In the Victorian era, the type of sporting activity enjoyed depended on a person’s (usually a man’s) social class. As in our own era, golf was played by the well off due to membership fees which excluded the masses. The working class faced similar barriers to the sport of cricket, riding to hounds or participating in horse racing. They could, however, follow the races as spectators. Amateur rowing was also the purview of the upper and middle classes partly because of expense but also because day time practice was needed; something which the working classes only had in short supply.
It was not only money but the availability of time, which allowed the upper and middle classes to enter into different sports. Leisure time for the working man also increased during the Victorian era so that he was able to participate in sports as well. One of the first activities which welcomed the working man was football.
Other sports which became popular in the Victorian era were croquet and lawn tennis. These activities could even include that other part of the population that the growth in sport had so far all but ignored; women and girls. Women in America adopted the game of croquet with gusto as it allowed them to, as Strengass is quoted as saying, “jettison their passive role and dominate if not humiliate men.”*
Another sport introduced in the era was a game changer for many. The first bicycles only attracted a few enthusiasts as the equipment was challenging to use. As bicycles evolved their popularity increased and cycling clubs sprang up. Touring by bicycle became so popular that roads had to be improved, and cycling clubs made arrangements with train companies to take cycling enthusiasts further afield. As the bicycles had improved women adopted this new activity with enthusiasm. The bicycle brought a new sense of freedom to the members of both sexes.
Flanders, Judith. Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain. Harper Perennial, London, 2007
Huggins, Mike. The Victorians and Sport. Hambledon and London, London, 2004
Wiggins, David K. Sport in America: From Colonial Leisure to Celebrity Figures and Globalization. Human Kinetics, Champaign, Il. 2010. P 42*