Joseph Strutt

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An engraving of Joseph Strutt by H.R. Cook

Joseph Strutt (October 27, 1749October 16, 1802) was an English poet, antiquarian, and engraver. Among his publications was an 1801 guide, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England.

The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (1801)


Quotations are from the William Tegg edition of 1850, edited by William Hone


  • The first class contains four, which, we are informed, may be properly called beasts for hunting; namely, the hare, the hart, the wolf, and the wild boar. The second class contains the names of the beasts of the chase, and they are five; that is to say, the buck, the doe, the fox, the martin, and the roe. In the third class we find three, that are said to afford "greate dysporte" in the pursuit, and they are denominated, the grey or badger, the wild-cat and the otter…The reader may possibly be surprised, when he casts his eye over the foregoing list of animals for hunting, at seeing the names of several that do not exist at this time in England, and especially of the wolf, because he will readily recollect the story so commonly told of their destruction during the reign of Edgar.
    • pg. 17
  • And also, of animals when they retired to rest; a hart was said to be harbored, a buck lodged, a roebuck bedded, a hare formed, a rabbit set, &c.
    • pg. 22

Bell ringing

  • It has been remarked by foreigners that the English are particularly fond of bell-ringing; and indeed most of our churches have a ring of bells in the steeple, partly appropriated to that purpose. These bells are rung upon most occasions of joy and festivity, and sometimes at funerals, when they are muffled, and especially at the funerals of ringers, with a piece of woolen cloth bound about the clapper, and the sounds then emitted by them are exceedingly unmelodious, and well fitted to inspire the mind with melancholy… Ringing the bells backwards is sometimes mentioned, and probably consisted in beginning with the largest bell and ending with the least; it appears to have been practiced by the ringers as a mark of contempt or disgust.
    • pg. 291
  • According to the ritual of the Romish church, the bells were not only blessed and exorcised, but baptized as those above mentioned, and anointed with holy oil. After these ceremonies had passed it was believed that the evil spirits lurking in the air might be driven away by their sound.
    • pg. 292
  • I have seen a man in London, who I believe is now living, ring twelve bells at one time; two of them were placed upon his head, he held two in each hand, one was affixed to each of his knees, and two upon each foot; all of which he managed with great adroitness, and performed a vast variety of tunes.
    • pg. 293


  • According to some of the pious writers of antiquity, they made large fires, which might be seen at a great distance, upon the vigil of this saint [John], in token that he was said in holy writ to be "a shining light." Others, agreeing with this, add also, these fires were made to drive away the dragons and evil spirits hovering in the air; and one of them gravely says, in some countries they burned bones, which was called a bone-fire; for "the dragons hattyd nothyng mor than the styncke of brenyng bonys." This, says another, habent ex gentilibus, they have from the heathens. The author last cited laments the abuses committed upon thes occasions. "this vigil," says he, "ought to be held with cheerfulness and piety, but not with such merriment as is shewn by the profane lovers of this world, who make great fires in the streets, and indulge themselves with filthy and unlawful games, to which they add glotony and drunkenness, and the commission of many other shameful indecencies."
    • pg. 360

Bowling alleys

  • It appears that soon after the introduction of bowling-alleys they were productive of very evil consequences; for they became not only exceedingly numerous, but were often attached to places of public resort, which rendered them the receptacles of idle and dissolute persons; and were the means of promoting a pernicious spirit of gambling among the younger and most unwary part of the community. The little room required for making these bowling-alleys was no small cause of their multiplication, particularly in great towns and cities. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries these nurseries of vice were universally decried, and especially such of them as were established within the city and suburbs of London, where the ill effects arising from them were most extensive.
    • pg. 269


  • Dio Nicæus, an ancient author, speaking of the inhabitants of the northern parts of this island, tells us, they were a fierce and barbarous people, who tilled no ground, but lived upon the depredations they committed in the southern districts, or upon the food they procured by hunting.
    • pg. 2
  • If it be granted that the Britons, generally speaking, were expert in hunting, it is still uncertain what animals were obnoxious to the chase; we know however, at least, that the hare was not anciently included; for Cæser tells us, "the Britons did not eat the flesh of hares, notwithstanding the island abounded with them." And this abstinence, he adds, arose from a principle of religion; which principle, no doubt, prevented them from being worried to death: a cruelty reserved for more enlightened ages.
    • pg. 2


An engraving by Joseph Strutt of an early playing card found in the collection of Francis Douce
  • The increasing demand for these objects of amusement, it is said, suggested the idea of cutting the outlines appropriated to the different suits upon separate blocks of wood and stamping them upon the cards; the intermediate spaces between the outlines were filled up with various colours laid on by the hand. This expeditious method of producing cards reduced the price of them, so that they might readily be purchased by almost every class of persons: the common usage of cards was soon productive of serious evils, which all the exertions of the legislative power have not been able to eradicate.
    • pg. 326
  • The universality of card-playing in the reign of this monarch is evident from a prohibitory statute being necessary to prevent apprentices from using cards except in the Christmas holidays, and then only in their masters' houses…But this moderation, I apprehend, was by no means general, for several contemporary writers are exceedingly severe in their reflections upon the usage of cards, which they rank with dice, and consider both as destructive to morality and good order.
    • pg. 327

Chimney sweeps

  • The chimney-sweepers of London have also singled out the first of May for their festival; at which time they parade the streets in companies, disguised in various manners. Their dresses are usually decorated with gilt paper, and other mock fineries; they have their shovels and brushes in their hands, which they rattle one upon the other; and to this rough music they jump about in imitation of dancing.
    • pg. 358


  • The mere management of arms, though essentially requisite, was not sufficient of itself to form an accomplished knight in the times of chivalry; it was necessary for him to be endowed with beauty, as well as with strength and agility of body; he ought to be skilled in music, to dance gracefully, to run with swiftness, to excel in wrestling, to ride well, and to perform every other exercise befitting his situation. To these were to be added urbanity of manners, strict adherence to the truth, and invincible courage. Hunting and hawking skilfully were also acquirements that he was obliged to possess, and which were usually taught him as soon as he was able to endure the fatigue that they required.
    • pg. xxiv
  • The laws of chivalry required that every knight should pass through two offices: the first was a page; and, at the age of fourteen, he was admitted an esquire. The office of the esquire consisted of several departments; the esquire for the body, the esquire of the chamber, the esquire of the stable, and the carving esquire; the latter stood in the hall at dinner, carved the different dishes, and distributed them to the guests. Several of the inferior officers had also their respective esquires.
    • pg. xxv
  • The romantic notions of chivalry appear to have lost their vigour towards the conclusion of the fifteenth century, especially in this country, where a continued series of intestine commotions employed the exertions of every man of property, and real battles afforded but little leisure to exercise the mockery of war.
    • pg. xxviii


  • The king then kept his Christmas at his castle at Guildford; the dresses are said to be ad faciendum ludos domini regis, and consisted of eighty tunics of buckram of various colours; forty-two visors of different similitudes, namely, fourteen of faces of women, fourteen of faces of men, and fourteen heads of angels made with silver; twenty-eight crests; fourteen mantles embroidered with heads of dragons; fourteen white tunics wrought with the heads and wings of peacocks; fourteen with the heads of swans with wings; fourteen tunics painted with the eyes of peacocks; fourteen tunics of English linen painted; and fourteen other tunics embroidered with stars of gold.
    • pg. 159
  • It is said of the English, that formerly they were remarkable for the manner in which they celebrated the festival of Christmas; at which season they admitted variety of sports and pastimes not known, or little practised in other countries.
    • pg. 339

Collective nouns

  • When beasts went together in companies, there was said to be a pride of lions; a lepe of leopards; an herd of harts, of bucks, and of all sorts of deer; a bevy of roes; a sloth of bears; a singular of boars; a sownder of wild swine; a dryft of tame swine; a route of wolves; a harras of horses; a rag of colts; a stud of mares; a pace of asses; a baren of mules, a team of oxen; a drove of kine; a flock of sheep; a tribe of goats; a sculk of foxes; a cete of badgers; a richess of martins; a fesynes of ferrets; a huske or a down of hares; a nest of rabbits; a clower of cats, and a kendel of young cats; a shrewdness of apes; and a labour of moles.
    • pg. 22
  • Two greyhounds were called a brace, three a leash, but two spaniels or harriers were called a couple. We have also a mute of hounds for a number, a kenel of raches, a litter of whelps, and a cowardice of curs.
    • pg. 22
  • A state of princes; a skulk of friars; a skulk of thieves; an observance of hermits; a lying of pardoners; a subtiltie of serjeants; an untruth of sompners; a multiplying of husbands; an incredibility of cuckolds; a safeguard of porters; a stalk of foresters; a blast of hunters; a draught of butlers; a temperance of cooks; a melody of harpers; a poverty of pipers; a drunkenship of coblers; a disguising of taylors; a wandering of tinkers; a malepertness of pedlars; a fighting of beggars; a rayful, (that is, a netful) of knaves; a blush of boys; a bevy of ladies; a nonpatience of wives; a gagle of women; a gagle of geese; a superfluity of nuns; and a herd of harlots. Similar terms were applied to inanimate things, as a caste of bread, a cluster of grapes, a cluster of nuts, &c.
    • pg. 22
  • As in hunting, so in hawking, the sportsmen had their peculiar impressions, and therefore the tyro in the art of falconry is recommended to learn the following arrangement of terms as they were to be applied to the different kinds of birds assembled in companies. A sege of herons, and of bitterns; an herd of swans, of cranes, and of curlews; a dopping of sheldrakes; a spring of teels; a covert of cootes; a gaggle of geese; a badelynge of ducks; a sord or sute of mallards; a muster of peacoccks; a nye of pheasants; a bevy of quails; a covey of partridges; a congregation of plovers; a flight of doves; a dule of turtles; a walk of snipes; a fall of woodcocks; a brood of hens; a building of rooks; a murmuration of starlings; an exaltation of larks; a flight of swallows; a host of sparrows; a watch of nightingales; and a charm of goldfinches.
    • pg. 37


  • According to the author, in the reign of James I, quoted above, pall-mall was a pastime not unlike goff, but if the definition of the former given by Cotgrave be correct, it will be found to differ materially from the latter, at least as it was played in modern times. "Pale-maille," says he, "is a game wherein a round box ball is struck with a mallet through a high arch of iron, which he that can do at the fewest blows, or at the number agreed upon, wins." It is to be observed, that there are two of these arches, that is, "one at either end of the alley." The game of mall was a fashionable amusement in the reign of Charles II, and the walk in St. James's Park, now called the Mall, received its name from having been appropriated to the purpose of playing at mall, where Charles himself and his courtiers frequently exercised themselves in the practice of this pastime. The denomination mall given to the game, is evidently derived from the mallet or wooden hammer used by the players to strike the ball.
    • pg. 103

Country wakes

  • In a paper belonging to the Spectator there is a short description of a country wake. "I found," says the author, "a ring of cudgel-players, who were breaking one another's heads in order to make some impression on their mistresses' hearts."…to this he adds another curious pastime, as a kind of Christmas gambol, which he had seen also; that is, a yawning match for a Cheshire cheese; the sport began about midnight, when the whole company were disposed to be drowsy; and he that yawned the widest, and at the same time most naturally, so as to produce the greatest number of yawns from the spectators, obtained the cheese.
    • pg. 369

Cruelty to insects

  • I do not know a greater fault in the nurture of children than the conniving at the wanton acts of barbarity which they practise at an early age upon innocent insects; the judgment of that parent must be exceedingly defective, or strangely perverted, who can proportion the degree of cruelty to the smallness of the creature that unfortunately becomes the sufferer. It is but a fly, perhaps he may say, when he sees his child pluck off its wings or its legs by way of amusement; it is but a fly, and cannot feel much pain; besides the infant would cry if I was to take it from him, and that might endanger his health, which surely is of more consequence than many flies: but I fear worse consequences are to be dreaded by permitting it to indulge so vicious an inclination, for as it grows up, the same cruelty will in all likelihood be extended to larger animals, and its heart by degrees made callous to every claim of tenderness and humanity.
    • pg. 388


  • It is indeed said that Edmund, king of the East Angles, was shot to death with arrows by the Danes; but, if this piece of history be correct, it is no proof that they used the bow as a weapon of war. The action itself might be nothing more than a wanton piece of cruelty; and cruelty seems to have been a prominent feature in the character of those lawless plunderers.
    • pg. 49


  • Among the vices of the Anglo-Saxons may be reckoned their propensity to gaming, and especially with the dice, which they derived from their ancestors; for Tacitus assures us that the ancient Germans could not only hazard all their wealth, but even stake their liberty, upon the turn of the dice; "and he who loses," says the author, "submits to servitude, though younger and stronger than his antagonist, and patiently permits himself to be bound, and sold in the market; and this madness they dignify by the name of honour."
    • pg. xx


  • Yet, we are well assured that learning did not form any prominent feature in the education of a young nobleman during the Saxon government: it is notorious, that Alfred the Great was twelve years of age before he learned to read; and that he owed his knowledge of letters to accident, rather than to the intention of his tutors. A book adorned with paintings in the hands of his mother, attracted his notice, and he expressed his desire to have it: she promised to comply with his request on condition that he learned to read it, which it seems he did; and this trifling incident laid the groundwork of his future scholarship.
    • xx
  • The discontinuation of bodily exercises afforded a proportionable quantity of leisure time for the cultivation of the mind; so that the manners of mankind were softened by degrees, and learning, which had been so long neglected, became fashionable, and was esteemed an indispensable mark of a polite education.
    • pg. xxxii


  • The general decay of those manly and spirited exercises, which formerly were practiced in the vicinity of the metropolis has not arisen from any want of inclination in the people, but from the want of places proper for the purpose: such as in times past had been allotted to them are now covered with buildings, or shut up by enclosures, so that, if it were not for skittles, dutch-pins, four-corners, and the like pastimes, they would have no amusements for the exercise of the body; and these amusements are only to be met with in places belonging to common drinking-houses, for which reason their play is seldom productive of much benefit, but more frequently becomes the prelude to drunkenness and debauchery. This evil has been increasing for a long series of years; and honest Stow laments the retrenchments of the grounds appropriated for martial pastimes which had begun to take place in his day.
    • pg. lxii


  • Stow informs us, that the young Londoners, on holidays, after the evening prayer, were permitted to exercise themselves with their wasters and bucklers before their masters' doors…The bear-gardens were the usual places appropriated by the masters of defence for public trials of skill. These exhibitions were outrageous to humanity, and only fitted for the amusement of ferocious minds; it is therefore astonishing that they should have been frequented by females; for, who could imagine that the slicing of the flesh from a man's cheek, the scarifying of his arms, or laying the calves of his legs upon his heels, were spectacles calculated to delight the fair sex, or sufficiently attractive to command their presence.
    • pg. 262

Festival of Fools

An engraving by Joseph Strutt, made from a 14th-Century manuscript at the Bodleian Library
  • Selden asserts, and in my opinion with great justice, that all these whimsical transpositions of dignity are derived from the ancient Saturnalia, or Feasts of Saturn, when the masters waited upon their servants, who were honoured with mock titles, and permitted to assume the state and deportment of their lords. These fooleries were exceedingly popular, and continued to be practised long after the establishment of Christianity, in defiance of the threatenings and the remonstrances of the clergy, who, finding it impossible to divert the stream of vulgar prejudice permitted them to be exercised, but changed the primitive object of devotion; so that the same unhallowed orgies, which had disgraced the worship of a heathen deity, were dedicated, as it was called, to the service of the true God, and sanctioned by the appellation of a Christian institution. From this polluted stock branched out variety of unseemly and immoral sports; but none of them more daringly impious and outrageous to common sense, than the Festival of Fools, in which the most sacred rites and ceremonies of the church were turned into ridicule, and the ecclesiastics themselves participated in the abominable profanations.
    • pg. 344
  • In each of the cathedral churches there was a bishop, or an archbishop of fools, elected; and in the churches immediately dependent upon the papal see a pope of fools. These mock pontiffs had usually a proper suit of ecclesiastics who attended upon them, and assisted at the divine service, most of them attired in ridiculous dresses resembling pantomimical players and buffoons; they were accompanied by large crowds of the laity, some being disguised with masks of a monstrous fashion, and others having their faces smutted; in one instance to frighten the beholders, and in the other to excite their laughter: and some, again, assuming the habits of females, practised all the wanton airs of the loosest and most abandoned of the sex. During the divine service this motley crowd were not contended with singing of indecent songs in the choir, but some of them ate, and drank, and played at dice upon the altar, by the side of the priest who celebrated the mass. After the service they put filth into the censers, and ran about the church, leaping, dancing, laughing, singing, breaking obscene jests, and exposing themselves in the most unseemly attitudes with shameless impudence. Another part of these ridiculous ceremonies was, to shave the precentor of fools upon a stage erected before the church, in the presence of the populace; and during the operation, he amused them with lewd and vulgar discourses, accompanied by actions equally reprehensible. The bishop, or the pope of fools, performed the divine service habited in the pontifical garments, and gave his benediction to the people before they quitted the church. He was afterwards seated in an open carriage, and drawn about to the different parts of the town, attended by a large train of ecclesiastics and laymen promiscuously mingled together; and many of the most profligate of the latter assumed clerical habits in order to give their impious fooleries the greater effect; they had also with them carts filled with ordure, which they threw occasionally upon the populace assembled to see the procession. These spectacles were always exhibited at Christmas-time, or near to it, but not confined to one particular day.
    • pg. 345
  • When the ceremony took place upon St. Stephen's-day, they sang, as part of the mass, a burlesque composition called the Prose of the Ass, or the Fool's Prose. It was performed by a double choir, and at intervals, in place of a burden, they imitated the braying of an ass. Upon the festival of St. John the Evangelist they had another arrangement of ludicrous sentences, denominated the Prose of the Ox, equally reprehensible. These exhibitions were highly relished by the populace at large, and crept into the monasteries and nunneries, where they were practiced by the female votaries of religion.
    • pg. 346

Gun safety

  • When the bow and the sling were laid aside in favour of the gun, prudence naturally forbade the putting an instrument of so dangerous a nature into the hands of children; they however provided themselves a substitute for the gun...
    • pg. 379


  • If a gentleman, or an inferior thane, killed a stag in the king's forests, he was degraded from his rank; if a ceorl, or husbandman, committed the same offence, he was reduced to slavery; and if a slave killed one, he suffered death. Magistrates were appointed, in every county, or shire, to put these laws in execution, and under them were appointed inferior officers or gamekeepers, whose province it was to apprehend the offenders.
    • pg. 9
  • Chaucer, in his Canterbury Tales, makes the monk much better skilled in riding and hunting, than in divinity. The same poit, afterwards, in the Ploughman's Tale, takes occasion to accuse the monks of pride, because they rode on coursers like knights, having their hawks and hounds with them. In the same tale he severely reproaches the priests for their dissolute manners, saying, that many of them thought more upon hunting with their dogs, and blowing the horn, than of the service they owed to God.
    • pg. 10
  • We may also observe, that, upon these occasions, the female Nimrods dispensed with the method of riding best suited to the modesty of the sex, and sat astride on the saddle like the men; but this indecorous custom, I trust, was never general, nor of long continuance, even with the heroines who were most delighted with these masculine exercises. An author of the seventeenth century speaks of another fashion, adopted by the fair huntresses of the town of Bury in Suffolk. "The Bury ladies," says he, "that used hawking and hunting, were once in a great vaine of wearing breeches," which it seems gave rise to many severe and ludicrous sarcasms. The only argument in favour of this habit, was decency in case of an accident. But in a manner more consistent with the delicacy of the sex, that is, by refraining from those dangerous recreations.
    • pg. 14
  • The "time of grace" begins at Midsummer, and lasteth to Holyrood-day. The fox may be hunted from the Nativity to the Annunciation of our Lady; the roebuck from Easter to Michaelmas; the roe from Michaelmas to Candlemas; the hare from Michaelmas to Midsummer; the wolf as the fox; and the boar from the Nativity to the Purification of our Lady.
    • pg. 23
  • The grand fauconnier of France was an officer of great eminence; his annual salary was four thousand florins; he was attended by fifty gentlemen, and fifty assistant falconers; he was allowed to keep three hundred hawks, he licensed every vender of hawks in France, and received a tax upon every bird sold in that kingdom, and even within the verge of the court; and the king never rode out upon any occasion of consequence without this officer attending upon him.
    • pg. 28
  • The pipe-call, mentioned by Burton, is noticed under a different denomination by Chaucer; "Lo," says he, "the birde is begyled with the merry voice of the foulers' whistle, when it is closed in your nette," --alluding to the deceptive art of the bird-catchers in his time.
    • pg. 39


  • In some great boarding schools for the fair sex, it is customary, upon the introduction of a novice, for the scholars to receive her with much pretended solemnity, and decorate a throne in which she is to be installed, in order to hear a set speech, addressed to her by one of the young ladies in the name of the rest. The throne is wide enough for three persons to sit conveniently, and is made with two stools, having a tub nearly filled with water between them, and the whole is covered by a counterpane or blanket, ornamented with ribands and other trifling fineries, and drawn very tightly over the two stools, upon each of which a lady is seated to keep the blanket from giving way when the new scholar takes her place; and these are called her maids of honour. The speech consists of high-flown compliments calculated to flatter the vanity of the stranger; and as soon as it is concluded, the maids of honour rising suddenly together, the counterpane of course gives way, and poor miss is unexpectedly immerged in the water.
    • pg. 396


An engraving by Joseph Strutt, made from a 13th-Century manuscript at the Royal Library
  • The Norman minstrel Tallefer, before the commencement of the battle at Hastings, cast his lance into the air three times, and caught it by the head in such a surprising manner, that the English thought it was done by the power of enchantment.
    • pg. xix
  • Under queen Elizabeth, the minstrels had lost the protection of the opulent; and their credit was sunk so low in the public estimation, that, by a statute in the thirty-ninth year of her reign against vagrants, they were included among the rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars, and subjected to the like punishments. This edict also affected all fencers, bearwards, common players of interludes (with the exception of such players as belonged to great personages, and were authorised to play under the hand and seal of their patrons), as well as minstrels wandering abroad, jugglers, tinkers, and pedlars; and seems to have given the death's wound to the profession of the minstrels, who had so long enjoyed the public favour, and basked in the sunshine of prosperity.
    • pg. 185
  • The only vestige of these musical vagrants now remaining, is to be found in the blind fiddlers wandering about the country, and the ballad singers, who frequently accompany their ditties with instrumental music, especially the fiddle, vulgarly called a crowd, and the guitar. And here we may observe, that the name of fiddlers was applied to the minstrels as early at least as the fourteenth century: it occurs in the Vision of Pierce the Ploughman, where we read, "not to fare as a fydeler, or a frier, to seke feastes."
    • pg. 186
  • These selfish professors of religion [monks] grudged every act of munificence that was not applied to themselves, or their monasteries; and could not behold the good fortune of the minstrels without expressing their indignation; which they often did in terms of scurrilous abuse, calling them janglers, mimics, buffoons, monsters of men, and comtemptible scoffers. They also severely censured the nobility for patronizing and rewarding such a shameless set of sordid flatterers, and the populace for frequenting their exhibitions, and being delighted with their performances, which diverted them from more serious pursuits, and corrupted their morals. On the other hand, the minstrels appear to have been ready enough to give them ample occasion for censure; and, indeed, I apprehend that their own immorality and insolence contributed more to their downfal, than all the defamatory declamations of their opponents.
    • pg. 192
  • The national passion for secular music admitted of little or no abatement by the disgrace and dispersion of the minstrels. Professional musicians, both vocal and instrumental, were afterwards retained at the court, and also in the mansions of the nobility. In the sixteenth century, a knowledge of music was considered as a genteel accomplishment for persons of high rank. Henry VIII not only sang well, but played upon several sorts of instruments; he also wrote songs, and composed the tunes for them; and his example was followed by several of the nobility, his favourites.
    • pg. 259

Obscure games

  • Shove-groat, named also Slyp-groat, and Slide-thrift, are sports occasionally mentioned by the writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and probably were analogous to the modern pastime called Justice Jervis, or Jarvis, which is confined to common pot-houses, and only practiced by such as frequent the tap-rooms.
    • pg. 302

Olaf Tryggeson

  • In an old Chronicle of Norway, we find it recorded of Olaf Tryggeson, a king of that country, that he was stronger and more nimble than any man in his dominions. He could climb up the rock Smalserhorn, and fix his shield upon the top of it; he could walk round the outside of a boat upon the oars, while the men were rowing; he could play with three darts, alternately throwing them in the air, and always kept two of them up, while he held the third in one of his hands; he was ambidexter, and could cast two darts at once; he excelled all the men of his time in shooting with the bow; and he had no equal in swimming.
    • pg. xix

Phillip Stubbes

  • It has before been observed that this author is very severe upon most of the popular sports; but in justice to him I may add, that similar complaints have been exhibited against the church-ales and wakes in times greatly anterior to his existence. And, indeed, if we look at the wakes and fairs as they are conducted in the present day, I trust we shall not hesitate to own that they are by no means proper schools for the improvement of the public morals.
    • pg. 368

Public entertainment

  • The English are particularised for their partiality to strange sights; uncommon beasts, birds, or fishes, are sure to attract their notice, and especially such of them as are of the monstrous kind; and this propensity of our countrymen is neatly satirised by Shakspeare in the Tempest; where Stephano, seeing Calaban lying upon the stage, and being uncertain whether he was a fish, a beast, or one of the inhabitants of the island, speaks in the following manner: "Were I in England now, as once I was, and had this fish painted, not a holiday fool there but would give me a piece of silver. There would this monster make a man: any strange beast there makes a man. When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian." Indeed, we may observe that a cow with two heads, a pig with six legs, or any other unnatural production, with proper management, are pretty certain fortunes to the possessors.
    • pg. xlix
  • In the Roman de la Rose, we read of a dance, the name of which is not recorded, performed by two young women lightly clothed. The original reads, "Qui estoient en pure cottes, et tresses a menu tresse;" which Chaucer renders, "In kyrtels, and none other wede, and fayre ytressed every tresse." The French intimates that their hair was platted, or braided in small braids. The thin clothing, I suppose, was used then, as it is now upon like occasions, to show their persons to greater advantage. In their dancing they displayed a variety of singular attitudes; the one coming as it were privately to the other, and, when they were near together, in a playsome manner they turned their faces about, so that they seemed continually to kiss each other.
    • pg. 227
  • The first article in the foregoing quotation brings to my recollection the extraordinary performances of a professed fire-eater, whose name was Powel, well known in different parts of the kingdom about forty years ago. Among other wonderful feats, I saw him do the following: He ate the burning coals from the fire; he put a large bunch of matches lighted into his mouth, and blew the smoke of the sulphur through his nostrils; he carried a red-hot heater round the room in his teeth; and broiled a piece of beef-steak upon his tongue. To perform this, he lighted a piece of charcoal, which he put into his mouth beneath his tongue, the beef was laid upon the top; and one of the spectators blew upon the charcoal, to prevent the heat decreasing, till the meat was sufficiently broiled. By way of conclusion, he made a composition of pitch, brimstone, and other compustibles, to which he added several pieces of lead; the whole was melted in an iron ladle, and then set on fire; this he called his soup; and, taking it out of the ladle with a spoon of the same metal, he ate it in its state of liquefaction, and blazing furiously, without appearing to sustain the least injury.
    • pg. 237
  • One great part of the joculator's profession was the teaching of bears, apes, horses, dogs, and other animals, to imitate the actions of men, to tumble, to dance, and to perform a variety of tricks, contrary to their nature; and sometimes he learned himself to counterfeit the gestures and articulations of the brutes.
    • pg. 239
  • And here I cannot help mentioning a very ridiculous show of a learned pig, which of late days attracted much of the public notice, and at the polite end of the town. This pig, which indeed was a large unwieldy hog, being taught to pick up letters written upon pieces of cards, and to arrange them at command, gave great satisfaction to all who saw him, and filled his tormenter's pocket with money. One would not have thought that a hog had been an animal capable of learning: the fact, however, is another proof of what may be accomplished by assiduity; for the showman assured a friend of mine, that he had lost three very promising brutes in the course of training, and that the phenomenon then exhibited had often given him reason to despair of success.
    • pg. 248
  • A number of little birds, to the amount, I believe, of twelve or fourteen, being taken from different cages, were placed upon a table in the presence of the spectators; and there they formed themselves into ranks like a company of soldiers: small cones of paper bearing some resemblance to grenadiers caps were put upon their heads, and diminutive imitations of muskets made with wood, secured under their left wings. Thus equipped, they marched to and fro several times; when a single bird was brought forward, supposed to be a deserter, and set between six of the musketeers, three in a row, who conducted him from the top to the bottom of the table, on the middle of which a small brass cannon charged with a little gunpowder had been previously placed, and the deserter was situated in the front part of the cannon; his guards then divided, three retiring on one side, and three on the other, and he was left standing by himself. Another bird was immediately produced; and, a lighted match being put into one of his claws, he hopped boldly on the other to the tail of the cannon, and, applying the match to the priming, discharged the piece without the least appearance of fear or agitation. The moment the explosion took place, the deserter fell down, and lay, apparently motionless, like a dead bird; but, at the command of his tutor he rose again; and the cages being brought, the feathered soldiers were stripped of their ornaments, and returned into them in perfect order.
    • pg. 250
  • Training of bulls, bears, horses, and other animals, for the purpose of baiting them with dogs, was certainly practiced by the jugglers; and this vicious pastime has the sanction of high antiquity. Fitz-Stephen, who lived in the reign of Henry II, tells us that, in the forenoon of every holiday, during the winter season, the young Londoners were amused with boars opposed to each other in battle, or with bulls and full-grown bears baited by dogs. This author makes no mention of horses; and I believe the baiting of these noble and useful animals was never a general practice: it was, however, no doubt, partially performed…Asses also were treated with the same inhumanity; but probably the poor beasts did not afford sufficient sport in the tormenting, and therefore were seldom brought forward as the objects of this barbarous diversion.
    • pg. 256
  • Bull and bear-baiting is not encouraged by persons of rank and opulence in the present day; and when practiced, which rarely happens, it is attended only by the lowest and most despicable part of the people; which plainly indicates a general refinement of manners and prevalency of humanity among the moderns; on the contrary, this barbarous pastime was highly relished by the nobility in former ages, and countenanced by persons of the most exalted rank, without exception even of the fair sex.
    • pg. 257
  • I have already informed my readers, that bull-baiting, or worrying of bulls with dogs, was one of the spectacles exhibited by the jugglers and their successors. It is also necessary to observe, that this cruel pastime was not confined to the boundaries of the bear-gardens; but was universally practiced on various occasions, in almost every town or village throughout the kingdom, and especially in market towns, where we find it was sanctioned by the law; and in some of them, I believe, the bull-rings, to which the unfortunate animals were fastened, are remaining to the present hour. It may seem strange, that the legislature should have permitted the exercise of such a barbarous diversion, which was frequently productive of much mischief by drawing together a large concourse of idle and dissipated persons, and affording them an opportunity of committing many grross disorders with impunity. Indeed a public bull-baiting rarely ended without some riot and confusion.
    • pg. 277
  • In order to give the better effect to this diversion, a hole is dug in the ground for the retreat of the animal; and the dogs run at him singly in succession; for it is not usual, I believe, to permit any more than one of them to attack him at once; and the dog which approaches him with the least timidity, fastens upon him the most firmly, and brings him the soonest from his hole, is accounted the best. The badger was formerly called the "grey," hence the denomination of grey-hounds applied to a well known species of dogs, on account of their having been generally used in the pursuit of this animal.
    • pg. 280
  • In the reign of Edward III cock-fighting became a fashionable amusement; it was then taken up more seriously than it formerly had been, and the practice extended to grown persons; even at that early period it began to be productive of pernicious consequences, and was therefore prohibited in 1366 by a public proclamation, in which it was ranked with other idle and unlawful pastimes. But notwithstanding it was thus degraded and discountenanced, it still maintained its popularity, and in defiance of all temporary opposition has descended to the modern times. Among the additions made by Henry VIII to the palace at Whitehall, was a cock-pit; which indicates his relish for the pastime of cock-fighting; and James I was so partial to this diversion, that he amused himself in seeing it twice a week.
    • pg. 281
  • If the opposing of one cock to fight with another may be justly esteemed a national barbarism, what shall be said of a custom more inhuman, which authorised the throwing at them with sticks, and ferociously putting them to a painful and lingering death? I know not at what time this unfortunate animal became the object of such wicked and wanton abuse: the sport, if such a denomination may be given to it, is certainly no recent invention, and perhaps is alluded to by Chaucer…If the poor bird by chance had its legs broken, or was otherwise so lamed as not to be able to stand, the barbarous owners were wont to support it with sticks, in order to prolong the pleasure received from the reiteration of its torment.
    • pg. 283
  • Sometimes the duck is tormented in a different manner, without the assistance of the dogs; by having an owl tied upon her back, and so put into the water, where she frequently dives in order to escape from the burden, and on her return for air, the miserable owl, half drowned, shakes itself, and hooting, frightens the duck; she of course dives again, and replunges the owl into the water; the frequent repetition of this action soon deprives the poor bird of its sensation, and generally ends in its death, if not in that of the duck also.
    • pg. 285

Rank of hunting birds

An engraving by Joseph Strutt, made from a 14th-Century manuscript at the Royal Library
  • The books of hawking assign to the different ranks of persons the sort of hawks proper to be used by them: and they are placed in the following order--
    The eagle, the vulture, and the merloun, for an emperor.
    The ger-faulcon, and the tercel of the ger-faulcon, for a king.
    The faulcon gentle, and the turcel gentle, for a prince.
    The faulcon of the rock, for a duke.
    The faulcon peregrine, for an earl.
    The bastard, for a baron.
    The sacre, and the sacret, for a knight.
    The lanere, and the laneret, for an esquire.
    The marlyon, for a lady.
    The hobby, for a young man.
    The gos-hawk, for a yeoman.
    The tercel, for a poor man.
    The sparrow-hawk, for a priest.
    The musket, for a holy water clerk.
    The kesterei, for a knave or servant.
    • pg. 37


  • The people of Sybaris, a city in Calabria, are proverbial on account of their effeminancy; and it is said that they taught their horses to dance to the music of the pipe; for which reason, their enemies the Crotonians, at a time when they were at war with them, brought a great number of pipers into the field, and at the commencement of the battle, they played upon their pipes; the Sybarian horses, hearing the sound of the music, began to dance; and their riders, unable to manage them as they ought to have done, were thrown into confusion, and defeated with prodigious slaughter. This circumstance is mentioned by Aristotle; and, if not strictly true, proves, at least that the teaching of animals to exceed the bounds of action prescribed by nature was not unknown to the ancients.
    • pg. 242


  • The wassail is said to have originated from the words of Rowena, the daughter of Hengist; who, presenting a bowl of wine to Vortigern, the king of the Britons, said, wæs hæl or, health to you, my lord king...
    • pg. 363


  • I may just add, that in addition to the hand-guns, I meet with other instruments of like kind mentioned in the reign of Elizabeth, namely, demy hags, or hag butts. They shot with these engines not only at butts and other dead marks, but also at birds and beasts, using sometimes bullets and sometimes half shots; but in the beginning of the seventeenth century the word artillery was used in a much more extensive sense, and comprehended long-bows, cross-bows, slur-bows, and stone-bows; also scorpions, rams, and catapults, which, the writer tells us, were formerly used; he then names the fire-arms as follows, cannons, basilisks, culverins, jakers, faulcons, minions, fowlers, chambers, harguebusses, calivers, petronils, pistols, and dags. "This," says he, "is the artillerie which is nowe in the most estimation, and they are divided into great ordinance, and into shot or guns," which proves that the use of fire-arms had then in great measure superseded the practice of archery.
    • pg. 57


An engraving by Joseph Strutt, made from a 14th-Century manuscript at the Royal Library
  • 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 practiced 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.
    • pg. 80

The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England