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Mazes and Labyriths, by W. H. Matthews, [1922], at

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IN the Annales Archéologiques for 1857 it was stated that M. Bonnin, of Evreux, had collected no less than 200 designs of mazes or labyrinths, representative of all sorts of nations and periods, and the editor promised to make a selection of these for reproduction as soon as the text to accompany them should be ready. The editor of the Annales incidentally referred to an early sixteenth-century painting on wood, in the palace of the Marquis Campana, which represented the legend of Theseus and showed a labyrinth similar to that of St. Maria in Aquiro at Rome. This also was to have been illustrated at the same time. The matter seems to have rested there, however, for no subsequent reference appeared.

As an instance of the unlikely places in which the employment of labyrinth figures for decorative or symbolic purposes are sometimes found, we may quote an entry which occurs in an inventory of the contents of a house at Duffus, Morayshire, dated May 25, 1708, from which it would appear that household napery, at that time, was sometimes patterned with the labyrinth:

"In the Nurserie. A large neprie press, wherein there is six pair Scots holland sheits . . . three fyn towels and five of the walls of troy."

Mr. Albert Way, in his notes to Dr. Trollope's memoir on Labyrinths in 1858, after referring to the

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popularity of mazes and "Troy-towns" in Scotland, mentions a labyrinth incised on the stone bench in one of the window recesses of the hall at Craigmillar Castle.

According to a Swedish publication of 1877, labyrinths have been found in West Gothland engraved on church bells!

The hedge maze is, of course, the chief embodiment of the labyrinth idea as a medium of amusement, but it is far from being the only form in which the principle subserves this purpose.

We have already referred to the practice, noted in various parts of England and Wales, of cutting "Troy-towns" in the turf. Most of us are, moreover, familiar with the schoolboy pastime of drawing mazes on paper, or on slates in the days before they were banished on hygienic grounds; the object of the designer in this case differing from that of the Troy-town constructors in that it consists of providing as difficult a puzzle as one's ingenuity at the moment can devise, whereas the latter merely laid out a conventional unicursal figure for the purpose of performing a ceremonial or playing a game thereon, like the squares for nine-men's morris or the diagram for hop-scotch.

An ingenious development of the hedge maze principle is the construction of indoor mazes lined with mirrors, by means of which the perplexity of the visitor is very greatly increased. Such "mirror mazes" often find a place in fairs and exhibitions.

Another method of utilising the puzzle-maze idea, and one which constitutes a valuable asset to the parent or nurse in charge of young children at the sea-side, is that of scratching maze-figures on the sands, of sufficient dimensions to enable little feet to perambulate the paths. Figures 141 and 142 show some of the mazes constructed on the sands of a well-known southern resort in the summer of 1920. The examples shown were made in a quiet corner of the beach and were "snapped" before


Fig. 141. Sea-Side Sand Maze. [<i>Photo: W.H.M.</i>]
Click to enlarge

Fig. 141. Sea-Side Sand Maze. [Photo: W.H.M.]

Fig. 142. Sea-Side Sand Maze. [<i>Photo: W.H.M.</i>]
Click to enlarge

Fig. 142. Sea-Side Sand Maze. [Photo: W.H.M.]


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the children had discovered them; otherwise, although no doubt prettier pictures would have resulted, the mazes would have been invisible.

Figure 143 shows the plan of a small temporary maze constructed by the writer for a garden fête held in aid of local church funds in the grounds of Mr. Kenneth Goschen, at Eastcote, Middlesex, on May 25, 1921. It was formed of galvanised-wire netting supported on six-foot fir stakes and thickened with elm foliage. At the entrance was displayed a conventional labyrinth design.

FIG. 143.—Temporary Maze at Village Fête. (W. H. M.)
FIG. 143.—Temporary Maze at Village Fête. (W. H. M.)

slightly modified to convey the misleading suggestion that it was a key to the maze, and below this were the following lines:

Beware the dreadful Minotaur
That dwells within the Maze.
The monster feasts on human gore
And bones of those he slays.
Then softly through the labyrinth creep
And rouse him not to strife.
Take one short peep, prepare to leap
And run to save your life!

At the goal was placed a chair facing an embowered mirror.

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Some readers may remember the publication many years ago of highly coloured lithographs of mazes, of bizarre design, generally emanating from the Continent and sold for a penny or twopence. An old scrap-book seen by the writer contains some specimens of this nature, published in Brussels. In some the "nodes" are occupied by various objects which, according to the printed instructions, have to be visited in a given order. One design, generously tinted in all the colours of the spectrum, is labelled "Le Jardin Chinois," although there is nothing distinctively Chinese about it except the absence of all
FIG. 144.—Maze Toy by A. Brentano. (After Patent Specification.)
FIG. 144.—Maze Toy by A. Brentano. (After Patent Specification.)
resemblance to anything European. One may still purchase in the toy-shops coloured labyrinths of this kind, mounted on cardboard, with spaces at various points of the path for the accommodation of counters, which are moved progressively in accordance with the throws of dice by the competing players.

Some very ingenious applications of the labyrinth idea have been evolved by modern designers of toys and games.

Perhaps the most popular toy of this nature on the market is that of the "Pigs in Clover" type, consisting of a series of concentric interrupted circular walls, the inner-most of which constitutes the goal into which the player strives to roll all the marbles—usually three in number—which are seen through the glass cover (Fig. 144). This toy was patented by A. Brentano in 1889. Some skill is required to get all the marbles into the central compartment at the same time. Another toy of this character is seen in Fig. 145. It consists of a rather complicated maze formed of ridges, between which the player

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rolls a ball or a globule of mercury from the point marked A to that marked B, or vice versa. This was patented by S. D. Nix in 1891.

A somewhat similar arrangement, but with the addition of magnetism as the motive force, is that devised by J. M. Arnot in 1894, and shown in Fig. 146. In this

FIG. 145.—Maze Toy by S. D. Nix. (After Patent Specification.)
Click to enlarge

FIG. 145.—Maze Toy by S. D. Nix. (After Patent Specification.)

case the maze is not flat but is in the form of a shallow dome; the balls are of iron and are rolled not by tilting the box but by moving a magnet beneath it.

R. A. Cuthbert and W. Bevitt patented in 1889 a toy in which a ball, called "The Man in the Maze," is rolled about inside a small closed box, the internal partitions of which cannot be seen but are indicated on the outside of the case. The "Man" is invisible during his journey.

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At about the same time a somewhat similar toy was brought out by J. Proctor, in which, however, the travelling ball can be watched through the glass top, the puzzle element in this case consisting of the use of circular holes of two sizes for communicating between adjacent compartments, one size being just large enough to permit of the passage of the ball, the other just too small (Fig. 147)

FIG. 146.—Maze Toy by J. M.   Arnot.<br>   (After Patent Specification.)
Click to enlarge

FIG. 146.—Maze Toy by J. M. Arnot.
(After Patent Specification.)

FIG. 147.—Maze Toy by J.   Proctor.<br>   (After Patent Specification.)
Click to enlarge

FIG. 147.—Maze Toy by J. Proctor.
(After Patent Specification.)

The most complex puzzle of the kind so far produced is that patented by H. Bridge in 1906 and shown in Fig. 148. The ball in this case is made to pass through channels formed between projections of labyrinthine pattern fixed to a base and others fixed to the transparent top, which can be moved relatively to the base. The toy may be of a circular pattern or rectangular. In the former case the top is rotated, in the latter it is slid from

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side to side. The patent also covers cases in which the toy constructed on the "skeleton" principle, the use of

FIG. 148.—Maze Toy by H. Bridge. (After Patent Specification.)
Click to enlarge

FIG. 148.—Maze Toy by H. Bridge. (After Patent Specification.)

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a ring in place of a ball, and the combination of more than two mazes.

It now remains for some inventor of Einsteinian proclivities to devise one in several dimensions!

An interesting little study in what one might call "Labyrinth Psychology" was carried out by an Austrian biologist in connection with his researches on "The Evolution of Efficiency in the Animal Kingdom," in 1917. This was a series of experiments to test the efficiency of animals in learning to thread a labyrinth in search of food. Figs. 149, 150 and 151 show three stages in the

FIGS. 149, 150 and 151.—Path of Rat in Labyrinth; three stages. (Szymanski.)
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FIGS. 149, 150 and 151.—Path of Rat in Labyrinth; three stages. (Szymanski.)

education of a rat in this respect, the dotted line representing the track followed by the animal from the entrance to the food-containing centre of a simple form of labyrinth.

Some sort of game, known as "Labyrinthe," enjoyed a passing favour in France in the eighteenth century. An advertisement of May 8, 1869, referring to one offered for sale by a Parisian upholsterer named Lechevin, describes it as "un jeu de labyrinthe a 11 cases doré d’or moulu, avec tableau dans chaque case," but this does not tell us much concerning the nature of the pastime.

A card game of similar name was played in this country half a century ago; it was a kind of bezique.

In France the name "Labyrinthe" is also given to a

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children's game in which the majority of the players hold hands so as to form a chain of arches which are threaded by two runners called respectively le tisserand and la navette—"the weaver" and "the shuttle."

A visitor to the Latin Convent on the summit of Mount Carmel, Palestine, in 1874, described a "verbal labyrinth" which he saw displayed on a board hanging on the wall of an inner staircase. It was called "The Labyrinth of St. Bernard," and consisted of a number of words or short phrases arranged in a square, as shown below. By selecting the words in the proper order five maxims are obtained "by which man may live well." The first of these maxims, commencing with the word at the foot of the left-hand column, is: Noli dicere omnia quae scis quia qui dicit omnia quae scit saepe audit quod non vult.

The remaining four injunctions may be read by similarly utilising the words in the bottom row with those in the second, third, fourth, and fifth rows respectively:







































As a sample of a verbal labyrinth this seems to be very simple and straightforward in comparison with the average At of Parliament.

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Let us turn now, for a brief space, to a question which, although bearing upon matters dealt with earlier in the book, has been too little investigated to warrant more than a nodding reference in our more serious chapters—the question of place-names.

The occurrence of a suggestive place-name is, as previously hinted, very slender evidence by itself on which to form an opinion of the former existence of a maze in the locality. There is always the possibility that the name may be a corruption of some ancient word of very different significance, perhaps the name of some person, or that it may have been bestowed fancifully or in respect of some resemblance to another place.

In the absence of fuller information we will limit our-selves to the bare mention of such names as convey a suggestion of possible maze sites, merely remarking any cases in which evidence in one direction or the other has come to notice.

The district known as Maze Pond, familiar to Londoners in the neighbourhood of the Borough, and to which we made reference in Chapter XV, takes its name from the ancient manor of the Maze, which was in the holding of Sir John Burcestre in the fifteenth century. An old token bears the inscription, "Michael Blower, at ye Maze, Southwarke." What kind of maze, if any, formerly existed in the locality we do not know.

Maze Hill has sometimes been assumed to derive its name from a maze which is supposed to have existed in the park of the former royal palace of Greenwich (see p. 36), but the name was formerly spelt in a different manner and may have quite another origin. In Hasted's "History of Kent," 1778, it is referred to as Mease Hill, and it has been suggested that this may have come from the Celtic word Maes, meaning "field." There is a Maze Green in Hertfordshire, near Bishops Stortford. Possibly there was formerly a turf maze in the vicinity like that on

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[paragraph continues] Saffron Walden common, not very far away, but we have no evidence to that effect.

A few miles west of Lisburn, in Ireland, are two places named respectively "The Maze" and "Mazetown," the former a small village in Antrim, the latter a racing centre just over the county border in Down.

"Troy-town," as we have seen, also occurs as a place-name. In Dorset there is one near Dorchester and another near Bere Regis. These are alleged to be the sites of former turf mazes, of which, however, there are no authentic records. In Kent there is one near Hastingleigh, and the name also occurs at Rochester. 1 The latter is said to commemorate a former owner or builder of property in that part of the town, whose name happened to be Troy. A part of Peckham also used to be known as Troy-town.

The word "Troy" alone is also of fairly frequent occurrence, as for instance near Stalybridge, Lancs, and near Londonderry; Troy Michell and Troy Hall are found in Monmouthshire, and the latter name also at Blackburn, Lancs, but such names are no more likely to have any connection with ancient maze sites than is the flourishing city of similar name in the United States, the probability being that in all these cases it is the famous Troy of the Iliad that furnished the inspiration. The name of Troy-town may in some cases have been given on account of irregularity or intricacy of design, for the word is found in certain local dialects as a synonym for a state of confusion, an untidy house being said to be "just like Troy-town."

It is surely uncommon for the word "Labyrinth" itself to be found as a place-name, but in February 1911 Captain Scott pitched his camp in an Antarctic spot which, on account of the fantastically sinuous nature of its surroundings, he decided to name "Labyrinth Camp."

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We must now draw to a close.

Enough has perhaps been said to give some idea of the variety and extent of the different ways in which the labyrinth idea has developed and in which it has been employed, but it would obviously be wrong to assume that the last word on the subject has now been pronounced.

As regards the early history of the idea and of the terms associated with it we have seen that the boundaries of our knowledge are still misty and ill-defined, a circumstance that only gives zest to the study of the subject.

We see that our enquiry has taken us into realms far removed from everyday experience and in which we feel the need of special training in order to weigh the facts presented. It has given us glimpses of the workshop of the archaeologist, the anthropologist, and the etymologist.

The study of later developments has led us into curious by-paths of art and literature—classical, mediaeval, renaissance, and modern—and we see that even now the labyrinth idea has not entirely ceased to exercise its allurements or to evoke the spirit of invention.

There is still room for a good deal of research and for the possibility of highly interesting discoveries in respect of almost every phase of the labyrinth's past history.

With regard to its future developments, much as we should have liked to close our review with a vindication of utilitarian interest, and although one can never safely prophesy to what uses the ingenuity of men may put any given principle, we could not hope to sound an expectant note without creating an impression of fatuity. Lest this statement be taken to mean that our enquiry has, therefore, had no practical aim, let us hasten to repeat once more the hope expressed in our introductory chapter to the effect that a perusal of this little book will at least ensure a revival of interest in, and consequently the preservation of, those few relics of rustic revelry and

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prehistoric magic which yet remain with us in the shape of the turf labyrinths.

As Mr. A. H. Allcroft, in his "Earthwork of England" (1908), has truly remarked, when speaking of the Asenby maze: "It is marvellous that the memory of such things, once prominent features of rural life, can die out so rapidly as it does." And yet, who can deny that they are worthy of at least as much care and interest as many of the obvious and commonplace antiquities upon which the guide-books lavish their encomiums?

We need not emulate the misguided enthusiasm of those who are unable to discover a merit in a bygone practice without plunging into an indiscriminate advocacy of its revival—an enthusiasm which inevitably brings discredit upon its object—but let us at any rate see to it that no more of these rare and interesting heirlooms are lost to us through ignorance or neglect.


211:1 See also p. 91.

Next: Appendix: Bibliography of Mazes and Labyrinths