ILN Lucien Davis print cropped without balloon, 1904 reduced even more

Piladex was the first Roberts game, which originated as an active game for young people at the Gloucester church attended by the brothers. Harry Owen Roberts first marketed the game in 1890, selling it by mail order from his home. It must have proved popular because he soon sought a commercial publisher. Thomas Ordish of London offered to sell the game, but would not make it. It seems that Harry Owen and his brother John Owen continued to make the games in the kitchen of Harry’s home, initially 3 Norfolk Terrace, Gloucester, but soon 4 Commercial Road Gloucester, to where Harry Owen Roberts moved.

Piladex was a simple but boisterous game, involving batting a banana-shaped balloon across a taut string. For Victorian youngsters it must have been a rarity - an energetic game involving both males and females, with the possibility of physical contact between genders.

The game caught on in society as well, and the brothers found royal patronage when Princess (later Queen) Alexandra bought it for her household in 1898. The picture above, by Lucien Davis RI, appeared as the poster centrefold of the Christmas 1904 edition of the Illustrated London News, reflecting the national popularity of the game.

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