Victorians and Their Parlor Amusements

Victorians have a reputation for being stuffy and quite hung up on the strict rules of etiquette of their time. However, they loved to have fun and enjoyed a variety of leisure activities, especially the middle and upper classes. There were many outdoor activities they enjoyed, like lawn tennis and cycling, but there were a lot of indoor amusements – like parlor games – Victorians loved to take part in.

9d833eef481c4b39ce9d89700e397f31--victorian-games-victorian-toysThese games would take place in what we commonly know today as the “living,” “great,” or “family” room. In Victorian times (1837 – 1901) the “parlor” in a family’s home was host to these activities. “Parlor” comes from the French word parloir or parler which means “to speak.” Originally, the word “parlor” was the name of a place where people “debated.” In its original usage, a “parlor” denoted a place set aside for debating people, a chamber for an “audience” gathering. In a Victorian home, it became a room for the family or guest gatherings, a perfect place to play the popular games of the day and have “nanty narking” (Victorian slang for “a great time”)!

And what were those games? Here are just some of them:


For this group game, a list of similes is compiled and one person – a “simile keeper” – is chosen to, in turn, pick other people who must complete a simile chosen by the keeper. The simile keeper informs players if they are right or wrong, or if they come close. Players could choose to be creative. The simile keeper was well versed in similes. Here are some simile examples: as bold as brass; as bright as a button; as blind as a bat.

the-book-of-parlour-games-3“The Sorcerer Behind the Door”

A person stands behind the door of a room where the group is gathered. The group will have on their persons several belongings. The game “leader” or “questioner” asks the person behind the door – the “sorcerer” – if he / she is ready. Then, the questioner asks that person if he knows Mr. or Ms. whomever they choose and begins to call out a list of the belongings they are wearing (jewelry, clothing, etc.). After calling out the list, the questioner will ask “what am I holding him / her by?” If the person behind the door – or “the sorcerer” – does not name the right item from the list called out before, he /she must surrender one of their own belongings. When the sorcerer knows who it is, he / she says “you are holding (person’s name) by the (personal item).” The sorcerer then picks a new sorcerer.


One person in the group playing is chosen to leave the room: this person will play the role of the “auctioneer.” Everyone who stays behind forms a circle and must “forfeit” a personal item and place it in the center. The auctioneer comes back in, picks up one of the items forfeited, and begins to describe the item as if it would be sold at auction. In order NOT to forfeit their item, the owner must speak up and admit the item is theirs and do something amusing – such as sing, dance, do an imitation, etc. – in order to win back their belonging. That person then becomes the next auctioneer.

scans0007If you would like to have an opportunity to go “nanty narking” in a real Victorian parlor, don’t miss out on Villa Finale’s upcoming event, Nanty Narking: Parlor Game Night at the Edward Steves Homestead on Friday, February 1st from 7:00pm – 9:00pm. Guests will play games in the Steves family parlors while enjoying finger foods and adult beverages, all for only $15.00. Guests need not worry: they will not have to be experts in similes or “forfeit” any personal belongings! Instead, more modern group games such as a card game version of “Oregon Trail” will be played. Just don’t “die of dysentery.”

Bring your friends or make new ones! Nanty Narking: Parlor Game Night at the Edward Steves Homestead. Friday, February 1, 2019 from 7:00pm – 9:00pm (gate opens 15 minutes prior to event time). Guests 21 and over only. Smoking not permitted.

Visit to purchase or for more information. You may also call Villa Finale at (210) 223-9800.

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