Sports and Pastimes
This extract is taken from the introduction to Cassell’s Book of Sports and Pastimes:
“The benefits of athletic and other manly exercises, from an educational as well as a recreative point of view, are now very generally recognised. There is no better means of promoting a healthy action of the body or of bidding defiance to the doctor than a moderate indulgence in sports and pastimes.”
Throughout the Victorian period, sports and recreation in general became hugely popular for both men and women. Newly available leisure time and greater prosperity in the second half of Victoria’s reign meant that people needed to find activities to fill their time, and a social world started to develop around sports, paving the way for today's sport-loving nation. Many of our most famous football clubs originated around this time, including Aston Villa and Everton, which were started by churches to attract more visitors, and Arsenal, which was created by a group of factory employees; and the FA cup was first played in 1871. Cricket was hugely popular, and large crowds gathered to see the Grace brothers play in a celebrated test match between England and Australia in 1880 (England won).
Some sports were restricted to the wealthy, like hunting or shooting, but almost everyone could afford to cycle. The bicycle, made widely available between 1870-90, allowed people to travel outside of cities at weekends to the countryside beyond, and to form cycling clubs. These trends were officially encouraged because “not only are these exercises of supreme importance in maintaining a vigorous state of health in our boys, they have also a peculiar and decided value in what may be called a moral sense.”
However, this sense of morality and fair play, which football in particular was thought to promote, was perhaps a little hopeful: free kicks and penalty shootouts were introduced (in 1877 and 1891 respectively) to stop cheating! Many sports like boxing, cricket and football, had been around in one form or another for centuries, but the Victorians applied strict and sometimes bizarrely detailed rules to all, refining them into the games we know today.
You can find out about the games your ancestors may have enjoyed in the free downloads below from Cassell’s Book of Sports and Pastimes. Some of the sports you will recognise, although the rules may have changed somewhat; others are very different and some you may not have heard of! And if you’ve ever wondered how to ride a penny-farthing bicycle, you can find out by clicking the bicycling link.
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