Search

Fakenham toy firm opens shop doors

PUBLISHED: 11:26 22 November 2009 | UPDATED: 11:03 07 July 2010

This Christmas, part of the fun for excited youngsters will be to baffle their elders with the advanced technology packed inside their presents.

But long before games needed batteries or internet connections, there was a time when all you needed to do was wait your turn, throw a dice and move your counter.

This Christmas, part of the fun for excited youngsters will be to baffle their elders with the advanced technology packed inside their presents.

But long before games needed batteries or internet connections, there was a time when all you needed to do was wait your turn, throw a dice and move your counter.

And it is that simple pleasure of bringing families together over a board game which a century-old Fakenham firm hopes to revive with the opening of a new outlet shop.

Witzig's Games has been making traditional board games like snakes and ladders, ludo, draughts, chess and backgammon since the 1940s.

Although previously only sold through independent shops and distributed to UK education authorities, they will now be sold direct to the public for the first time at the factory on George Edward's Road.

Owner Peter Gray said the increasing complexities of games tailored for the hi-tech generation had left modern families without the timeless, tactile joys of the classic board games.

He said he hoped to encourage all ages to go back to basics - despite the bewildering array of technological gadgetry available.

“Things move on and things change - you have to live with that,” he said. “But I am still sure there is a place for the traditional family games that have always been sold.

“The older generations who perhaps are not so clued-up on computer games can take part in a game with younger children. And there are a few younger children who are not yet up to the intricacies of a Nintendo or a Playstation. These games are a way they can all interact.

“There has been a loss of the old spirit of families being together. So many families are disintegrating and anything which helps to bring them back together is a good thing.”

Witzig's traces its business heritage back to Kent and Cleal, named after the two men who formed a company in 1892 to make billiards and snooker tables.

Mr Gray's father Leonard joined in 1929 and the company soon began making shove ha'penny boards, backgammon, cribbage and chess boards. In 1976 the company moved from London to its current home in Norfolk.

The firm also incorporates the former Abbey Corinthian Games which in 1932 sold 320,000 “bagatelles” - an old-fashioned pinball machine, where ball bearings are caught in scoring holes guarded by pins. Witzig's still sells the game although the sales are now in the hundreds.

“We know from friends who have had a bagatelle that when they have young children round they have loved playing with it,” said Mr Gray. “There is a more physical hands-on involvement with it.”

Unable to compete with foreign imports, the company stopped manufacturing wooden games like bagatelle and skittles about five years ago, but it still makes extruded plastic balls and hula hoops.

It also makes the game boards in the same way it has since the end of the Second World War, with fabric hinges glued onto thick cardboard halves before the board covering is pressed into place.

Mr Gray, 65, said his first great love as a child was his train set. “I was lucky my dad worked in the toy industry,” he said. “I also used to like playing chess, but before that I played snakes and ladders and ludo with my nan like everyone else.”

The Toy Retailers Association (TRA) has awarded a Toy of the Year every year since 1965. The list includes only one board game - Mastermind in 1973. This year's winner will be announced in January.

1965 James Bond Aston Martin die-cast car

1966 Action Man

1967 Spirograph

1968 Sindy

1969 Hot Wheels cars

1970 Sindy

1971 Katie Kopykat writing doll

1972 Plasticraft modelling kits

1973 Mastermind board game

1974 Lego Family set

1975 Lego Basic set

1976 Peter Powell kites

1977 Playmobil Playpeople

1978 Combine Harvester (Britains)

1979 Legoland Space kits

1980 Rubik's Cube

1981 Rubik's Cube

1982 Star Wars

1983 Star Wars

1984 Masters of the Universe

1985 Transformers (Optimus Prime)

1986 Transformers (Optimus Prime)

1987 Sylvanian Families

1988 Sylvanian Families

1989 Sylvanian Families

1990 Teenage Mutant Turtles

1991 Nintendo Game Boy

1992 WWF Wrestlers

1993 Thunderbird's Tracey Island

1994 Power Rangers

1995 POGS

1996 Barbie

1997 Teletubbies

1998 Furby

1999 Furby Babies

2000 Teksta

2001 Bionicles

2002 Beyblades

2003 Beyblades

2004 Robosapien

2005 Tamagotchi Connexion

2006 Dr Who Cyberman Mask

2007 In the Night Garden, Igglepiggle

2008 Ben 10 action figures

Most Read