A group of children in a playground on a swing boat and witch's hat

Do you remember your favourite playground? The one with the Witch's Hat, or the Swing Boats? For a lot of us, those playgrounds were our first introduction to fun and freedom. We spent hours there, climbing, swinging and exploring.

It was in these places where we got awarded our battle scars, grazes the length of our forearms gave you something to boast about at school.

These bumps and grazes for some of us are still medals of childhood adventure that we still display proudly today.   

What was your favourite playground equipment?

Did it always involve danger! It seems that as we look back the equipment and rides that stand out are always the most dangerous ones. The seesaw was good but it wasn’t a patch on the witch’s hat that’s for sure.

The witch's hat, the swing boats, plank or cheese cutter? Why do they all sound like medieval torture devices and were they really that dangerous? 

The Witch’s Hat

The Witch's Hat was a thrilling combination of a climbing frame and a roundabout with a distinct air of unpredictability to it.

A group of children would grab opposite ends and run in the same direction. Then, your body would lift off the ground and you would (hopefully) be flying almost horizontally.

Or, instead, you could pair people of varying sizes on opposite sides. This meant that the Witch's Hat would be off-balance, and one side would fly up into the air. What did you call it? Was it a Witch's Hat, The Umbrella or The Copper's Helmet?

Members of the Spring Chicken community have been taking their memories back to their local playground:

We had them when I was a child in the 50s. You soon learned to get out of the way.

I used to play on this in the 50s and 60s. It could make you hurl in seconds!

There were quite a few hospital cases with kids that got their knees stuck. 

How many broken limbs do you think resulted from riding the Witch's Hat?

Have you seen one since the ‘70s?

These devices of pure fun and havoc were invented by Charles Wicksteed in the early 20th century.

It wasn’t until the 1980s did local authorities correlate them number of A&E visits to the amount of witch’s hats that they got phased out in playgrounds up and down the land.

However, a brief resurgence in 2011 saw a descendant of Charles Wicksteed, Oliver Wicksteed attempt to bring back a sanitized version suitable for 21st century health and safety regulations.

Whilst he had some success it was limited after all the danger element was the major attraction for all children.  

Swing boats, cheese cutters and the iron horse.

In retrospect I suspect if the equipment was used the way it was intended there would have been significantly less injuries.

However, it seemed the main thrusts of any play equipment was to make it go as high and as fast as you could. Even something as innocuous as a roundabout could be made to spin at 40mph given the right coaxing and often did.

You had to know how to get on and get off those beasts without ending up spinning into another orbit.   

The iron horse was a simple rocking horse affair whereby four or five children would sit astride. The idea was you would motion back and forward in unison to get the horse to gently rock forwards and backwards.

In reality everyone thought they were finishing the last furlong at the grand national with the amount of momentum they got going.

The horse would buck back and forward like a wild stallion giving unsuspecting riders whiplash.

Now that was fun ‘70s style!  

As we get older, it's natural to look back on those memories fondly. But what if we could bring that childhood joy back into our lives?

Playgrounds are becoming increasingly accessible for all ages. So why not take a trip down memory lane and visit your old haunt? Who knows – you might even find a witch’s hat to show your grandchildren?

Let us know your playground memories in the comments section below - we'd love to hear from you!

Image Credits

Header Image Fun on the swingboats, Farthing Downs, Surrey
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Dr Neil Clifton - geograph.org.uk/p/510014


1950s1960sChildhood memoriesDo you remember?Memory laneNostalgia

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