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Richard Guest, A Compendious History of Cotton Manufacture (1823):

The amusements of the people have changed with their character. Athletic exercises of Quoits, Wrestling, Foot-ball, Prison-bars and Shooting with the Long-bow, are become obsolete and almost forgotten; and it is to be regretted that the present pursuits and pleasures of the labouring class are of a more effeminate cast. They are now Pigeon-fanciers, Canary-breeders and Tulip-growers.

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A description can be found in The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland (Part 1 of A Dictionary of British Folk-lore), by Alice Bertha Gomme (1894):

Barley-break, or The Last Couple in Hell [...]

Randle Holme mentions this game as prevailing in his day in Lancashire. Harland and Wilkinson believe this game to have left its traces in Yorkshire and Lancashire A couple link hands and sally forth from home, shouting something like

Aggery, ag, ag,
Ag's gi'en warning,

and trying to tick or touch with the free hand any of the boys running about separately. These latter try to slip behind the couple and throw their weight on the joined hands to separate them without being first touched or ticked; and if they sunder the couple, each of the severed ones has to carry one home on his back. Whoever is touched takes the place of the toucher in the linked couple (Legends of Lancashire, p. 138). The modern name of this game is "Prison Bars" (Ibid., p. 141). There is also a description of the game in a little tract called Barley Breake; or, A Warning for Wantons, 1607. It is mentioned in Wilbraham's Cheshire Glossary as "an old Cheshire game." Barnes, in his Dorsetshire Glossary, says he has seen it played with one catcher on hands and knees in the small ring (Hell), and the others dancing round the ring crying "Burn the wold witch, you barley breech". Holland (Cheshire Glossary) also mentions it as an old Cheshire game.

See "Boggle about the Stacks," "Scots and English."

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