Fives at the Magnus

Photo:Fives Courts at the Magnus Grammar School, Newak

Fives Courts at the Magnus Grammar School, Newak

All these photos show the Fives courts in the background - although none are actually being used for their intended purpose! The pictures come from a series of images taken of the school in the early 1900s which may be viewed at

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Fives at the Magnus' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Fives at the Magnus' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Fives at the Magnus' page
Photo:All that is left of the Fives Courts at the Old Magnus Buildings on Appletongate today

All that is left of the Fives Courts at the Old Magnus Buildings on Appletongate today

The game of Fives at the Magnus Grammar School, Newark

The game of Fives as played at the Magnus Grammar School at Newark-on-Trent receives a number of mentions in school literature.

Writing in the school magazine, The Novarcensian (No.6, January 1900), the Rev. W.J. Humble (a former pupil of the school) had the following to say about how Fives was played during the headmastership Herbert Plater (1854-1893):-

“Among our minor recreations was fives.  In my time there were only two courts, but it was a good instance of the Master’s self-abnegation, when Oxford offered him the honour of a D.C.L. degree, that he declined it, but devoted the fees, which he would have had to pay had he accepted, to the building of a third fives court upon which he had inscribed the letters D.C.L.”

“There was another species of sport, which, so far as I know, was peculiar to Magnus.  This was a game called ‘Brandy’.  It was played by the whole school together in the playground at ‘licet’ time, and consisted of selecting the hardest fives ball that could be found, and throwing it with all your force at neighbour, who picked it up and returned the compliment.  Why it was called ‘brandy’, ‘it is not lawful for me to mention’, as Herodotus would say.  Certainly it was an exhilarating, not to say warming pastime, when some aspirant to Benjamitish accuracy of aim sought, on a sharp frosty morning, to ‘cork’ the convexities of your person”.


In 1869 a detailed description of the school appeared in The Public School’s Chronicle (summer 1869 edition, reprinted locally in The Newark Advertiser of 9th June 1869, p8 c1) where the writer notes the existence of “a spacious yard adjoining the school a quarter of an acre in extent, and two very good open fives courts, of which the boys seemed ready to avail themselves”.


Somewhat later, another former pupil – or ‘Old Magnusian’ -  who attended the school between 1902 and 1915, remembered that “we used to play a lot of fives”, but that when “a court was built at the new school [it] was not used much”.

The New School referred to was that which is in use today on Earp Avenue, Newark, following a move from the original buildings on Appletongate in 1909.

The existence of this single fives court at the new school, and the decline in its use is confirmed in the reminiscences of a further old boy who attended the school in the 1940s:- “there was a dingy brick and concrete thing, like a roofless air-raid shelter, next to the ‘bogs’.  It was called the fives court.  I never found out what ‘fives’ was as nobody seemed to play it”


 ** The standard history of the school, Newark Magnus: The Story of a Gift by N.G. Jackson, was published in 1964 by J & H Bell Ltd of Nottingham, and is still the best source for information on the schools long and distinguished history.



This page was added by Website Administrator on 12/08/2013.
Comments about this page

The Magnus courts were for Eton Fives, with a large buttress on the left-hand side and a step across the centre of the court. The side walls should have ledges running along them, but they are missing here. One of the courts (presumably the gift of Herbert Plater) has plain brickwork, while the other two are plastered. For more information on Fives, visit the Fives Federation website at:

By David Barnes
On 13/08/2013

I used to play fives at the Magnus during the late 1960's and early 1970's. Not sure we knew the rules properly and we used a tennis ball rather than a real fives ball.

By Ron Pattinson
On 30/12/2013

Ron Pattinson - now living in the Netherlands - comments further:- Here's what I can recall about playing Fives at the Magnus in the 1960s. There was a fives court just there in the playground area. Being generally bored teenagers, we were always looking for entertainment. Somehow we started playing fives in the court. We had no idea of the proper rules of fives. We played doubles and singles. The trick was to serve so the ball hit the buttress and was unplayable for the receiver. The rules we played were much like squash. We had no proper equipment and played with bare hands and a tennis ball. Some of the teachers played squash in the fives court. I've really happy memories of playing fives. I particularly liked the buttress thing and the asymmetrical nature of the court. When I later played squash, I really missed the buttress. It seemed a duller game than fives. It was only later that I realised fives was an odd, rare game. But that's what life is like when you're a kid. You think what's around you is normal. Almost forgot:- The court on Earp Avenue had a rear wall, unlike the ones at the original Magnus.

By Ron Pattinson
On 31/12/2013

Hi-I have very fond memories of "Fives" at Magnus.We played with a proper ball-about the size of a squash ball,but very hard-like a miniature baseball{I think].A really good player was Colin Dollman,who lived a couple of houses away from me.I left in +/- 1964 to go to Kent.Magnus was very good for me,and I got a First Class Hons. and PhD later.Am now living in Cape Town,South Africa.

By Dr Ray Priestley
On 25/01/2014

I used to play Fives at the Magnus around 1961...paired up with David Williams, son of the teacher 'Taffy' Williams, but the courts had been altered to have a wall at the rear (much like a squash court)

By Geoff Norton
On 04/03/2014

I used to play Fives at the Magnus around 1961...paired up with David Williams, son of the teacher 'Taffy' Williams, but the courts had been altered to have a wall at the rear (much like a squash court)

By Geoff Norton
On 03/03/2014

I remember all this very well and it was during the mid-sixties a group of us resurrected the game. The school purchased gloves and the hard golf like balls for us and we even had a fixture against Nottingham High School whose courts were indoors and had a more pronounced buttress. Ian Scott was team captain and was listed as such in the 1966 school magazine.We even played at an old boys weekend.The floor being concrete wore shoes out very quickly with the stopping and starting. I believe David Williams introduced us to the game as we were the cohort from 1959 to 1966 and remeber playing for a number of years. By the way Ray I lived 2 doors away from you but I believe you may have been a year younger.  

By John Maguire
On 24/12/2015

I was at the Grammar School from 1962 - 67 and fondly remember thae game of fives. I played in many games including the end of year inter house sports. It was an excellent game of skill and speed. I still have a fives ball in my memorabelia.

On 12/09/2016

As the Magnus School archivist, I have no record of the fives court before it was enclosed by a rear wall, as Geoff Norton reports.  Certainly by the time I entered the Magnus, the courts were already enclosed, and a ledge ran along the outside of the walls for spectators' use.  It did seem that the game was played more as a casual exercise: I don't remember organized fives tournaments as was the case with other sports.  The court was very popular though, at least with the upper forms.  There had definitely been organized matches in the early days of Dr. Clayton's headship, and presumably in those of Rev. Donald Campbell-Miller.  I have in the archives a photograph of the fives team of 1954, which includes past Mayor and recently-departed former Magnusian, Chris Grant.  I have found no other surviving records to date.

Just for the record: the game had clearly died at Magnus by the 1980s, and, on the purchase of a minibus by the Thomas Magnus Upper School (after the comprehensive reorganization of 1976, the court was converted into a minibus garage, a roof added and the outer ledges removed for security.  Unless you saw the minibus entering, you wouldn't know from the out side that anything had changed.  The structure was later demolished, along with the adjoining canteen, to make way for the new Magnus Sports Centre.  This was part of the millennium project, the school having once again become  11 to 18 status.


On 05/03/2018

Not being fond of cricket, I spent many summertime games periods playing fives at Magnus in the mid-fifties. There was one court, backing onto the bogs, with a slatted outside platform from which spectators could watch proceedings on court. There were organised matches, possibly between houses, but we chiefly used the court at our leisure. The balls, I believe, were of lignum vitae, covered with chamois leather, and brought up an interesting purple disc on your flesh if you got in the way when they were travelling at speed. Our hands were protected by sweaty gloves, and games were preceded by a lengthy search for a pair on which the leather had survived the prolonged pounding which the game entailed.  It was invigorating fun.

By Jonny Hall
On 22/08/2018

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