Aunt Sally (England)
Name of sport (game)
Name in native language
Place of practice (continent, state, nation)
Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire (England)
Aunt Sally is a traditional English game usually played in pub gardens and fairgrounds, in which players throw sticks or battens at a model of an old woman's head. Leagues of pub teams still play the game today, throughout the spring and summer months, mainly in Oxfordshire and some bordering counties.
In France, the game is called jeu de massacre ("game of carnage").
The game dates back to the 17th century, although the name "Aunt Sally" may have been a later addition. It 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; the object was for players to throw sticks at the head in order to break the pipe.
There are also other theories of how the game started. One such theory is that a live cockerel 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 pitch needs to be on level ground and free from obstructions and overhanging branches. A permanent pitch will benefit from a path from hockey to iron to reduce wear on a grass area.
Some pitches are laid out on concrete or paving.
The shed at the iron needs to be well constructed/weatherproof and should be padded to reduce the energy of the sticks and hence their likelihood of rebounding. If not a shed then padding needs to be provided. Lighting is needed at both ends for late evening play and safety.
In modern Aunt Sally, the single white stubby skittle, about 6 inches high and 2 and 3/4 inches in diameter, is called "dolly" and the round-ended projectiles, of which there are six, are 18 inches long, 2 inches in diameter and are called "sticks". A hollow rod (the "iron") driven into the earth so that the top is two and a half feet above the ground and an iron swivel is inserted into the top. The swivel can rotate and is positioned to stick out to one side with the doll set on the little platform at the swivel's end. Each turn consists of six throws, a point being is scored for each doll knocked cleanly off the swivel. Players throw the sticks at the doll from behind a line known as the "ockee" which is 10 yards from the iron.
Normal league play has two teams each consisting of eight players and three legs or "horses" are played. Each horse consists of each member of each team having one turn so that each team makes 48 throws. It is believed that the record for a horse stands at 40 so it can be seen that hitting the doll is quite tricky.
Today, the game of Aunt Sally is still played as a pub game in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire.
Pubs from across the north Cotswolds enter teams in the Chipping Norton Invitation Aunt Sally League or the Wychwood Aunt Sally League. The Chipping Norton League was formed in the 1960s and is still going strong today. It currently supports three divisions with 23 teams and over 200 people taking part in league and cup competitions each year, with games played outdoors on summer evenings. The season runs between April and September to take advantage of the better weather.
In 2011 the inaugural Aunt Sally Singles World Championship took place at the Charlbury Beer Festival in Charlbury, West Oxfordshire. Among the attendees was prime minister David Cameron. The tournament has continued there annually ever since.
The inaugural Aunt Sally world champion in 2011 was Trevor Dyer, from Paxford, near Chipping Campden, and for the next two Record-breaking Steve Arthurs from Over Norton, who is known on the local Aunt Sally circuit as "The Legend", years another Paxford resident, Steve McAteer, carried off the trophy.
However, the 2014 championships finally saw an Oxfordshire player take the world championship title at Charlbury Cricket Club, which hosts the annual beer festival.
On 24 August 2019, the first world championship for Aunt Sally pairs was held in the Bull, Launton, Oxfordshire and was won by the pub team from The Bell, Bicester. Darren Moore and Billy Craig were the winners. Runners up were Aimee Sheehan and Christopher Hulme.
Chipping Norton Invitation Aunt Sally League, www.chippyauntsally.co.uk
Wychwood Aunt Sally League, www.wychwood-aunt-sally-league.co.uk
Bampton Aunt Sally Association, www.bamptonauntsally.org
Oxford & District Aunt Sally Association,
Greene King Oxford Aunt Sally
Results & Fixtures Secretary
10 Sandy Lane
Oxford OX4 6AW
Banbury & District Aunt Sally League
Sources of information