Winking World 71: extract (1998)

Early Inter-Collegiate and Inter-Varsity Winks In Cambridge

by Stew Sage

This year sees the fortieth anniversary of the first Varsity Match between Oxford and Cambridge. More correctly, March 1958 was when the first clash between the presently constituted CUTwC and OUTS took place. We have known of an earlier match since Nick Inglis stumbled across a newspaper article reporting a match between Oxford and Cambridge in 1946 (WW 47). It now seems however that Inter-Varsity winks may have begun even earlier.

In 1995, CUTwC celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the foundation of itself as an official university society and of the modern game. Around seventy people from CUTwC and other clubs gathered in Cambridge for a weekend of celebration. A brief report of events appeared in the Cambridge Alumni Magazine, CAM. This evoked some correspondence which has been forwarded to me and reveals winks activity in Cambridge and other universities earlier I think than hitherto known.

A Mr R. Gilbert wrote to dispute the foundation of the adult game in 1955, styling himself "President-Emeritus, T.W.C.C." Mr Gilbert matriculated at Clare College, Cambridge, in 1943. A document copied to me reveals that T.W.C.C. - the Tiddleywink [sic] Club (Clare) - was formed in October 1944. The purpose of the club was "to challenge teams from Colleges resident in Cambridge (Including those temporarily resident), to games of tiddleywinks". The temporary residents were presumably members of the many academic institutions evacuated to Cambridge during the Second World War.

The document recording the foundation also contains the rules of the game played:

1) The goal shall be an egg-cup of the type possessed by Mr Gilbert.
2) The start of the game shall be on the edge of a decent carpet, in the centre of which the goal shall stand.
3) Players shall tiddle in strict rotation, members coming from alternate sides.
4) Touching a tiddleywink with anything other than the tiddler is strictly prohibited.
5) Touching any others player's winks is strictly forbidden.
6) A Possibley-wink is "Holing in one" from the starting line.
7) One game shall last 15 minutes.
8) When a player shall have achieved a goal, he shall leave the tiddle in the cup, and start afresh from the carpet edge.
9) At the end of the game, a count shall be made of all the goals.
10) All tiddlers and tiddleywinks shall be clearly marked.
11) No spectators other than club members shall be allowed.

Mr Gilbert also forwarded copies of the minutes of T.W.C.C. The style is distinctly reminiscent of CUTwC minutes to date. The first match took place on November 7th 1944, when Clare were hosts to Sidney Sussex. Clare won the match, but lost an unofficial singles match during the interval. It was noted that "During refreshments Mr Gilbert played part of the Emperor Concerto on his gramophone. The latter was severely criticised". Kicking off as CUTwC would one day continue, it was also recorded of the second half of the contest that "Only three games were played [of four], as refreshments took rather longer than was expected".

Six days later Clare beat L.S.E. (Women) [then in Peterhouse of all places]. L.S.E. won one game though when their captain scored an expected Possibley-wink. "This shocked the home team so much that they allowed the women to win". The following week, Newnham (a women's college) were defeated without great incident.

On November 28th 1944, Clare played their first away match at Girton (then a women's college). Girton fielded two teams, one of Geographers and one of Material Scientists, subjects perhaps dictated by the war effort. A motion of censure was passed on one Mr Keep of Clare, who had absconded by "contracting into an alliance to attend a dance". Scores were level at half time, but after the interval a Girton girl "produced a half crown which wrought destruction in the ranks of our opponents winks and so overbalanced the scores that Girton won". It is difficult to imagine what the coin did to the winks that was helpful, but evidently Mr Stocks, playing for Mr Keep, also produced a half crown late on and "a slight improvement was noticed". "The meeting closed at 9.59 pm at Girton Gate after a noisy walk through miles of corridor". An early anthem, no doubt.

My correspondent also revealed that matches were played against other universities at this time. These were not representative matches as such because of travel restrictions, but were played during vacations when enough players were in a given area. As evidence of these matches, a photocopy of a number of engraved winks was supplied. Apparently at that time the losing side engraved winks to present to the winning side.

Assuming the minutes I have are complete, the first Inter-Varsity contest took place between Bristol and Cambridge Universities on December 31st 1944. Teams of four took part, with Cambridge being represented by two men (from Clare) and two women (from Newnham and Girton). Coinage featured again. "Miss Pelmeer discovered that a half crown and the `Girton-flip' were quite as effective on carpet as on Girton matting". Cambridge won all four games convincingly.

On March 24th 1945, Cambridge were away to Manchester University. The match took place in the home of one of the Cambridge players. "It was to have taken place in Ashburne Hall, but all women had to be out of Hall after breakfast and Miss Denton and friend [Cambridge] objected to playing before breakfast". This seems to suggest surprisingly liberal attitudes for the time, but a footnote indicates that this applied to the morning after the Rag Ball the night before. Cambridge won the match easily. Then "Mr Brown escorted the women into town. What happened then has not been divulged to the Hon. Sec.".

The last entry in the minutes that I have is dated July 6th 1945. This notes that the previous page of minutes "seems to have absconded". This is unfortunate as it might well have recorded details of the first Oxford v. Cambridge match. Certainly there is an engraved wink from Oxford in the collection photocopied to me by Mr Gilbert. The Hon. Sec. notes his resignation from active membership in his minute of July 6th. TWCC may have folded at the same time.

As if all this wasn't excitement enough, another letter written in response to the article in the alumni magazine reveals even earlier winks activity in Cambridge. A Mr Harry Smith-Carington of Fordingbridge (Christ's 1944) asks whether anyone can confirm an apocryphal story, related by his father (Arthur Smith-Carington, Christ's 1908) about his grandfather (Richard Carington Smith [sic]; St. John's 1876), "who enjoyed the privilege, no doubt granted by the proctors, to play tiddlywinks on the steps of the Senate House".

Back to ETwA history page.