Pitching Marbles in Barbados

When I was growing up in Barbados in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, “pitching marbles” was one of the most well-loved games for boys. I do not remember ever seeing girls pitch marbles, instead they used to play Jacks.

The most popular marble games were:

  1. Holes
  2. Lings
  3. Killer
  4. Others games such as racing marbles

1. Holes

“Holes” usually consisted of digging three holes in the ground, often in the hard mud areas where there was no grass and marbles could roll and be seen better. Each hole was about 4” in diameter and 1or 2 inches deep and they were positioned about six feet apart to form a triangle, could be in a straight line.

To start the game, a line was drawn on the ground and each player dropped his marble and the order of play was based on how close each marble ended up to the line.

Each player then pitched his marbles in turn to try and get into the designated first hole. When this was accomplished he would then try for the second hole and then the third (this often took several tries and each shot started from where the marble had last landed). To leave the hole the player was allowed to pitch from one span’s width from the hole.

When other marbles came into play, the pitcher could choose to hit any other nearby marble and thus get another turn. So the technique was to aim for a nearby marble and glance off towards one’s destination and then use the extra turn for another shot. Alternately, the pitcher could choose to hit another marble away from where that player was hoping to go and thereby get an advantage by delaying the other player.

Once all three holes had been entered, that marble became a “killer” and could hunt down and “kill” the others. The overall winner was the last marble left alive.

2. Lings

To play lings, a circle (also called the “ring”) was drawn in the sand or mud about 12” in diameter. Each player then put one marble in the ling. There was no limit to the number of players, usually there would be about 4 to 8. Since one stood to lose one’s marble that had been placed in the ring, it was often the older, scratched marbles that were used. Any that were really ugly might be objected to by the other players and not accepted as an acceptable deposit.

Once again the order of play was decided based on dropping marbles unto a line from eye level.

Players then took turns trying to win marbles by knocking them out of the ling, starting initially from a line drawn about eight feet away. After that each shot was taken from its last place of rest.

The objective was to knock marbles out of the ring, in which case the shooter kept that marble as a prize. The technique was to hit a marble out and stay close enough to the ring to take another shot (one got another shot if one was successful in hitting out a marble and also getting out of the ring). If the shooter ended up in the ring it was forfeited and could be hit out and kept by another shooter. “Steelies” (see below) or “big taws” (see below) were the most popular marbles for shooting with, as they were the most powerful and had the best chance of knocking a marble out of the ring and then rolling out safely.

Children playing Lings in England

3. Killer

When there were only two players, often as time was limited, the choice of game would be “killer”. This was good shooting practice and took little time to set up. Players basically pitched their marbles at each other and scored each hit. Shots were taken from where the marble had landed. The technique was to shoot and leave your marble close enough to be tempting but not an easy hit and hope that your opponent would shoot, miss and end up close enough for you to get an easy shot.

4. Racing marbles

A less well known but fun sport was to race marbles. A gently sloping gutter of concrete, often by the side of a building, would be the race-track. Marbles would be lined up at one end and released to see which would reach the designated finish line first.

Getting up to date – Barbados Minister of Culture, Stephen Lashley, taking some time out during Carifesta Barbados 2017 to pitch marbles with students from the St. Leonard’s Boys School.

Types of marbles

Cherry seeds
The most common marbles, consisting of clear glass with coloured swirls inside that looked like the Barbados cherry seeds. These were of standard size.

Big Taws
There were larger marbles, good for lings, but not for killer or holes as they were harder to pitch and aim. They could have cherry seed designs or also an opaque marble effect (especially if taken from a family marble game).

Big Taws versus normal marbles

There were spherical steel ball bearings and very highly prized. They came in many sizes, shiny at first but then they would turn black with age. Those boys who had family that worked in factories or garages were envied because they had access to these prized possessions. Great for lings where they could be pitched with force and their weight would provide the momentum to carry them out of the ring to safety.

Ball bearings in their casing and ball bearings ready for pitching marbles

Some Pitching Marble Terms and Techniques

ChinksingWe also used small steelies about 1/8 to 1/4 inch diameter for ‘chinksing’ – i.e. getting close to the ling and reducing the likelihood of getting hit by an opponent while doing so. However, when it came to shooting at the ling one could change the marble and use the big taw or “goochie” (as it was also known) which was better at removing marbles from the ling.
“Down taw – no brush”“Taw” seems to be another name for a marble, probably of ancient derivation. We used to refer to the larger marbles as “big taws”. When pitching a marble at another it was often advantageous to rest the shooting hand on top of the other hand to be elevated. Also when pitching on the outside ground there were sometimes leaves or twigs that could affect the play. As a result there arose an expression ”down taw no brush” that could be shouted by another player that restricted the shooter to shoot from ground level (i.e. keep your taw/marble down in normal position, and no brushing aside of debris from the path of the marble).
Flakies and Pretties“Flakies” were marbles with chips or ‘flakes’.

Unblemished ones were “Pretties”. If it was decided that we were only playing ‘pretties’ then one could not put a ‘flakie’ in the ling.

Flakies – marbles with flaws
Flimsing“Flimsing” was when two players were (unofficially) pitching as a ‘team’, one of them would not pitch at the his partner’s marble, even though that marble was closer. I also just recalled that playing as unofficial partners sometimes happened because one may be out of marbles and another player would lend you a marble to put in the ling (known as “Sezzing” the other person). In that case it was considered by the recipient to be bad form to then hit his benefactor’s marble and cause him to have to put another marble in the ling and start from the line again. Hence he would “flims” by avoiding pitching at the ‘partner’s’ marble – much to the disgust of other players!
“No brush at me”This was a call by a player whose marble was targeted that no debris in the path could be removed. Once the call was made this had to be respected by the shooter.
“No change taw at me”Sometimes in “holes”, a player would choose to play with a small chinksing “steelie” but as soon as he was going to shoot at an opponent, the opponent would call before he could take up his marble: “No change taw at me”, and the person shooting had to use the small steelie to shoot (which was more difficult to pitch). All very complicated and sure to create tension.
ScramblesWhen we small boys were playing lings, on occasions bigger boys would come around and stand near the ling. One of them would say: “This ling looks dark” or “scrambles” which was the signal for the smaller boys playing to grab their marbles as quickly as possible or the gang of bigger boys around the ling was going to pick them up and keep them. Usually that was what happened and we lost our marbles.
“Up taw to line” If one played out of turn, then it was “Up taw to line” which meant the player out of turn had to go back to the starting ‘line’ and play from there on his next correct turn.

This post is by guest contributor John Fraser and Douglas Newsam.

John Fraser was born at Spooners, Four Roads, in St. John and attended Lodge School from 1955 to 1964. He worked for Bovell & Skeete (later Coopers & Lybrand) from 1964 to 1973 in Barbados, St Lucia and Dominica. In 1973, he emigrated to Toronto, Canada and became a Chartered Accountant. He is now retired and just celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary. He has three children and six grandchildren.

Douglas Newsam was born at Chelsea Road, St. Michael in 1942. He attended Harrison College from 1951 to 1960. On leaving that school, he joined Bovell & Skeete, (later Coopers & Lybrand) and completed the professional examinations of the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants in the UK in 1974. In January 1977 he was admitted to partnership. He travelled widely in the Caribbean, Canada and the UK in the course of his work. Douglas retired in June 1977 and he has been married to his wife Jean for fifty-two years. He has one daughter and two grand-sons.

Additional information on pitching marbles:
Marbles (game)
Marble (toy)
How to play Marbles

Responses to “Pitching Marbles in Barbados”

  1. Mark Headley

    Yes this great memories ,when i was a boy about 8years old, going to a private school,there was marble pitching during our lunch break we run up to the shop and buy Bubble gum and Marbles,sometimes there were up to 6 lads ,and one or two would bring their “steelies”and another boy would bring in a big Taw and flake up the glass marble from somebodyś best marbles, sometime a fight would break out,and you were probably taken to the headmistress ,and be sure to be flogged.

  2. Luten Green

    Playing marbles was an innocent childhood game for me. As an adult marbles morphed into bigger things. I have resorted to them to manage depression, control my emotions and generate laser-like focus when necessary. I have an impressive collection. I briefly watched some young boys play earlier today.

  3. Tony

    This brings back memories.

    There even a cool game app called Pitching Marbles that helps re live those childhood memories.

  4. John Davies

    Great article by John and Doug – all these terms came flowing back to me after about 50 years !!

    I would play marbles at Harrisons College almost every lunch time in the early forms – just opposite the headmasters house under the trees there.

    Marble racing was my favourite- I spent hours at my grandparents house in Hastings racing marbles down their perfect concrete drain . Two of my fastest marbles were named Mentone and Volare after two very good Bajan race horses of the time. Great memories. Thanks John and Doug.

    John Davies

  5. Basil Jenson

    This is a great article that can actually revive a dying sport. Best place to play was under a cherry tree, as dense foliage promotes the grassless surface ideal for marbles. To this day, we have two large vases of the “best” pitchers.
    Thanks for the memories
    Basil Jenson

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