2.13 Sport & Leisure

Organised sport: myriad sporting activities were codified and encouraged by the Victorian British (1800s), ultimately providing a legacy for the world; team sports were particularly promoted, as good for the character - a healthy mind in a healthy body; physical derring-do on the playing field was the counterpart of Victorian highmindedness; working hard and playing hard; in the most recent era, sport has partially displaced militarism as an arena of competition between nations and as a demonstration of supreme exertion and bold skill

'Sports and games of various kinds feature largely among Britain's most successful 19c exports. Some were already well-established by that time in Britain, notably golf and cricket. Others emerged from the public schools, in which large numbers of young men needed exercise and discipline. Team games were found to provide both, and the result was organized versions of ancient activities such as football, rugby football and hockey. In other contexts new games emerged at the same period from older ones (squash from rackets, snooker from billiards, and modern darts from its informal predecessors), while some were invented afresh, meeting the needs of the newly leisured middle classes; examples are croquet and the trio of lawn tennis, badminton and table tennis. Even rounders can legitimately claim to have been exported as baseball.' (Bamber Gascoigne, Encyclopedia of Britain, 1993)

Empire building through sport: the ‘English habit of losing to colonial teams would help knit Greater Britain together’ (Niall Ferguson, Empire, 2003)

Olympics: the modern ‘Olympic spirit’ - of joy in taking part and 'playing the game' (i.e. sportsmanship) - originated from Britain and not from the ancestral home of the Olympics, Ancient Greece (Olympia, from 776 BC), where winning at all costs was everything, even if this involved the death of an opponent; the first modern games was held at Much Wenlock, Shropshire in 1850; it was organised by Dr William Penny Brookes (1809-95), founding grandfather of the modern Olympic Games and inspirer of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the Olympic Games, who put on the Athens Olympiad of 1896, as suggested by Penny Brookes a decade and a half previously; Brookes founded the National Olympian Association in 1865, years before the International Olympic Committee came into being; Coubertin wrote, ‘If the Olympic Games that Modern Greece has not yet been able to revive still exists today, it is due…to Dr W P Brookes’; laying a wreath on Brookes’s Wenlock grave in 1994, Juan Samaranch, then president of the International Olympic Committee, said, ‘I came to pay homage and tribute to Dr Brookes, who really was the founder of the modern Olympic Games’; the Wenlock Games are still contested, its opening procession having inspired the Olympic Opening Ceremony

'...flattered that Brookes had so honored his noble heritage, the king of Greece, in faraway Athens, donated a silver urn that was awarded each year to the pentathlon winner.' (Frank Deford, Smithsonian magazine, July-August 2012)

Far earlier the Cotswold Olympicks had been started in 1612 by Robert Dover; it was suppressed by the Puritans then restarted after the Restoration, being held annually as a day of sports such as shin-kicking (a form of low-kick wrestling), hammer throwing and tug of war, until 1852; a revival was staged in 1951, then the Cotswold Olympicks were permanently re-established in 1963, being held on Dover’s Hill, near Chipping Camden in Gloucestershire

'The fact is that the modern Olympics owe their birth and their model and, ultimately, their success foremost to England...the first London Games, those of 1908...essentially saved the Olympics as an institution. It's really quite appropriate that...London will become the first city since Olympia to host the Games three times...Lord Desborough...a man who had climbed the Matterhorn, swum the Niagara rapids and rowed across the Channel. Now he volunteered [in 1906] to take charge of the floundering Olympics...At 6-foot-5, Lord Desborough was a giant...more than 2,000 athletes of 22 nations marched [in 1908]...All else had been prelude. Only now had the modern Olympics truly begun.' (Frank Deford, Smithsonian magazine, July-August 2012)

Besides 1908, London also hosted the Games in 1948

'The Austerity Games, they were called, and they were...But as London had saved the Olympics by taking the Games in '08, in '48, it took the Games on in an effort to salve its own spirit. Above all, King George wanted them...he'd had nothing but war and deprivation to reign over...Nineteen-forty-eight would be the best; not only the Olympics, but his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, would deliver him his first grandchild...a son and heir [Charles].' (Frank Deford, Smithsonian magazine, July-August 2012)

London hosted the Summer Olympics once more in 2012, with the motto 'inspire a generation'; a resounding success, the event won the apellation the 'Happy and Glorious Games'; Team GB's medal haul of 65, including 29 gold, was the greatest since London 1908

'Each city’s Olympic Games has its own magic. This year, the Games are returning for the third time to the cosmopolitan heart of the nation that invented modern sport and codified the spirit of fair play that underlies the Olympic Values.'
(Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, writing in the London 2012 Olympic Games Official Programme)

Britain is one of only three nations to have been present at all summer and winter Olympic games, the others being France and Switzerland; after the US and the former Soviet Union, Team GB is the 3rd most successful Summer Games nation (237 gold, 272 silver, 271 bronze, 1896-2012); in athletics Team GB is the second most successful all-time nation at European Championships, after Russia; the first women's track and field event known was held in London in 1890 [Source: Robertson][see below, Athletics]

Acknowledgement: Cat Abbott is thanked for alerting the author of the Olympics notice to the existence of the Deford article

Paralympics: these were invented by Dr Ludwig ‘Poppa’ Guttman (1899-1980) of Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Buckinghamshire, in 1948, and co-hosted there in 1984, with New York; at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, ParalympicGB won 120 medals (34 gold. 43 silver & 43 bronze), coming third in the medal table overall; Britain is the 2nd most successful Paralympian nation, after the US; the earliest known wheelchair athletics event took place at Richmond in 1923 [Source: Robertson]

Commonwealth Games: England won its 600th gold medal in Commonwealth Games history in Delhi in 2010 at the XIXth Commonwealth Games

Athletics: this term covers track and field events involving running, walking, jumping and throwing (whence the Olympic motto ‘Faster, higher, stronger’); athletics events were organised in the western British Isles a thousand years before the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece (from 776 BC), with modern athletics codified in Britain in the AD 1860s

'Perhaps as early as 1829 BC, Ireland was the scene of the Lugnasad festival’s Tailteann Games, involving various forms of track-and-field activity...Athletics as practiced today was born and grew to maturity in England. The first mention of the sport in England was recorded in 1154, when practice fields were first established in London. The sport was banned by King Edward III in the 1300s but revived a century later by Henry VIII, reputed to be an accomplished hammer thrower...The development of the modern sport, however, has come only since the early 19th century. Organized amateur footraces were held in England as early as 1825, but it was from 1860 that athletics enjoyed its biggest surge to that date. In 1861 the West London Rowing Club organized the first [athletics] meet open to all amateurs, and in 1866 the Amateur Athletic Club (AAC) was founded and conducted the first English championships...In 1880 the AAC yielded governing power to the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA).' [Source: Britannica Online Encyclopedia]

A seminal event was the 1864 athletics competition between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge; athletics truly came of age with the Championships Meeting in England in 1880 of the Amateur Athletics Association; the first women's track and field event known was held in London in 1890 [Source: Robertson]; athletics became fully international with the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896; British athletes have won many Olympic and Paralympic medals; after Russia, Team GB is the second most successful all-time nation at the European Championships, an athletics competition

Football: the first recorded game was in Derby, AD 217, to celebrate a British victory over the Romans; the oldest still-existing football, dating from the 1540s, was found at Stirling Castle, in Scotland; the Football Association was set up in England in 1863, unifying a cacophony of different rule codes which had clashed particularly glaringly among the undergraduates of Cambridge; this city is thus arguably the home of the modern game, as played throughout the world; the FA Cup is the world’s oldest football competition, dating from 1871; it features the Cup Final at Wembley Stadium in London; the year 1887 saw the biggest winning margin, Preston North End vs Hyde Utd, 26-0; the world’s first football international was played between England and Scotland in 1870; Sheffield United is the world’s oldest football club, having been founded in 1889; the first club, however, seems to have been the ‘Edinburgh Foot Ball Club’ formed in 1824; it survived until at least 1841; England’s record in about 880 international matches is 57% won, 24% drawn, the rest not to be mentioned; England's 2000th goal was scored in November 2011 in the (victorious) 400th home match; Southampton man Charles Miller taught the Brazilians how to play, around 1900; the World Cup was won by hosts England in 1966, who beat West Germany at Wembley 4-2; the team was captained by Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst scored a hat trick; the first World Cup was initiated by Sir Thomas Lipton when he presented the Italians with a cup for an international football competition; when the Football Association declined to nominate a team Lipton turned to the amateurs of West Auckland FC from County Durham to represent Britain; mostly coal miners, the team beat professional footballers from Italy, Germany and Switzerland to lift the trophy in the first competition, which took place in Italy in 1909; this was 21 years before the first official Fifa World Cup; West Auckland won again in 1911, astoundingly; Stanley Matthews was the first football superstar; he appeared in 886 first-class matches and in 54 internationals for England; he usually played as right wing and became known as the Wizard of the Dribble; Matthews’s professional career lasted from age 17 to 50, a remarkable 33 years; many British teams have won European club trophies, none under more remarkable circumstances than Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League Final, who trailed AC Milan by three goals at half time; drawing 3-3 at full-time, Liverpool won the penalty shoot-out; women’s football was pioneered in Britain during the First World War and especially in the 1920s, with a new generation of British players ushering in the modern era of the women’s game in the 1950s; ‘footie’ is Britain’s – and any country’s – most successful recreational export ever

'FOOT-BALL was played in the twelfth century by the youth of the City in the fields; and five centuries later, we find foot-ball players in Cheapside, Covent Garden, and the Strand.'
(John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1855)

'The first sports shoes known were a pair of football boots made for England's King Henry VIII in 1525 by cordwainer (shoemaker) Cornelius Johnson' [Source: Robertson]

Rugby: developed in Britain around 1823, its origin is at Rugby School, Warwickshire, where legend has it pupil William Webb Ellis picked up a football during a game and ran with it; the rules were codified first by pupils 25 years later; the League code split from the Union code in 1895; the first rugby union tour was that of the New Zealand All Blacks in 1905, with only Wales beating them; the Rugby World Cup, for the Webb Ellis Trophy, was won by England in 2003; victory was sealed via a sublimely iconic drop-goal by Jonny Wilkinson; Scotland vs England for the Calcutta Cup is the oldest international rugby fixture, starting in 1871; Six Nations Rugby venues include Twickenham; American football evolved from the same common ancestor as rugby, British football

Cricket: played from 1300 in Britain and codified on the island in 1744; the first international cricket match was played exactly a century later, in 1844, between the United States and Canada, with the Canadians winning; between 1840 and 1855 cricket was in fact America’s leading ball game, being ultimately displaced by baseball; the most famous trophy in world cricket is ‘The Ashes’ funeral urn – surely the smallest international sporting trophy anywhere, at under six inches in height – played for every two years by England and Australia; the series began in 1882; the greatest Ashes turnaround ever was Headingley in 1981; on the third day (of five) the odds against the England of Botham, Willis and Brearley beating the Australians were 500-1 against, yet England won; the Ashes series in 2005 was the most thrillingly close series ever, culminating at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London, the home of world cricket and the sport's greatest stage; again, England won; with retention by England of the Ashes in 2013, England and Australia have won 31 series apiece; the 2000th Test Match ever was played in July 2011 at Lord’s between England and India, with England winning; the preamble of the Laws of Cricket speaks of 'the spirit of the game', upholding the value of fair play [see Values]; there is an annual 'Spirit of Cricket' lecture at Lord’s


'The first baseball is first recorded in print in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, published by John Newbery in London in 1744. A picture book showing various children's games, it contains an illustration of boys playing baseball, and accompanying text uses this name rather than "rounders", a game played with a soft ball from which it may have derived.' [Source: Robertson]

Another early record in Britain of baseball is a diary entry of William Bray of Shere, Surrey, for Easter Monday of 1755; the game was taken to America from Britain – and America gave it to the world; baseball and cricket:

'…are rooted in English folk traditions, and each is based on a contest between the pitcher and the batter in baseball and the bowler and the batsman in cricket. Referees are called umpires in both.' (The Economist, 24 July 2010)

[see British antecedents in America]

Other grassy games: bowls by 1200s, golf by 1400s (Scotland; see The Open), croquet codified in mid-1800s (having probably originated in France centuries before) and lawn tennis in 1874 (indoor tennis having originally come from France); the development of grassy games among the Victorians and the consequent need for a manicured greensward spurred the development of lawn-cutting technology in the nation that had invented the mechanical mower [see Lawn mower]

Squash rackets: invented at Harrow School, where the first dedicated facility was built in 1864

Table tennis: to quote London mayor Boris Johnson, on what makes Britain great, "Ping pong was invented on the dining tables of England in the 19th century and it was called whiff whaff. Other nations - the French - looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to have dinner. We looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to play whiff whaff."; referring to the London 2012 Olympics, the mayor added, "London is the sporting capital of the world. I say to the Chinese and I say to the world: ping pong is coming home."; the first table tennis sets to be sold were those of John Jaques & Sons Ltd in 1898; 'The inventor of the game was a Croydon engineer James Gibb...' [Source: Robertson]; visiting England in 1955, the great American humorist James Thurber pointed out that reversing ‘ping pong’ produced a sound more like the game: ‘gnip, gnop’

Hockey: the modern game of field hockey (i.e. as distinct from ice hockey) was developed in English public schools in the early 1800s; the first club was in Blackheath, London, 1849; the modern rules grew out of a form of the game played as a winter sport by cricketers in Middlesex

Marathon: the distance from Windsor Castle to the Royal Box of the London 1908 Olympic stadium standardised the modern marathon running race at 26 miles 385 yards; the London Marathon this is one of five World Marathon Majors; the London Marathon is the largest annual charitable fundraising event in the world, with over half a billion pounds having been raised since the event was first run in 1981; comedian Eddie Izzard completed 43 marathons in 51 days in 2009, in aid of Sports Relief; on receipt of the BBC Sports Personality Special Award 2009, he said, "Everything was painful. People asked me if I enjoyed the running, but I enjoyed the stopping! I staggered, I ran and I crawled."

Rowing: Britain has a globally unsurpassed record at the oars; the earliest competitive rowing event ever recorded was the Doggett's Coat and Badge for apprentice watermen, River Thames, 1716 [Source: Robertson/Shell]; the first recorded rowing clubs were several unnamed 'cutter clubs' that were in existence on the River Thames in 1789 [Source: Robertson/Shell]; the annual Henley Royal Regatta on the Thames is the world’s oldest regatta; the Boat Race used to start at Henley but moved downriver; contested by university teams from Oxford and Cambridge since 1829, it is the most famous rowing race of them all; the first record of a sculling boat with a sliding seat was that used by R O Birch at King's Lynn Regatta, Norfork [Source: Robertson/Shell]; the sliding rowing seat seems to have been reinvented many years later by Gladstone Adams (1880-1966); 1845 saw British boatbuilders produce the first outrigger sculling boat, outrigger racing eight and outrigger racing four [Source: Robertson/Shell]; the world’s first racing crew of women rowers pulled into sight in 1851; they were captained by Ann Glanville and rowed a Cornish pilot gig on the Tamar; at the Le Havre regatta they won against male crews, after having rowed across the Channel to the event [Source: Robertson/Shell]; Sir Steve Redgrave (b1962) won five consecutive Olympic rowing gold medals between 1984 and 2000, making him one of the greatest Olympians of all time, plus nine World Championship medals between 1986 and 1999; the first Britons to row the Atlantic were John Ridgeway & Chay Blyth in 1967; John Fairfax became the first solo oarsman to cross any ocean when he rowed the Atlantic in 1969, from west to east; he & Sylvia Cook were the first to row the Pacific, in 1971-2; the first solo trans-Pacific oarsman was Jim Shekhdar in Le Shark, in 2000-1

Sailing: yacht-racing was invented in 1661, when Charles II took on his brother the Duke of York in the Thames estuary; the first pleasure yacht had been that of Elizabeth I, built to celebrate victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588; the first steam yacht was the Menai of Thomas Assheton Smith, of 1829; Cowes Week is the longest-running regular sailing regatta in the world, from 1826, off the Isle of Wight, '...where the first known pleasure craft was built' [Source: Robertson]; the Hundred Guinea Cup of 1851 was won by America, whence America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in international sport; Britain’s greatest-ever competitive sailor is Ben Ainslie; with an Olympic silver medal and four golds, Ainslie is the most decorated Olympic sailor ever

"They've made a big mistake. They've made me angry and you don't want to make me angry." (Ben Ainslie on his competitors, prior to a gold medal winning performance in the culminating medal race of the Finn class at the London 2012 Olympics; interviewed on BBC television)

Sporting events

Boat Race: Oxford vs Cambridge, rowing since 1829 [see above, Rowing

Cowes Week: this is the longest-running regular sailing regatta in the world, from 1826, off the Isle of Wight [see above, Sailing]

Grand National: the world’s greatest steeplechase, held at Aintree near Liverpool; 2012 saw the closest-ever finish; Epsom Derby (King Edward VII’s horse Minoru won in 1910); Royal Ascot (which bills itself as ‘The Greatest Race Meeting in the World’); Cheltenham etc

Badminton: horse trials in Gloucestershire; also the racquet game of the same name, invented here in 1863

Wimbledon: tennis & croquet championships, southwest London, SW19 (Britain's most famous postcode); Andy Murray, runner-up in the 2012 tennis tournament, went on in the same year to win Olympic gold at Wimbledon and then to triumph at the US Open, his first victory in a major; in the next year, 2013, Murray won the Wimbledon gentlemen’s singles title itself, the pinnacle of tennis; prior to Murray’s win the great Fred Perry was victorious at SW19 in 1934, 1935 & 1936; Murray’s triumph is the 36th time a British man has held aloft the trophy – more than any other nation; British winners of the ladies’ singles title in the modern era are Angela Mortimer (1961), Ann Jones (1969) & Virginia Wade (1977); the first British woman to win a ranking tennis tournament in the twenty-first century was Heather Watson, who won the Japan Open in 2012; she had previously won the US Open Girls title in 2009; the Hawk-Eye electronic (multi-camera) line judge used at Wimbledon (and also in cricket) was invented by Paul Hawkins in 2001

The Open: this is the world’s oldest international golf championship; it has been played annually since 1860, when the first event was held at Prestwick; visits Royal and Ancient Golf Club, St Andrews, which was the world’s first golf course and is its oldest; the first known woman golfer was Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII; Mary, Queen of Scots, was a keen golfer, along with that other doomed royal, Charles I of England; neither survived the cut; Blackheath in London was the first English golf course, established by James I; the biennial Ryder Cup regularly comes to Britain; since a Europe-inclusive format was introduced in 1979, the US has held the cup 7 times to Europe's 10; the US in 1999 and Europe in 2012, the latter with half its players from the UK, pulled off momentous comebacks to win against the odds, further stoking one of the world's great sporting rivalries

W G Grace: 1848-1915; a legendary cricketer, he was the world’s first sporting superstar

Swimming: the first modern-era swimming pool was established at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in the 1600s; the first public swimming pool was opened in London in 1742 [Source for both items: Robertson]; the first person to swim the English Channel was Matthew Webb in 1875, taking 21 hours 45 minutes; Webb covered his body in porpoise fat and was said to have been joined en route to Calais by a school of porpoises; he used breast stroke and encountered a jelly fish, which stung him; in 2011 David Walliams swam the length of the River Thames, having previously completed swims across the English Channel and the Strait of Gibraltar; in the course of his 8-day river swim he saved a dog from drowning

Mile run in under 4 minutes: the first sub-four-minute-mile was run by Roger Bannister in 1954; in London in 1785 a man called Weller may have clocked a time of 3:58


'The first boxing on an organized basis began with the earliest recorded prizefight, reported in January 1681 by the London newspaper True Protestant Mercury... Title fight: The first was fought between James Figg and Ned Sutton of Gravesend for the championship of England on 6 June 1727. Rules of boxing: The first, which were also the first recognized rules for any sport, were drawn up by ex-champion Jack Broughton, "approved of by the gentlemen, and agreed to by the pugilists" of Broughton's Amphitheatre in the Haymarket, London, on August18, 1743... Boxing gloves: The first padded gloves were devised for sparring purposes by Jack Broughton in February 1747 for the use of his pupils at his new boxing academy in London's Haymarket... Weight classes were introduced at a London amateur tournament in 1872...' [Source: Robertson]

The first ‘world title’ international boxing match was staged near Farnborough on 17 April 1860 between John Carmel Heenan of the US and ‘Brighton Titch’ Tom Sayers; the fight was a declared a draw; Sayers was hailed as a national hero for keeping the American giant at bay; even Queen Victoria asked to be kept informed of the result; the world’s first three-weight champion was Bob Fitzsimmons in the 1890s; among his titles was heavyweight champion of the world; a century later Lennox Lewis became undisputed heavyweight champion of the world for Britain in 1999; Lewis is one of only three world heavyweight champions to have retired after defeating every opponent he had faced, in doing so avenging his two defeats in 44 bouts; David Haye lifted the WBA world heavyweight crown in 2009; women's boxing became an Olympic sport for the first time at London 2012; the pioneer gold medalist was flyweight Nicola Adams of Leeds, who decked her opponent en route to victory


'Izaac Walton skillfully cast a message of religious tolerance into his classic on fishing, The Compleat Angler [1593]…One of the first fishing manuals was written by Dame Juliana Berners and published as part of the Boke of St Albans in 1496.' (Catherine Glass & David Abott, Share the Inheritance, 2010)

Racehorses: all thoroughbreds in the world derive from three Arab stallions imported into England in the 1700s; ‘It was thought that a large number of mares they bred with were also shipped from abroad. But after analysing the DNA of 1,929 horses, researchers at the University of Cambridge have claimed that most of the mares were of native stock. Just eight per cent of their maternal genes came from abroad.’ (Daily Telegraph, 6 October 2010)

Edmond Hoyle: 1672-1769; codified card and dice games; playing cards with modern suits – spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs - were probably developed in France around 1480; the Queen of Hearts is believed to be a representation of Elizabeth of York, the Queen consort of Henry VII of England (reigned 1485-1509); her picture has thus appeared in every pack for over 500 years


'The first bridge (card game) probably originated in Turkey, where the first laws of the game were compiled about 1885 by John Collinson, an English visitor to Constantinople.' [Source: Robertson]

Backgammon: in a chronology of world's firsts there is this -

Backgammon: earliest known set found in cesspit on site of Gloucester Castle in 1990 where it had been abandoned by Walter of Gloucester on renouncing his vices (inc gambling) to become Augustinian monk in Wales.' [Source: Robertson/Shell]

Charles Wells: ‘The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo’; twelve times on this Victorian gentleman’s first visit

Snooker: the forerunner game to snooker of table billiards was developed from outdoor stick-and-ball games such as croquet, possibly in France in the 1400s; a green cloth simulated grass; the executioners of Mary, Queen of Scots, wrapped her body in the cloth from her own cue-and-ball table in 1586; the first known mention of a form of the word ‘billiards’ appears in Edmund Spenser's Mother Hubberd's Tale in 1591, where he speaks of ‘all thriftles games that may be found ... with dice, with cards, with balliards.’; snooker was developed by officers of the British Army in India

'...in about 1880 as a variant of two other billiard games, pool and pyramid (it was known at the time as ‘snooker’s pool’, snooker being slang for a newly-joined cadet). The game remained relatively obscure until the great billiards player Joe Davis took it up in the 1920s, recognizing it as more dramatic than billiards for exhibition games. Davis was the first to achieve, in 1955, the ‘perfect score’ of 147 (requiring the black to be potted after each of the 15 reds, followed by the coloured balls in the correct sequence, clearing the table in a single break).' (Bamber Gascoigne, Encyclopedia of Britain, 1993)

As Charles Dickens put it in 1889:

'There are few more cheerful sights, when the evenings are long, and the weather dull, than a handsome, well-lighted billiard room, with the smooth, green surface of the billiard table; the ivory balls flying noiselessly here and there, or clicking musically together.'

In the mid-1800s table maker John Thurston introduced the now-standard slate beds and rubber cushions; American pool was developed from English billiards; the use of side in a shot is apparently known in the US as “Putting a bit of English on it”; the developer of the modern game of snooker was Joe Davis (1901-78), a cue and ball Immortal; he won 15 consecutive world championships, was the first to achieve a maximum 147 break and the first to score 100 on television; his affable younger brother Fred also achieved prominence, becoming world champion in both billiards and snooker, like Joe; John Pulman was a multiple world champion in the next era; the ‘greats’ of recent times are Steve Davis (no relation), Stephen Hendry & ambidextrous genius Ronnie O’Sullivan; the World Snooker Campionships is held annually at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, the home of a game now played globally; the 100th maximum 147 break in the history of professional snooker was made by Mark Selby in the 2013 UK Snooker Championship

Darts: may have been developed in Medieval England by archers using cut-down arrows thrown into the bottoms of empty wine barrels; cross-sections of trees were perhaps used later; when these timber sections dry, radial cracks appear, the forerunner layout of the modern segmented dartboard; darts were the only sports kit taken to the New World of America by the Mayflower Pilgrims in 1620

'There are records of darts being thrown by hand at a target in the 16c (in effect a form of indoor archery)…' (Bamber Gascoigne, Encyclopedia of Britain, 1993)

The most successful darts player ever is Phil Taylor (b1960), who won his 16th world title in 2013

Cycling: bicycles of whatever form – racing, mountain, touring, hybrid, track, utility, cruiser, fixed-wheel, dirt-jumper, porteur, BMX – all derive from the Rover Safety Bicycle of 1885; this was a low-mount equal-wheeled diamond-framed bicycle, with pedals and a chain drive attached to the rear wheel, freeing up the font one for steering, plus sprung saddle; tensioned spoke wheels were used and rubber tyres [see Bicycle]; in 2012 Bradley Wiggins, an Olympic track cycling gold medalist, became the first Briton to win the Tour de France, the world's toughest and most famous cycling race; also in 2012 the Tour of Britain was won by Jonathan Tiernan-Locke; with abundant success in London at the 2012 Olympics (8 cycling golds, including two by track legend Chris Hoy) & Paralympics (8 cycling golds, including four by Sarah Storey), a fabulous year for British cycling included an Antarctic exploit - Helen Skelton became the first person to ride a bike to the South Pole; 2013 saw the 100th staging of the Tour de France; the race was won by Chris Froome; during Stage 20 (of 21), the British rider felt obliged to punch a spectator out of the way [see Boxing]

Land & water speed records: Britain has the greatest tradition of motoring records in the world; in 1840 a steam carriage built of Francis Hill travelled from London to Hastings and back; it was the first time a mechanical road vehicle had gone more than 100 miles without breaking down; a car made by Charles Henry Talbot was the first to 100 mph; Kenelm Lee Guinness set a world record of 133mph in 1922 at the legendary race track Brooklands [see next item]; Britain was first to 200 and 300 mph, as Malcolm Campbell and Henry Segrave battled it out in 1920s and 30s; both also set water speed records, as did Campbell’s son Donald; other Speed Kings on land of the period were Parry Thomas, John Cobb (first to 350mph) & George Eyston; Donald Campbell took the land speed record to 403 mph in 1963, in a wheel driven vehicle, while Richard Noble pushed it to 633 mph in 1983 in a car propelled by a Rolls-Royce turbojet engine; RAF pilot Andy Green gained the land speed record in 1997 when he broke the sound barrier, reaching 763 mph; this was the first supersonic record (Mach 1.02); it was achieved with two turbofan jet engines; in 2009 a British steam car, Inspiration, broke the Steam Powered Land Speed Record, which had stood at about 140mph since 1906, clocking 148mph; the world's first supersonic car was the jet-propelled Thrust SSC, built by Richard Noble at Farnborough, Hants, and piloted by Andy Green in 1997; the car travelled at 763 mph, yielding just 0.04 mpg; the first electric car to break the 200 mph speed barrier was the DraysonB12 69/EV electric Le-Mans Prototype, which did so in 2013 with Paul Drayson at the wheel; Drayson clocked an average speed of slightly over 204 mph, smashing the existing electric land speed record of 175 mph, which had stood for nearly 40 years

Motorsport: Britain is the home of motorsport; an early race victory was that of S F Edge in 1902 on the Continent, in the third Gordon Bennett Cup race; Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey, was the first purpose-built motor racing circuit in the world, 1907; Brooklands is to motorsport what Farnborough is to aviation, the British birthplace; its 3¾ mile circuit with banked curves was built by Hugh Locke-King; the original rules of Formula 1 Grand Prix racing , the pinnacle of motorsport, were set by the Royal Automobile Club; the first Briton to win a Grand Prix was Henry Segrave in 1923; the first British Grand Prix was held in 1926 at Brooklands; the world's first Formula 1 Grand Prix was held in Britain at Silverstone in 1950; the first British world champion was Mike Hawthorn in 1958; Britain has more Formula 1 World Championship race wins and more World Champions than any other nation and more winners of the Constructors’ Championship too; the monocoque design of Colin Chapman of Lotus in the late 1960s became universal, as did Cooper’s placement of the engine immediately behind the driver in the same era, to improve handling; the 2008 Formula 1 World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, was the youngest ever up to that time, at 23, and the first-ever black world motor racing champion; Jenson Button became champion in 2009, Formula 1’s 60th season; in all, ten British champions have won 14 championships between them; the Le Mans 24 Hour race has been won many times by Britons and British machines; most famously Tony Rolt & Duncan Hamilton won in a Jaguar C Type in 1953, whilst under the affluence of incohol

Curling: invented by the Scots in the 1500s

Ice rinks: first mechanically refrigerated one was Glaciarium, Chelsea, 1876; first public rink was in Manchester, 1877

Alpine Club: world’s first mountaineering club, founded in London in 1857

Ben Nevis: Britain’s highest peak; first climbed by James Robertson in 1771

Matterhorn: first ascent by Edward Whymper in 1865 of this, the second highest Alpine mountain

Mount McKinley: the highest peak in North America was first climbed in 1913 by a party led by the English missionary Hudson Stuck

Everest: a peak in the Himalaya, where are to be found the 100 highest peaks on Earth; it is the world’s highest mountain and was identified as such by the British Empire’s Great Trigonometric Survey, which ran through most of the 1800s and established the Great Indian Arc of the Meridian, the longest measurement of the Earth’s surface ever attempted; what was known as ‘Gamma’, ‘b’, ‘h’, then ‘Peak XV’, came to be named after one British surveyor, George Everest (1790-1866), who had been born in Britain at 0º Greenwich, and identified as the highest by another (T G Montgomery); it was first climbed in 1953 – Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation year – by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, both part of a British expedition led by John Hunt; Everest may have been climbed in 1924 by doomed legends George Mallory and Sandy Irvine, who were ‘lost to human sight between heaven and earth’, as their church memorial has it; in a poignant coda, Mallory’s grandson reached the summit in 1995; Britain’s oldest summiteer is Ranulph Fiennes, 65, who climbed Everest in 2009; his indomitable personal mantra was “Plod forever”; in 1951 Eric Shipton photographed a giant pawprint on the Menlung Glacier of Mount Everest, laying his ice axe alongside to show its size; Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay also both reported seeing oversized prints in 1953, stoking interest in the yeti, a hypothetical species of giant Himalayan ape

K2: the world’s second highest peak, K2 was first described by T G Montgomery in 1856, K standing for Karakorum; Kachenjunga, the third highest, was also measured in the same period by a Briton

Ice-climbing: invented in Scottish Highlands, to be enjoyed preferably in ‘full conditions’, i.e. atrocious weather; crampons and ice axe were also invented in Britain

Mountains: the British transformed mountains from places of doom, fear and dread, which they had been for the Romantic mind, into spiritual playgrounds; mountaineering was invented by Britain, as part of this revolution in environmental sensibilities; at the start of the 1800s there was the Grand Tour for the privileged; by the end of that century there were Alpine holidays for all who could afford them, from Thomas Cook, the inventor in 1841 of the package tour and hence of mass tourism; plenty of mountains were included in Cook’s 212-day Round-the-World trip in 1872, which cost 200 guineas [see Mountain rescue]

Camping & caravanning: recreational camping grew out of the use of tents by armies on the move and later by intrepid explorers; the father of modern camping for pleasure is Thomas Hiram Holding (1844-1930), a travelling tailor who was the author of The Camper’s Handbook, the first edition of which appeared in 1908, and who invented the first lightweight portable tent, which he designed and stitched himself ; as a boy Holding crossed the United States in a wagon train with his parents; Holding was a keen cyclist and set up the Association of Cycle Campers in 1901, comprising 13 tweedy gentlemen; this grew to become the Camping and Caravanning Club, now with around half a million members in the UK; The Caravan Club, a separate organisation, was founded in 1907 and has an even larger membership

'The first tour for pleasure in a recreational vehicle was made by the African explorer Sir Samuel White Baker, the discoverer of Lake Albert, who purchased a gypsey wagon in London in 1878 to take with him to Cyprus on a holiday and fact-finding trip... Purpose-built recreational vehicle: The first was the 12-foot-long 2-ton Wanderer...[of] Dr. Gordon Stables...1885.' [Source: Robertson]

Wanderer was a horse-drawn leisure touring caravan built by the Bristol Wagon Works Company; the first mass-produced caravan which could be towed behind a motor car was produced in 1919 by the Eccles Company of Birmingham; Sam Alper was an entrepreneur in the 1950s and after whose Sprite caravans popularised this form of holiday-making in Britain

Seaside holidays: the Victorian British invented this tradition, which focused on resorts such as Blackpool in the north and Brighton in the south


'The first ocean cruise was a four-month voyage around the Mediterranean organized by the Peninsular & Oriental (P&O) Steam Navigation Co., starting from Southampton, England, on 26 July 1844.' [Source: Robertson]

On board was novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, who revelled in the novelty of a pleasure trip afloat, in spite of seasickness

Going abroad on holiday: in 1814 about 10,000 Britons journeyed to the Continent, often for months-long excursions as part of the Grand Tour, whose heyday however was earlier, in the late eighteenth century, when young classically educated milords visited Italy in particular; this figure was a quarter of a million in the 1860s and one million in 1911, with short trips made possible by the railways and steamships invented in Britain; mass tourism was invented in Britain and facilitated by British technology

'…Britons face the fewest visa restrictions among citizens of the 190-odd countries (and territories) for which data are available. British citizens can take a short trip to 166 countries without needing to apply for a visa.' (The Economist, 28 August 2010)

Peashooting: the World Peashooting Championships have been taking place in Witcham, near Ely, annually since 1971

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