IN 1869, 150 years ago this week, the Darlington & Stockton Times reported that there had been a “game of fives for £50 and the Championship” played at the Victoria Ball Alley in Willington, watched by thousands of spectators.

It was played between the champion John Southern of Wingate and James Kelley, of Tow Law.

“The friends of Southern backed their man freely, but the Willingtonians responded as gamely, and heaped their money on their Tow Law Pet and a large amount of coin changed hands at evens,” said the D&S Times. “As the game went on, however, 50 to 40 was freely laid on Kelley.”

That was a sound bet, as Kelley ran out the winner by 31 chalks to 19.

Both competitors had friends waiting on them, and Mr Dash, of Quarrington Hill, was the referee.

“The gate money, which amounted to £20, was also betted upon the game, Kelley receiving the whole,” said the D&S. “The tradesmen and public of Willington and neighbourhood are going to get a cup, value £40, to be given to any man who can hold it for two years against all comers.”

But what was fives?

There is a squashlike game called “fives”, played with a gloved hand and a hardball at top boarding schools like Eton and Winchester.

Was that being played in the Durham coalfield?

What was the Victoria Ball Alley, and does anyone have any fives-related memorabilia, or cups, hidden in an attic?

Any theories, please email