Document ReferenceWGC
TitleWillughby Games Collection
Date Of Creation1883-2002
ExtentOver 180 items
AbstractThe collection comprises a body of literature about the history of games and pastimes as well as examples of actual games. It was built up by Dr David Cram.
Access ConditionsAccessible to all readers
Admin HistoryThe collection's name reflects its origins in research undertaken for an edition of a manuscript describing games and pastimes, c.1660s. The original manuscript was written by Francis Willughby (1635-1672) of Middleton Hall, Warwickshire. Francis, father of the first Baron Middleton, was head of the Willoughby family. (Contemporary usage favoured the 'Willughby' spelling of the name, which was employed on the title pages of his posthumous natural history publications.) Francis was an original member of the Royal Society. His scientific reputation rests largely on works about birds and fishes, edited by his friend and collaborator John Ray after Willughby's early death. Ray has no recorded association with Willughby's investigations of games and pastimes. The manuscript contrasts with contemporary gamester literature, demonstrating instead Willughby's scientific methods of close observation, detailed description and speculation about potential origins and variations in play. His interest in mathematics is shown in accounts of games of chance and descriptions of the movement of players and their equipment.

The original manuscript was preserved as part of the Willoughby family archive, now held at the University of Nottingham as the Middleton Collection (ref. Mi LM 14). The work remained in obscurity until its edition by David Cram, Jeffrey L. Forgeng and Dorothy Johnston ('Francis Willughby's Book of Games; Ashgate, 2001). Willughby's line drawings illustrate his description of a wide variety of games including card games ('noddle', cribbage, 'ruffe and trump'), ball games (football, stool-ball), children's games and miscellaneous games requiring special equipment (shuttle-cock, 'scotch hopper', bowls and 'ten pegs or 9 pegs', shovel board etc.). Contributions by Philip Skippon, Willughby’s friend, cover hurling, billiards and tennis and are annotated by Willughby. The edition provides a biographical account of Willughby and sets the work in the context of his times and his broader scientific interests. An extensive glossary of games is included.

While preparing the edition, David Cram sought to acquire literature about period games as well as examples of actual games. Over the course of years a considerable collection was formed. In 2001 the collection was offered by Dr Cram to the University of Nottingham as a Special Collection, both to support researchers using ‘Francis Willughby's Book of Games’ and in the knowledge that the material complemented interests already supported in the Briggs Collection of Educational Literature (BCEL). Many titles are present which fall outside familiar academic disciplines and are thus not commonly found in institutional libraries. Their original function, as instructional manuals, also meant that some items had a relatively short active life and are therefore rare survivals.
Custodial HistoryThe collection is based on the core of material given to the Library in 2001 by Dr David Cram. It is added to by purchase and donation.
DescriptionThe Willughby Games Collection contains over 150 monographs published mainly in the 20th century on the history and mastery of games and pastimes played indoors and outdoors. There are 22 books published in the 19th century and one older treatise on the game of whist, published in 1750. The books often include a retrospective look at the rules and development of the games which justifies their relevance to the source document, Francis Willughby's ‘Book of Games’. Authored by enthusiastic amateurs of the respective games the books appeal to a general audience across European societies. This is evidenced by the number of translations into English from French, German and Hungarian and a small number of books in foreign modern languages included in the collection. However, overall the collection focuses predominantly on the history and significance of games in English society. The age of the audience is indicated in titles which specify ‘children’, ‘boys’, and in one instance also ‘girls’.

The collection’s pièce de résistance is the array of actual games and objects which function as accessories to games. These include games of dominoes, draughts, backgammon, solitaire, marbles, the royal game of goose, nine men’s morris, and jacks as well as objects such as cribbage boards, whist and bezique markers, card packs, teetotum and dice. Some examples are published facsimiles of originals, such as nineteenth-century board games. This part of the Collection, representing the material culture of games, is added to as opportunity allows. For example, 20th-century subbuteo items of local reference have been acquired to add context to the 'Let's Play' exhibition in 2003, which coincided with the publication of 'The Book of Games of Francis Willughby (1635-1672)' by David Cram, Jeffrey L. Forgeng and Dorothy Johnston.

Games, sports, recreations and pastimes feature in many types of historical sources. Information about their precise nature and rules of engagement is often obscure, being incidental to the main record. Manuals in textbooks devoted to particular games therefore give meaning to references that would otherwise be lost on readers once the respective games become obsolete. To cultural historians these manuals reveal clues about the social context in which games were played. The manuals in this collection are a particularly valuable source for social studies of childhood in the 19th and 20th century. For the study of education and child psychology they offer insights into historic concepts of play for entertainment and education.
MgtGroupPrinted Book Collections
ArrangementThe collection is arranged according to the Library of Congress classification.
Termgames, whist
entertainments, card games
games, billiard tables
games, party
games, cricket
games, children's
FindingAidsThe collection is catalogued on the University of Nottingham's library catalogue NUsearch ( To browse the Collection, enter the search term WGC (the code for Willughby Games Collection) into the main search box and select to search within the Library Catalogue only.
ReprodnNoteReprographic copies can be supplied for educational and private study purposes only, depending on access status and the condition of the documents.
ConditionGenerally good
Related MaterialVolume containing descriptions by Francis Willughby (1635-1672) of games and pastimes (Francis Willughby's Book of Games) (Mi LM 14)
The Family and Estate Papers of the Willoughby Family, Lords Middleton, of Wollaton, Nottinghamshire, Middleton, Warwickshire and Birdsall, Yorkshire; 12th century [c.1150]-1986 including 17th-century natural history collections of Francis Willughby and his friend the scientist John Ray (Mi).
Briggs Collection of Educational Literature (BCEL)
Publication NoteDavid Cram, Jeffrey L. Forgeng and Dorothy Johnston, The Book of Games of Francis Willughby (1635-1672). A Seventeenth-century Treatise on Sports, Games and Pastimes (Aldershot, 2003). Reference Collection, Class Mark: Ref GV1201.W4

Click the links below to view related name indexes

CodePersonNameDates of Existence
DS/UK/85109Cram; David (1945-); Dr; Author of Willughby's Book of Games1945-
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