Slinging of Stones an Ancient Art--Known to the Saxons--And the Normans--How practised of late Years--Throwing of Weights and Stones with the Hand--By the Londoners--Casting of the Bar and Hammer--Of Spears--Of Quoits--Swinging of Dumb Bells--Foot Races--The Game of Base--Wrestling much practised formerly--Prizes for--How performed--Sir Thomas Parkyns--Hippas--Swimming--Sliding--Skating--Rowing--Sailing.
SLINGING OF STONES.--The art of slinging, or casting of stones with a sling, is of high antiquity, and probably antecedent to that of archery, though not so generally known nor so universally practised. The tribe of Benjamin among the Israelites is celebrated in holy writ for the excellency of its slingers. In the time of the judges there were seven hundred Benjamites who all of them used their left hands, and in the figurative language of the Scripture it is said, they "could sling stones at an hair-breadth and not miss," 1 that is, with exceedingly great precision. Again we are told, that when David fled to Ziklag, he was joined by a party of valiant men of the tribe of Benjamin, who could use both the right and the left in slinging of stones and shooting arrows out of a bow. 2 David himself was also an excellent marksman, as the destruction of Goliath by the means of his sling sufficiently testifies. It was, perhaps, an instrument much used by the shepherds in ancient times, to protect their flocks from the attacks of ferocious animals: if so, we shall not wonder that David, who kept his father's sheep, was so expert in the management of this weapon. 3
* SLINGING BY THE ANGLO-SAXONS.--The later Assyrian sculptures frequently show soldiers armed with the sling, and the Persians, as we gather from Xenophon, were expert slingers. Sling bullets of lead, stone, and hard-baked clay or terra-cotta were used by the Romans; their slingers were an important light-armed division of their armies; they appear on the Trajan column. Sling stones have been found, occasionally in considerable numbers, at Romano-British stations; but there are also good reasons for knowing that the archaic tribes of the British Isles were well acquainted with the use of the sling long before the arrival of the Romans. Stones for this purpose have been found in early barrows and entrenchments, both in England and Ireland. 4 The sling and its deadly effects are frequently alluded to in the Irish annals.
Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors were skilful in the management of the sling; its form is preserved in several of their paintings, and the manner in which it was used by them, as far back as the eighth century, may be seen on plate five, from
a manuscript of that age in the Cotton Library. 1 It is there represented with one of the ends unloosened from the hand and the stone discharged. In the original the figure is throwing the stone at a bird upon the wing, which is represented at some distance from him.
In other instances we see it depicted with both the ends held in the hand, the figure being placed in the action of taking his aim, and a bird is generally the object of his exertion, as in another drawing on the same plate from a parchment roll in the Royal Library, containing a genealogical account of the kings of England to the time of Henry III. 2
Sometimes the sling is attached to a staff or truncheon, about three or four feet in length, wielded with both hands, and charged with a stone of no small magnitude. These staff-slings, known by the Romans as fuslibalus, appear to have been chiefly used in besieging of cities, and on board of ships in engagements by sea. The representation of two such slings on plate five is taken from a drawing supposed to have been made by Matthew Paris, in a MS. at Bennet’ College, Cambridge. 3
SLINGING BY THE ANGLO-NORMANS.--We have sufficient testimony to prove that men armed with slings formed a part of the Anglo-Norman soldiery, 4 and the word balistarii, used by our early historians, may, I doubt not, be more properly rendered slingers than cross-bowmen; though indeed, upon the introduction of the cross-bow, these men might take the place of the slingers. In fact the cross-bow itself was modified to the purpose of discharging of stones, and for that reason was also called a stone-bow, so that the appellation Balistarius and Arcubalistarius were both of them latterly applied to the same person. At the battle of Hastings slingers formed part of both the armies; from this period until the close of the fourteenth century they formed an important element in every military expedition. They also continued to be used for fowling purposes, and doubtless often for mere pastime. The sling, however, was not entirely superseded by the bow at the commencement of the fifteenth century, as the following verses plainly indicate: they occur in a manuscript poem in the Cotton Library, 5 entitled, "Knyghthode and Batayle," written about that time, which professedly treats upon the duties and exercises necessary to constitute a good soldier.
By the two last lines the poet means to say, that stones are every where readily procured, and that the slings are by no means cumbersome to the
bearers, which were cogent reasons for retaining them as military weapons; neither does he confine their use to any body or rank of soldiers, but indiscriminately recommends the acquirement of skill in the casting of stones, to every individual who followed the profession of a warrior.
* In the metrical tale of King Edward and the Shepherd (fourteenth century), the countryman exclaims--
and proudly declares--
In Barclay's Eclogues, issued in 1508, a shepherd states that--
Leland in his Itinerary, when describing the isle of Portland in 1536, states--"The people be good there in slyngging of stonys, and use it for defence of the isle."
MODERN MODES OF SLINGING.--I remember in my youth to have seen several persons expert in slinging of stones, which they performed with thongs of leather, or, wanting those, with garters; and sometimes they used a stick of ash or hazel, a yard or better in length, and about an inch in diameter; it was split at the top so as to make an opening wide enough to receive the stone, which was confined by the re-action of the stick on both sides, but not strong enough to resist the impulse of the slinger. It required much practice to handle this instrument with any great degree of certainty, for if the stone in the act of throwing quitted the sling either sooner or later than it ought to do, the desired effect was sure to fail. Those who could use it properly, cast stones to a considerable distance and with much precision. In the present day (1800) the use of all these engines seems to be totally discontinued.
THROWING WITH THE HAND.--Throwing of heavy weights and stones with the hand was much practised in former times, and as this pastime required great strength and muscular exertion, it was a very proper exercise for military men. The Greeks, according to Homer, at the time of the siege of Troy, amused themselves with casting of the discus, which appears to have been a round flat plate of metal of considerable magnitude and very heavy. 1 "The discus of the ancients," says Dr Johnson, in his dictionary, "is sometimes called in English quoit, not improperly. The game of quoits is a game of skill; the discus was only a trial of strength, as among us to throw the hammer."
THROWING BY THE LONDONERS.--In the twelfth century we are assured, that among the amusements practised by the young Londoners on holidays, was casting of stones, 1 darts, and other missive weapons. Bars of wood and iron were afterwards used for the same purpose, and the attention of the populace was so much engaged by this kind of exercise, that they neglected in great measure the practice of archery, which occasioned an edict to be passed in the thirty-ninth year of Edward III. prohibiting the pastimes of throwing of stones, wood, and iron, and recommending the use of the long-bow upon all convenient opportunities. 2
CASTING OF THE BAR AND HAMMER.--Casting of the bar is frequently mentioned by the romance writers as one part of a hero's education, and a poet of the sixteenth century thinks it highly commendable for kings and princes, by way of exercise, to throw "the stone, the barre, or the plummet." Henry VIII., after his accession to the throne, according to Hall and Holinshead, retained "the casting of the barre" among his favourite amusements. The sledge hammer was also used for the same purpose as the bar and the stone; and among the rustics, if Barclay be correct, an axletree.
An early instance of throwing the stone occurs in a manuscript of the thirteenth century; it is reproduced at the top of plate sixty-two. 3
* Throughout the reign of Henry VIII., encouraged by royal example, gentlemen were eager to take part in pedestrian as well as equestrian exercises. Sir William Forest, in his Poesye of Princelye Practice, holds that a gentleman should--
"In featis of maistries bestowe some diligence Too ryde, runne, lepe, or caste by violence Stone, barre, or plummett, or such other thinge It not refuseth any prince or kynge."
* Elyot's Governour names "labouryng with poyses made of ledde, and lifting and throwing the heavy stone or barre." At the commencement of the seventeenth century, these pastimes seem to have lost their relish among the higher classes of the people, and for this reason Peacham, in his Complete Gentleman, speaks of throwing the hammer as an exercise proper for soldiers in camp, or for the amusement of the prince's guard, but not so well "beseeming nobility."
* Hammer throwing, as a modern athletic sport, follows the form that has come to us from over the Border. The weight of the hammer is the same as that of the weight in weight-putting, namely, sixteen pounds.
THROWING OF SPEARS.--Throwing of darts and javelins being properly a military exercise, was not prohibited by the act above mentioned. In 1529 Erasmus, writing to Cochloeus, said that the king outstripped every one in throwing the dart. Chafrins, ambassador of Charles V., wrote in 1532 that Anne Boleyn had presented Henry with certain darts of Biscayan fashion richly ornamented. 4 It was sometimes practised as a mere trial of strength, when the attempt was to throw beyond a certain boundary, or to exceed a competitor in
distance; and of skill, when the spear was cast at a quintain, or any other determined mark. The pastime is frequently mentioned by the writers of the middle ages. Charles VI. of France and the lords of his court, after a grand entertainment, were amused with "Wrastling, and casting of the bar, and the dart, by Frenchmen and the Gascoyns." 1
QUOITS.--The game of quoits, or coits, as an amusement, is superior to any of the foregoing pastimes; the exertion required is more moderate, because this exercise does not depend so much upon superior strength as upon superior skill. The quoit seems evidently to have derived its origin from the ancient discus, and with us in the present day it is a circular plate of iron perforated in the middle, not always of one size, but larger or smaller to suit the strength or conveniency of the several candidates. It is further to be observed, that quoits are not only made of different magnitudes to suit the poise of the players, but sometimes the marks are placed at extravagant distances, so as to require great strength to throw the quoit home; this, however, is contrary to the general rule, and depends upon the caprice of the parties engaged in the contest.
* An interesting reference to quoit-playing early in the fifteenth century has recently come to light. When the evidence was taken as to alleged miracles at the tomb of Bishop Osmund of Salisbury, before a papal commission, for the purpose of procuring his canonisation, four witnesses testified to the marvellous recovery of Cristina Cerlee, a girl of nine years of age, on St Mark's Day, 1409; the child was struck by accident by a quoit on the head so severely that the brain was exposed and she was taken up for dead and lay lifeless for an hour and a half. Richard Wodewell, carpenter, stated that he was playing quoits with his companions at Laverstock when he overthrew an iron quoit weighing a pound, and it struck Cristina who was seated on the ground twelve feet beyond the mark. Others picked her up saying she was killed, and he at once ran to the church of Salisbury for refuge, and there prayed to God, the Blessed Virgin and Bishop Osmund, at the bishop's tomb for the child's life. Cristina recovered, and made an offering of the quoit at the tomb. 2
* Quoits was one of those games prohibited in the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II. in favour of archery. Ascham, in his Toxophilus (1545), says that "quoiting be too vile for scholars." It seems always to have been, as at present, a game chiefly popular among the working-classes, although it admits of much skill, dexterity, and judgment.
To play at this game, an iron pin, called a hob, is driven into the ground, within a few inches of the top; and at the distance of eighteen, twenty, or more yards, for the distance is optional, a second pin of iron is also made fast in a similar manner; two or more persons, as four, six, eight, or more at pleasure, who divided into two equal parties are to contend for the victory, stand at one
of the iron marks and throw an equal number of quoits to the other, and the nearest of them to the hob are reckoned towards the game. But the determination is discriminately made: for instance, if a quoit belonging to A lies nearest to the hob, and a quoit belonging to B the second, A can claim but one towards the game, though all his other quoits lie nearer to the mark than all the other quoits of B; because one quoit of B being the second nearest to the hob, cuts out, as it is called, all behind it: if no such quoit had interfered, then A would have reckoned all his as one each. Having cast all their quoits, the candidates walk to the opposite side, and determine the state of the play, then taking their stand there, throw their quoits back again and continue to do so alternately as long as the game remains undecided.
Formerly in the country, the rustics not having the round perforated quoits to play with, used horse-shoes, and in many places the quoit itself, to this day, is called a shoe.
DUMB BELLS.--John Northbroke, in a treatise against Diceing, Dancing, etc. written in the time of queen Elizabeth, advises young men, by way of amusement, to "labour with poises of lead or other metal"; this notable pastime, I apprehend, bore some resemblance to the Skiomachia (Σκιομαχια) or fighting with a man's own shadow, mentioned in one of the Spectators: 1 "It consisted," says the author, "in brandishing of two sticks, grasped in each hand and loaden with plugs of lead at either end;--this pastime opens the chest, exercises the limbs, and gives a man all the pleasure of boxing without the blows." It is sometimes practised in the present day, and called "ringing of the dumb bells."
* The use of dumb-bells, and of the bar-bell which is but a two-handed dumb-bell, still forms one of the most important elements of modern gymnastics.
* The origin of the term is somewhat curious. Dumb-bells take their name by analogy, as was pointed out in Notes and Queries in 1861, "from a machine used for exercise, consisting of a rough, heavy, wooden flywheel with a rope passing through and round a spindle . . . and set in motion like a church bell." 2 This statement, however, does not sufficiently explain the transference of such a name to the short bar and rounded lead or iron ends of a hand dumb-bell. This difficulty was explained by the late Chancellor Ferguson in a paper read before the Archæological Institute in 1895, wherein a dumb-bell apparatus, now at Lord Sackville's seat at Knowle, was described and illustrated. 3 The roller round which the rope winds and unwinds has four iron arms, each of which has a leaden poise or ball at the end, just like the end of an ordinary hand dumb-bell. This Knowle example is fixed in an attic and the rope passed through to a gallery beneath. Anyone pulling the rope would get much the same exercise as in pulling a bell rope in a church tower, but without annoying his neighbours by the noise. There used to be a similar apparatus at New College, Oxford. The date of such contrivances for exercise cannot be older than the opening of
the seventeenth century when the practice of change-ringing in England first began. Change-ringing became fashionable among gentlemen in the reign of Charles II., and the healthiness of the exercise was much vaunted. 1
FOOT-RACING.--There is no kind of exercise that has more uniformly met the approbation of authors in general than running. In the middle ages, foot-racing was considered as an essential part of a young man's education, especially if he was the son of a man of rank, and brought up to a military profession.
It is needless, I doubt not, to assert the antiquity of this pastime, because it will readily occur to every one, that variety of occasions continually present themselves, which call forth the exertions of running even in childhood; and when more than one person are stimulated by the same object, a competition naturally takes place among them to obtain it. Originally, perhaps, foot-races had no other incitement than emulation, or at best the prospect of some small reward: but in process of time the rewards were magnified, and contests of this kind were instituted as public amusements; the ground marked out for that purpose, and judges appointed to decide upon the fairness of the race, to ascertain the winner, and to bestow the reward.
In Sir Thomas Elyot's Governour, "rennyng" is named as "bothe a goode exercise and a laudable solace;" he defends the custom of running races by references to such heroes of classical antiquity as Achilles, Alexander, and Epaminondas. Both private matches and public competitions are mentioned by Shakespeare. Falstaff says to Poins: "I could give a thousand pounds I could run as fast as thou canst." In the third part of Henry VI. occur the lines--
[paragraph continues] Running was one of the exercises commended to his son by James I.
* After the Restoration, every form of sport was resumed with vigour. Pepys' Diary contains many references to foot races. On August 10th, 1660, Pepys went "With Mr Moore and Creed to Hide Park by coach, and saw a fine footrace three times round the Park between an Irishman and Crew, that was once my Lord Claypoole's footman." On July 30th, 1663, he writes: "The town talk this day is of nothing but the great foot-race run this day on Banstead Downes, between Lee, the Duke of Richmond's footman, and a tiler, a famous runner. And Lee hath beat him; though the king and Duke of York, and all men almost, did bet three or four to one upon the tiler's head." Occasionally noblemen performed feats of this description. Pepys records the
remarkable performance, for a wager before the king, of Lords Castlehaven and Arran, when they ran down and killed a buck in St James' park. He also praised the extraordinary nimbleness of the Duke of Monmouth, of whom Macaulay says that he "won foot-races in his boots against fleet runners in shoes." The Luttrell Papers mention that in 1690 "Mr Peregrine Bertie, son to the late Earl of Lindsey, upon a wager, ran the Mall in St James' Park eleven times in less than an hour."
* Philip Kinder, in his MS. History of Derbyshire, written about the middle of the seventeenth century, says of the natives of that shire: "Theire exercise for a greate part is ye Gymnopaidia or naked boy, an ould recreation among ye Greeks, and this in foote-races. You shall have in a winter's day, ye earth crusted over wth ice, two Antagonists starke naked runn a foote-race for 2 or 3 miles, wth many hundred spectators, and ye betts very smale." 1
* Any attempt to deal with foot-racing in the eighteenth century would require a whole treatise, and would for the most part be a record of foolish contests for extravagant wagers. It will suffice to quote a paragraph from the first chapter of the standard work on modern English athletics. "The annals of the eighteenth century are full of accounts of wagers for the performance of athletic feats, both sublime as well as ridiculous. The majority of the genuine athletic performances are those of professional pedestrians, amateurs only figuring occasionally in these wagers, and often in preposterous ones. Luttrell's Diary tells us of a wager made by a German of sixty-four years old, to walk 300 miles in Hyde Park in six days, which he did within the time and a mile over. In 1780, the Gentleman's Magazine tells us that a man of seventy-five years ran four miles and a half round Queen Square in 58 minutes. Eight years later a young gentleman, with a jockey booted and spurred on his back, ran a match against an elderly fat man (of the name of Bullock) running without a rider. The more extraordinary the wager the more excitement it often caused amongst the public. A fish-hawker is reported to have run for a wager seven miles, from Hyde Park Corner to Brentford, with 56 lbs. weight of fish on his head, in 45 minutes! Another man trundled a coach-wheel eight miles in an hour round a platform erected in St Giles' Fields. Another extraordinary match was one between a man on stilts against a man on foot, the former receiving twenty yards start in a hundred and twenty yards. What is more astounding is that the man upon the stilts won the match." 2
Foot-races are not now (1800) much encouraged by persons of fortune, and seldom happen but for the purpose of betting, and the racers are generally paid for their performance. In many instances the distance does not exceed one hundred yards. At fairs, wakes, and upon many other occasions where many people are assembled together, this species of amusement is sometimes promoted, but most frequently the contest is confined to the younger part of the concourse.
* Foot-racing in connection with wedding festivities was a very old custom in the north of England, and still lingers in some parts of north Yorkshire. In that charming book, Forty Years in a Moorland Parish, by the late Canon Atkinson, incumbent of Danby-in-Cleveland, published in 1891, occur the following passages--
"The most typical Dales Wedding I ever remember having witnessed was nearly forty years ago, and on Martinmas Day. But I should not have spoken of the event in the singular number; for there were, in point of fact, four weddings all to be solemnised coincidently. . . . After the ceremony was over, great was the scramble among the small boys for the coppers, which it was and is customary for the newly-married man, or his best man, to scatter the moment the chancel door is left. And then an adjournment to the field adjoining the churchyard was made, and there was a series of races, all on foot, to be run for the ribbons which were the gift of the several brides; and as some of them gave more than one, the races were multiplied accordingly. Time was, and not so very long before the commencement of my incumbency here, when these races were ridden on horseback; and, at an earlier period still, the race was a 'steeple-chase' across country--the goal being the house whence the bride had come, and to which the wedding cavalcade was to return for the usual festivities. More than once, too, I have known, when the bride in some way incurred the suspicion of niggardness, through not complying with the recognised usage of supplying one ribbon at least to be run for, the 'stithy was fired upon her,' i.e. a charge of powder was rammed into a hole in the anvil (much after the shot in a mine), and fired in derision; well pronounced, if the loudness of the report counted for anything, as the wedding party passed on the journey home from the church. The direct converse of this, was the firing of guns as the party passed the residences of friends and well wishers. . . . The races still linger on, and only a week or two since the bride gave two 'ribbons to be run for'; and a few years ago one young chap, fleet of foot, and with as much inclination for 'laiking' (playing) as for sticking to work--some folk said more--was quoted as the fortunate winner of almost enough to start an itinerant haberdasher in trade." 1
BASE, OR PRISONERS' BARS.--There is a rustic game called Base or Bars, and sometimes written Bays, 2 and in some places Prisoners' Bars; and as the success of this pastime depends upon the agility of the candidates and their skill in running, I think it may properly enough be introduced here. It was much practised in former times, and some vestiges of the game are still remaining in
many parts of the kingdom. The first mention of this sport that I have met with occurs in the Proclamations at the head of the parliamentary proceedings, early in the reign of Edward III., where it is spoken of as a childish amusement, and prohibited to be played in the avenues of the palace at Westminster, 1 during the sessions of Parliament, because of the interruption it occasioned to the members and others in passing to and fro as their business required. It is also spoken of by Shakespear as a game practised by the boys:
[paragraph continues] It was, however, most assuredly played by the men, and especially in Cheshire and other adjoining counties, where formerly it seems to have been in high repute.
The performance of this pastime requires two parties of equal number, each of them having a base or home, as it is usually called, to themselves, at the distance of about twenty or thirty yards. The players then on either side taking hold of hands, extend themselves in length, and opposite to each other, as far as they conveniently can, always remembering that one of them must touch the base; when any one of them quits the hand of his fellow and runs into the field, which is called giving the chase, he is immediately followed by one of his opponents; he again is followed by a second from the former side, and he by a second opponent; and so on alternately, until as many are out as choose to run, every one pursuing the man he first followed, and no other; and if he overtake him near enough to touch him, his party claims one toward their game, and both return home. They then run forth again and again in like manner, until the number is completed that decides the victory; this number is optional, and I am told rarely exceeds twenty. It is to be observed, that every person on either side who touches another during the chase, claims one for his party, and when many are out, it frequently happens that many are touched.
About 1770, I saw a grand match at base played in the fields behind Montague House, now the British Museum, by twelve gentlemen of Cheshire against twelve of Derbyshire, for a considerable sum of money, which afforded much entertainment to the spectators. In Essex they play this game with the addition of two prisons, which are stakes driven into the ground, parallel with the home boundaries, and about thirty yards from them; and every person who is touched on either side in the chase, is sent to one or other of these prisons, where he must remain till the conclusion of the game, if not delivered previously by one of his associates, and this can only be accomplished by touching him, which is a difficult task, requiring the performance of the most skilful players, because the prison belonging to either party is always much nearer to the base of their opponents than to their own; and if the person sent to relieve his confederate be touched by an antagonist before he reaches him, he also becomes
a prisoner, and stands in equal need of deliverance. The addition of the prisons occasions a considerable degree of variety in the pastime, and is frequently productive of much pleasantry.
WRESTLING.--The art of wrestling, which in the present day is chiefly confined to the lower classes of the people, was, however, highly esteemed by the ancients, and made a very considerable figure among the Olympic games. In the ages of chivalry, to wrestle well was accounted one of the accomplishments which a hero ought to possess.
Wrestling is a kind of exercise that, from its nature, is likely to have been practised by every nation, and especially by those the least civilised. It was probably well known in this country long before the introduction of foreign manners. The inhabitants of Cornwall and Devon have, we are well assured, from time immemorial, been celebrated for their expertness in this pastime, and are universally said to be the best wrestlers in the kingdom. To give a Cornish hug is a proverbial expression. The Cornish, says Fuller, are masters of the art of wrestling, so that if the Olympian games were now in fashion, they would come away with the victory. Their hug is a cunning close with their fellow-combatants, the fruits whereof is his fair fall or foil at the least. 1 They learned the art at an early period of life, for you shall hardly find, says Carew, an assembly of boys in Devon and Cornwall, where the most untowardly among them will not as readily give you a muster (or trial) of this exercise as you are prone to require it. 2
* The entirely different systems of wrestling developed in different parts of the kingdom is a slight but genuine proof of the great variety of nationalities and tribes that were involved in the making of England. Owing to difficulties of locomotion, these different methods held their own in their respective districts until comparatively modern days. The styles of Cornwall and Devon are usually reckoned together, though they differed in at least one important particular, namely, that the latter sanctioned kicking and tripping, whilst the former confined themselves almost entirely to hugging. The style of Cumberland and Westmoreland was the next most famous. Thirdly, there was the more general practice of "loose" wrestling, in which Norfolk and Bedfordshire were for a long time pre-eminent; this style differed much in different localities. 3
The citizens of London, in times past, were expert in the art of wrestling, and annually upon St James's day they were accustomed to make a public trial of their skill. In the sixth year of Henry III. they held their anniversary meeting for this purpose near the hospital of St Matilda, at St Giles's-in-the-Fields, where they were met by the inhabitants of the city and suburbs of Westminster, and a ram was appointed for the prize; the Londoners were victorious, having greatly excelled their antagonists, which produced a challenge from the conquered party, to renew the contest upon the Lammas day following at Westminster:
the citizens of London readily consented, and met them accordingly, but in the midst of the diversion, the bailiff of Westminster and his associates took occasion to quarrel with the Londoners, a battle ensued, and many of the latter were severely wounded in making their retreat to the city. This unjustifiable petulance of the bailiff gave rise to a more serious tumult, and it was several days before the peace could be restored. 1 Stow informs us, that in the thirty-first year of Henry VI. A.D. 1453, at a wrestling match near Clerkenwell, another tumult was excited against the lord mayor, but he does not say upon what occasion it arose.
In the old time, says Stow, wrestling was more used than it has been of later years. 2 In the month of August, about the feast of St Bartholomew, adds this very accurate historian, there were divers days spent in wrestling; the lord mayor, aldermen, and sheriffs, being present in a large tent pitched for that purpose near Clerkenwell; 3 upon this occasion the officers of the city, namely, the sheriffs, serjeants, and yeomen, the porters of the king's beam or weighing-house, and others of the city, gave a general challenge to such of the inhabitants of the suburbs as thought themselves expert in this exercise; but of late years, continues he, the wrestling is only practised on the afternoon of St Bartholomew's day. 4 The latter ceremony is thus described by a foreign writer, who was an eye-witness to the performance: "When," says he, "the mayor goes out of the precincts of the city, a sceptre, 5 a sword, and a cap, are borne before him, and he is followed by the principal aldermen in scarlet gowns with golden chains; himself and they on horseback. Upon their arrival at a place appointed for that purpose, where a tent is pitched for their reception, the mob begin to wrestle before them two at a time." He adds a circumstance not recorded by the historian: "After this is over, a parcel of live rabbits are turned loose among the crowd, which are pursued by a number of boys, who endeavour to catch them with all the noise they can make." 6
PRIZES FOR WRESTLING.--The reward proposed for the best wrestlers in the contest between the Londoners and the inhabitants of Westminster, as mentioned above, was a ram. Anciently this animal was the prize most usually given upon such occasions, and therefore in the rhyme of sir Thopas, Chaucer says of the Knight,
[paragraph continues] And again, in his character of the miller,
[paragraph continues] Other rewards, no doubt, were sometimes proposed, as we may see upon the eighth plate, where two men are wrestling for a cock: the original drawing, from a manuscript in the Royal Library, 7 is certainly more ancient than the time
of Chaucer. This is clearly an example of "loose" wrestling, when the hob was got with the open hand, grasping either the body or tunic of the opponent or, as in this case, of a sort of scarf put on for the purpose.
In later times the prizes were not only much varied, but were occasionally of higher value. If we may believe the author of the old poem, entitled "A mery Geste of Robyn Hode," there were several prizes put up at once. The poet, speaking of a knight who was going to Robin Hood, says, 1
A humorous description is given in one of the Spectators of a country wake: the author there mentions "a ring of wrestlers; the squire," says he "of the parish always treats the whole company, every year, with a hogshead of ale, and proposes a beaver hat, as a recompence to him who gives the most falls." 2
WRESTLING, HOW PERFORMED.--The manner in which this pastime was exhibited in the western parts of England, at the distance of two centuries, it thus described by Carew, an author then living. "The beholders then cast, of form themselves into a ring, in the empty space whereof the two champion step forth, stripped into their dublets and hosen, and untrussed, that they may so the better command the use of their lymmes; and first shaking hands, it token of friendship, they fall presently to the effect of anger; for each striveth how to take hold of the other with his best advantage, and to bear his adverse party downe; wherein, whosoever overthroweth his mate, in such sort, as that either his backe, or the one shoulder, and contrary heele do touch the ground is accounted to give the fall. If he be only endangered, and makes a narrow escape, it is called a foyle."
He then adds, "This pastime also hath his laws, for instance; of taking hold above the girdle--wearing a girdle to take hold by--playing three pull; for trial of the mastery, the fall giver to be exempted from playing again with the taker, but bound to answer his successor. Silver prizes, for this and other activities, were wont to be carried about, by certain circumferanci, or set up at bride ales; but time, or their abuse," perhaps I might add both, "hath now worn them out of use." 3
* SIR THOMAS PARKYNS.--Towards the end of the seventeenth century wrestling was much declining in importance and respectability; but it received a considerable impetus from the strenuous support of a Nottingham-shire squire of education and position. Sir Thomas Parkyns, Bart., of Bunny Park, Nottingham, was the author of a curious work entitled, "The Inn-Play, or the Cornish-Hugg Wrestler. Digested in a Method which teacheth to break all Holds, and throw most Falls Mathematically. Easie to be understood by all Gentlemen, etc., and of great Use to such who understand the Small Sword in Fencing. And by all Tradesmen and Handicrafts that have competent knowledge of the Use of the Stilliards, Bor, Crove-Iron, or Lever, with their Hypomochlions, Fulcimen or Baits." A corrected second edition, from which this title is taken, was issued in 1714. Sir Thomas begins his "prefatory introduction" with an epigram from Martial, which gives him occasion to speak of his classical education under the famed Dr Busby, of Westminster School, where he learnt that wrestling was one of the five great Olympian sports. When he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, he noted, as a spectator of wrestling contests, the vast difference between "the Norfolk Out-Players and the Cornish Huggers," and that the latter could throw the other when they pleased. The use and application of mathematics he learnt when an undergraduate, from his tutor Dr Bathurst, but more especially from Sir Isaac Newton, who, seeing his inclination, invited him to his public lectures, "though I was Fellow Commoner, and seldom if ever any such were called to them." From Cambridge Sir Thomas proceeded to Gray's Inn, and there learnt fencing and vaulting, and also wrestling from Mr Cornish, who was his "Inn-Play Wrestling Master." He committed to writing the great variety of holds that he was taught. Out-Play wrestling is compared to French Fencing, and is the prettier to look at, but "Inn-Play soon decidethe who is the better gamester by an indisputable fall." "If wrestling," says Sir Thomas, "was more practic’d by Gentlemen, few or none would be killed by the sword in rencounters, but a severe fall or two, a black face or the like, would allay their fury and heat for that time, nay perhaps till quite forgotten." He backs up his preference for Cornish wrestling by the quaint suggestion that it commended itself to the other sex. "For the most part our country rings for wrestlings, at wakes and other festivals, consist of a small party of young women, who come not thither to choose a coward, but the daring, healthy and robust persons. . . . I ne’er could hear that the women approved of the Norfolk Out-Play, the rending and tearing of waistcoats, kicking and breaking of shins, and rendering them so tender they could not endure to be rub’d, but that their inclinations were the strongest for the Bedfordshire Inn-Play, and for such as approve themselves to be good on the Cornish Close Hugg."
* This enthusiastic champion of wrestling established annual matches in his own park, the prize being a hat of the value of twenty-two shillings. These
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were continued for more than half a century after his death; they were finally abandoned about 1810. It is recorded of him that he never knew a day's illness until the time of his death, which occurred on March 29th, 1741. In addition to being a skilled athlete, Sir Thomas was of much repute as a man of probity and learning, and was on the commission of the peace for the counties of Nottingham and Leicester. He had his monument erected in the chancel of Bunny church in his lifetime, whereon his fame as a wrestler is set forth, and his effigy rudely carved, with arms extended, in the first position of Cornish-hug. 1
* During the nineteenth century wrestling revived from time to time, but the rowdyism and roguery, so often associated with the matches, have for the most part kept this sport in deserved disrepute.
HIPPAS.--The Greeks had a pastime called Hippas, which, we are told, was one person riding upon the shoulders of another, as upon a horse; 2 a sport of this kind was in practice with us at the commencement of the fourteenth century, but generally performed by two competitors who struggled one with the other, and he who pulled his opponent from the shoulders of his carrier was the victor.
The representations of this curious pastime on plate seven are taken from different manuscripts; one in the Royal Library, 3 and the other in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, dated 1344. 4
This seems to bear more analogy to wrestling than to any other sport, for which reason I have given it a place in the present chapter.
SWIMMING.--Swimming is an exercise of great antiquity; and, no doubt, familiar to the inhabitants of this country at all times. The heroes of the middle ages are sometimes praised for their skill in swimming: it is said of Olaf Fryggeson, a king of Norway, that he had no equal in his art. 5 Peacham, describing the requisites for a complete gentleman, mentions swimming as one; and particularly recommends it to such as were inclined to follow a military profession. In this he seems to have followed an old poetical writer, 6 who speaks in this manner:
Meaning thereby, that the art of swimming ought to be learned by every class
of persons belonging to an army: and, perhaps, it may not be improper to add, by every other person also.
Swimming and diving are mentioned by the author of the Visions of Pierce Ploughman 1 in the following manner:--
* The first printed book in the world published on swimming was issued in 1 538; it is in Latin, and was written by N. Wymnan, professor of languages at Ingoldstadt. The first treatise published in England was that by Everard Digby in 1587; it is in Latin, and styled De Arte Natandi. The numerous illustrations are most quaint. The Compleat Swimmer, by William Pearcey Gent, was issued in 1658; it is a sad bit of plagiarism, being a literal and unacknowledged translation of Digby's work. Monsieur Thévenot's Art of Swimming with advice for Bathers was issued in 1696, and translated into English in 1699; it has forty small copperplate cuts showing the different postures. None of these works say anything about the history of swimming in England.
Boys in the country usually learn to swim with bundles of bull-rushes, and with corks where the rushes cannot readily be procured; particularly in the neighbourhood of London, where we are told, two centuries back, there were men who could teach the art of swimming well, and, says the author, "for commoditie of river and water for that purpose, there is no where better." 4
I am sorry to add, that swimming is by no means so generally practised with us in the present day as it used to be in former times. We have several treatises on the art of swimming and diving, and in the Encyclopædia Britannica are many excellent directions relating to it, under the article Swimming. 5
SLIDING.--Sliding upon the ice appears to have been a very favourite pastime among the youth of this country in former times; at present the use of skates is so generally diffused throughout the kingdom, that sliding is but little practised, except by children, and such as cannot afford to purchase them.
Sliding is one of the diversions ascribed to young men of London by Fitzstephen, and, as far as one can judge from his description of the sport, it differed not in the performance from the method used by the boys of our own
time: but he adds another kind of pastime upon the ice that is not now in practice; his words are to this effect, "Others make a seat of ice as large as a millstone, and having placed one of their companions upon it, they draw him along, when it sometimes happens that moving on slippery places they all fall down headlong." Instead of these seats of ice, among the moderns, sledges are used, which being extended from a centre, by the means of a strong rope, those who are seated in them are moved round with great velocity, and form an extensive circle. Sledges of this kind were set upon the Thames during the hard frost, in the year 1716, as the following couplet in a song written upon that occasion 1 plainly proves:
SKATING.--Skating is by no means a recent pastime, and probably the invention proceeded rather from necessity than the desire of amusement.
The wooden skates shod with iron or steel, which are bound about the feet and ancles like the talares of the Greeks and Romans, were most probably brought into England from the Low Countries, where they are said to have originated, and where it is well known they are almost universally used by persons of both sexes when the season permits. The word itself is a proof that this pastime came to us from Holland, for skate is not an old English word, but is borrowed from the Dutch schaats. In Hoole's translation of the Vocabulary by Comenius, called Orbis Sensualium Pictus (1658) the skates are called scrickshoes from the German, and in the print at the head of the section, in that work, they are represented longer than those of the present day, and the irons are turned up much higher in the front.
* Some antiquaries are of opinion that there was skating in England even in prehistoric times, the earliest skates being those made from bones. In January 1874 "two British skates" of bone, found at Blackfriars, on the old bed of the Fleet river, were exhibited before the British Archeological Association. In the following month two bone skates, one polished and one in process of manufacture, found in the city of London, were exhibited before the same association. Mr Loftus Brock also exhibited in June of the same year "a fine bone skate about a foot long with a flat polished surface, of prehistoric date," which had been found in Bucklersbury, on the site of the ancient church of St Benet Sherchog. 2
"In 1841 Mr Roach Smith exhibited to the Society of Antiquaries a bone skate which had been found in boggy ground in Moorfields, near Finsbury Circus. He considered that it was one of those described as used in the twelfth century on this very site. 3 Fitzstephen, the chronicler of London in the time of Henry II.,
says--"When that great moor which washed Moorfields, at the north wall of the city, is frozen over, great companies of young men go to sport upon the ice, and bind to their shoes bones, as the legs of some beasts; and hold stakes in their hands, headed with sharp iron, which sometimes they stick against the ice; and these men go on with speed, as doth a bird in the air, or darts shot from some warlike engine. Sometimes two men set themselves at a distance, and run one against another, as it were at tilt, with these stakes; wherewith one or both parties are thrown down, not without some hurt to their bodies; and after their fall, by reason of their violent motion, are carried a good distance one from another; and wheresoever the ice doth touch their heads, it rubs off the skin and lays it bare; and if one fall upon his leg or arm, it is usually broken; but young men, being greedy of honour and desirous of victory, do thus exercise themselves in counterfeit battles that they may bear the brunt more strongly when they come to it in good earnest."
* The two great diarists of the Restoration period, Evelyn and Pepys, both record skating feats that they witnessed on December 1st, 1662, when this revived exercise on metal skates had been reintroduced from Holland.
* Evelyn says: "Having seen the strange and wonderful dexterity of the sliders on the new canal in St James's Park, performed before their Maties by divers gentlemen, and others with Scheetes after the manner of the Hollanders, with what swiftnesse they passe, how suddainely they stop in full carriere upon the ice, I went home by water, but not without exceeding difficulties, the Thames being frozen, greate flakes of ice incompassing our boate." Pepys' entry is as follows: "St James's Park, Dec. 1, 1662. Over the Park, where I first in my life, it being a great frost, did see people sliding with their skeates, which is a very pretty art."
* Little is recorded of the development of skating in England in the eighteenth century, but illustrations of fairs held on the frozen Thames in 1716 and in 1740 prove that it was popular at both those dates. The first English "Treatise on Skating, Founded on certain Principles deduced from many Years Experience" was printed in 1772. The author was Robert Jones, Lieutenant of Artillery; it was dedicated to Lord Spencer Hamilton as an expert on the ice. The writer expresses a strong preference for English rather than Dutch skates, but acknowledges that the latter are better for travelling. In England skating was only "an exercise and diversion," whereas in Holland it was a "business and necessity."
* Roller skates are not the novelty that they are usually supposed to be. Joseph Merlin, a native of Liege, who came to England with the Spanish ambassador in 1760, invented a pair of skates that ran on wheels. But his exhibition of them was not a success. Gliding about in them at a masquerade at Carlisle House, Soho Square, he ran into a valuable mirror worth £500, which he completely shattered in addition to wounding himself severely. 1 A
patent for wheel skates was taken out in 1819; and the old tennis court in Windmill Street was turned into a rink for roller skating in the year 1823. 1
Some modern writers have asserted, that "the metropolis of Scotland has produced more instances of elegant skaters than perhaps any other country whatever, and the institution of a skating-club, about forty years ago, has contributed not a little to the improvement of this amusement. 2 I have, however, seen, some years back, when the Serpentine river in Hyde Park was frozen over, four gentlemen there dance, if I may be allowed the expression, a double minuet in skates, with as much ease, and I think more elegance, than in a ball room; others again, by turning and winding with much adroitness, have readily in succession described upon the ice the form of all the letters in the alphabet.
* During the nineteenth century the development of English skating has been most remarkable. 3
ROWING.--I shall not pretend to investigate the antiquity of boat-rowing. This art was certainly well understood by the primitive inhabitants of Britain, who frequently committed themselves to the mercy of the sea in open boats, constructed with wicker work, and covered with leather. 4 The Saxons were also expert in the management of the oar, and thought it by no means derogatory for a nobleman of the highest rank to row or steer a boat with dexterity and judgment. Kolson, a northern hero, boasting of his qualifications, declares, that "he was expert in handling the oar." 5 The reader may possibly call to his recollection the popular story related by our historians concerning Edgar, surnamed the Peaceable, who they tell us was conveyed in great state along the river Dee, from his palace in the city of West Chester, to the church of St John, and back again: the oars were managed by eight kings, and himself, the ninth, sat at the stern of the barge and held the helm. 6 This frolic, for I cannot consider it in any other light, appears to be well attested, and is the earliest record of a pastime of the kind.
The boat-quintain and tilting at each other upon the water, which were introduced by the Normans as amusements for the summer season, 7 could not be performed without the assistance of the oars, and probably much of the success of the champion depended upon the skilfulness of those who managed the boat. If we refer to two engravings 8 whereon both these sports are represented, we shall see that the rowers are seated contrary to the usual method, and face the head of the vessel instead of the stern.
The institution of the water pageantry at London upon the lord mayor's day, was of an essential service to the professed watermen, who plied about the bridge; and gave occasion to the introduction of many pleasure buts, which in
the modern times have been greatly increased. The first procession to Westminster by water was made A.D. 1453, by John Norman, then lord mayor, for which he was highly commended by the watermen.
When tilting at the quintain and justing one against another in boats upon the water were discontinued in this country, rowing matches were substituted, and are become exceedingly popular: we may see them frequently exhibited upon the Thames during the summer season; and as these contests, which depend upon skill as well as upon strength, are rarely productive of any thing further than mere pastime, they are in my opinion deservedly encouraged. When a rowing-match takes place near London, if the weather be fine, it is astonishing to see what crowds of people assemble themselves upon the banks of the Thames as spectators, and the river itself is nearly covered with wherries, pleasure boats, and barges, decorated with flags and streamers, and sometimes accompanied with bands of music. This pastime, though very ancient, and frequently practised upon solemn occasions by the Greeks and the Romans, does not seem to have attracted the notice of our countrymen in former times.
It may be thought unnecessary for me to mention the well-known annual legacy of Thomas Dogget, a comedian of some celebrity at the commencement of the eighteenth century, which provides three prizes to be claimed by three young watermen, on condition they prove victorious in rowing from the Old Swan Stairs near London Bridge, to the White Swan at Chelsea. The contest takes place upon the first of August; the number of competitors upon this occasion is restricted to six, who must not have been out of their times beyond twelve months. Every man rows singly in his boat, and his exertions are made against the tide; he who first obtains his landing at Chelsea receives the prize of honour, which is a waterman's coat, ornamented with a large badge of silver, and therefore the match is usually called "Rowing for the Coat and Badge." The second and the third candidates have small pecuniary rewards, but the other three get nothing for their trouble.
Of late years (1800) the proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens, and Astley the rider, give each of them in the course of the summer a new wherry, to be rowed for by a certain number of watermen, two of which are allowed to row in one boat; and these contests are extended to two or three heats or trials before the successful candidates are determined.
SAILING.--Another popular amusement upon the water is sailing, and many persons have pleasure boats for this purpose; I do not mean the open boats which are usually let out for hire by the boat-builders for the purpose of sailing, but vessels of much greater magnitude, that are covered with a deck, and able with skilful management to weather a rough storm; many large bets are frequently dependent upon the swiftness of these boats, and the contest is sometimes determined at sea.
A society, generally known by the appellation of the Cumberland Society,
consisting of gentlemen partial to this pastime, give yearly a silver cup to be sailed for in the vicinity of London. The boats usually start from the bridge at Blackfriars, go up the Thames to Putney, and return to Vauxhall, where a vessel is moored at a distance from the stairs, and the sailing boat that first passes this mark upon her return obtains the victory. 1
59:1 Judges, chap. xx. ver. 16.
59:2 1 Chron. chap. xii. ver. 2.
59:3 1 Samuel, chaps. xvii. and xviii.
59:4 Journal of the Brit. Arch. Assoc., xx. 73-80; Notes and Queries, Ser. 1, vi. 17, 377; Evans' Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain, chap. xviii.
60:1 Claudius, B. iv.
60:2 14. B. v.
60:3 C. v. 16.
60:4 Manners and Customs of the English, vol. 2.
60:5 Titus A. xxiii. part 2, fol. 8.
61:1 Iliad, book xxiii.
62:1 Fitzstephen's Description of London.
62:2 Rot. claus. Memb. 23.
62:3 Roy. Lib. 10 E. iv. f. 96.
62:4 Archæologia, li. 239.
63:1 Froissart, Lord Berners' translation, vol. iv. chap. 149, fol. 184.
63:2 Canonization of St Osmund (Wilts Record Soc. 1902), pp. viii., 64-6. The depositions speak of a "massa ferrea" being thrown by Wodewell, but in Harding's Register (p. 25) it is described as a "coyte."
64:1 Vol. ii. No. 115. (A.D. 1711.)
64:2 Notes and Queries, Ser. II., xii. 45.
64:3 Archæological Journal, lii. 95-6.
65:1 Chancellor Ferguson also contributed Notes about Dumb Bells, as an appendix to his former paper, to the Archæological Journal of the next year (Iii. 19-25). Mr Albert Hartshorne contributed to that paper a brief description and sketch of what he terms "a complete and ancient example of a dumb-bell" in the belfry of Bradbourne church, Derbyshire. This is, however, in reality a mere windlass for bell raising such as can be found in scores of old belfries. Having visited every Derbyshire belfry, and hundreds of others, I have no doubt on the matter, and agree in this respect with our best bell expert, Dr Raven. When first learning bell ringing the practice always was and still obtains of simply tying back the clapper, and so producing dumb bells.--J. C. C.
66:1 Bodleian, Ashm, MSS. 788.
66:2 Badminton Library: Athletics, by Montague Shearman. This is the best book to consult as to the remarkable revival of foot-racing, both amateur and professional, during the nineteenth century.
67:1 Pp. 205-7. Shortly after Canon Atkinson published this book, one of my oldest parishioners in Barton-le-Street (of which I was rector 1886.1894) told me that he had seen a stark naked race of young men over the moors from Danby-in-Cleveland churchyard at the conclusion of a wedding at which Canon Atkinson officiated in the year 1851. Needless to say the sport did not begin till after the parson had left. I had some most interesting correspondence with the Canon on this subject, and was able to convince him by the evidence of several that this occasional stripping for a race after a wedding was only abandoned soon after he entered on his incumbency.--J. C. C.
67:2 Johnson's Dictionary, word Base.
68:1 "Nul enfaunt ne autres ne jue--à barres." Rot. Parl. MS. Harl. 7057.
69:1 Worthies of England in Cornwall, p. 197.
69:2 Survey of Cornwall, 1602, p. 75.
69:3 Armstrong's Wrestling (Badminton Library), passim.
70:1 Matthew Paris. Hist. Ang. sub an. 1222.
70:2 Survey of London, pp. 78, 85.
70:3 The margin says, "at Skinner's Well."
70:4 Survey of London, p. 85.
70:5 I presume he means the mace.
70:6 Hentzner's Itinerary, p. 36.
70:7 2 B. viii.
71:1 Second fit, or part, Garrick's Collect. Old Plays, K. vol. x.
71:2 Vol. ii. No. 191, published 1711.
71:3 Survey of Cornwall (1602), p. 75.
73:1 Thorston's Nottinghamshire, i. 93; Chambers' Book of Days, i. 435-7. It is not a little remarkable that the Badminton account of wrestling omits all reference to Sir Thomas Parkyns, and to his book which passed through so many editions.
73:2 Pollux, lib. ix. cap. 7.
73:3 2 B. vii.
73:4 Bod. 264.
73:5 Pontoppidan's Hist. of Norway, p. 148.
73:6 MS. Cott. Titus, A. xxiii.
73:7 Wood, or mode, signifies wild or mad; and here, that the rain makes the rivers swell and overpass their bounds.
74:1 Edit. 1550, p. 13.
74:2 The river Thames.
74:3 Sikerer, surer, safer; that is, neither the one nor the other should have any extraneous assistance, but each should depend entirely upon his own exertions to escape from the water.
74:4 History of all the Schools and Colleges in and about London, printed A.D. 1615
74:5 * It is almost unnecessary to state that the art and pastime of swimming underwent a remarkable revival during the nineteenth century. There can be but little doubt that the proportion of the English population who can swim is now (1903) far higher than it has ever been before. It is greatly encouraged in schools.
75:1 In D’Urfey's Collection of Songs, 1719, vol. iii. p. 4.
75:2 Journal of the Arch. Assoc., xxx. pp. 72, 9r, 338. Ancient bone skates or runners are exhibited at the Guildhall Museum as well as at the British Museum.
75:3 Archæologia, xxix. 397.
76:1 Notes and Queries, Ser. V., vi. 36.
77:1 Notes and Queries, Ser. V., v. 309.
77:2 Ency. Brit. art. Skating.
77:3 Badminton Library; Skating, by Messrs Heathcote, Tebbutt, and Witham.
77:4 Cæsar Bell, Gall. lib. v. cap. 12.
77:5 Bartholin, p. 420.
77:6 Will. Maims. Mat. West. in the reign of Edgar.
77:7 Fitzstephen's Description of London. Stow's Survey.
77:8 See book iii. chap. i. sec. v.
79:1 It would require two volumes to record the progress in rowing and sailing, as amusements, since the days of Strutt, or to expand their earlier history, so that it is thought better to leave his remarks exactly as they stood when first issued.