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Making Space for Sporting Bodies.
Sociability, Body Politics, Commerce and Lifestyle in Early Modern English Sports Culture

Angela Schattner

The relationship between sports and fitness to recreational sociability, health, commercialisation and body politics is not as new and modern as might be thought. Sportive activities and physical exercise were practised as health-enhancing, sociable and representative activities by the whole strata of early modern English society; albeit often in different social contexts, in different spaces or facilities, with different equipment and with different purpose according to social rank and gender. From the fifteenth century, male English aristocratic and gentry elites played sportive games in representative purpose-built facilities with refined equipment to mark their social distinction, their practise of sports and physical exercise backed by medical and educationalist writers who asserted sportive activities as health-enhancing and strengthening activities for noble bodies. The lower ranks of English society of both genders had to find new public spaces for their sports from the sixteenth century and even new times during the Interregnum due to regulations on the use of the churchyard and Sundays for sports and encroachments of public space due to urban development. New commercialised sports venues such as rentable ball houses and bowling alleys, inns and alehouses profited from growing demands particularly of male urban clients from all backgrounds, sceptically observed by the urban and royal authorities who wished to license and regulate these places.

The book project explores the history of early modern English sports as a social and cultural history of leisure and body practises. It focuses on the creation and change of urban spaces for sports and physical exercise from the fifteenth century at the Royal Court, in London and Westminster, in the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge and in the spa towns Bath, Buxton and Epsom. By comparing the different social uses of these spaces by different social groups, and by exploring their location, materiality, accessibility, and how the social practise of sports and physical exercise changed through the use of new facilities and spaces, sport and fitness become a lens through which social practises of leisure, body practises, urban development, historical change and early modern society more generally can be observed in new ways.