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Narratives of Manchester pedestrianism: using biographical methods to explore the development of athletics during the nineteenth century.

Oldfield, Samantha-Jayne (2014) Narratives of Manchester pedestrianism: using biographical methods to explore the development of athletics during the nineteenth century. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

The British sporting landscape significantly altered during the nineteenth century as industrialisation affected the leisure patterns of the previously rural communities that were now residents of the urban city. As both space and time available for sport reduced, traditional pastimes continued to survive amid the numerous public houses that had emerged within, and in, the outskirts of Britain’s major industrial centres. Land attached to, and surrounding, the more rural taverns was procured for sporting purposes, with specially built stadia developed and publicans becoming gatekeepers to these working-class pursuits. Pedestrianism, the forerunner to modern athletics, became a lucrative commercial enterprise, having been successfully integrated into the urban sporting model through public house endorsement. The sporting publicans, especially within the city, used entrepreneurial vision to transform these activities into popular athletic “shows” with these professional athletes demonstrating feats of endurance, speed and strength, all under the regulation of the sporting proprietor. In Manchester, areas such as Newton Heath developed their own communities for pedestrianism and, through entrepreneurial innovation and investment, the Oldham Road became a hotspot for athletic competition throughout much of the nineteenth century. Within these communities, there was a reliance on the individual to cultivate and maintain athletic interest through their endorsement and promotion of, and their continued investment in, sporting entertainment. The relationship between entrepreneurial sportsmen and public houses has long been noted and there are abundant examples of individuals who combined their sporting activities with the role of licensee, but these are usually limited in scope and are overtly descriptive narratives that do little beyond documenting the individual achievements of their subjects. The traditional biographical method, whereby individual profiles are constructed through the uncovering of historical detail, is normally employed within the sport history discipline but this requires re-evaluation if a more complete picture of sport is to be established. Further biographical methods, such as collective biography and prosopography, whereby individuals are collectively studied through more measured techniques, should be applied to give further analysis of the impact of individuals within a specific sporting environment. This study uses all three approaches, biography, prosopography and collective biography, to give a more nuanced narrative that uncovers the changing nature of pedestrianism within nineteenth-century Manchester. Each chapter utilises a different biographical approach to explore a unique aspect of Manchester pedestrianism and gives further recognition to the previously anonymous population that helped to create a diverse hub for athletic entertainment. Although several themes permeate all three narratives, each method has its own outcomes, which provide alternative interpretations and perspectives on Manchester’s sporting history. Whilst pedestrianism is used as an exemplar, the study intends to highlight the importance of the individual, as opposed to national organisations, in telling the story of nineteenth-century sport.

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