Sport, like now, was big-business in eighteenth-century Britain. Country pursuits such as hunting and shooting often led to a mass exodus in summer to country retreats for gentry folk, and horse-racing in places such as York drew people into towns for weeks at a time. Animal-baiting, boxing and fighting were less genteel sports, yet were hugely popular and could draw large crowds. And just like today, a huge amount of money was ploughed into betting and gambling on sporting results. Discover what our eighteenth-century sporting ancestors got up to in these articles here!
Whether a sport generated a popular following and large spectatorship, or was enjoyed on a local or private level, almost any sporting event was considered an opportunity to gamble.
Boxing matches, as one critic wrote in the York Chronicle described, were ‘the carnival of England’ where ‘the distinctions of rank are laid aside; the decencies of society forgotten’.
Cricket as a large-scale spectator sport was a creation of the eighteenth century: the popularity of both playing and watching cricket becoming a truly national pastime of both men and women.
The visceral pleasures of the fight and the opportunities to bet, drew blood-thirsty crowds from across all ranks of eighteenth-century society to ‘enjoy’ the brutality of blood sports and animal baiting.
From the thrill of the race to the highs and lows of gambling, a day at the races offered an irresistible and heady mix of blood-rushing spectator sport and dynamic social interaction.