Eton Fives

Fives players at Highgate School, 1949

Eton Fives is an English ball game now only played at a select few private schools.
Formalised at Eton College in 1877, the game consists of a court made up of 3 walls, much like a squash court where players use only their hands to hit the ball, hence the name ‘fives’ referring to the five fingers on a hand.

The game was originally played against the wall of the chapel at Eton College, and so, in one of the game’s curiosities, every court is a replica of that section of the side of Eton’s Chapel complete with a buttress halfway along the left hand wall.

The buttress or ‘pepperpot’ creates an extra unknown in the game. Players often aim to trap the hard round ball behind it, as a shot place behind the buttress is often impossible to retrieve.

The Schools National Championships are the highlight of the season for players across the country. The location of the championships changes every year between Highgate School, Eton College, and Shrewsbury School.

I enjoyed playing Fives during my school career at Highgate School, during winter months  the covered courts provided a refuge from the rain or snow, and both singles or doubles games provided great entertainment during free time. It’s a very fast paced sport, much like squash and the stepped mouldings of the walls of the court make for some unexpected rebounds and bounces.

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October 2011