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About A Week: Toss O't Coin

Peter Hinchliffe tells of a gambling game that used to be regularly played in the Yorkshire Pennine hills where he lives.

The gamblers met in the open air, far from the eyes of the law. On Sunday mornings men walked in ones and twos across the fields at Emley. Others came by taxi from distant towns and villages. They still faced a long walk after paying their fares.

More than a hundred assembled by a tree in a field at a place called the Teapot and Kettle to indulge in the working man's gambling game toss o't coin. Bets were placed on the toss of two coins as to whether they would land as heads, tails, or one of each. All this was happening 60 years ago and more.

"I was a lad then," says Teddy Gill. "We weren't supposed to know what was going on. Our parents warned us not to go near the field.

"Lads talk though. We' all heard about tossin' skooil."

Ted and his friends saw the bald patch where men had stood, close to a tree stump which was vaguely shaped like a teapot and kettle. The gambling field was at Chapel House Farm, near Emley pit. Teddy's father, George Gill, was the farm's tenant.

"Lookouts were posted all around the area to give a warning if policemen approached," says Teddy. "I believe they were paid two-shillings-and-sixpence for three hours of spotting." Not all the spotters earned their half-dollars. The story goes that one of them was approached by a chap in ordinary clothes who asked where the tossing school was.

"Down that field there," he said.

The inquirer was a policeman.

Many of the gamblers were miners. Gambling was then frowned upon. There were no betting shops. Now folk can pick up a phone in their own homes, give a credit card number, and place a bet. Then men who wanted a flutter had first to gamble with the law.

Tossing the coin was one of the simplest of all gambling games. Australians call it two up and claim it as their own.

Tom Hellawell, a Holmfirth writer and historian, served in the Royal Navy during the war. After the victory over Germany he sailed on a troop ship, the Dominion Monarch, bound for Australia where he was due to join the Pacific Fleet.

"There were all sorts aboard that ship," Tom Recalls. "Navy, Army, WRENS. There were also Australians who had been captured by the Germans and held as prisoners of war, some for as long as four years.

"These Aussies played toss o't coin, assembling round a blanket spread on the upper deck. Some lost four years' back pay in four days. They complained to their colonel who put a stop to the gambling ring.

However the ex-PoWs were determined to play. They paid a midnight visit to the colonel and suggested that he might face a long swim from mid-Atlantic if they were not allowed to do so. The gambling school started up again."

As many as 100 men used to gather to gamble in basements in Sydney, Australia. These basements had padded walls to deaden cries of triumph and anguish as the gaming became intense. Thommo's, a famous Sydney gambling den, moved from place to place in the Surrey Hills. A man called Cockatoo was employed as a lookout to keep the police at bay.

Tom Barnes, a former Huddersfield policeman who has lived in Australia since 1950 recalls raiding two-up schools. Tom, an author who now lives in Townsville, Queensland, served in the police force
in Victoria state for many years.

"Gamblers would shout, 'Come in spinner,' as the coins were about to be tossed from a wooden spoon called a kip," says Tom.

On one occasion Tom, then a sergeant, was on duty with two constables in a small coastal town. "Cars kept going by us on a normally quiet road," says Tom. "We knew something was going on."
They raided a two-up school just as someone shouted "Come in spinner."

"It was more a case of come in coppers," says Tom with a chuckle.

Those Australian gambling schools sometimes play for high stakes. Sixty thousand dollars can be won and lost on a single toss.

During World War One Aussie troops relieved the horrors of combat by playing two-up in the trenches. On ANZAC Day, the Australian equivalent of Remembrance Day, two-up is played in public parks and the police turn a blind eye.

Teddy Gill, who now lives on a farm at Emley Moor, says that his father was not a gambler and never attended the Teapot and Kettle toss o't coin schools. "He knew the chaps involved and he just let them get on with it," says Ted. "Mind you, he was never short of volunteers when haymaking time came around."


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