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!

Raising the Stakes: Spectator Sports

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.

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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’.

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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.

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A Thirst for Blood

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.

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A Day at the Races

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.

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