Garden Party Games – Edwardian style

from Chatterbox magazine, 1915

It was my birthday recently but unfortunately the weather wasn’t quite suitable for organising a garden party to celebrate. Nevertheless  with the weather warming up again I thought I would offer some tried and tested seasonal advice about using your garden to entertain but please remember “one of the most important features of successful entertaining is that guests be kept so well employed in enjoying themselves that the time never has a chance to drag.”

“In order to ensure this happy state of things it is a wise plan to arrange for some really good games beforehand, especially when there are young folk to be included in the invitations. The more original the plan of amusement the better, for novelty is always pleasing. Therefore, a few suggestions adaptable for a garden party may perhaps be welcome to readers in search of something fresh in this direction.”

I can’t say I’ve ever tried any of these activities but they were apparently all the rage for “young people”  in 1907!

from The Girl’s Realm, 1907

The ideas and  the illustrations for this post come from The Girl’s Realm 1907 unless otherwise stated. Unfortunately the magazine is not available on-line. I have where ever possible tried to avoid the worst of the ingrained sexism in the rules and descriptions.

The obvious first question to ask yourself  is what to wear? Here the advice is very clear: for “a garden party where games are to be the principal attraction the guests should be socially acquainted beforehand with the fact so that girls may come clad in short skirts and tennis shoes, and the men in flannels, straw hats and with their bicycles.”

Having got people properly attired and into your garden how do you break the ice? Here is a good starter “for keeping a large number of people entertained, though it should be borne in mind that a fairly large garden is necessary for the successful carrying out the plan.”  Apparently it is time consuming to set up but “you will be amply rewarded for all the pains taken.”

“The competition started from the centre of the grounds where the ribbons have been fixed to the handles of a big garden urn.”

“The successful competitor found a delightful little prize at the end of her ribbon.”

If you own a large country estate then you’ve probably got servants to do the preparations BUT if not follow these instructions carefully. First you require “a number of pieces of ribbon, each many yards in length, and all if possible of a different shade.”

Next, fix/insert some hooks or nails into a large pole and then place it in the centre of the garden. Fasten one end of each ribbon to the pole and a small prize to the other end. These prizes should be “pretty useful trifles” but which can be purchased quite reasonably.  “The intervening yards of ribbon must then be carried up and down paths, in and out of trees and shrubs, in fact anywhere and everywhere; the more complicated the puzzle the better.”  Then hide the prize in “some unthought-of nook and there left to be traced by its ultimate owner.”

“The choosing and hiding of the prizes will prove a far from uninteresting task” and “the many-coloured ribbons will add not a little colour to the attractiveness of the garden…There is sure to be much confusion as the ribbons will get twisted and interlaced but no-one can help being good-tempered and the numerous hindrances of unravelling only add to the fun.”

The competitor in the background showed a good deal of temper when his rival was awarded the prize.”

“He concentrated all his energies on threading his needle”

What next once the ice is broken?  Maybe something more energetic, such as an  “amusing race game”.  One of the best requires “six or eight cycles and gentlemen riders to match”.  But of course there is slightly more to it than just bikes and riders. “A number of hats, as many as there are players, should be placed behind a screen on the lawn, and by each sufficient material for trimming – any old ribbon and flowers will do; also a reel of cotton, an unthreaded needle and a pair of scissors.”  Worked out how to play yet?

“In front of the screen six or eight ladies are stationed, and the machines and their riders are placed in position some distance away across the lawn. At a given signal the cycles must be mounted, ridden over to the screen and given into the charge of the assistants…”  But it’s not as sexist as you might have imagined because “the gentlemen then retire out of sight, where they must thread the needle, trim the hats and each wearing his own, to ride back to the starting place.”  Yes folks that’s it but “a prize is awarded to the hat which has been most artistically trimmed in the shortest time.”

“Each competitor is provided with a handful of poppies from which she has to make a doll”

a half-made poppy doll from wildplantforager blog

Equally inspired craft work can be got in the “making the prettiest doll from flowers” game.  For instance the daintiest of little ladies can be created from a Shirley poppy flower, with the help of a pair of scissors and a reel of cotton. The petals must first turned back and tied in at the middle to make a waist. The stalk cut short will make one leg and as the doll must have two, another length of stalk must be sewn. The cotton round the waist will keep it in place. The arms are also pieces of stalk; the features can be marked on the head with a pen and when the stamens are clipped away the figure will be completed.”  And if you’re any good at it…hey presto you have one some thing like this…





Diabolo was a newly popular game too, and there was a craze for it sweeping the continent. The Sphere, an illustrated magazine, reported in 1907 that “all kinds of people and all ages, from little children to the aged and the stout are playing the game or attempting to master it”.

“The Gentle Art of Diabolo” from The Sphere 7th Sept 1907

Certainly The Girl’s Realm thought “many people are expert enough to enjoy displaying their skill in throwing up the spool and one very picturesque and attractive that which is played in a circle.”

However they preferred a version of a more “active nature” where “the players stand in a long row, one behind the other, a couple of paces apart, and the first one throws the spool over her head for the second one to catch and directly she has thrown it she runs to the further end of the line and takes up her position there. Any player failing to catch the spool falls out and as the players become reduced to two or three the game becomes fast and furious” [A bit like a certain leadership race?]  Yet another version is to see who can throw and catch the spool the greatest number of times while standing in a circle.

“A diabolo competition”

Or if diabolo is not your thing how about a Fancy Dancing Competition? It “is as amusing as it is fresh” and “the only accessories required are a few chairs.”

“These two competitors chose to represent a Highland Fling and a Cake Walk”

It begins with the ladies  of the party sitting on the chairs at one end of the lawn. At the other end are the gentlemen. They have been given “slips of paper with the name of some dance written upon it.”  At a given signal “each man runs across the lawn to his partner…and at once proceeds to perform it to the best of his ability, whilst his fair partner has to guess what it is and write in on her paper, when the dancer returns at full speed to the starting post. In the illustration it will be seen that the further dancer has prettily arranged a handkerchief as a sporran to give a little additional colour to his masterly execution of the Highland Fling.”

These two girls chose to give a Tambourine and a Cachuka dance”

It is of course possible to play the game in reverse and the gentlemen have to guess what the ladies dance for them. “The illustration of this amusing variation shows two graceful performers of the Cachuka and the Tambourine dance respectively aided by a  lantern culled from a neighbouring tree and a feather boa left lying by its owner on a chair nearby.”

Hanging Chinese lanterns in the trees

Another “exciting form of amusement which might perhaps be carried out on the occasion of a birthday party is a bicycle carnival after dark.”  Sadly there was no illustration of one underway but the hosts were told to  light up the garden and maybe even the  handlebars of the machines with Chinese lanterns before “the cyclists led by the best rider of the party, commence a sort of follow my leader around the garden. As no-one knows the route some excitement is sure to ensure. The captain is allowed entirely to follow his fancy, and he may strike off at corners or turn completely around whenever he likes. He is sure to make the ride as difficult as possible. The partakers in the game should all be pretty good cyclists. Even then there will be some tumbles and anyone falling off his machine must at once fall out of the procession. Therefore some honour is attached to the rider who in company with the leader keeps in to the end. The carnival is very pretty to watch, and amusing to the onlookers as well as the players themselves.”


If, after this excitement, you need even more entertainment why not try The Morning Caller Competition? In this each man must ride his bicycle up to his partner and “behave as if he is paying a morning call at a bungalow, it being remembered that the lady is supposed to be seated indoors in her drawing room… Marks are awarded for the best deportment and manners and the general tone and interest of the conversation during the five minutes of the visit. … as only one man pays his call at a time the ladies in the adjoining bungalows – to say nothing of the judge – are all agog to hear the conversation so that it is an ordeal to go through”

The Morning Caller Competition

“The competitor in the illustration failed to secure any but bad marks – his total being minus 50 – owing to the fact that in the heat of the moment he entered the bungalow and took a chair with his hat on his head, whilst to soothe his nerves he was seen to help himself to a cigarette  without being asked to do so and to keep it in is mouth to steady his chattering mouth whilst talking to his hostess.”


The last photograph is of “Driving a Blindfold Team” where two players in each team are blindfolded and driven by a third who has the use of her eyes.  They have to navigate a course laid out around the lawn, in and out or around obstacles by following instructions such as “left” or “right” or by using the whip and reins. The driver is however strictly forbidden to get in front and pull his team around the course.”

Driving a Blindfold Team”

There are plenty of other suggestions but unfortunately no more illustrations. But  I wish there had been for  “Tilting at a Straw Hat with a Feather Broom” which involved players in straw hats riding around trying to knock hats of other players using a feather broom. It would apparently be “hard to find a more amusing game.”

Finally, after all that, retreat to “out-of-door table for drinks and fruit” which “should always be provided and since “music adds much to the gaiety of the proceedings” if you have any energy left then a dance is ” an excellent way of finishing up a day’s merry-making…”

I’m exhausted just writing about it …. so something more sedate next time!

About The Gardens Trust

Email - Website -
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Garden Party Games – Edwardian style

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Goodness! How silly!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.