit it is "The Art of the Game"  All players spent hours honing their rising - take that as you will but unless you had confidence in the rise, you would never make a Nipsy player.  Some players hardly rose the nipsy at all, Ron Darlow for instance, others like Pete Woodhouse rose them to past shoulder height where they would hit them.  Probably the most extreme style of rising was Keith Steeples who after chipping the nipsy up would turn completely away from it, wind up his swing and spin round and really wallop the nipsy.

The photos below of Wilf Scholey in action give an idea of what is involved.


In the first photo, Wilf has just chipped the nipsy into the air (that's it above his right knee) causing it to rise and move forward in an arc, he is also starting to draw the stick back. In the second photo Wilf's stick is at maximum extension to the rear, the nipsy having travelled further in the arc to over his left knee.

In this photo (obviously on a different day) taken from the back, Wilf has swung the stick forward and is just about to connect with the nipsy

The Rules

  1. The stick must be made from one piece of wood.

    Normally Hickory although Greenheart and Hornbeam have been used to good effect.

  2. The nipsy must be made from wood.

    Lignum Vitae, the hardest wood known or Permali, a manufactured wood/resin substitute, are the only ones that would withstand the impact. The bole of the Hawthorn bush has also been used, although it is not as heavy as the others.

    A number of unscrupulous players in the Thirties and Forties used Ivory (leading to many a Miners Welfare or Working Mens Club being a ball or two short on the billiard table) and hard composition rubber. Both were banned as they gave an unfair advantage to the player.

  3. A player may have a maximum of seven “rises” per named strike attempt.

    A "rise" is the act of clipping the nipsy with the edge of the stick to cause it to flick up into the air. Very much the art of the game,  when it is caught in the players other hand to the stick, they are practices prior to the strike attempt. If no attempt is named, the seventh rise is classed as the strike attempt.

  4. A player must name his strike attempt

    This is to stop the player having a swipe at all seven rises and counting the one he hits.

  5. The players will play in a marked off area 15 metres x 2 metres. The only people allowed in this area are: - the two players, the two team markers and the match umpire

    Self explanatory, to stop players being "interfered with" by opposing teams.

  6. Play will commence by toss of a coin, the players taking named strike attempts in turn. Seven named strike attempts each constitute a singles game

  7. Distance measurement of nipsys hit will be by a line of at least 200 metres in length graduated in 5 metre intervals, this to be pegged at zero in the centre of the marked off area. Where a nipsy lays between the markers, an estimate will be made to give a measurement to the nearest metre.

    When a nipsy was hit, a player near to where the nipsy came to rest would grab the line, pulling it tight and take it to the nipsy. Cries of "Tek f*****g bow out of the line" were frequent by opposing teams.

  8. In order to be marked, a nipsy must be judged to be in front of the marked out area base line. In case of disputes, the umpire's verdict is final.

    It is possible to "top" a nipsy causing it to fly straight up in the air, when it lands the back spin can make the nipsy run backwards over the base line. A hit, but no score.

  9. Should a nipsy break after being hit, the player has the choice of marking the most distant piece or having a re-strike.

  10. Out of Bounds areas, where a nipsy will not be marked can be set at any field.

  11. A game that is tied (equal scores) after seven strike attempts will be decided by a non-scoring further strike attempt each, the furthest distance taking the game.
  12.  Should a match be tied (seven games) captains will nominate a player (within the seven who have played) each to take a non-scoring further strike attempt, the furthest distance taking the match.


 The Records

Over the years records were achieved and broken, the change to metres in the 1980's league rather than yards gave much to argue about but not having access to previous leagues score books, the following are accepted as the current records.

Although huge hits have been made in practice, to qualify as a record the hit had to be made in a match or a Long Knock competition. The record single hit is acknowledged at 208 yards by Joe Cooke of Monk Bretton (in the 1960's?) and the highest match total (7 hits) is 1061 metres achieved by Frank Lenthal , whose opponent in the match was Keith Steeples who scored 1016. The only time that scores totalling over 1000 metres were attained, a truly magnificent score by both men.

In mentioning Frank Lenthall (Yank) here is a photo of him in his pomp as the Knurr & Spell World Champion. His father (Old Yank) is at the back of the "trap". This was only used in the South Yorkshire area, just a piece of spring steel with a cup attached to hold the potty with an adjusting screw to shorten or lengthen the throw of the potty. Tripping the trap with an immediate round the head swing, imagine the power when the pummel (the head) meets the potty! The stick is about 5ft 6inches, made from Hickory with a beech pummel (head) faced with a fruit wood, Apple, Pear and Plum were popular.