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.