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Kinship and community in Victorian London: the 'Beckwith Frogs'

Day, Dave (2011) Kinship and community in Victorian London: the 'Beckwith Frogs'. History Workshop Journal, 71 (1). 194 -218. ISSN 1477-4569

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Abstract

Nineteenth-century professional sports coaching had much in common with conventional craft processes, with the coach as the master of a body of traditional specialist knowledge passed on through kinship groups and coach-athlete relationships. Knowledge transfer was embedded within informal communities of practice such as that centred on swimming professor Frederick Beckwith, whose aquatic promotions in baths, theatres, and aquaria were constant features in the sporting and entertainment landscape of London and beyond throughout the second half of the century. His swimming knowledge, social networks and entrepreneurial flair established him at the hub of a South London swimming community which contained his immediate and extended family, together with many prominent swimming professors and female natationists drawn into his orbit either as athletes or as aquatic entertainers. Operating mainly, but not exclusively, at a local level, Beckwith assumed responsibility not only for the performance of his athletes but also for the progress of the sport, since he depended on both for economic gain and social status. Through his coaching and teaching, his demonstrations and exhibitions, and through the innovative use of his entrepreneurial skills, he was as responsible for the growing appreciation of swimming in this period as any other individual or organization.

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