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Early civilizations
6th - 1st century BC
1st - 12th century AD
13th - 16th century
17th - 18th century
     Boxing in London
     Hurling and shinty

To be completed

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Horse-racing: 17th - 18th century

There have undoubtedly been horse races ever since humans first learned to tame and ride the animal. In classical times the second day of the Olympic games is occupied with races for charioteers and for mounted riders, and chariot races are among the dangerous and exciting spectacles of the Roman amphitheatres.

Medieval horsemanship is reserved more for the skills of the mounted knight-at-arms, displayed in competitive form in jousts and tournaments. An exception is the Palio, held twice a year in the Campo in Siena and dating from the 13th century. This dramatic dash by horses and riders round the paved circuit of the Campo is a bitterly fought contest between the various contrade (districts) of the city.


The first traces of horse racing in its modern form are found in England. Chester has an unbroken tradition of an annual race since before 1500. But the rapid development of the sport begins with the enthusiasm of Charles II. A keen competitor himself, his support causes Newmarket to emerge as the centre of English racing.

To the glamour and colour of the event itself, racing offers the excitement of gambling in two different contexts - placing a bet on the immediate result, and investing in a young horse whose pedigree suggests that it may win races, money and fame. Study of the relevant factors (in particular the successes achieved by a horse's ancestors) is soon undertaken in England with academic thoroughness.


The Racing Calendar, giving the results of races, is published from 1727. To this information there is added, from 1791, that of the General Stud Book. The English aristocracy, already fascinated like every nobility by its own pedigree, now extends the same interest to the genealogy of horses.

There develops the concept of the thoroughbred, a term applied to any racehorse which descends (as nearly all do) from one of three stallions imported into England between 1690 and 1730. The three are known, from a combination of their English owners and their supposed region of origin, as the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian.


Whist: 1742

The game of whist, in which four card-players compete as two pairs, is believed to have originated in England in the early 16th century. Each pair attempts to win seven or more of the 13 four-card tricks which are available from a pack of 52 cards. One of the suits is trumps, decided by turning up the last card when the pack is dealt to the players.

Whist receives its definitive form with the publication in 1742 of Edmond Hoyle's Short Treatise on the Game of Whist. It becomes by far the most widely played game of skill in cards, until supplanted in the early 20th century by a more sophisticated version of itself - the game of bridge.


Boxing in London: 18th - 19th century

18th-century London is a prosperous, lively and violent place. While horse racing fulfils the English aristocracy's passion for a blend of sport and gambling, the capital city now develops an equally exciting equivalent at a popular level. In the form of the prize fight, boxing becomes an entertainment again for the first time since the days of Roman gladiators.

At first there is a regional element. Famous strong men from different sections of the city are set against each other by their supporters, who bet on the outcome and contribute to a purse for the winner. There are few rules. The bout involves wrestling as much as boxing (with bare fists). The winner is the last man standing.


By 1719 the sport is sufficiently established for the leading pugilist of the day, James Figg, to be declared champion of England. From 1734 to 1750 the champion is Jack Broughton, who brings an element of order and respectablity to the prize-fighting scene. He devises an accepted set of rules: each round is to continue until a man goes down; once down he can rest for thirty seconds and must then fight again or be declared the loser; no man is to be hit when he is down, or grabbed below the waist.

Broughton also involves young gentlemen in what becomes eventually a fashionable sport. He opens an academy in the Haymarket where he teaches 'the mystery of boxing, that wholly British art'.


By the end of the century prize-fighting is going from strength to strength. Daniel Mendoza, champion in the 1790s, introduces a new subtlety in the style of fighting and even writes a book on the subject (The Art of Boxing, 1789). He loses his title in 1795 to John Jackson, known as Gentleman Jackson.

This title is justified more by Jackson's circle of friends than his fighting style. He wins the championship from the much smaller Mendoza by holding his opponent's long hair in one hand and bashing him with the other. But plenty of gentlemen, including Lord Byron, are eager to learn the pugilistic art in Jackson's academy in Bond Street.


Prize-fighting takes a major step towards respectability when the Pugilistic Club, with several noblemen among its members, is founded under the auspices of Gentleman Jackson. At the coronation of George IV in 1821 Jackson heads a group of pugilists, dressed as pages, who stand guard at the entrance to Westminster Abbey.

In 1839 a new set of rules (the London Prize Ring rules) are established. Kicking, gouging, head-butting and biting are now declared to be fouls. These rules last until eventually replaced by a new set, devised in 1867 by John Chambers of the Amateur Athletic club. To give the new rules respectability an aristocratic enthusiast, the marquess of Queensberry, lends them his name.


The Queensberry rules make four major innovations; boxers are to wear padded gloves; rounds will last only three minutes; a contestant loses the bout if he cannot rise within ten seconds of being knocked down; and wrestling is not allowed. These proposals are at first considered somewhat effeminate, but they gradually prevail.

From early in the 19th century American boxers begin to appear on the London prize-fighting scene. The first is a former slave, Bill Richmond, who is beaten in a 90-minute bout in 1805. In 1882 the American fighter John L. Sullivan becomes the first world heavyweight champion. Queensberry rules and American champions are now in place to provide the pattern of 20th-century boxing.


Sections are as yet missing at this point.


Hurling and shinty: 1879-1893

Two 19th-century themes - the standardizing of games, and a growing interest in ethnic identity - come together in the official recognition of hurling (also called hurley) and of shinty. Both derive from an ancient Celtic game which features in legend as an accomplishment of heroes.

The game of hurling is thought to have been taken across the sea from Ireland by the Scots in the 6th century. Under the name of shinty it becomes the characteristic sport of the Scottish Highlands. The stick used is known by the Gaelic name camán, and from the same root the Scottish game of shinty is properly called camanachd.


Both games combine elements of hockey and lacrosse, in that the stick can be used to strike the ball along the ground but also has a broad enough head for the ball to be balanced in the air and passed from player to player.

In early games between clans there were unlimited numbers of players. Under modern rules there are fifteen players in a hurling team, and twelve a side for shinty. Hurling is first formalized by the Irish Hurling Union in 1879, with much support provided from 1884 by the Gaelic Athletic Association. In Scotland the many local variants of shinty are provided with a standardized set of rules in a conference at Kingussie in 1893.


This History is as yet incomplete.


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