Monthly Archives: July 2019

Sally go round the moon!

Did you know that, according to Swansea schoolchildren, ‘Sally’ was going round the moon (and the sun, and the stars) back in 1952, years before Buzz and Neil set foot on its surface? With the anniversary of the first moon landing upon us we’re catching a passing sputnik to explore some lunar lore. And through children’s contributions stored in the Archive of Iona and Peter Opie at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, we’re learning that the moon loomed large over the playground in the 1950s.

Students at Glanmor Secondary School for Girls in Swansea who submitted the words of their game to the Opies weren’t alone in singing about a mysterious Sally making visits to the moon. A pupil at Sale County Grammar School for Boys c.1951-1953 reported a similar rhyme which ran:

Sally go round the sun

Sally go round the moon

Sally go round the chimney tops

On a Sunday afternoon.

(MS Opie 1 fol. 153r).


The rhyme goes back to at least the 1880s and is known in many parts of the English-speaking world. The writer H. E. Bates heard it used by girls for swinging under lamp-posts in the 1910s.

Lunar language also made its way into the popular pastime of skipping. In response to questionnaire queries from the Opies about special skipping terminology, one child from Dovenby School near Cockermouth in around 1952 replied with a skipping game called ‘Over the moon and under the stars’ (MS. Opie 9 fol. 210r) in which players had to run through the turning rope. The game was known as ‘’Under the moony and over the girdle’ in parts of Scotland, and in some cases was turned into a rhyme:

Under the moon and over the stars

How many miles is here to Mars?

Five, ten….


The moon also had meaning that went beyond games, however, and we have been coming across examples of well-known superstitions relating to the moon during our cataloguing work. Looking at a full moon through a window was thought to bring bad luck, while a ‘circle of yellowish light’ around the moon signalled bad weather brewing. Yet the moon could also be a way to harness good luck, by turning over the silver coins in your pocket on seeing the new moon.

In 1969, the year of the moon landing, the Opies published their book on Children’s Games in Street and Playground. In it, they wrote about pretending games, in which children ‘re-present, as if they were newsreels, the more spectacular national events’. What impact did the ‘giant leap for mankind’ and the Space Race have on children’s games of the time? If your own games included the moon, stars, aliens or visits to distant galaxies, why not let us know?

The Time Telephone

One of the aims of the Playing the Archive project is to activate the extensive Opie Archive in playful interactive installations.  This has led to the development of the Time Telephone, an installation that explores new forms of tangible and multi-sensory interfaces to communicate and preserve the fragile and ephemeral cultural memories of play. 


Users are invited to step into the telephone box and use an original rotary phone to call children from around the country and hear about their play adventures. The Time Telephone explores the potentiality of the kiosk to trigger contrasting experiences among visitors: older generations will find themselves plunged into a familiar activity of the past (the use of the rotary phone) that will likely trigger childhood memories;  younger generations will discover games of the past by using (or rather playing with) an unknown interface, nowadays replaced by smartphones.


At the centre of this installation is a replica of the red telephone kiosk K6 originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott customised at the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London. The lightweight replica is moveable allowing it to be installed in different locations. The kiosk K6 has become an iconic symbol of the British streetscape. Historically, the kiosks were equipped with rotary phones, which are now almost completely unknown to younger generations.  In the museum space, the kiosk becomes a tangible and multisensory interface that allows the visitors to access a selection of the archival material created by the Opies (currently stored at the British Library in “The Opie Collection of Children’s Games and Songs“) and a series of recent recordings made by the Playing the Archive research group with children at schools in London, Sheffield, Cardiff and Aberdeen.


Inside the kiosk is an original GPO 746 rotary phone fitted with a RaspberryPi B+ (a small single-board computer).  The program installed on the RaspberryPi creates a list of the audio recordings stored on an SD card and decodes the pulses from the rotary dial.  When the visitor picks up the phone a dial tone is played (historical sample recordings of the dial tone are used to provide continuity in the experience).  The visitor can then pick a number to dial from the telephone directory inside the phone booth.


If the user dials a number that matches one of the audio recordings stored in the phone, a child’s voice reads out the number that has just been dialled. The corresponding audio file is then played from the handset and from a loudspeaker on the ceiling of the phone booth, which allows more that one person to interact with the installation at a time (for example a child and parent). The sound stops playing when the user hangs up or if the user dials a new number. If the user dials a number that does not match any of the audio recordings, a recorded voice asks them to hang up and try again.


One Time Telephone was installed at the Site Gallery in Sheffield for the Children’s Media Conference and Sense of Play event at the end of June.  The other is in place in the entrance hall of the V&A Museum of Childhood where it has been since the 15th of April.  It has proved a very popular installation with an average of about 60 calls being made per day.  This, of course, does not include the equally important (but less easily quantifiable) calls being made by our younger visitors to imaginary friends and family!


The Time Telephone will be open for calls during the Festival of Play at the V&A Museum of Childhood this weekend.

Festival of Play

Play is for everyone. Help us celebrate all things play over this two-day festival filled with workshops, games, and activities designed for all ages.


This event is a partnership between Playing the Archive and the V&A Museum of Childhood.  As well as hosting the Time Telephone, an installation developed by the Playing the Archive team in which visitors can phone up the past on a rotary telephone, the event will see the London launch of A Sense of Play playing cards.  The pack of playing cards, another output of the research project, include descriptions of games from the Opie Archive which are printed on one side of the cards and which also link to an augmented reality experience triggered when users scan the back of the cards with a smartphone.


The Playing the Archive team have also been working closely with two groups of students from the RCA Interactive Experience Design course to create two brand-new, exciting experiences especially for the Festival of Play.  One group has developed an interactive AR experience using giant Lego blocks and AR markers, and the other has developed an immersive VR experience inspired by Place (Village), Rachel Whiteread’s celebrated artwork in which visitors will be able to explore the houses and the people who live there.


In addition to this, our very own Alison Somerset-Ward will be running a badge-making activity in the Play Market using phrases and words from the Opie Archive.  Montessori St Nicholas charity will also be bringing some of the Opie Archive games to life in group playing activities throughout the day.  These activities will run alongside the rest of the playful programme detailed below.


The Festival of Play will take place on Saturday 20 July and Sunday 21 July from 11.00 to 16.30.  It is free and open to all ages.



Build, break & re-build
Work with artist Matt Shaw to create a large-scale, changing play structure on the museum’s Marble Floor.

Outdoor games
11.00-16.30 (group games at 12.00, 13.00, 14.00 & 15.00)
Join the team from Montessori St Nicholas charity, who can teach you some fun games you can play in your garden or at school.

Play Market!
Browse through our Play Market full of fun, drop-in activities.
– A Sense of Play Playing Cards, pick-up a free pack of interactive playing cards made by the UCL research team.
– Games from around the world, tell artist Dan Jones about games you know and create a collaborative map of games.
– Museum of made-up stories, pretend to be a museum curator, and valuate toys and objects.
– Musical instrument making, ages 4+, build and play your own electronic instrument made of card with the V&A Digital Team.
– Play the Museum Game, ages 4+, try some games made by designer Matteo Manapace especially for the V&A Museum of Childhood.
– Badge making, use words and images from old books and make a badge with artist Alison Somerset-Ward.

Give it a try: AR Prototype
Ages 4+
Meet a group of students from the RCA Information Experience Design course who have created an augmented reality play idea for the V&A Museum of Childhood. Have a go and test their prototype!

Give it a try: VR Prototype
12.00-16.00, Village (Place)
Ages 4+, sign-up on the day
Meet more students from the RCA Information Experience Design course, and experience their new prototype environments through virtual reality headsets.

Time Telephone
Dial the Time Telephone to speak to children from the past and present and learn new games to play.

Robot Sculpture
11.00-12.30 & 14.00-15.30
Ages 4+
Work with our Activity Assistants to create wonderful and bizarre robots from recycled and upcycled materials.

Baby Sensory Play
Under 3s
Explore materials and play things prepared specially for little ones.

Workshop: How to make a video game
11.30 & 14.00 (60mins)
Ages 8+, sign-up on the day
Come and make your own 3D adventure videogame using the MissionMaker software with a team from UCL.

Play Films
Watch a series of archival and recent documentary films about children’s play.


Playing the Archive at the UKLA International Conference 2019

Playing the Archive: Possibilities, performance and palimpsest in children’s oral and media cultures, past and present

The Playing the Archive team will be coming together in Sheffield this weekend to present at the UKLA International Conference 2019.  As we near the end of the project, this will be an insight into the work that has been done on the project over the last 2 years, with explorations of some of the themes and findings that have come out of our research.  This symposium applies the conference themes of ‘Literacy and Play for All: Improvisation, possibility and imagination’ to the Playing the Archive project.


This promises to be a very interesting session covering different streams of the project through five papers as follows:

Researching children’s media-related play using participatory and multimodal methodologies (Kate Cowan and John Potter)

In their studies of children’s play (1950s-1990s), folklorists Iona and Peter Opie aimed to capture the ‘kaleidoscopic vitality’ of UK playgrounds through written observations, surveys and audio recordings (Opie, 1993). The ethnography strand of ‘PTA’ builds on this work, exploring contemporary play alongside children as co-researchers.  The presentation will consider the use of digital tools, including wearable GoPro cameras, 360 degree video and iPads, to the ephemeral and multimodal nature of children’s play from new perspectives.


Children’s contemporary play practices remediating digital culture in the third space of the playground (John Potter, Kate Cowan and Jackie Marsh)

This paper will explore how the methods in the project focus closely on details of the lived experience of the children and to analyse data which is rich and redolent with the changed ways in which meaning is made in the digital age. We will discuss how the children’s games remediate popular cultural reference points, particularly from YouTube which is arguably emerging as a hub for digitally mediated meaning and play, as a central part of a media ecosystem.


Meshwork, Playlines and Palimpsests: A Tracing of Play Over Time (Jackie Marsh, Julia Bishop, Andrew Burn and John Potter)

This paper presents an analysis of children’s play over time in one primary school playground. Drawing from data collected in two separate studies over a nine-year period, an account is presented of the continuities and discontinuities of play as it is instantiated across space and time. It is argued that these two areas are inseparable in any study of children’s play, and that theories derived from social anthropology and new materialism can inform an understanding of the dynamic between children and their playground environments across both dimensions.


Experience imagined worlds: co-creation and interpretation of play’s memories by the means of tangible and digital technologies (Andrew Burn, Valerio Signorelli and Andy Hudson-Smith)
Virtual, Mixed and Augmented reality is opening up new ways to experience archive materials, both in museum contexts and in the wild. This presentation explores tangible and digital interfaces as means to communicate the co-creation of historical play’s memories. It delves into the use of auditory stimuli and playful digital activities as creative process for interacting with and taking part in games from the past in the present time and space. It presents a collection of imaginary environments and experiences aimed at preserving the ephemeral condition of the intangible cultural heritage.

In and Out the Dusty Archive: Literacy and Play in the Collection of Iona and Peter Opie (Julia Bishop, Catherine Bannister and Alison Somerset-Ward)

The research underlying Iona and Peter Opies’ now classic works on children’s lore, language and play (1959, 1969, 1985, 1997) was pioneering in its engagement with young people as informants. Their contributions were mostly written ones, submitted to the Opies by an ‘army’ of school teachers from locations throughout Britain. Now deposited at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, these have been digitised and catalogued in detail, and are being made available as part of the PTA project. In this paper, we will describe what the archive reveals about the role of teachers as intermediaries in the collecting process, reflecting on the literacies which shape the students’ responses, and sharing the responses of young people today to these documents.


Affordances of playgrounds for play and literacy in the Collection of Peter and Iona Opie (Helen Woolley and Alison Somerset Ward)

Embedded within the Opie Archive is a depth of experiences of how the outdoor spaces of streets and playgrounds support children’s play. Elements within the spaces provide affordances for the use of language in play. This paper will focus on these playgrounds and the landscape elements within them.

The session will run from 10.40 to 12.20 on Saturday 13 July in Lecture Theatre 12.0.06.

Professor Andrew Burn will also be giving a keynote speech entitled ‘Play: From the archive to the playground and back again’ on Sunday 14 July from 12.00 to 13.00 in Lecture Theatre CH.0.06 .

The full programme for the conference can be found here.