Barley-Break


Barley-Break
   A popular chasing game, mentioned often in literary sources of the 16th to 18th centuries, played either by children or young people of both sexes. The game reconstructed by the Opies involved three mixed-sex pairs of players. One pair stood in the middle of the playing area (called 'hell'), and one pair stood at each end. The two end pairs had to change partners, without being caught by the middle pair, and the latter had to hold hands throughout. An alternative name was 'Last Couple in Hell'.
   The earliest mention of the game is found in Henry's Machyn's Diary of 19 April 1557: 'The sam owre master parsun and entryd in-to helle, and ther ded at the barle breyke with alle the wyffe of the sam parryche'. Other early references include Sir Philip Sidney (Arcadia, written in 1580s), Shakespeare and Fletcher (Two Noble Kinsmen, iv. iii, 1634), and Robert *Herrick (Hesperides, 1648). Other descriptions imply different ways of playing and suggest that it derives its name from originally being played in the farmyard around the stacks.
   ■ Opie and Opie, 1969:128-30; Gomme, 1884: i. 21-3; Hazlitt, 1905: 28-9.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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