Family museum… the bagatelle board

Family museum… the bagatelle board

This is the next in a series of random pieces about items which I remember from the past which actually no longer exist – except in my memory. When I go on one of my tidying sprees I try to be really strict with myself; over the years I have hung onto stuff which I don’t actually use, just because of the associations with it. For example until a couple of years ago I had a cheese grater from ‘home’, my family home when I was growing up. It was exactly the same as my own cheese grater but I kept it, even though I never actually used it – it had a semi-circular back which wasn’t as convenient as the rectangular grater I have, or the box grater – where the gratings (cheese, carrots, whatever) fall into a box. So I hardened my heart to its family associations, and sent it to the charity shop – where maybe it went straight into the recycling rather than onto a shelf!

Today’s item in the family museum is an old bagatelle board… and I mean old, maybe nineteenth century. We may have had it at home, but I remember it from my grandparent’s home… maybe we inherited it when they died, but we lived in a flat and didn’t have a lot of room, so maybe, like so much, it went in the dustbin.

It seemed quite long to me as a child, maybe 3-4 foot and 2 foot wide, but maybe it was smaller and only seemed big because I was little. In case you don’t know what a bagatelle is, it’s a board with a curved end, a raised edge, nails stuck in pattern which could enclose a ball bearing, fired by a spring… the enclosures of the pins had different scores, and if your balls went in you would add up your score. It was very simple, but very absorbing. I think in an original set you would have a certain fixed number of balls – probably nine, but we just played with as many ball bearings as we had (or maybe marbles, but I remember silver ball bearings)

I guess maybe the bagatelle was a forerunner to the pinball machine, except on the board there were no levers, it was just chance with a little skill in how hard you pulled back the spring to ‘fire’ the balls. I think it might have been slightly raised at the top end, so the balls would drift down to the bottom.

My grandparents, when I knew them, lived in a big house called Newton View in the village of Harston, just south of Cambridge. I remember the rooms being large with high ceilings, and very yellowy light, no doubt low-wattage bulbs! There were many children’s things in the old house which I suspect might have come from my great-grandparents, things my grandpa played with as a child; there were strange books with violent rhymes which these days we would think unsuitable for little children – children with fingers and noses cut off with scissors, children being burned by candles and open fires…

I’m sure this picture was in one of the books – or one very similar…

No doubt all these things went into the rubbish when my grandparents died, but I do remember playing with the bagatelle board at our own home, so maybe that did come home with us… it was old, and no doubt would be worth something now, it was handmade from good wood and had been well looked after…

Where it went I don’t know, but at least it still exists here in the family museum!


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