Fakenham toy firm opens shop doors
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.
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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.
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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
1969 Hot Wheels cars
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
1999 Furby Babies
2005 Tamagotchi Connexion
2006 Dr Who Cyberman Mask
2007 In the Night Garden, Igglepiggle
2008 Ben 10 action figures