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The Oxford & District Aunt Sally Association has been in existence for 76 years. League games are played on Wednesday evenings between May and September. The league regularly attracts 120 teams divided into 12 sections, with up to 1,400 players registered to take part. Aunt Sally is played by players throwing batons at a wooden skittle known as a doll and goes back at least as far as the 17th Century. It may have been introduced by Royalist soldiers during the English Civil war when Charles set up court in Oxford. It is one of those pub games which is played only in a very confined locale and hardly at all outside of this area. In the case of Aunt Sally, the location is Oxfordshire and despite being restricted only to pubs in and around Oxford it is a very popular game indeed which is taken very seriously by regulars and for which there are numerous leagues of some longevity.
Theory ascribes Aunt Sally as a development of a game which was essentially a humane version of a barbaric blood sport called "throwing at cocks". In this horrible pastime a cock was tied by one leg to a stake in the ground and the participants would then pay for a turn at throwing a "cok-steles" (small club) at the bird. Whoever killed the bird got to take it home for dinner. If the bird's leg was broken, the sad creature would be supported on sticks until the bitter end. Joseph Strutt noted in 1801 that humane versions of this had been seen as fairground amusements wherein the cock was replaced by a wooden replica and people paid a small sum to attempt to hit it. He thought that this had died out but this theory believes it persisted and became Aunt Sally.
A second theory concocted, is that Aunt Sally is merely an extension of a vulgar misogynist fairground pursuit. It is apparent that the doll used to be dressed up to resemble an old maid and no doubt it was thought to be an amusing to chuck sticks at the ugly looking Aunt Sally doll. Quite possibly the game started to be played in a few pubs where it began to be taken more seriously.
In Aunt Sally, the single white stubby skittle, about 6 inches high and 2 and 3/4 inches in diameter, is called "dolly" and the round-ended projectiles, of which there are six, are 18 inches long, 2 inches in diameter and are called "sticks". The doll is positioned on top of a swivel which is inserted into a hollow rod (the "iron") driven into the earth so that the top is two and a half feet above the ground and the players throw the sticks at it from behind a line known as the "hockey" which is 10 yards from the iron. Each turn consists of six throws and a 'doll' is only counted as long as the stick hits the doll before the iron. Normal league play has two teams each consisting of eight players and three legs or "horses" are played. Each horse consists of each member of each team having one turn so that each team makes 48 throws.
Banbury Aunt Sally League:
Abingdon Aunt Sally League: www.abingdonauntsally.com/
Chipping Norton Aunt Sally League: www.chippyauntsally.co.uk/
Bampton Aunt Sally League: www.bamptonauntsally.org/
Bicester Aunt Sally League www.bicesterauntsally.com
Wychwood Aunt Sally League www.wychwood-aunt-sally-league.co.uk
Trade Games: www.tradgames.org.uk