Stoolball is a sport that dates back to at least the 15th century, originating in Sussex, southern England. It may be an ancestor of cricket (a game it resembles), baseball, and rounders, in fact stoolball is sometimes called "Cricket in the air". 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. The National Stoolball Association was formed in 1979 to promote and expand stoolball. The game was officially recognised as a sport by the Sports Council in early 2008. The National Stoolball Association changed its name to Stoolball England in 2010 on the advice of the Sports Council and was recognised as the National Governing Body for stoolball in England in 2011. Some variants are still played in some schools. Teams can be ladies only or mixed. There are ladies' leagues in Sussex, Surrey and Kent and mixed leagues in Sussex.
Stoolball is attested by name as early as 1450. Nearly all medieval references describe it as a game played during Easter celebrations, typically as a courtship pastime rather than a competitive game. The game's associations with romance remained strong into the modern period; Fletcher and Shakespeare's comedy The Two Noble Kinsmen, used the phrase "playing stool ball" as a euphemism for sexual behaviour.
Stoolball 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.
Confusion with the game of Stoball
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: but although 17th century antiquarian John Aubrey describes a game called "stobball", played in this area, his description of it does not sound like stoolball, and another contemporary text from the same region characterises "stoball" as a game played mainly by men and boys. The Oxford English Dictionary considers it unlikely that "stool ball" could have been corrupted into "stobball".
Description and rules
Stoolball is played on grass with a 90-yard (82-metre) diameter boundary, and the pitch is 16 yards (15 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 (9.1 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.
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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.
- "History of Stoolball England". United Kingdom: Stoolball England. Archived from the original on 2012-05-03. Retrieved 2013-03-20.
Stoolball England was formed as the National Stoolball Association on 3 October 1979. ... The aims laid down in the inaugural meeting of the National Stoolball Association in 1979 [included]: The promotion and expansion of stoolball; To seek to link together existing associations and to encourage the formation of others.
- "Medieval game gets sport status". BBC News. 31 March 2008. Retrieved March 28, 2009.
- Block, David (2006). Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-6255-3.
- Tony Collins, John Martin & Wray Vamplew, eds. (2005). The Encyclopedia of traditional British Rural Sports. Routledge Sports Reference. ISBN 978-0-415-35224-6.
- Gomme, Alice Bertha (1894). The traditional games of England, Scotland, and Ireland: with tunes, singing-rhymes, and methods of playing according to the variants extant and recorded in different parts of the Kingdom. David Nutt (publisher), London. Archived by archive.org on June 26, 2007 and viewable here
- "Stobball-play is peculiar to North Wilts, North Gloucestershire, and a little part of Somerset near Bath. They smite a ball, stuffed very hard with quills and covered with soale leather, with a staffe, commonly made of withy, about 3 [feet] and a halfe long... A stobball-ball is of about four inches diameter, and as hard as a stone."
- From a Berkeley manuscript of c.1641:"The large and levell playnes..in the vale of this hundred..doe witnes the inbred delight, that both gentry, yeomanry, rascallity, boyes and children, doe take in a game called Stoball... And not a sonne of mine, but at 7. was furnished with his double stoball staves, and a gamster therafter." John Smyth, The Berkeley manuscripts: the lives of the Berkeleys, lords of the honour, castle and manor of Berkeley in the county of Gloucester from 1066 to 1618...: printed for subscribers by John Bellows, Gloucester, 1883–1885.
- It suggests instead an etymology of the latter word from "stob" + ball, where "stob" means a stump or stub of wood, and refers to the club used to play the game."† stow-ball, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. 21 September 2012 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/191080>.