Edward Thring’s Theory, Practice and Legacy

Physical Education in Britain since 1800

by Malcolm Tozer


The traditional picture of a Victorian public school assumes that it was founded on Thomas Arnold, Tom Brown’s Schooldays and Rugby football. A Rifle Corps, Oxbridge Blues on the teaching staff, and an ethos of esprit de corps were all part of the system. The cult of athleticism reigned supreme.

This was not the case at Uppingham School during Edward Thring’s headmastership from 1853 to 1887. Here a balanced physical education of gymnastics, athletics, games, swimming and country pursuits flourished within a sane but revolutionary educational framework. Thring’s Uppingham, however, was an Athens surrounded by Spartan strongholds. The Spartans were kept at bay during Thring’s lifetime, but, after his death, they closed in and even claimed Thring as one of their own. His ideals were hijacked by the sportsmen and then perverted by the militarists.

Thring’s theory and practice of physical education lived on outside the traditional public schools, was adopted by the progressive school movement, and eventually found acceptance in all good schools. Its legacy can be found in the first National Curriculum for Physical Education and in all schools that value physical education as a vital ingredient of holistic education.

This book will inform trainee teachers, practising teachers and teacher trainers of the men and women who have strived since 1800 to secure a place for physical education in the curriculum for all pupils. Historians of education, gender, society and sport will find new material to illuminate their fields of study.


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