Victorian Parlour Games


The game of Charades was mentioned by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and was certainly a Victorian favourite.

This is a good game for older children and adults. Prepare by thinking up a list of phrases or words that can be acted out. For younger children, keep them to a topic such as Children's TV characters or Children's films. It is important that the phrases are likely to be known by all the participants. Write each phrase on a piece of paper and put them into a hat.

Divide the players into two or more groups. Each group will take a turn at acting out their phrase.

Phrases and words can be broken down into smaller parts, so for example, football, could start by pointing at the foot, and then the mime could indicate kicking the ball, or throwing and catching a ball. It is common to indicate with a show of fingers how many words are included. Syllables are indicated by tapping the correct number of fingers on the forearm.

No speaking is allowed by the actors, but clues can be given. A gesture of cranking a handle, indicates a film, a square drawn in the air, a TV programme, and down on one knee and flinging out the arms in a theatrical gesture indicates a play. Cupping the ear means the word needed sounds like the word being acted, while holding the fingers out and close together means the word is a short word such as "an" or "in". There are several other conventions that can be used as the game is refined and improved.

Blindman's Buff

This is an old favourite, played for over 2000 years. It was certainly played in Victorian times and was mentioned by the English poet laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who is said to have played it in 1855

Blindfold one of the players while all other guests scatter around the room. To start, the blindman is spun around several times to disorientate him. The blindfolded person must attempt to catch someone. When they capture a player they have to give the identity. If they get it right then thecaptured player takes the blindfold and play continues. If the blindman is unable to identify who they have captured the prisoner is freed and play continues. To make play more interesting players may call out to the blindman to attract his attention.

Pass the Slipper

In Victorian times a slipper would have been used for this game, but any small item may be used.

Pick a player who stands in the centre of a circle formed by the other players. The player in the middle must close his eyes and as he does so the slipper is passed from player to player behind their backs. When the person in the middle opens his eyes, the passing of the slipper immediately stops and the player must guess who holds the slipper. If he is correct, they change places, otherwise the player closes his eyes again and play continues.


A popular game in Victorian times, it can be adapted for players of any age.

One person is chosen to leave the room (he is called the judge). All the other players must place a small personal item into a box. This might be an article of jewellery, or an item from the pocket or handbag, or a small item of clothing such as a tie or shoelace. The "judge" is brought back in to the room. He picks up an item and describes it. The owner must identify himself and pay a forfeit - do something amusing/embarrassing - to win back the item. The judge chooses which forfeit to award the player. If the player fails, or refuses the forfeit then the judge keeps the item.

Suggestions for forfeits: sing a song; dance; stand on your head; tell a story; make 3 people laugh; yawn until someone else yawns; bark like a dog, do 20 star jumps, imitate the person on your left, hold your breath for as long as you can; hug the person sitting opposite you; hop around the circle on one leg; tell everybody something embarrassing that happened to you; say red lorry, yellow lorry 5 times; rub your head and pat your tummy; try to touch your nose with your tongue; walk around the circle backwards.

If playing with younger children it is best if an adult is the judge as they can give out forfeits on the basis of ability, giving the more daring ones to the more adventurous children. As a variation to the basic game, it can be played so that the judge has to guess the identity of the owner of the item. If he succeeds then the owner pays a forfeit, otherwise the item is returned to the owner without a forfeit. Obviously, towards the end, with just a few items left it becomes much easier to guess the owner.


Choose a small object and show it to everyone. Suitable items might include a pen, teaspoon, or small ornament. One person is chosen to remain in the room. Everyone else leaves. The item is then placed somewhere unobtrusively. It must remain on view, but it could be placed low or high or put with other items. The other players return and look around to find the item. When they find it they sit down without saying where they found it. It is usually best to move some distance away from where the item was found so as not to give it away. Play continues until the last player finds the item, and then it becomes their turn to hide the object and the game starts over again.

Squeak Piggy Squeak

A variation on Blind Man's Buff and very popular in Victorian times.

A player is selected to be the farmer. He is blindfolded then sits on a pillow or large cushion on the floor. The other players called "piggies" sit in a circle around him. He is then spun around two or three times. Taking the pillow, he then goes over to one of the players and puts it on their lap. He must then sit on the pillow without touching the piggy with his or her hands (to maintain the anonymity of the piggy). As the farmer sits down, squashing the piggy, he must say "Squeak Piggy Squeak", and the piggy beneath him then makes squeaking noises. If the farmer identifies the piggy from the squeak then that player then becomes farmer, if not the first farmer returns to the centre and is spun around again, and the piggies can take the opportunity to swap places.

Reverend Crawley's Game

Who was Reverend Crawley? I don't know. How and where did this game develop? Again, I don't know, but it is a good game and can be played indoors or outdoors.

Everybody stands in a circle. Each player then holds hands with another player, but the hands may not be those of the person next to them, and they may not hold both hands with the same person. This creates a large human knot. If doing this with children, some adult help may be required to create the knot: it doesn't matter, because the fun comes in the next part. The group now has to work out how to untangle the knot without anyone letting go of any hands. This involves twisting and contorting and should end in one or two circles of people. Best played with about 8 or ten players.

Kim's Game

This is a simple memory game, named after Rudyard Kiplings novel, Kim, published in 1901. It is a good way of quietening things down after more rowdy games.

A tray is prepared containing a selection of small articles, preferably unrelated items. The children are given a time to look at the tray and try to remember the contents. The tray is covered or removed, and the children then try to make a list of the articles. It is much harder than it sounds and the memory plays many tricks.