Summer Exhibition: Toys

High days and holidays, birthdays and Christmas, were probably the only times in the past when a child would receive a new toy or book. Here in the Collection we have a few of those very precious toys that have stood the test of both time and play by the Cardall children. So we’ve brought them out and added a selection of other items, (complete with their stories,) loaned by Heritage Collection members for our Summer Toys Exhibition opening on Carnival Day (Spring Bank Holiday, 27th May).

‘Fivestones’ or ‘Jacks’ is an ancient game that is still played. Once called ‘Knucklebones’ because it was played with 5 small bones from the leg of a sheep, it taught children co-ordination and competition. Although the basic game is similar – you throw up one bone and in turn pick the others up before catching the first bone, the throws get more and more complicated. Cup and Ball was another eye and hand co-ordination game, useful for teaching children the dexterity they would need to earn a living.

However, not all those early toys were safe to play with. Soldiers and farm animals were often made using tin and lead, a source of lead poisoning. Military figures have been found in Egyptian tombs, but it was in the early 18th Century that soldiers became a popular boy’s toy, whilst their sisters played with the oldest toy of all: dolls. The Yo-Yo is another ancient game, and is considered to be the second oldest toy in history. Possibly originating in China, there is a 440BCE painting on a Greek vase of a boy playing with a Yo-Yo.

Amongst the toys in our Summer Exhibition you will find home-made boats, a Southam mouse, and Matchbox and Corgi cars, Teresa Tyack’s seaside spade from the turn of the 20th Century, a Bayco Building set and wooden Pelham puppets (see photo) from the 1960s and an old puppet theatre. You can even “Watch with Mother” on our video display, and see how clearly the puppets’ strings were visible on 1950s TV.

Advertising was sometimes done through children’s toys, such as playing cards featuring Cow & Gate milk food. A wooden jigsaw of the Cunard boat “Carmania” leaving Liverpool for a round the world trip will also be on display.

The post-war child grew up with Noddy, Big Ears, Teddy Bears and Golliwogs, and it is now 60 years since ‘Cindy’ and ‘Barbie’ dolls came on the scene, followed soon after by ‘Action Man’. Do you remember Gonks and Trolls from the 1960s, and those furry Gremlins with the interactive Gizmo who talks to Furby? We have him in the exhibition. It is 20 years since Gizmo was banned by the USA National Security Agency! Come and find out why.

The interactive summer toy exhibition will be open from the end of May until the end of October on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday mornings in Tithe Place. Come along and revive your own childhood memories, put a piece (or more) in a jigsaw, play a board game, and get the children making their own spinning toy.


To be involved with local history, contact Southam Heritage Collection. We are based in the entrance of Tithe Place on High Street, and are normally open on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday mornings from 10am to 12 noon. Please see our website for more information. Contact: 01926 613503 email and find us on Facebook: Southam Heritage Collection.