The exact history and age of the game of rounders is unknown and can be said to have been lost in the mists of time. It is believed that rounders originated in the British Isles and it has been documented as being played in the Tudor age, between 1485 and 1603, but there have also been similar games recorded from Europe.
In Germany, the game of schlagball was played in the 15th century. This game had very similar structure as rounders and made use of bases, bat and ball. Russia has a similar game called Lapta that strongly resembles rounders and dates back to a similar age.
It seems likely that all games of rounders did not originate from the same source but simply evolved in various countries and in various versions. The reason that the rounders type games seem to date from around the same era probably is more to do with literacy and the evolution of writing rather than the evolution of games!
Rounders was undeniably a folk game, played throughout Britain by peasants and also popular with children. Because of this, very little information about the early game of rounders has ever been written down. Rounders would have been played with local variations to the rules with varied names for the game itself. Games enjoyed by the common people were generally discouraged by the church and state and certainly not documented or taken seriously. The early rounders type games differed in the equipment used - the bat, ball or bases, and would have made use of whatever playing equipment was available. The method of scoring, the lay out of the rounders pitch and the number of players would all have been different.
One early version of what may have been the basis for rounders, baseball and cricket, was stool ball. Stool ball was a simple batting and base game and has been variously described as being an ancient fertility rite played in spring, a game played by milkmaids using their milking stools as bats or bases and originating from Sussex, or a game played by milkmaids in the south of England while waiting for their shepherd husbands to come home!
However, there is an early written reference to stool ball in a 1330 poem by William Pagola who wrote directions and information for parish priests. In this he advises priests that the playing of stool ball should be forbidden in church yards.
Rounders is undoubtedly the ancestor of the American game of baseball although it seems that both games were originally both one and the same. The first childrenís book ever published in Britain (and possibly the world) was A Little Pretty Pocket-Book in 1745 which includes a rhyme and illustration called Base ball.
However a few years later, Jane Austen mentions the game of rounders in her novel Northanger Abbey set in the years 1789 - 1799 and published in 1801, which has her tomboyish heroine Catherine Moreland playing a game of rounders with her childhood friends.
The rules of rounders were first formalised in Ireland by the newly set up Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1884. The GAA was founded to promote traditional Gaelic sports such as hurling and the Association counted rounders as being a traditional Gaelic sport
Rounders, or cluiche corr as it is known in Gaelic, had been a popular game in Ireland with a similar fragmented history as the English version of rounders.
Once the rules of rounders had been standardised, GAA associations were formed in 1899 in both Scotland and Liverpool. Rounders became more popular and started to be played competitively.
Today both the republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland play rounders to the GAA rules. The National Rounders Association NRA was not formed in Britain until 1943.
Both Irish rounders and English rounders are very similar, with similar game structure and play. When rounders competitions are held between teams from both traditions, games are alternated between the codes of play. Sometimes one version of rounders will be played in the morning and the other version played in the afternoon.
Today rounders is one of the most popular summer sports played in schools. Equally popular with both boys and girls it is suitable for mixed or single sex teams. It is a lively non contact sport with no great advantage for heavier or more physically strong players. Many people have their first experience of playing rounders when at school. Today school rounders games are played to proper NRA rules, but in the past it was common for a teacher to simply split a class up into two teams of 20 players or so and simply bowl to all of them!
Rounders is gaining popularity within the UK and there are over 40 rounders leagues currently within the UK, playing competitive rounders to the rules laid down by the National Rounders Association (NRA). Internationally, rounders has a long way to go before it reaches the popularity of cricket or football but there are international rounders competitions that are played annually.
To see rounders played at a serious level one only has to look to the USA to find a game that any rounders player will instantly understand in the form of baseball.
Perhaps the charm of rounders and itís enduring appeal, is that it continues to be played by many people informally and simply for fun, much in the way that it has always been played.