UK Birthday Party games of the 1950′s and 60′s


The birthday party would always feature a lunch, which consisted of sandwiches, jelly and cake. Everything would be homemade, including the cake which was typically a chocolate cake decorated with just candles. The time of the party would be from around 1pm to 4:30pm.

The party would usually begin with ‘hunt the thimble’ or the kids amusing themselves with ‘hide and seek’ or tag, until all the guests had arrived.

The first organized game would typically be musical chairs, which looking back I surmise that the parents wanted to get out of the way before the kids loaded up with sugar. Even with parental guidance the musical chairs tended to get a little rough although all of the guests were well behaved (the expression ‘wait till your father gets home’ seemed to keep order back then!).

Following musical chairs there would be a game of ‘pass the parcel’ where a gift wrapped in several layers of paper would be passed in a circle (of the seated guests). Each time the music stopped the person holding the parcel would take off a layer of wrapping paper until the final layer revealed the prize which went to the person who took off the last piece of wrapping paper.

A game of “Simon says” would follow, where one of the guests gives commands (such as “stand on one foot”) and only if this command is prefixed with “Simon says”, the guests need to obey. Anyone not following the instruction when “Simon says” or doing the instruction without the pre-fix “Simon says” would drop out of the game.

We would then play a game of London bridge is falling down, where the guests go under an arch made by two other guests. There are variations of this game but the song “London bridge is falling down” is sung and the arches collapse on a guest who is underneath them at a certain time. When this happens the captured guest goes behind one of the guests holding up the arches to make a human chain. When all the guests are on each side of the arches a tug of war finishes the game. Having researched Victorian children’s games I am now aware that this game was played in the late 1800′s all over England.

The reason I can remember these games so vividly is that they were always played and if any of these ‘standards’ was missed the guests would demand it to be played. More often than not these games would be repeated, especially musical chairs and London bridge is falling down.

Lunch would normally follow and if it was not raining the party would go into the garden to run off the remaining energy.

Outside games included “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” which consisted of one person trying to catch the others when that person answered ‘lunch time’ to the question. When caught the person would join the Wolf, catching the others until all were caught. There were many variations of games that involved trying to catch each other. We also played a game that involved trying to stand still, the game was called “statues” which, looking back, was a welcome rest for the hostess.

Other outside games were played until the parents came to collect their children. We dropped off our presents when we arrived and they would be opened after all the guests had gone home, unlike a tradition I see in the US where the presents are opened for all to see during the party.

One thought on “UK Birthday Party games of the 1950′s and 60′s”

  1. We also played these games in South Africa in the 40′s and
    More games were :-
    K.I.N. G. spells King
    Steps to London
    Here we go round the mulberry bush

    Anybody remember them?

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