Curator’s Choice – Skipping Rope

Posted: 7th April 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Curator’s Choice – Skipping Rope

These two skipping ropes are held in the permanent collections here at the Hands on History Museum. They both have wooden handles joined together by rope, and both date to around the 1920s. The skipping rope might be familiar to us all from our childhoods, but what exactly is the history behind this traditional game?

In Europe, the earliest mention of skipping appears in the sixteenth century. Skipping wasn’t always done with a rope, and at this time would have been played with a hoop. The introduction of the rope came during the eighteenth century but wasn’t yet widely known as skipping but rather ‘ropes’ or ‘jumping ropes’. Since this time skipping ropes have been a popular toy available to purchase, but what makes skipping ropes even more popular is their simplicity; if a child or family was unable to afford to purchase a rope, they were very easy to make by rethinking the use of another bit of common household equipment – the washing line!

Although skipping is assumed to be a game played by young, school-aged girls, this wasn’t always the case and it was initially a boys’ game. In the earliest years of skipping, girls were actually prohibited from playing as it was thought they may hurt themselves.

Skipping can be played in many forms, for example the ropes in our collection here at Hull Museums are the perfect length for individual play, however, with a longer rope the game can be played as a group, with two people turning the rope (or more often than not, two ropes!) whilst others do the jumping; this was one of the most popular games in Britain in the late twentieth century.

Skipping is a lively and spirited game, and this is increased only by the introduction of a song, counting, or a skipping chant which often directly influences the speed and method of the turning rope. The chants are often clearly defined and have a beat that jumping can be matched to. All over the county skipping chants and songs exist, with the location often influencing the variation. The chants can be based on politics or culture, and historical events or folklore, with some dating back hundreds of years or to the reign of Queen Victoria.

In recent memory, skipping reached a high point in the 1940s and 1950s when it became extremely popular. Between then and now, however, it is undeniable that its popularity has decreased somewhat with children outside of the school playground. Yet, because skipping is so high energy, this means it is a great form of cardiovascular exercise – meaning not only is this a traditional and fun game to play by yourself or with friends, but it’s also good for your health!

Written by Community Curator: Social History, Lauren Field

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