Sports and Pastimes of the People of England
by Joseph Strutt
[2nd ed., 1903]
This book is a key source for information on leisure time activities in 'Olde England,' including sports, hunting, games, dancing, gymnastics, music, festivals including Christmas and May Day and customs such as Mumming, The Boy Bishop, and The Lord of Misrule. It answers questions such as "How do you score a joust?," (p. 125) "When did feral wolves become extinct in Britain?," (p. 12) and "How much do you pay the piper?" (p. 164) And what is Shakespeare talking about when he mentions Shove-Groat (p. 242) or Nine Men's Morris (p. 256)? (The modern equivalents are shuffleboard and tic-tac-toe). Included are numerous quotes from original documents and dozens of plates based on period illustrations.
Strutt documents the constant conflict between popular culture and the religious and secular powers. The 'culture war' has been going on long before modern attempts to censor videos, computer games and comic books. In 1579, under Queen Elizabeth, a Puritan writer (John Northbrooke) branded playing cards "an invention of the devill" (p. 261), and complained (p. 138) "Many can tary at a vayne Playe for two or three hours, when as they will not abide scarce one houre at a Sermon." There was a class element to this as well, with an open double standard. In 1541, a statute forbade the lower classes from bowling and other games except under certain closely supervised circumstances; however, nobles could obtain a license to bowl on their own land (p. 217). Likewise, football (p. 96) and tennis (p. 85) were at times forbidden to everyone--except the upper class.
Production notes: Since English spelling was still in a state of flux when this book was originally published in 1801, and the book quotes from many older documents, spelling varies widely in the body of the text. I have left these spellings intact. The asterisks which appear in front of many of the paragraphs were in the original book and do not indicate footnotes; rather, they indicate material added in the second edition.