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Author: Derek Martin

Captain Barclay’s contemporaries: practising pedestrianism 1780-1820

The national celebrity of Captain Barclay after his 1,000-mile walk in 1809 has overshadowed other athletic activity in England during the Napoleonic Wars period.  Increasing digitization of contemporary newspapers is confirming that Barclay was not unique in walking unfeasibly long distances.   For years, ‘gentlemen’ who had, to modern sensibilities, a very robust, eighteenth century notion of ‘amateur’ had walked for money and continued to do so up to the 1820s.  By then their feats were being equalled and surpassed by endurance athletes who were not ‘gentlemen’ and who could not afford the luxury of ‘amateurism’ in any sense.  Barclay...

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The 2,000 Mile Race: Pedestrianism in the early nineteenth century

2017 is the two hundredth anniversary of the longest foot race ever to take place in England.  In the late eighteenth century long-distance, multi-day events had become popular with self-described ‘gentlemen amateurs’, who walked for large money wagers.  The fashion culminated in a famous match where Captain Barclay walked one mile every hour for 1,000 successive hours (41 days and 20 hours) for 1,000 guineas at Newmarket in 1809. The famous Captain in his walking attire (from Walther Thom, Pedestrianism (Aberdeen, 1813)   Working class pedestrians (a ‘pedestrian’ was any athlete, a runner or a race walker) replaced the...

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Pedestriennes: nineteenth century female professional walkers

The conventional notion is that in the nineteenth century women simply did not do sports that involved strenuous exercise.  In 1891 Punch summed up its view of the progress in female sport over the preceding 30 years, from croquet to golf via a rather sedate form of lawn tennis.   Punch, 18 July 1891   By this time Punch was already behind the times – the  new girls’ schools of the period were already introducing gymnastics, hockey, cricket and other activities that demanded more effort and less clothing.  But it wasn’t until after the First War that females were...

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