The Lower Dales Quoits League is kindly sponsored by
T&R Theakston, Masham Yorkshire

Theakston Homepage

Early Quoits

Quoits is related to another early pub game, the throwing of horseshoes at a pin in the ground.  Some theories have it that Quoits developed from Horseshoe pitching as a formalised version of the sport.  Horseshoe pitching is still played today, and is particularly popular in certain regions of the USA, the rules being similar to those of the Northern Quoits game outlined below.   The theory espoused by the National Quoits Association is just the opposite.  A quoit in ancient times was synonymous with a discus, and so he thinks that Quoits and discus are one and the same thing and that Quoits was therefore one of the sports played at the first Greek Olympiad.  He also suggests that the Greeks passed on Quoits, a weapon of war, to the Romans who also brought the game to Britain and that the origins may go back even further to the Minoan empire c.2000B.C. where the boy king of Knossos apparently used the discus/quoit to cull escaping slaves.  Horseshoe pitching in this case came about as a poor-man's version of Quoits using left-over horseshoes instead of the real thing. 

Whatever the origin, the game was certainly being played in England early in the second millennium in roughly the form known today wherein metal rings are thrown up and down a pitch with target pins at either end embedded in areas of soft clay.  It seems to have been associated with agricultural and working class people, in particular with the mining industry.  Quoits of this era generally were made from poor-quality left over metal from mine forges and this is why main areas of quoit playing seem to have centred on mining communities.

The Long game has a long pedigree and has its stake flush to the clay, which presents an interesting dilemma for historians - did the other versions of quoits where the pin sticks prominently out of the ground derive from it and then evolve the pin out of the clay or did they develop separately or prior to the long game? 

Earlier than 1388, references are vague but quoits was designated as illegal in the Sporting Regulations act of that year.   By the 15th Century, there is evidence to show that it had become a well organised sport, not least because of the numerous attempts to eradicate it from the pubs and taverns of England due to its apparently seedy character.  Not until the nineteenth century is the game documented in any serious way but the game apparently grew in popularity during that century and the official rules first appeared in the April 1881 edition of 'The Field' having been defined by a body formed from pubs in a large area of Northern England.

The Northern Game

The Association of Amateur Quoits Clubs for the North of England was the name given to the official body that laid down the 15 rules that were published in "The Field" in 1881.  This set of rules constituted what is now called The Northern Game and it has remained largely unchanged ever since.  Although the Northern Game has lost some of its popularity, it is still played seriously and enthusiastically in the North of England under the auspices of The National Quoits Association which was formed in 1986 and is undergoing something of a resurgence of late.

The game has the hobs (stakes that the quoits were aimed at) 11 yards apart in 3 feet squares of clay, the maintenance of which is quite an art, it seems.  Originally, players used an iron quoit which weighed about a pound but regional variations resulted in quoits which reportedly weighed up to 23 lb. which may or may not be an exaggeration.  In the Northern game, nowadays, quoits measure about 5 1/2 inches in diameter and weigh about 5 1/2 pounds.  Some of the terms commonly used in the Northern game are:

'Hill' - top surface of the quoit
'Hole' - underside of the quoit
'Hole-up' - a quoit which lands flat with its wider face upwards.  This is not preferred because such a quoit can be flipped out of play by an opponents' quoit.
'Gater' - a quoit which falls so that it's edge rests on the hob with the bulk of the quoit in front of the hob.  This is done so as to prevent the opponent achieving a ringer.  A Gater is either a hole-gater or a hill-gater.
'Cover' - a quoit that covers part of the top of the hob.  This is an excellent throw.
'Frenchman' - hole side up to the right of the hob
'Cue' - hill side up to the right of the hob
'Pot-side' - hole side up on the left of the hob
'Side-on' - hill side up on the left of the hob
'Hill to pin' - high side of quoit towards the hob
'Black Pot' - a quoit which falls so that it's edge rests on the hob with the bulk of the quoit behind the hob
'Bibber', 'Shower up' or 'Coach' - the thrower's helper who stands by the target hob and shouts advice and encouragement.
'Trig-man' - an adjudicator who watches out for foot faults
'Front-toucher',  'Side toucher' and ‘Back toucher'  - a quoit that touches the side of the hob