The Chairman has recently received an interesting letter from Tony Baden Fuller, seeking help to resurrect 'West Country Fives'. Tony writes 'with help from the Governors, Warminster School has just repaired their court (from being a car park) and would like to play. I have obtained some rules (see below) - six players as the court is some eight metres wide and deep'.
'The court was built in 1860 (about) and appears based on a similar early court in Winchester. Arnold was a Master at the school before going to Rugby (and I guess probably started Rugby Fives as a result)'.Rules for Warminster Fives
2. That side wins which first scores twenty-one points, and points can be scored by the serving side only.
3. That side which first serves concedes three points to the other side. Each member of the side serves in turn.
4. Each member of the serving side must at the dapping of the ball stand with at least one foot within the marked line which joins the outer end of one sidewall to the outer end of the other sidewall. If this rule is not observed, the opposing side may claim 'all side out' but the claim must be made before the next service.
5. The server, after dapping the ball (three daps only are allowed), must strike it so that it rebounds off the middle wall and falls outside the black line.
6. If at the service the ball rebounds from the middle wall to a sidewall and falls outside the marked line, the opposing side may claim a 'baulk' or a fresh service.
7. A 'squi' may be claimed by the opposing side if the ball rebounds either perpendicularly from the middle wall or back in the server's direction; then a second service must be given. However, if the opposing side successfully returns a 'squi', the ball is 'in play'.
8. The server is 'put out' when the opposing side wins a rally.
9. That side wins a rally which last returns the ball to the wall successfully. A rally is lost if the ball goes off the court, or daps twice, or does not strike the wall above the ledge. A 'ledger' is'not up'.
10. A 'baulk' (or a fresh service) may be claimed i) if before touching the wall the ball touches one of the side opposing the striker, ii) if on rebounding from the wall the ball touches one of the lost striker's side.
11. When a side has scored twenty points, then the server in all following serves must cry 'game' on dapping the ball and must cry 'ball' on striking it. The opposing side, if they wish, may refuse to take two serves. If the server fails to cry either 'game' on dapping the ball or 'ball' an striking it, the opposing side may claim 'all sides out'; this claim must be made before the ball is dapped for the next service; no claim may be made unless the ball has been struck by the server.
12. No player may impede another player's access to to the ball; if he is unavoidably in the way, he must stand still or move one foot only; otherwise a 'baulk' (or a fresh service) may be claimed.
13. Any ball landing on the middle wall or sidewall below the ledge or on the brickwork above is out of court. Any ball landing outside the line around the court is out of court.
'I have also received a sheet from Mere Church by David Longbourne which adds further information'.
Mere Fives Court
'The Fives Court standing in Angel Lane behind the former Angel Hotel in Mere is of considerable interest and recently I have located several others in the area where Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset adjoin.
Fives is a ball game played with the hand, now a gloved hand, using a 5cm diameter leather-covered ball. It has been suggested that the game was introduced by monks from the Basque country who came to build monasteries. The Fleur de Lys Inn at Stoke sub Hamdon was originally the lodgings of monks building the Priory nearby and there is a very large fives wall at the rear of the inn in an excellent state of preservation.
The game was sometimes played up against church towers, often giving annoyance to the vicar and his congregation. This was the case in Mere, for in the churchwarden's accounts of 1705 is the item: 'Paid for mending the fives place window, 4 shillings'. It may be that the present Fives Court in Mere was built at about this time, when the vicar had declared he had had enough! On one side of Montacute Church tower enthusiastic players had actually removed the stone ornaments from the wall to provide a flat playing surface, an action that provoked the infuriated vicar into placing a heavy old market cross in the centre of the playing area to put a stop to the game. At the base of Martock Church tower can be seen a set of holes in the wall which are thought to be scoring holes for the game.
Behind the former Crown Inn at South Petherton and behind the Poulett Arms at Hinton St George are imposing fives walls over thirty feet high, built from local Ham stone. That at South Petherton now stands in the garden of a bungalow - a rather overwhelming garden ornament! There is another large one in a garden of the former New Inn at Shepton Beauchamp, which is now a private house. The one at Hinton St George is known locally as the Pelota Wall which may indicate its origins, for pelota is a game like fives, played in Spain and south-west France. Some of the inns had temporary grandstands built in their yards where crowds gathered to watch the local and visiting champions. One old record tells of 'over £60 taken at the gate for the fives match'.
The Fives Court at Stoke sub Hamdon used to have a six foot square flat stone let into the ground twenty paces from the face of the wall. The striker bounced the ball on the square then hit it with his bare hand to strike the wall, the object being to cause the ball to rebound on the stone square. He had several shots and the referee would nominate where the wall was to be struck each time. The skill was in the ability of the player to put the necessary spin on the ball to make it rebound on the stone square from any part of the wall and so score a point. If the ball missed there was no score. On other courts the stone might be smaller, as at Martock, where it measured fifteen inches and was known as the hopping stone.
The game was played at schools in the area; there is still a Fives Court like the one at Mere at King's School, Bruton, and there is one at the former Lord Weymouth's School, Warminster and at Bratton, Westbury. Nowadays there are three varieties of the game. Rugbv Fives is played in a court enclosed by four plain walls: Eton Fives has a court enclosed on three sides, being open at the back and having a shallow step dividing the court into two parts and a buttress, the 'pepper box', projecting from the left hand wall: the Winchester game has a differently arranged buttress and a slightly narrower back part to the court. The game seems to be restricted to public schools and the more exclusive sports clubs. Why so simple a game without expensive equipment has declined in popularity is puzzling and is to be regretted. Shall we seek to revive the playing of Fives in Mere (but not in the churchyard!)?'
West Country Fives by Tony Baden-Fuller
Created 27th January 2004 by Mike Fenn