This podcast from Prof Melanie Tebbutt, from a collection of short papers on aspects of sport and leisure history, has its origins in two North-West British Society of Sports History regional symposia hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University on its Crewe campus. The contributors come from many different backgrounds and include some of Britain’s leading academic sports and leisure historians alongside early career researchers and independent scholars in the field of sports and leisure history. The full collection of papers were later published in book form, Sport and Leisure Histories, please click here for more details and purchase information
A large scholarly literature has encouraged a familiar narrative about the development of the British outdoor movement in the inter-war year. Harvey Taylor’s pioneering work on the movement’s history, A Claim on the Countryside, which illustrates the deep historical roots of popular attachment to the countryside, has highlighted the diversity of the outdoor movement in the inter-war years, when cheap fares and railway excursions helped democratize relationships with the rural, as better transport systems and roads opened up areas which had previously been exclusive to the better-off. Freedom, exploration and the romance of the open road, long identified with the English countryside, became key motifs of inter-war tourism, as visitors tramped, camped, trespassed and claimed places which, geographically, would once have been far beyond their reach.
This well-known story tends to neglect, however, how rural engagement was nuanced in very different ways across the 1920s and 1930s. The existing focus tends, understandably, to be on the 1930s, when the ‘open-air recreational lobby’ became a national movement and the politics of popular rambling became most pronounced. Hiking, camping, caravanning, cycling, and youth hostelling all expanded in the 1930s, when the Youth Hostels Association and the Ramblers’ Association were established and access campaigns intensified; the Kinder mass trespass took place in 1932. What about the earlier part of this inter-war narrative, however, the immediate post-war years and the 1920s, when open air activities were certainly expanding, but had not yet achieved either the scale or cultural prominence of the 1930s? What is their place in this historical story of the outdoor movement? This quieter period has certainly attracted much less attention from scholars, and it is my purpose here to redress this relative neglect by offering something of a speculative overview and taking an approach which is rather different from usual interpretations of the period. My aim is to explore the therapeutic value and meanings of different kinds of recreational engagement with the countryside, and to ask how such activities may have helped mediate some of the psychological and emotional after-effects of the First World War.
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Article © Melanie Tebbutt