Voices in the Coalshed: Knurr and Spell
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Voices in the Coalshed: Knurr and Spell

Knurr and Spell – Miners and Magic? Surely not!

As a child, looking for something in the shed, I found a brown leather Gladstone bag filled with what looked like white pottery marbles and chunks of very dark wood. The bag belonged to my Grandad and the contents were what you needed to play Knurr & Spell. The game was favoured by miners and was at its height in the 18th and 19th centuries. The word knurr comes from a Middle English word “knurre” which was a knot (in wood) as the original balls were formed from knots. Spell comes from a Danish word “spil” meaning spindle referring to the stick used to strike the ball.


Knurr and Spell Game

Knurr and Spell is a game believed to have begun on the Yorkshire Moors, sometimes called Poor Man’s Golf, in which a ball – the knurr or potty – is struck by the spell -a long handled club. The knurr that travels farthest wins.

My Grandad took me and my brother outside. He cut a branch about 4 feet long (120cms) trimmed it and attached one of the hardwood heads to it with a thin strip of leather, this was the spell or club. He then made a sort of small see-saw which he placed on the ground. One of the pottys was put at one end and he struck the other end with the spell; the potty flew into the air and it was then your job to hit it as far as you could. We were not experts! To begin with we were lucky to hit the potty at all. Later Grandad made a frame from which the potty or knurr could hang from a piece of string, a method favoured in Lancashire, and hitting the potty became easier. The best players could hit the potty as far as 2oo yards, around 180 metres.

There were adaptations and developments, the see-saw was replaced by an adjustable sprung trap which meant that the knurr would rise to a standard height which made competition fairer; each competitor could adjust it to suit their own play.

In the 21st Century the game is virtually unknown, but it was known by a number of names such as Nipsy, Trap Ball or even Potty Knocking.

Do you have any memories of Knurr and Spell or any examples of ways in which miners you knew enjoyed their leisure time?

This weeks Voices in the Coalshed was researched and written by volunteer Nicola.