hist-games: RE: hist-games Digest, Vol 10, Issue 4

james at tradgames.org.uk james at tradgames.org.uk
Sun Feb 12 12:52:48 PST 2006

Adrian - Yes, you must be right; silly to wonder anything else as Devil
often refers to top.

Many texts say that the phrase Devil Amongst the Tailors came about when a
large group of tailors rioted in protest at a play they found offensive and
were quelled by the home guard.  The play was later published with the name
"Devil Amongst the Tailors" and the sight of the guards attacking the
tailors was likened to the top knocking down skittles (I usually read ball
ploughing through the skittles but that must be based on false assumptions
made by modern authors).

Odd that the OED does not have any earlier references, given that Strutt
published originally in 1801 (I have the 1855 version but without any
substantial change I think) and the tailor's riot in Haymarket happened in
1805 or earlier.

I have struggled with the dates on this before and you've made me struggle
again.  There are various versions of the tailors riot tale and at least 2
dates.  If the date is 1805 as seems most quoted, then it looks like the
play incident happened after the game was already called devil amongst the
tailors which makes no sense.  So then perhaps Timothy Finn is right in his
book on pub games which dates the incident at 1783.  I'm sure this is
checkable but don't think I am motivated to check right now.  Timothy Finn
also says that the ball on the chain "Devil Amongst the Tailors" was
definitely around at 1801 (same date as Strutt's book - ?)but I'm not sure
I'm buying that assertion without some evidence.  So it seems most likely
that the ball and chain game later became popular and somehow inherited the
name.  But this is speculative.

There are many forms of the table (round, square, octagonal etc.) used for
this top game and usually no standards with traditional games of this type
so I'm sure that the Mayhew and Strutt games were both just different
versions of the game generally known as Devil Amongst the Tailors.


James Masters

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