Aunt Sally

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For the logical fallacy, see Straw man. For the 1933 film, see Aunt Sally (film).
A drawing from the 1911 edition of Whiteley's General Catalogue.

Aunt Sally is a traditional English throwing game in which players throw sticks or battens at a model of an old woman's head.

Origin of the term[edit]

It has been suggested that the term was based on a blackface doll itself inspired by a low-life character named "Black Sal" as appeared in an 1821 series of novellas entitled Life of London by one Pierce Egan, a contemporary of Charles Dickens.[1]

The game[edit]

The game was traditionally played in central English pubs and fairgrounds. An Aunt Sally was originally the modelled head of an old woman with a clay pipe in her mouth, or later a ball on a stick. There are also other theories on how the game started, one such theory is that a live chicken was placed on the stick, and people would throw sticks at it. Whoever killed it won the game and took home the chicken. Another theory is that in Port Meadow in Oxfordshire at the time of the English Civil War, the Cavaliers (soldiers loyal to King Charles I) were bored and formed a game with sticks and makeshift materials similar to the game as understood today. The object was for players to throw sticks at the head in order to break the pipe. The game bears some resemblance to a coconut shy or skittles.

Today, the game of Aunt Sally is still played as a pub game in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. The ball is on a short plinth about 10 cm high, and is known as a 'dolly'. The dolly is placed on a dog-legged metal spike a metre high and players throw sticks or short battens at the dolly, trying to knock it off without hitting the spike. Successfully hitting the dolly off is known as a "doll", however if the spike is hit first then the score does not count and is called an "iron".[citation needed]

Other kinds of Aunt Sally[edit]

  • Aunt Sally appears as a character portrayed by Una Stubbs in the television adaptation of the children's serial Worzel Gummidge, produced by Southern Television for ITV from 1979 to 1981. She is a fairground doll of the type used as a target for throwing competitions but nevertheless considers herself to be of a superior class to Worzel, a scarecrow and her frustrated suitor.
  • The technique is sometimes used during planning applications when the applicant needs to show they exhausted all other options and need to create false alternatives that are easily identified as unsuitable.
  • A timber likeness of Paul von Hindenburg was set up in Berlin during the First World War, and everyone subscribing a certain amount to a German war loan was allowed to drive a nail into it. G.K. Chesterton in his ironically-titled anti-German book 'The Crimes of England' refers to this likeness as a 'wooden Aunt Sally'.

Cultural references[edit]

Aunt Sally is played in the British detective television series Midsomer Murders, episode 18, "Dark Autumn". It also featured on the BBC Countryfile programme in August 2013.

See also[edit]



 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Aunt Sally". Encyclopædia Britannica 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 922.