North American Tiddlywinks Association

NATwA founded • 27 February 1966

The Rev. E. A. Willis was appointed as the newly founded English Tiddlywinks Association’s first Secretary-General on 12 June 1958 at the first World Tiddlywinks Congress held in the Cambridge, England, Guildhall. Cambridge University and Oxford University were principal participants at this congress. He lived in Richmond, Surrey at the time. Birmingham Daily Post, 13 June 1958, Midland South edition, page 9, column 6.

In 21 November 1891, just a few years after tiddlywinks was invented, Edgar Ambrose Willis was born in Enfield, Middlesex, England to parents Mary and Ambrose Robinson Willis, who in 1904 was a professor at the Royal College of Science and lived at Addison Gardens in Kensington in London.


Edgar was a Capitation Scholar at St. Paul’s School in London, admitted in April 1904 and graduating in 1910.

He was awarded a B.Sc. [Bachelor of Science] from Imperial College in C. & G. C. [City and Guilds Engineering College]


Employed on tank design during the First World War, Eggs was not destined to remain an engineer for long. He had often been invited as a lay preacher to take services in both Anglican and Free Churches, and in 1927 the Ickenham Congregational Church asked him to become their full-time Minister. He gave up his profession as an engineer, and while officiating at Ickenham he took a course of training at New College, London, to become a Congregational Minister.

Willis regularly held holiday parties at Oakley Hall School in Cirencester, England, where he “used his great gift of cultivating spiritual friendship.”  (Source: The Pauline Magazine, July 1963, published by St. Paul’s School in London.)

Role in Tiddlywinks

The Club held a well-attended meeting (17 members present) on March 10th at Christ's College. The entire Goons team, plus the two umpires and Capt. R.C. Harry, were elected Honorary Members "for services to tiddlywinks". But the main business of the evening was a most amusing and entertaining talk by the Rev. E.A. Willis, author of the Tiddlywinks Anthem. "Mr Willis, a life-long tiddlywinker, and himself genuinely convinced of the skill and beneficient value of tiddlywinks, gave many examples from his own experience of how tiddlywinks can intoxicate even the most temperamental of men, and render the strong into nervous wrecks when faced with a vital tiddle shot. Mr Willis gave a demonstration of some of his own variations on the game, including the 'four pot relay', and the meeting closed with the singing of the Tiddlywinks Anthem, to the accompaniment of Mr. H.W.C. Henderson, a friend of Mr. Willis and also a devotee of tiddlywinks."

Many were Willis's visits to winks clubs in the next few years, infusing his zeal for the game into his audience. One of his stories was how in air-raid shelters during the Second World War he endeavoured to get young people to play Queensbury tiddlywinks (racing for the pot) as a sort of shock therapy. His dictum was that tiddlywinks was only worth playing if it was made enjoyable and played in a gentlemanly spirit.

In a period when every player was wont to extol the game in golden phrases, Willis's were perhaps the greatest eulogies. Almost everything he pronounced on the subject was a hymn of praise. The Tiddlywinks Anthem, which seems to be the game's first piece of poetry, was very much in the 'heroic' vain (as was the early poetry of cricket, another game which in its infancy was held in low esteem by the general ranks of the population). Willis had the happy knack of coining eminently quotable sentences. "Life takes on a new prospect when one holds a squidger in one's hand", he said on one occasion in London. In a letter dated 30th January 1958 he wrote, "The progress of Civilisation will depend in no small measure upon the spread of this most noble sport." He portrayed tiddlywinks as the last wholesome force which was capable of ultimately overcoming the soul-destroying march of industrialisation. "We look to tiddlywinks to get us back to the primeval simplicity of life", he once remarked; this became one of The Observer's Sayings of the Year. On 24th April 1958: CUTwC, "alone of all Societies in the British Isles, stands between Civilisation and the threat of Atomic Destruction." (To complete the story, Willis was a graduate of London University and the Champion's Cup in the London Tiddlywinks League, donated by Clive Wolfe and Doug Smith, was named after Willis. He died in 1963.)

Rev. E. A. Willis (second from left), Pat Laugharne (left, Oxford), Elliot Langford (right, Oxford)
date • 9 May 1958
event • Varsity Match, Cambridge vs. Oxford
venue • Forum Restaurant, Oxford, England
photographer • unknown

According to Anthony Lloyd:

When I was in the fourth term at Wolverhampton Grammar School in 1947, the Rev. Mr Edgar Ambrose Willis joined the school staff as instructor in religious education. It was that gentleman, I believe, who was subsequently responsible for the adoption at Oxford and Cambridge of tiddlywinks as a serious pursuit. As a teacher, Mr Willis did not have much success and he stayed only one term: he was an utter failure as a disciplinarian, and that combined badly with his fervent seriousness on a subject that nobody cared anything about, his peculiar and exaggerated upper-class accent, typical of a product of St Paul’s School (like, for example, General Montgomery), and his smooth, bald, rotund appearance (his friends all knew him as ‘Eggs’). However, he gave tea parties and ran holiday parties at Oakley Hall School, Cirencester, On those occasions, his large collection of games was a prominent feature, notably tiddlywinks. It was in keeping with his out-of-classroom air of earnest jollity that he took an apparently frivolous game so seriously; he had formulated his own version of the rules (he called them the Queensberry rules), together with their technical terms. The only one I remember was ‘drop-kick.’ However I read some years later (late fifties?) a newspaper account of a Cambridge tiddlywinks tournament with which Mr Willis’s name was linked; on that occasion Prince Philip, in one of his well-known humorous moods, made some remarks that incorporated terms from the Queensberry rules. The pursuit of tiddlywinks at Oxford and Cambridge is not surprising, since it is in a way the epitome of the typically (especially at Oxford) undergraduate affectation of studio in otio In combining religiosity with the study of some rather surprising branch of worldly or frivolous knowledge and with a, to coin a phrase, homoerotic bent, Mr Willis was probably one of a breed found more frequently earlier in this century and more often in the Catholic and Anglo-Catholic variety of religion. He was, I believe, a Baptist. There was an obituary for E. A. Willis in the London Times, possibly in the mid-sixties.

Tiddlywinks Anthem

Peter Downes of CUTwC asked Willis to write the Tiddlywinks Anthem, to be sung on 1 March 1958 at the CUTwC vs. Goons match. However, Willis wasn’t present at the Goons match. Willis authored the Tiddlywinks Anthem in February 1958, prior to the CUTwC vs. Goons match and after the United States launched the first Explorer satellite on 31 January 1958.

At the CUTwC vs. Goons match on 1 March 1958 at the Guildhall in Cambridge, England:

Showerings had paid for the printing of copies of the new Tiddlywinks Anthem which had been written by a life-long apostle of tiddlywinks, the Rev. E. A. Willis.

After CUTwC had won the match:

Then Harry Secombe came forward and sang the Tiddlywinks Anthem specially composed for the occasion by the Rev. E. A. Willis, and accompanied on the organ by Michael Marshall (of Christ’s); this was received with tumultuous applause and then all the audience joined in, as Harry Secombe led them in magnificent, operatic fashion.

The Tiddlywinks Anthem is sung to the tune of The Men of Harlech, and goes like this:

Other nations are before us
With their Sputniks and Explorers
What can confidence restore us?

On the fields of Eton,
Former foes were beaten.
But today
All patriots play
This sport which needs such grit and concentration.
Through this game of skill and power
England knows her finest hour,
And her stronghold, shield and tower

Subsequently, Downes invited Willis to attend the World Tiddlywinks Congress in June 1958, where Willis was selected to be the first ETwA Secretary-General on 12 June.

Tiddlywinks Sayings

Life takes on a new prospect when one holds a squidger in one’s hand.

Tiddlywinks had an important part to play in the health, family and political life of a country. The world is now looking to tiddlywinks in its need to get back to the primeval simplicity of life.

[The Cambridge University Tiddlywinks Club,] alone of all Societies in the British Isles, stands between Civilisation and the threat of Atomic Destruction.

The progress of Civilisation will depend in no small measure upon the spread of this most noble sport.

It not only taxes every muscle, but the fibres of the brain as well. It develops delicacy of touch; corrects color blindness and is a soothing influence on the nerves Besides, it brings out a strong sense of sportsmanship.

1958 – destined in future generations to be a date which will share with 1066 as one everybody remembers.

Tiddlywinks is an exacting pastime. It taxes every fibre of the brain and exercises every muscle of the body.

Other Works


Willis died on April 20, 1963, in Cirencester, Gloustershire, England, when he was 71 years old.